Ohio State Parks On The Air was 09-Sep this year as it always falls on the first Saturday after Labor Day. It’s a contest whose primary purpose is to get operators out into the State Parks of Ohio and enjoy the outdoor spaces the state has to offer.
Last year was the first time that I’d ever participated. I was still quite new to POTA but I was getting better at my portable operations. I spent my weekend at Salt Fork State Park K-1989 or SFK both last year and again this year. It’s a nice park with a good, technical trail that my wife likes to take on with the dog while I’m in the camper running my mouth for a few hours.
I will freely admit that I am not a natural contester. Sitting in the chair for hours making contacts is fun for a while, but I run out of steam after about 4 hours. Knowing this going in and feeling a lot more comfortable with my gear and technique, I had a LOT of fun.
We arrived at camp on Friday afternoon and got the camper put up very quickly. We enjoyed a leisurely dinner.
With the camper set up, dinner consumed, and everything in order, I proceeded to take over the table in the camper, much to my wife’s chagrin. But hey, she knew we were there for OSPOTA and I really only took up half of the table (maybe?). Or half of the camper. I can’t remember which.
The setup for this trip only introduced one material variable into what I do for most POTA activations but was standard for what I do when we’re using the camper.
IC-705 Transceiver aka My Best Radio Buddy
Hardrock-50 amplifier with ATU option
Chameleon whip with extention and capacitance hat
Microsoft Surface GO 2 running Ubuntu
Rite in the Rain notebook and pencil for logging
Heil Sound HTH Series Handie-Talkie Headset
ABR feed line and patch cable
Astron SS Series Switching Power Supply
The only deviations from my normal setup are the Hardrock-50 and the power supply. Those only come with me when I’m out camping in the camper as they’re not exactly bicycle friendly. The rest of the gear cycles in and out.
But the most important piece of gear is the Radio Beagle. This year, Nacho came along and was quite happy to hang out in the camper while I worked as many contacts as I could.
I fired up the station on Saturday right in time to start the contest. My very first OSPOTA contact was my buddy from Mastodon.Radio, N3VEM. I was really happy to get him in the log! I also managed to get a couple of other online friends in there like KC1RSI. The most exciting log entry was, of course, the Editor In Chief of the PCARS Radiogram, Tom KB8UUZ! He also happens to chair OSPOTA and is an all-around good guy.
The bands were a mixed bag. 40m started off OK and it was my only real option due to rough conditions last year. This year, it started to get VERY noisy and I eventually shifted off to 20m when I got as many of the Ohio State Parks as I believed that I could. 15m and 10m were both dead for me. 80m tuned up nicely, but there was no one who could hear me. I didn’t check the MUF or solar conditions for the day, so I’m not exactly sure what I was fighting with. In a contest all that matters is who I can hear because we’re not going to change the sun. 20m held for most of the day. In fact, I was getting really good reports through most of the time I was on the air.
A few fun notes. I hit as far west as California, a lot of Texans, plenty of folks from SC and FL, and up as far as Maine and New Brunswick! Nothing outside of North America, which was not a shock at all. The wildest run was getting three contacts back to back in South Dakota in about 3 or 4 minutes. One ham said it was raining there and that probably kept them indoors and hunting parks.
I had two Park To Park POTA contacts where the other side was in three entities at once. One was in the states and the other was in Canada. The total number of Park to Park contacts was around 20 for the day. From a POTA perspective, it was a big win for me.
I ended the day with 119 contacts in my OSPOTA log. I hit 9 Ohio State Parks (including my own). That’s a pretty good number of points for me. Again, I’m not a contester so quitting after about 4 hours in the chair (5 if you count lunch) was good enough for me. Besides, it gave us time to enjoy dinner and pack up for our drive home.
I’m exhausted by the amount of noise I get around my Chameleon gear. Yes, it is expensive. Yes, it tends to play into the “Tacti-cool” market. But ya know what? It works. Every time. And it is RUGGED. As a big guy who breaks stuff a lot, I appreciate things that are over-engineered. The whips, the extension, and all of the parts of the Chameleon system are built to last in rough environments. No, they’re not light and I wouldn’t recommend them for a trip where you’re backpacking for a week and expecting to make miles every day. But for an operator who mostly travels on bicycle or in a camper or someone who spends time in harsh conditions, they make a great product.
Oh. The capacitance hat? I notice a marked difference in performance on 80m and 40m. I haven’t charted that out because I don’t care enough to run a lot of tests, but my experience is that it’s a useful addition to the system.
The Hardrock-50 with the IC-705 is a brilliant combination. There was a moment in the week leading up to the contest where I was thinking about the virtues of an IC-7300. It’s a great radio for sure and I bet it would be great for a camper setup. The truth is, I love my IC-705 and I know it backwards and forewards. Coupling it with the Hardrock gets me all the power that I need with a built-in tuner. Plus, I built the Hardrock and that makes me smile. Given that most of my operations are portable and not in the camper, the IC-7300 might spend more time in the shack than in the field and we’re back to the fact that I already have an IC-7100 that’s a good base station for me.
My MVP for the day was the Heil headset. That thing was $40 well spent. I usually use it when I’m working CW as headphones and take it along because it removes the need for the hand mic when I’m doing POTA activations. I get great audio reports when I use the mic and it’s very comfortable. It’s over the ear so it doesn’t give me the weird headache I get when I use ear buds for too long but it’s also not noise cancelling or keeping me from hearing stuff that’s going on around me when I’m at a park. I don’t like surprises. It’s comfortable and performs better than it should for the price. I’m a fan.
And here’s what it looked like on the QSO Map:
This year I was much more confident in my gear and I knew my rig a lot better than I did last time around. It was a wonderful weekend in terms of weather and the bands were entertaining if nothing else. There are no complaints on my end for the number of contacts made or amount of fun had. Honestly, contest or not, it’s always good to get out in the woods with my wife and the dogs. Playing radio is a bonus!
The log is submitted and I’ll just wait to see how I did. But the points were never the point.