Getting out on the road and exploring is always fun, especially if you have ham radio on board. Joyce/K0JJW and I have been doing quite a bit of travel lately and we just completed our longest road trip so far with our RV.
Our main destinations for the trip were four national parks: Congaree NP, Biscayne NP, Everglades NP, and Dry Tortugas NP. This determined the main route but we also found plenty of other things to do along the way. We started in Colorado, cut the corner across New Mexico into Texas, then east through Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. Then we headed south to Florida and ended up in Key West. Our return trip followed the gulf coast back to Texas, then back home.
Planning a trip is full of trade-offs, so it is useful to have a general approach that the participants agree on. Our approach to this trip was to not drive too far every day but drive enough to hit the various places we wanted to visit. We are still working to find the right balance. This trip lasted 39 days, covering 6000 miles, which is about 150 miles per day. Some days we drove very little and other days were longer, maybe 400 miles.
Although the trip was created around the national parks, we filled in with interesting stops along the way. In particular, we like to camp at state parks: the campgrounds are great and there’s usually something interesting about the park to enjoy. And did I mention they are natural Parks On The Air (POTA) opportunities? We also tried to work in some Summits On The Air (SOTA) activations that are relatively easy to access.
Our recreational vehicle (RV) is a 2018 Winnebago Paseo, built on a Ford Transit chassis. We named her Rocky Victoria, using non-standard phonetics, but usually just refer to her as “Rocky”.
Compared to your typical car or SUV, this Class B RV is huge. Compared to other RVs, this vehicle is small, about 22 feet long, usually fits in a standard parking space. With all of the normal RV stuff installed (stove, microwave, sink, refrigerator, toilet/shower combo, bed, etc.) there is not a lot of room left for personal gear.
Rocky fits us really well because it is easy to drive, getting in and out of places without much hassle. Also, setup and tear-down time at a campsite is minimal. One limitation is poor ground clearance, which is fine for forest service roads in good condition but not appropriate for offroad use. This affects what SOTA and POTA activations we do.
We have an ICOM IC-2730A in Rocky, for normal 2m/70cm FM comms while running down the road. The antenna (not visible in the photo) is just a short whip on the driver’s side of the hood.
Rocky is not a big RV so by the time we load up all of our stuff, it is full. So the radio gear (and everything else we take along) must follow the backpacker principle of “take only what you need, use what you take.” No room for extra stuff you don’t use.
For this trip, we took along two ham stations: A basic VHF SOTA station and a capable, picnic-table POTA station.
VHF SOTA Station
The VHF SOTA station is very compact and easy to carry. It covers the 2m and 70cm bands on FM, which is usually sufficient for us. The RF output power is only 5W, so it does not have the punch of one of our higher power radios. Not a bad tradeoff though.
Two Yaesu FT-1DR 2m/70cm handheld transceivers
Arrow 3-element Yagi 2m antenna
Two RH 770 dualband SMA antennas
HT chargers and other accessories
Picnic Table POTA Station
The POTA station is built around the FT-991, which is a 100 watt transceiver (HF/VHF/UHF) that is reasonably compact. We use a 20 Ah LFP battery to power the radio so it is portable and independent of the RV power sources.
Yaesu FT-991 Transceiver (HF, 6m, 2m, 70cm)
End-fed halfwave antennas for 40m, 20m, 17m, 15m, 10m
Roll-up j-pole antenna for 2m/70cm
20-foot fishing pole to support antennas
Two 25-foot lengths of RG-8X coaxial cable
12V, 20 Ah LFP Battery (Bioenno Power)
The POTA station does a great job at a campsite, usually on a picnic table. The POTA station fits inside my Kelty backpack so it can be taken for a hike. It is a bit heavy for a typical SOTA summit but works OK for drive-up and short-hike summits. It can also be set up inside the RV if required.
Typically, we are going to try operating on 20m or 17m so that the halfwave antenna easily hangs from the fishing pole support. Depending on conditions, we often have to use 40m which takes a little more work to hang. Not a huge problem, though.
For portable operating, I’ve tended to use a variety of end-fed wire antennas supported by a non-conductive pole of various sizes. For this trip, we used a 7 meter (21 feet) telescoping fishing pole that collapses to about 30 inches. This pole will fit into my SOTA backpack.
To support the fishing pole directly from the RV, I attached a short length of plastic pipe to the ladder. It is a simple matter to slide the pole into pipe, resulting in the top of the pole being about 26 feet off the ground.
The combination of the two stations gives us a lot of options for ham radio operating.
Summits On The Air
We activated three summits along the way: Mount Scott (W5O/WI-002) in Oklahoma, Choctaw County HP (W5M/MS-001) in Mississippi, and Monte Sano Mountain (W4A/HR-002) near Huntsville, AL.
Monte Sano Mountain turned out to be a unique location because it is located in the Monte Sano State Park. The park surrounds the summit, which is broad and flat. We determined that the park campground is within the activation zone, so we camped there and did both SOTA and POTA activations.
Parks On The Air
We did a number of POTA activations along the way. This was done opportunistically, typically in the afternoon after we had set up our campsite. Our radio operating used SSB on 20m or 40m, along with a few 2m FM contacts.
K-0688 Lake Meredith National Recreation Area US-TX
K-1090 Lake Chicot State Park US-AR
K-1048 Monte Sano State Park US-AL
K-0017 Congaree National Park US-SC
K-1832 Anastasia State Park US-FL
K-0024 Everglades National Park US-FL
K-0635 St. George State Park US-FL
K-2992 Brazos Bend State Park US-TX
Every one of these activations was a lot of fun. There’s nothing like sitting outdoors in the sunshine working a pileup of enthusiastic POTA hunter stations.
In this post, I emphasized the ham radio activity during this trip. Radio operating was not our main goal but it was a big part of the overall experience. Joyce and I had a fantastic time touring this section of the country, and we are looking forward to our next trip.
73 Bob K0NR