I talk to strangers on elevators.
Really. It drives my wife Kathy insane.
You need to know that to understand how it was that I came to meet Emily Saldana, KB3VVE and her husband Keith Comp KC3FVN in person on a warm summer day in the middle of rural Pennsylvania.
I’m an extrovert and I’m also attracted to people that exude energy.
I know what you’re thinking. What in the world does any of this have to do with three radio operators, Emily, Keith and myself, and the Appalachian Trail.
If you watch the daily activity on the American Radio Relay League’s National Parks on the Air Facebook page, it will take little effort on your part to see that Emily is an energy extruder.
In the Beginning
When the year-long National Parks or the Air (NPOTA) event launched on January 1, 2016, it immediately caught my eye. I’m one of the many amateur radio operators that loves to take tiny radios outdoors on hikes.
Everything I need to operate almost indefinitely in the field can fit into a small daypack with room to spare. I call it stealth radio. I look like the average hiker on a trail, but in just a few minutes I can be on the air talking with someone else hundreds or thousands of miles away.
Having dabbled in the Summits on the Air (SOTA) over the past few years, I instinctively knew that the NPOTA event would catch on fire faster than dry pine needles in a drought.
The reason was simple. NPOTA rules made it far easier for an operator to transmit from a location. All an outdoor operator like me has to do is drive to one of the listed National Park sites, set up within the boundaries of the site, and contact at least ten different radio operators. Once you do this, you’ve officially *activated* that site. It’s not hard at all to contact ten different operators in most cases.
Remember, you don’t have to hike to do an activation. Some radio operators have radios installed in their cars and trucks as well as an antenna already attached to the body of the vehicle.
They can just drive to a park, and immediately start to transmit from inside the comfort of their vehicle. This opens the event to tens of thousands of operators who simply can’t hike for any number of reasons.
Because many of the NPOTA units are somewhat close to one another in different parts of the nation, it’s quite possible to do one or more activations in a single day. Some of the operators participating in this event have activated six or more sites in a single day!
That’s what happened the day I met with Emily and Keith to activate the Appalachian Trail in Shermans Dale, PA. Just hours before I had been over one hundred miles away and had activated the solemn Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, PA.
Several months ago I saw on the ARRL NPOTA Facebook page that Emily was trying to get better at sending and receiving Morse code. Radio operators refer to this method of communicating as CW.
CW is a short acronym for continuous wave. When sending CW, the operator breaks the continuous tone into short bursts of different length to create letters, numbers, punctuation, etc.
Emily and I did a very short CW conversation on the air. We then started to schedule regular practice sessions.
While these practice sessions were happening, I was planning to drive to my 50th grade school reunion in Cincinnati, OH. The event was to be held in the middle of July, 2016.
I thought to myself, “You know what, I think I’ll make this a NPOTA activation trip too!”
It didn’t take but a few minutes to realize that I could drive through the southern tier of Pennsylvania and activate several NPOTA units on both my outbound and inbound treks.
Emily and Keith live in south central PA.
“Emily, I’ll be traveling near where you live in a few months. Would you have any interest in meeting up for an ice cream cone?”
That’s how it all started. It didn’t take long for Emily to suggest that she and her husband do a joint activation with me next to the Appalachian Trail in a hayfield very close to where they live.
It was a fantastic idea and I jumped at the opportunity.
Emily and I met in the parking lot of a local pizza parlor and then drove the two miles to the hayfield. It only took us about fifteen minutes to set up a small table and two chairs just ninety feet from the trail. Fortunately we were in the shade of a lone scrubby tree that provided the necessary support for my 29-foot vertical wire antenna.
We decided that I’d get on the air first since Emily and Keith had already activated this site months before on a cold winter’s day.
When we were planning the outing it was decided we’d use my Elecraft KX3 radio, my 29-foot wire antenna and 9:1 unun, and my lightweight Bioenno Power lithium iron phosphate battery. Emily and Keith were to supply the shade.
Using my marginal CW skills, it only took me about twenty-one minutes to contact fourteen other operators. Emily was kind enough to write down, or log, the contacts. I could have had many more, but decided to stop so that Emily and Keith could also officially activate the site.
A few minutes after Emily was on the air transmitting and receiving CW, Keith showed up with much needed nourishment. Pizza and radio waves go together like chocolate and peanut butter! Thanks Keith for the delicious pizza!
Keith doesn’t do CW yet so he grabbed the microphone and started to talk to other operators from hundreds of miles away. At first he was having no luck.
We discovered the radio was in the wrong mode. We were having so much fun laughing and joking we forgot to switch the radio from CW to voice mode.
It didn’t take long for Keith to log his required ten contacts.
The three of us had a wonderful time and were sorry it was time to pack up and go. Emily and Keith invited me to their local club meeting and we made it there with just about 10 or 15 minutes to spare.
As I drove into the night to my hotel after I left the club meeting, I replayed the past few hours over in my head. It brought a big smile to my face because I had made two new friends.
That’s what happens when you mix lots of laughter, invisible radio waves, slices of pizza and three radio operators in a hayfield. Many thanks to the ARRL and National Park Service for creating the NPOTA event that brought us three together!