One of the great things about traveling North America in an RV is all the new opportunities you come across to experience the land and have adventures. So it is with the North Country National Scenic Trail, which I discovered this past weekend on a trip to Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
I was on the trail to participate in another one of my hobbies – amateur radio – and specifically, a year-long event called National Parks on the Air, aimed at celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Parks Service. The North Country Scenic Trail – the longest foot path across America – runs across seven states and is one of 484 places administered by the parks service. I was there to make as many ham radio contacts from the trail as possible.
The national organization for amateur radio is known as the American Radio Relay League and is coordinating the event. On Jan. 1, I activated the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Lakeshore on Lake Michigan, running my station from my Roadtrek CS Adventurous XL motorhome.
But to activate the trail, the rules said I had to walk in and be totally self-contained and battery powered. There would be no cushy motorhome this time with this activation. This was to be outside. In the cold.
So, with my friend and fellow ham, Mike Keyes, KE7ES, we lugged everything in, walking the snow-covered trail to a beautiful overlook above Tahquamenon Falls, one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi. Capturing it all on video for us was my RVing buddy Jim Diepenbruck, who, like Keyes, was in the area with me participating in a winter campout at the nearby Tahquamenon Falls State Park.
Here's the resulting video:
As we were getting set up, two local officials for the North Country National Scenic Trail stopped by to check out out operation and tell me about the 100 mile challenge.
“The idea of the 100 Mile challenge is to walk at least 100 miles on the trail,” explained Tom Walker, the Hiawatha Shore-to-Shore Chapter Vie President. “You don't have to do it all at once. It's cumulative. a mile here, a couple miles in another section, a few more miles at another time somewhere else, or all in the same spot if you want over different days. The goal is to hike a total of 100 miles on the trail in 2016.”
Ron Peronto, the chapter president, said those who do will get a certificate and… bragging rights.
Setting up my amateur radio station took about 15 minutes. First we cleared about two feet of snow off a bench so we would have a dry place for the equipment. Then I set up a small trip and used an 18-foot telescoping mast for the Buddipole Deluxe antenna system. The antenna system, which all packs up in a small little bag, was first comfigured an inverted Vee wire dipole on the 40 meter band for contacts around the Midwest. And then later we set it up it as as a 20 meter horizontal dipole, for contacts up to 2,500 miles away. My battery powered Elecraft KX3 transceiver made those contacts running just 10 watts of power.
We operated for about two hours and had over 100 contacts, from Maine to California. In all, we talked with amateurs in 40 states. The exchange consisted of swapping signal strength readings and locations, with me telling the other amateurs where I was operating from on the trail.
It was a lot of fun with the only hassle being a sudden avalanche that dropped on us when the tall pines over our heads gave up the heavy coating of snow piled up on their boughs. Watch the video above and you'll see as it was all captured by Diepenbruck.
In all, walking an and out gave us a couple of miles on hiking time on the trail that day.
That gives me 98 more for the 100 mile challenge.
I'm thinking of activating another section of the trail in a couple of weeks, giving me another chance to do some hiking, play radio, take a lot of photos and video and do some more winter camping in my RV.
I love it when all my hobbies converge like that.