This year, we decided to do a similar trip to what we did last year. We packed up the camper and headed to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for some time close to Lake Superior. We had a great trip last year and got some idea of what’s available. It’s a lot of hiking, mountain biking, and time close to the cold water. These are all things that the family can agree on. It makes for a great trip – even with teens! And there were plenty of radio surprises along the way.
One thing that was a concern this year was the smoke from the Canadian wildfires. There was a haze over Lake Superior for much of our stay. It’s not a great scene up there right now and when we got home, it was far, far worse further south at that point.
Overall, the weather was great. Cool, breezy, and clear. We did have some rain on the last day or two that changed our trip a bit, but we couldn’t complain about the bulk of our time out in the woods.
In between the hiking and mountain biking, I got some time to play radio. I had my normal POTA kit with me along with some other stuff that didn’t get used. At the end of the day, my field kit for POTA is so well-tuned that there’s not really any good reason to use anything else. The IC-705 with the Surface Go 2 and Chameleon vertical make for a combination that deploys and packs up quickly. It also performs every time. Maybe that’s why I don’t stray very far. At the end of the day, I do have other rigs and gear, but this outfit works in every mode I use, every time I use it.
I had hoped to get some CW contacts while I was out there. As it turned out, I did 100% FT8. This was mostly due to timing. When I work CW I have to be in a present state of mind. It’s still difficult for me and though it’s getting easier, it requires a level of focus that I can’t really get when I might need to jump up and do something around camp. There are plenty of people milling around and there’s always something happening. I didn’t feel confident or comfortable enough to give it a go. Is it a regret? Maybe. But as my wife says about vacation, “If it isn’t fun, why are we doing it?” And I didn’t think the struggle would be much fun.
There were four entities in play for this trip:
- Straits State Park – K-1543
- Ft. Wilkins State Park – K-3311
- Copper Harbor State Harbor – K-6809
- Hiawatha National Forest – K-4487
All four were places we were camping, or in the case of the Harbor, just down the road. This wasn’t a radio vacation, but rather a family vacation with some radio. Being able to activate while people were doing other things was important. The fact that we were staying mostly in state parks or entities that are listed by POTA was definitely a bonus!
As mentioned above, there really wasn’t anything changing in my station as the week went on. The only real differences were the locations. There were 6 attempts and 6 activations.
18-Jun-2023 – Straits State Park – K-1543
This park was my nemesis. Last year while we were staying there, I didn’t mind the time. That resulted in me running an activation over 00:00z and splitting it so that I didn’t have enough contacts on either side of the line. That was very, very irritating. Worse was that I didn’t notice until I got home. I’m far more cognizant of my Zulu time these days as a result. After we got established at camp, I got set up and worked from inside the camper. It was our first night out and that meant getting setup and running the radio quickly. The activation went off without a hitch, fortunately, and I could finally have K-1543 in the log for good!
Here’s what the QSO Map looked like:
We spent the next couple of nights in Marquette and there wasn’t anything for me to activate nearby. I would have had to make a special trip out and no one seemed particularly interested in going off to watch me play radio. Ah well, such is life! The scenery was beautiful by the lake.
Eagle Harbor Break
On the way to Copper Harbor from Marquette, we stopped in at the Eagle Harbor Lighthouse.
It’s a beautiful lighthouse on the lake. The view from the observation deck is stunning. And there are historical exhibits and the ability to wander through the keeper’s quarters. One can’t get all the way up to the top of the lighthouse, but there are displays that show things like a fourth order Fresnel lens.
Now that was pretty neat! But the lighthouse had other things in store for me. As we wandered through the museum portion, my wife noticed a book full of “Nerd Cards” which is her adorable way of referencing QSL cards. Indeed this lighthouse was activated as K8E on several occasions for special events.
That was a really cool little detail at the lighthouse for an operator on vacation.
Copper Harbor was our destination this year. We’d never been up that far in the U.P. and had heard so many great things about it that we had to go. We ended up staying at Ft. Wilkins State Park. This made for three really easy activations. I had a great operating position at the picnic table behind the camper. The park had some really bad QRM coming from either the very noisy transformer near the entrance or one of 100 different forms of RF noise that come off of RVs in close quarters. It’s one of the downsides of state park camping: so much noise. But, on FT8, life was pretty good as the QSO Maps will show.
