Saturday, February 5, 2022

POTA Report 3 - Portable in Texas

 January 29 and February 4, I spent the week visiting family in Texas. Before I departed for the trip, I scoped out parks that were close to my mother's home. The closest park within reasonable driving distance was W. Goodson Jones State Forest. So, needless to say I was pretty excited about getting the opportunity to travel with my "shack in a box" kit, activate a park in Texas, and of course visit with my mother!

Flying with my "shack in a box" kit was super easy and hassle-free. It probably helps that I have TSA Pre-Check and seem to experience less scrutiny in US airports. The outside of the case is plastered with all sorts of amateur radio related stickers, which may also help the TSA inspectors get an idea of what's inside. The Apache 4300 case fits perfectly inside the overhead compartments on most airplanes and I was not even questioned about the size. I did check the Buddipole antenna because I decided to take the 18' mast package with a tripod instead of the 12' mast kit which is small enough to carry-on even with the tripod. The only change I think I will make is to add some sort of shoulder strap for the case.

In addition to the Surface Go 2 as my logging device, I took my Boogie Board Jot Writing Tablet that I usually keep on my home station desk to keep notes on during a rag-chew QSO. It is now a permanent accessory in my "shack in a box" kit, and I intend to purchase another for my home station. The Boogie Board is way better than a notebook or scraps of paper for taking "perishable" notes. It takes no batteries, lasts forever, and easily seen in bright sunlight. 

My previous activations were primarily using FT-8 mode so I simply exported the ADI file from WSJT-X. But for CW and SSB in the field I use N3FJP Amateur Contact (AC) Log. It's not free, but it is intuitive to use, and the user interface is highly customizable for different types of operations. It also has a free downloadable AC Log Calldata lookup database when operating off-grid without internet connection. I'll publish instructions and include a video demonstrating how to customize AC Log for logging CW and SSB POTA activations to make it easier to log QSOs, and to submit logs to the Parks on the Air coordinators. Although AC Log can interface with WSJT-X, it is simply not possible on a Surface Go 2 (or at least I haven't figured out how to do it easily yet) due to the lack of USB ports, but it may be possible with LP Bridge software.

Unfortunately, traveling on airplanes with LifePo4 lithium batteries is still not allowed so instead of just taking my POTA kit, I took my entire "shack in a box" kit. My "shack in a box" kit is setup for operations where there is AC power available.  Along with the POTA activations, I planned to setup my portable "shack in a box" at my mother home, but due to rain I didn't get around to that on this trip. So, in order to activate the park, the first thing I had to do was go out and buy an SLA battery. Conveniently there was a Batteries Plus Bulb store in town to purchase a battery to power my activations. Now I was ready to go!

W. Goodson Jones State Forest (POTA K-4422)

I am old, but my mother is older, and she likes to take naps. So, during one of her afternoon naps I took the car, drove the 18 miles to the park and setup operations on one of the few picnic tables beside the small lake. There were 2 other cars in the lot, but I didn't see another person while I was there. The park's parking lot is just off the highway. It's a nice park with lots of trees, but it is not "dense forest" by any means. There are numerous trails throughout the park which provide easy walks on the very flat terrain. I suspect that during better (warmer) weather the park is bustling. I did not find any covered pavilions, so this park is for fair-weather activations only. 

POTA K-4422 QSOs

I operated for an hour on the 30th of January and an hour and half on February 2nd. For some reason, I was not getting out on FT-8 as all. This really bugged me because I didn't change any of the settings since leaving Seattle. The rig was receiving and decoding, and the rig was sending out a signal, but there were no spots on HamAlert or PSKReporter. Later I discovered the volume in the Sound Settings on the Surface Go 2 were max'd out and I was transmitting a bunch of splatter. Anyway, I switched over to SSB and started calling CQ POTA and made 25 QSO on the first day and 37 QSOs on the second day of activating this park. My first QSO on day one was with Puerto Rico, and on day 2 I had my first Park-to-Park QSO. 


Make a checklist of transceiver and ALL software settings for the POTA kit. 

Customize software (if possible) for easier logging, and reporting. 

The nearby freeway generated some periodic ambient noise from passing trucks, so headphones are a must. I also suspect the weather was greatly affecting propagation. The noise floor on the 2nd activation was S3 and increased to S5 by the time I made my last QSO. Despite the cold weather in Texas and the rain I was glad I got to activate this park and test out my "shack in a box" kit and operate in a different part of the country. And, of course, I was also happy I got to spend some quality time with my mother. 

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