100 Watt Engrish Amplifier from scamBay

“We started with the premise that people are basically good” – eBay marketing crap.

Sorry eBay, you got it wrong. People are basically crap, and will screw you out of a buck at the slightest opportunity. That’s why I normally stay away from scamBay, but I do find that on rare occasions, I actually need them. Such was recently when I began building my spare radio into an old ARMY amplifier case. I bought a second uBITX kit from India, from HF Signals. It was at the house in less than two weeks, which I thought was pretty amazing on its own. But it puts out only 5-10 watts. It’s enough to do the job in decent situations, but for talking further and farther, it’s nice to have a bit more power.

There’s a slight boost available by bumping the transistor voltage up to around 20 volts, but it still only gives you 15-20 watts at best, and stresses the components. So, the other option is an amplifier.

Anyone that had a CB in the 80s, or any Ham operator worth their license, knows what an amplifier (or “Linear”) is for – it’s for bumping a low level signal up to something useful. Unfortunately, most of the amplifiers I could find either come prebuilt and ready to use, for lots of money, or are overseas kits.

Taking a prebuilt amp and sticking it in a case seemed sort of silly and expensive. For what they were wanting, in addition to the uBITX kit, I could have just bought another Yaesu FT-450D or even an 857, and gone with that. Plus, there’s no room for experimenting and messing around. It’s plug and play.

So – Option 2 was to go with scamBay. I looked around a lot on the site and finally settled on something that would be useful for me. Most of my time on the radio is spent on 7mhz or 14mhz (the 40 and 20 meter bands). I like 20 in the day and early evening for foreigners and early domestic nets, and then 40 from dusk on until around 930 or so. The problem with these scamBay companies is that a lot of them barely speak English and apparently from the reviews, they leave out parts or instructions.

Which is exactly what happened to me. I ordered the amp, and 2 weeks later it came to the house from China, and I had a box of parts and a PC Board. No instructions, period. I started soldering stuff together anyway, figuring sooner or later I could find what I needed online. I’ve never soldered surface-mount resistors and capacitors before. I know my eyes aren’t the greatest but WOW, it was impossible. I had to borrow my wife’s magnifying desk lamp just to put a dab of solder on one pad and then stick the part down. Once it was cool, I was able to do the other end. After about 40 of the little bastards I was done, and could put the bigger parts together.

Online was no help. Everyone pretty much said the same thing as the reviews: Be wary of Chinese parts, because they don’t include instructions. I got fed up looking and initiated a return. I figured I just wasted my time and money. Finally I got an answer from the seller, that they were pushing the factory to provide the manual. I was surprised and elated about actually receiving it. It was quite detailed, but written in broken “Engrish”, badly translated English from a foreign language.

I got a schematic of the circuit design, which was quite helpful. I was immediately able to go back and solder 4 parts in place that were on unmarked sections of the PC board. It also showed me which side several capacitors went on, as there were 8 capacitors, 4 of one value and 4 of another, that went on two different Low Pass Filter sections. The schematic also showed me which filter side was which.

The biggest help is the Toroid winding instructions. Radios and amps often have a lot of inductors, basically coils around magnetic doughnuts, called Toroids. The number of turns of wire through the doughnuts, and the composition of the toroids themselves are very important, often different amounts of different metal powders in a resin binder. The toroid winding instructions and the schematic gave me the values of the inductors, and the number of turns around each one. Without these instructions I could never have completed the amp.

The last form was the assembly and testing guide, which gave me detailed instructions for initial power up and tune up of the amplifier. There is a very important step given, to properly set the amplifier transistor resting voltage, before soldering in the coil that connects the power side of the transistor. Done wrong, you blow the transistors and kill the amp. Again – something I couldn’t do without the instructions.

So, scamBay came through, all it took was 5 emails and a threat to return the item. I finally got in installed in the case, and I’m trying to tune the little radio that goes with it. They never seem to come tuned up right. Must be that flight from India or something.


The MacroBitX

So far in my hiking radio adventures, you may have read about my little radio from India, the uBitX. The letter u actually a Greek letter or something (not the kind that drunken frat boys care about) that is read as “Micro”. So the uBitX is read “MicroBitX”. I don’t know where the BitX came from – you’d have to ask the people in India that invented the circuit.

Anyhow, the uBITx people at HFSignals just provide a circuit board and some parts in a plastic shipping case, and that’s all. They do it to keep the weight and cost down, since where else can you buy a complete Ham Radio under $150. The online experimenters have gone nuts, building the uBitX into everything from the plastic case it comes in, to cigar boxes and 3D printed cases, to custom made metal cases and even old metal boxes that once held other stuff. One of my favorites recently was the one below, basically an attempt at looking like an old Tube radio, complete with a light bulb resembling a tube. Of course, the digital readout of the display gives it away, but otherwise it looks like some vintage project.

