A Day on the Juniata

My name is Mike Malone. I live in Bensalem, Bucks County and I have been retired for quite a few of years. Shortly after I retired, I began to miss my working life and the many technologies my job required. I had a lot of free time; much more than I had planned on having. Facing boredom and not feeling very productive I began to look for activities that would make me feel as though I was spending my time in both worthwhile and enjoyable pursuits.

When I was younger I relished hiking, especially mountain hiking. Work and family requirements had let me learn to ignore this interest. In retirement I started to walk again and then to hike regularly. One day while looking through various destination guides for places of interest and a next trek, I came across an article about Amateur Radio. I had often wanted to be a HAM, an Amateur Radio operator, but never put in the time. My interest was renewed. I bought the study guides, put in the study time and passed the HAM examinations. I was using and studying new technologies and was doing fun things again. Soon I began to find ways to put hiking and radios together. Some very pleasant activities emerged.

Amateur Radio operators are persons licensed to operate individual radio stations; they are licensed to transmit radio signals. Amateurs are assigned specific sets of frequencies on which they may transmit and these frequencies and the Amateurs themselves constitute the Amateur Radio Service. Transmissions are typically only to other Amateur Stations but they can be worldwide.

So what can radio and hiking have to do with a day on the Juniata? The Amateur Radio Relay League, an organization of Amateur Radio operators, has contests that engage Amateurs in use of their radios at home and in the field. Such contests serve to enhance the Amateur Radio Service for Amateurs themselves and as training for volunteerism. HAM operators often support local, state and federal agencies as well as groups such as the Red Cross with volunteer communications. This volunteerism is considered so valuable that the Red Cross engages a cadre of Amateur operators.

One of these contests has just ended. The contest’s theme was the celebration of the National Park Service’s Centennial. The contest ran for the entire Centennial Year; for all of 2016. It engaged thousands of Amateurs in the United States and other countries to communicate with Amateurs who were operating portable radio stations within the many National Parks.

In Pennsylvania there are five national trails that are part of the National Park System. I have hiked large portions of four of them over the years and I decided it would be memorable to operate my field radio from those I had hiked and the one I hadn’t even know existed. The Juniata River is part of the trail I hadn’t known existed. The Juniata River aka the Juniata River Water Trail is part of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.

On my contest jaunts, I liked to be setup and transmitting just before 8AM. In early field setups, I had discovered a pattern in the flow of traffic. Traffic means two-way communication between specific stations. It had been occurring in batches; a batch at breakfast, a batch at lunch and another after dinner. From the Juniata, I planned to work, communicate with, the breakfast and lunch batches.

On December 11th I left home at about 5 AM and headed west towards Greenwood Township, Perry County and the Chesapeake Trail. I was near Morgantown on the PA Turnpike when it began to snow. It was a loose, wet snow; the roadway quickly became very slippery and travel was slowed from the usual near warp speed to about 40 MPH. The snow continued as I left the turnpike at Harrisburg East and rounded the Capital to 322 west. 322 was also snow covered and driving was a bit like tobogganing. Just past Duncannon, I stopped at a convenience store, topped off my gas tank and bought a large coffee and a small snack, then continued west to the Millerstown exit. After some more tobogganing and in about ten minutes I completed the usual three minute trip from the exit to the river’s edge. It was about 9:20 AM. The breakfast traffic had been missed. After spending a couple of minutes sipping hot coffee and nibbling my snack I set about organizing my portable radio station on the Juniata’s bank.

The week before, much the same thing had happened to me. I had traveled to Clarion with the intention of transmitting to both the breakfast and lunch crowds from the North Country Trail in Cook Forest one morning and after an afternoon drive to a hotel in Somerset from the Potomac Trail in the Laurel Highlands the following morning. On each morning, snow and ice caused me to be late. Worse, the snow and ice was accompanied by early morning winds on the mountain tops I had chosen as operating sites. The wind hampered antenna deployment and I missed the breakfast traffic farther west also.

Well, back to Greenwood and the Juniata. After coffee and setting up, I tuned into the 40 meter radio band and as lunch approached completed voice communications, trafficked with, other Amateurs from New Hampshire to Ontario to Wisconsin to Alabama to Florida back to New Hampshire. Around 1 PM, after the lunch bunch had shut down, I packed up and headed for home. Surprisingly, just as it had the week before, the weather turned warmer and I drove home, at near warp speed, in bright sunshine and on completely dry roads.

On the way home, I drove up Peters Mountain just outside of Harrisburg and scouted a setup site on the Appalachian Trail to use the following week. The Appalachian runs along the ridge of the mountain. While scouting, thoughts of what the weather might be just before Christmas crossed my mind.

To find my field operation sites, I had help from National Park Service personnel, PA Fish and Boat officers, local officials and, most importantly for the Juniata operation, the Allegheny Ridge Corporation. All of these various groups and many individuals in them helped my several field operations. I made seven contest outings and five were successful contest entries. A big reason for this short article is to say thank you to all who helped me.

I would like to offer two suggestions. First, I suggest that readers go to the Amateur Radio Relay League website and discover the hobby of radio electronics, communication and public service that are all rolled up in Amateur Radio; ARRL.org. Next I suggest that readers go to the Main Line Canal Greenway website and explore the many fantastic activities both along the Juniata River and along the greenway that the Allegheny Ridge Corporation helps to maintain and support; mainlinecanalgreenway.org

I will be returning to the Juniata River this summer. If you happen to see a canoe with a weird antenna, paddle over and say hello. It might well be me. I used to canoe a lot too.

Mike Malone – WE3L