I don’t suppose I’m unique as operators go in that when I get to a state park to camp, I look around to see if there are any antennas. Especially if I am in the RV section. I almost never see other operators in the more primitive tent areas or the electric only sites, but in a place like Ft. Wilkins it was prime for meeting another ham. And it just so happened that there was a very conspicuous whip on a truck next to an RV just across the camp road from us. My wife even noticed the POTA symbol on their sign that was sitting out in front of the RV. I was sitting under the annex of our camper and heard avoice outside asking, “So who’s the ham around here?” That was how I met Dan KD9MSP. We had a really good chat about operating from parks, QRM, POTA, FT8, the voodoo of field antennas, and all of the other fun stuff hams talk about when they meet in a park. He even gave me a QSL card! I’ve got one headed his way in the mail. While we were there, we got to talk with Dan and his wife several times. Really, really wonderful and kind folks who’ve been camping up that way for years. They were a great source of recommendations and tips. My son joked, “They’re from Wisconsin. They’re legally required to be nice.” I don’t know about that, but they were definitely great folks to meet. I was only bummed out that we didn’t have a good way to make a park to park across the way. No HTs and no dummy loads. Next time!
Copper Harbor State Harbor
A bonus of being in Copper Harbor is, well, the harbor. It’s an entity and it’s beautiful. My wife needed to hit the laundramat and the kids wanted to play mini-golf so I was dropped off at the harbor with my gear and told to have fun. What I learned quickly was that the harbor didn’t really have any great places to put my station. In fact, the only picnic table available was being watered by a sprinkler. That was…awkward. So I marched up the hill behind the parking lot and found a small opening at the edge of some trees. It was a perfect place to put down my oil cloth tarp (a really cool Fathers Day gift!) and get myself situated. It looked a lot more like a POTA activation than back at camp.
The view for this activation was, well, a little less than stellar. But it was so quiet I didn’t mind at all. There was only the sound of the breeze and my IC-705. The weather was perfect. The sky was blue and the temperature couldn’t have been more perfect. I sat down and collected contacts with no interruptions for a solid hour. It was wonderful.
The QSO Map for this activation shows a really good day on 20m FT8!
Hiawatha National Forest
The Hiawatha National Forest is a big place. We camped in it last year up in Au Train and this year we were down at Otter Lake. It’s a beautiful and quiet chunk of woods. But this year, we were a bit pressed because of the changing weather. There were to be 3 days of heavy rain and colder temperatures. I got to work activating the forest on the one day where I didn’t expect rain. As I hit contact number 10 there was a large crack of thunder and I was spurred into pulling down my antenna and getting things packed away. No great scenic photos for this activation, sadly. But the contacts were good.
Lessons And The Future
I took too much gear. That box at the top of the post was full of stuff that didn’t get used. Sure, having the X6100 around makes me feel good and it doesn’t take up much space at all, but I didn’t really need any of that stuff. I had multiple antenna options and more coax than I needed. But two is one and one is none, right? Maybe. Next year I will definitely trim it down, though if I use the same box, what does it matter? That’s called talking myself in a circle right there. I will also likely leave the power supply I took and the Hardrock-50 at home as well. QRP is my thing and I need to own that.
Next year I will definitely do CW activations. The #CW100Days challenge ended. Or I should say, the first 100 days have come and gone. There’s still a lot for me and the other participants to do. I will keep at it until I get the facility needed for a good rag chew. But by next summer, I plan to be more than ready for full POTA activations on FT8 or CW. That sets the goal of our next big trip to have at least 10 CW contacts per site. Gotta have goals, right?
I will also carry along some QSL cards from here on out. I feel silly for not having thought this through. There WILL be hams at state parks in the summer. I mean, c’mon. And I’ll take an HT for Park-to-Park madness!
It was a great trip and I’m already missing the coastline. I’d go back today if I could. But I will just have to get ready for the next round of more local parks and summer radio fun.