It got me thinking about a piece of hardware languishing in my attic. I had picked it up probably in the 1990s, messed around with it for another project and ultimately found out I wasted my money (which in the 1990s involved rolling a LOT of pizza dough). So I got the old thing down and decided it was about time to repurpose the heavy bastard, or toss it.

First of all, it’s a nice piece of kit, a big, heavy, tube-based AM amplifier, which some Hams have turned into 6meter (50mhz) repeater amps. But this thing has probably been in war surplus since the 1970s, and every capacitor inside probably needs replacing. About the only parts still worth anything are the variable capacitors, resistors, and one hell of a roller inductor.

The mechanics inside are just nuts. the Military knew how to build these things. On the front panel is a big knob labeled Plate Tune that goes to the roller inductor, housed inside the white plastic housing. The shaft moves back through the yellow circle, and a dial pointer moves up and down through a spiral indicator on the front. Of course, Output Coupling controls the big variable capacitor, one of the biggest I’ve seen in person. Behind the inductor are the fins of a 4X150A tube, which needs a few thousand volts at several hundred milliamps to put out its full 250 watts. This amp is only rated to 100 watts, but of course the tube sits in a pretty neat little cooling housing, and forced air would blow right through the fins built into the top of the tube.

The rear view is impressive, the rubber couplers for the forced air are still intact, as is the voltage/current supply plug. It looks like this device was cabinet mounted, as it has rails along the sides. The top and bottom plates are 1/4 turn pop-screws, giving quick access to the guts of the unit.

Underneath, there are lots of little bits and bobs for doing radio wizardry. The giant brown thing across the middle is a 25 watt wire wound resistor. I thought at first it was a big inductor of some sort, but on the bottom it is clearly marked. The 12KV capacitor banks are pretty interesting, too. In the bottom right you can see the underside of the tube housing, with its forced air tube leading to the back of the device. Another small variable capacitor is connected to the front panel via a little plastic universal joint.

After stripping the bits from the insides: The front panel is now missing its Input Load and Screen Volt adjustment covers. I intend to put toggle switches or even a volume knob into the holes, and need the covers gone. The plate tune knob and mechanics are gone. I wanted to save the dial and pointer and maybe use it as a volume control since it would only need about 220 degrees of movement, but the internal mechanics were held together so well I damaged the dial and shaft. I did figure out how to save some parts, so I may be able to use the knob and fit something else into the window, such as some sort of indicator. Of course, I could always mount the UBITX display back away from the window, and use the window as a peep hole. Output Coupling will be the knob for the rotary encoder, basically the tuning knob.

Inside, there is a lot of space for stuff. I wanted the tube housing to stay. At first I was going to try and find an old Octal tube to fit the socket and just put 12v on the heater to light the tube, but it would be a lot of work just to find and light an old tube with no real purpose, not to mention extra heat. Of course, I kept the vents and back plate, a couple of red PC case fans will fill in the holes nicely and provide ventilation and some interesting lighting. Here’s the rub: The deep part of the case is actually the BOTTOM side of the amp. In order to view all the knob labels the right way up, the uBITX will have to be mounted upside down, and hang from the metal plate.

Of course, the other option is to say to heck with THAT idea, flip the case over, and repaint the front, making new decals for the new positions.

This is the detail of the inside of the top plate. There’s not as much room on this side, only about 2 inches. However, on this side I plan to put an amplifier board, and it will fit just fine. Imagine, an amplifier board built INSIDE an old amplifier.

The only big flaw of the uBITX is it has a maximum output on the lower bands, of 10 watts. As you go higher in the bands, that output decreases. My favorite two bands are 40 meters and 20 meters, and using less than ten watts voice is often futile. Of course, the uBITx has a morse code option, but I don’t really know much code yet.

So, I’ll probably have to drill several holes in the front panel. I addition to the holes already there, I need three jacks for headphones, microphones, and the code key. I also need switches for main power and amplifier.

One other thing about the uBITX – it runs off 12 volts, but it’s final stage transistors can handle 24 volts or more, putting out more power. It IS possible to separately feed them 24 volts and they’ll chug out 20 watts or so. But, the little amplifier board I’m going to use can’t handle that much power into it. I’m going to have to wire up two switches on the front panel, but wired in such a way that its not possible to feed the amplifier 20 watts in. So I’m thinking two switches, with positions:

Switch 1: Regular – 10 watts max out, no amplifier OR AMPED (which turns control over to the amplifier switch)

Switch 2: Turbo – 20 watts max out, no amplifier OR: Super Turbo – 10 watts from the transmitter, amplified to 100 watts out on 40 meters, and 60 watts on 20 meters.

Im really thinking for Super Turbo that I need to wire in one of those switches with the red safety covers, and a little extra case fan so when I go into high power mode, the thing actually makes more wind noise.

