Monday, May 23, 2016

NPOTA Activation: Prince William Forest Park - DZ08

Greetings, all.

About a month ago the XYL and I headed up the I-95 corridor a few miles to Prince William Forest Park to do get away from the suburban life at my home QTH, to camp out a night in the woods, and to knock out a National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) activation.

Prince William Forest Park is a National Park Service-ran facility of 19,000 acres and the largest park in the DC metro area.  It abuts Marine Corps Base Quantico, and lies right on the geologic border of the Piedmont and Tidewater regions of Virginia.  There is a marker in the park denoting one of the geographic boundaries--that marker location is not particularly scenic, but it is interesting.
XYL hiking through Prince William Forest Park.

My wife and I are immensely thankful for this piece of land because it's basically the only relatively unmolested natural land near us, and we spend a good amount of time hiking around there.  She goes to the park several times per week, and I go there every week or two.

The park has a unique history.  It was originally homestead land for several farms.  There are several family cemeteries on the park grounds, and there is also a military cemetery on the grounds containing graves from soldiers who served in the Civil War through more modern times.  The Civilian Conservation Corps managed the lands during the Great Depression.  In World War II, the park's lands were used by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which was the forerunner of the modern CIA.  The OSS used the park for training spies and radio operators from 1942-1945.

Today the park has numerous trails and a few options for camping.  It is full of trees, ferns, streams, and swamps, and is really representative of the mid-Atlantic states' eastern seaboard.  It's not beautiful like Yosemite or Death Valley or other similar parks.  But we're still very glad to have it so nearby.

We went to the park on the afternoon of 16 April, a Saturday.  We took a campsite, and then decided to do a hike for a few hours.  After returning, we lit the camp fire and I started to operate a bit.  I used by basic SOTA setup:  The FT-817ND, the LDG Z-817 autotuner, my Palm Mini Paddles, a homemade version of the EARCHI wire antenna, and the mic.  I also brought my Yaesu VX-8DR HT.  I brought a 7 Amp-Hour gel cell battery pack to power everything.  I also brought my MFJ QRP SWR meter for no reason whatsoever.  My QTH was the picnic table, and the wire was slung into a tree.
N0PCL at the PWF QTH.  The detritus of camping surrounds me.  The HT is quiet, but the 817ND is doing fine work.

The VX-8 was basically useless.  I attempted to get some APRS packets out to the world so that I could be seen on, but no luck was to be had.  It was just a remote area, and, frankly, APRS coverage is spotty in my area as it is.  (I'm thinking about addressing that myself as a project, but that's for another day).
N0PCL copying CW.

N0PCL doing fun things with radios.
The 817 did fine.  I did manage to self-spot using my iPhone to the spotting network, so that assisted with getting contacts.  The first night I managed to get four contacts.  But I was hungry, so I decided to pack up and make dinner with my lovely XYL. After dinner we enjoyed the campfire and retired to the tent for a good night's sleep.

The next morning (but still the same "UTC day") I finished up the activation.  I needed six more contacts.  So I fired up the 817 again and got the necessary contacts.

Screen capture of my electronic logbook.
Overall it was a good activation.  I'm continually surprised at how well portable & QRP ham radio can do.  But sometimes it's really a challenge, too.  It took a good bit of time to get the necessary 10 NPOTA Chasers to make this activation count.  Meanwhile the XYL headed out to do a solo hike.  I then gladly packed up the site and our adventure came to a close.

Thanks, Chasers!

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