A Two-Fer Deep in the Woods

Maybe it’s just dumb luck that I live very close to several parks that have recently been added to the Parks On The Air entity list. In fact, if I lived just one city block away, where the Bruce Trail National Recreational Trail (VE-5628) runs along the street for a couple of kilometers, I could activate it every day from the comfort of my shack.

The second closest park to my home is the Pottawatomi Conservation Area and Jones Falls (VE-5653). It is barely 5 minutes drive away and yet I delayed going there and activating it for months. Instead, I drove hundreds of kilometers away to activate parks as far away as Thunder Bay, Ontario (several days drive at the pace I like to travel).

So why the delay? Well, I could have activated the park from the main parking lot on Highway 6. That would have been easy. But the parking lot is a busy one. It is is shared with the head office of the Owen Sound Transportation Company – the operator of the Chi-Cheemaun (Ojibwe, meaning “Big Canoe”) ferry that carries cars, trucks and campers across Georgian Bay between Tobermory at the tip of the beautiful Bruce Peninsula and Manitoulin Island.

Pottawatomi Conservation Area is almost entirely covered with dense trees. It is difficult to find a clearing out on the trails from which to operate, but I knew of one location from where I would also be operating on the main Bruce Trail (VE-5628) making the activation a “two-fer” (i.e. credit for two activations at the same time).

The two-fer came with two problems though. First the location is a very small clearing in tall dense trees. I wanted to wait until the fall when the leaves had fallen from the trees. Second, the clearing is a bit of a rough hike into the park. The trail isn’t smooth, there are small rock crevices to cross and tree roots and rocks and more rocks. This called for the use of my new one-wheeled radio cart and it was a severe test of the mark 1 design.

Unstable Mark 1 Design of the “Mule”

As soon as I hitched myself to “The Mule”, as I have christened the cart, I knew I was in trouble. It was top heavy and very difficult to balance. However, I was determined to complete the activation so I persevered and hauled the Mule-mounted manpack to my chosen spot. The leaves completely carpeted the trail and I stumbled over small, hidden tree branches as I got set up.

The park is close to the City of Owen Sound, Ontario and has good cell service throughout, so I was able to self-spot on pota.app. The hunters came through on the first CQ call. My MFJ-1979 17ft whip with four ground-mounted radials and my Yaesu FT-891 at 20 watts were doing fine business. I logged 34 CW QSOs in just 40 minutes before the pile-up subsided. Three of those QSOs were DX: two in the Azores and one in Germany.

After calling QRT I loaded the manpack back onto the Mule and headed back along the trail towards where I had parked my truck. The park boundary is a very irregular shape so I had checked carefully to ensure that I obeyed the POTA rule of having operator and all equipment entirely within the park boundary. The Bruce Trail is marked with “blazes” painted on the trees; white blazes for the main trail, blue blazes for side trails. I could see the line of white blazes either side of where I had set up so I knew I was okay for a good, honest two-fer.

This was an especially pleasant activation. I was well into the woods and didn’t see another human being throughout the activation. I took a moment to enjoy the surroundings before departing – very peaceful and soothing! I have hiked every trail in Pottawatomi Conservation Area, including the 39-metre long side trail that leads to a lookout point above Jones Falls on the Pottawatomi River. Extreme caution must be exercised on this short trail because the cliff edge above the falls is unprotected and the rocks can be very slippery! It’s well worth the view if you are careful.

The next day, priority number one was rethinking the Mule. The new design lowers the centre of gravity of the Mule’s payload. I am pleased to report that it is now almost effortless to use. Unfortunately, the weather in Ontario is racing toward winter and the Mule may have to be laid up until spring. The next activation may have to be performed while wearing a parka and mukluks and hauling the manpack on a sled.

Jones Falls on the Pottawatomi River, Owen Sound, Ontario

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