All in all, I think it will be a fun way to add a bit of interesting radio to the desktop. And much like the SuperPi case, there’s always fun in over-engineering something just for the hell of it.

Hammock Chair

Since I only 3 season hike (fall, winter, spring) and I was in Facebook Jail this weekend (because apparently when a gun hater says ‘if we ban guns it’s not like anyone can get bombs’ and you tell them ‘you can make a bomb from stuff at the pharmacy and lowes and there’s no background check’ and they whine to facebook, facebook kicks you off for 24 hours), I decided to make stuff.

Wow, that was a long sentence.

Anyhow, I decided to make a hammock chair. I have one I bought a while back but it doesn’t really go with the rest of my home made stuff and I needed something to do.

I ordered some deep purple fabric from ripstop by the roll. I got the 1.6 ounce HyperD stuff, which is my go-to fabric for hammocks. It has a diamond weave to it instead of the squares and feels pretty good. It stretches and conforms to you.

I figured I had to tie-dye it. That’s a given with my stuff and it is really pretty easy. I also had so Navy Blue dye already left from a previous project I never got to.

So the recipe is simple:

One bottle regular RIT dye in a big pot, 2 cups each vinegar and water, and heat to 180. Meanwhile tie up your fabric and stick it in a ziplock freezer bag. When the dye gets to temperature give it a good stir to stir up the dye particles and pour into the bag. Squeeze the air out carefully and leave the bag in the sink. Every 20 minutes or so flip the bag. After 90-120 minutes, unbag the fabric, rinse a lot, and toss it in the washer on delicate. It helps if you have a washer without an agitator because the ends will fray. If you have an agitator I would go ahead and sew up the hammocks end channels!

Dry in a warm dryer on low with a towel. I dry a regular load of clothes first, then pull them out and put in my hammock fabric and towel in the warm dryer. After about 20 minutes on low heat the thing is dry.

So this was the result. Purple and Navy look great together. The ends always have way too much color. I ordered and dyed 3 yards and tried to get the center of my spiral in the middle. I then folded the spiral in half and measured out 3 feet and cut the ends off so I have a 6 foot hammock and enough scraps to make stuff sacks out of.

Once I have a properly sized hammock blank, I can knock one out in a couple hours. I’ve gotten to where I don’t need to use pins. I just fold the long edge over once, and then again along the selvage, about a half inch, and hem it as I go. The end channels I usually make bigger, about an inch, and then another inch. Again, fold about a foot at the time and eyeball it. It’s a hammock, not a wedding dress.

For the side hems I run two stitches, usually a straight stitch and then back with a zigzag. For the end channels I do three, a straight stitch to hold it down, then back with a zigzag, and finally another straight stitch. I haven’t had an end channel to fail yet.

The stuff sack takes just as long as the main hammock, and I sew it to the side of the hammock. This time I made a drawstring bag and it works pretty good.

My last step was making the end loops. I hate doing them. I use regular amsteel cord that most everyone uses for hammock slings. I made two continuous loops and fed them through the channels and back through themselves. My hammock straps have hooks on the ends that work with any of my gear, so whatever I make winds up with the little loops sticking out to hang from.

So, it was an easy Sunday project while in Facebook Jail. I started working on a fleece liner for my hammock quilt. I have one but it is kind of short, and Fleece was on sale at JoAnn for $3, when my wife was in there buying another kind of fabric.

I’m not happy with how the liner is going yet, but right now it makes a good blanket.

Springer to Neel Gap

Our hike from Springer to Neel Gap took us up 6000 feet and down over 7200 feet, over 31 miles through Georgia’s back woods. With this being prime Appalachian Trail hiking season, we were never really alone the whole time. We saw plenty of other hikers heading north and south, and more than a few day hikers doing Blood Mountain on Sunday.

We started out getting shuttled by Tom Basemore, a nice guy but his van reeked of dog. His van, his rules, but when you are in the transport business, it would be nice to keep the family pet stench out of the business vehicle. The ride to Springer was bumpy and curvy, but he finally dumped us at the trail.

Unfortunately, Springer Mountain is the wrong way from the closest drop off point. But one of our group had done the walk up several times, and watched the packs. So we walked a mile uphill to Springer unencumbered, and ran into a group of women out for the day hiking and birdwatching.

Pictures taken, we headed back downhill and began our Northward Journey with the full weight of three days of food and supplies on our backs. We spread out quickly, a few having gone on ahead, and a few lagging behind. 9 miles in we passed Hawk Mountain Shelter. Clay elected to stay at some tent sites, and the rest of us soldiered on. I had intended on staying a but farther than the shelter, and the other hikers apparently agreed. We found a site near the summit of Sassafras mountain wide enough for everyone, after a long 12 mile day with a good bit of uphills. I can see why people give up in Georgia who are attempting a thru-hike. Georgia is pretty tough. Temperatures were supposed to be in the mid 70s, but the sun was bright and the trees hadn’t fully leafed out yet, so there was little shade.

I tried my hand at doing some Ham radio stuff at sunset, but I couldn’t get anyone to call back. I’ve decided against taking my 2 meter walkie on any more trips. I’ve taken it on three now, with no answer. 2 meters seems to be more of a local hobbyist thing and repeater-user group anyway. Because of weather and so much poison ivy off the trails, I didn’t pull the HF set out again, but its battery was handy for charging the phone.

Day 2 was long and arduous much like day one. We covered about 12.5 miles going up and down a lot. It stayed a bit cloudy most of the day, which was a nice change. All in all, day 2 was great. I stopped at a shelter and boiled some water so I could scrub some grunge off myself and have a shave. It felt great having a “bandanna bath” and getting some of the crud off my body.

We finally found a place to camp, that evening, really at the intersection between two trails near Lance Creek. The whole group was back together by this point. There was a fire restriction and no streams nearby, so some people just sat around by the empty fire pit. I went to the hammock for a rest until near sundown. After a brief reappearance, I retreated once again to the hammock to watch Game of Thrones episodes I had copied to the phone. Right about 9pm I heard the first few raindrops hit my tarp. I was glad we were expecting the rain, because I had set my doors up for it. I will say the UGQ Winterdream tarp performed admirably in a good downpour for about 30 minutes.

The rain quit and I drifted off to sleep. I didn’t sleep as well the second night because the hammock was not even and I kept sliding downhill. My underquilt (I used the summer underquilt I made) was perfect. Temperatures were in the 50s and I wasn’t too hot or too cold.

The last day was one of the hardest. We had to go uphill over 1800 feet or so, up down up down up down, up to the top of Blood Mountain. The day was really breezy. Even though the thermometer said it was in the 60s, most of us were in jackets, even using gloves. The air whipped through the hollows and over the ridges. At the top of Blood mountain I ran completely out of food. I had timed it just right, carrying not an ounce too much. I had even eaten an offered bagel. Coming down from Blood Mountain was harder than going up. The North side was definitely a bigger struggle than the south side. But finally the store at Neel Gap was in view. I headed down to the car, and shuttled Pete to his.

It wasn’t long before the group was together again in the parking lot, and had to figure out where to eat lunch. We wound up at El Campesino in Cleveland, Ga., and then split off for home.

Our hike video:

Our hike on DailyMotion

Georgia’s on my mind. This weekend’s hike is almost over.

(Written Thursday before the trip. Thanks to Auto Scheduling this will pop up Sunday, because I don’t want you all knowing I’m gone!)

After a long debate I decided to take both my HF and my 2m radio this weekend on a hiking trip. It seems that the weather is going to be nice enough that I’ll be carrying a lighter load than usual, so I shouldn’t have any problems toting both the radios. The HF kit only weighs 3 pounds, and the little walkie weighs 10 ounces. 

I learned a lot from a few radio groups on Facebook that I hope will aid me in my travels. First thing is my antenna. I used a sloping antenna on my last trip, but it was pointed pretty much east, which from what I understand makes the area of greatest transmission/reception in that direction. Since I was in Georgia, the majority of my signal went across South Carolina and out to sea. This time I’ll have my compass, and point the antenna more northeast, so I should catch parts of NC, TN, WV, VA and PA with my little 10 watt radio. I also tuned the antenna I’ll be using, so it’s more efficient. The last time my antenna was tuned for 7.2mhz, and I spent a lit of time on 14.2mhz, which it wasn’t working as well on. 

I’ve also gone back to my LNR Precision Trail-Friendly antenna. Why? It weighs a heck of a lot less than anything else I have, and it’s easier to deploy than the dipole from my last post. No matter what I do, those damned pink wires get tangled up. The trail-friendly antenna packs up really neatly in the camera bag with the other radio parts, so nothing is outside the case. I found out one of the reasons it was causing such a headache – it wasn’t tuned! I just plugged it in and didn’t read the instructions, figuring a radio antenna I bought from a company would come cut to exactly the right length. Nope. It took about 30 minutes, but I go it clipped to a reasonable length, and even got instructions from a Facebook group how to point it the right way for maximum effectiveness.

Always check the antenna for every band you use. In addition, the little radio I’m carrying puts out more power on 7.2mhz than it does on 14.2mhz or 28mhz, although I’m not sure why, this was part of the design.

There are several decent POTA and SOTA spots to transmit from on this hike. We will be doing Springer Mountain to Neel Gap, and both Springer and Blood Mountains are designated Parks on the Air spots. There are a half dozen good spots to try Summit on the Air transmissions, which encourages people to get on the air from mountaintops which may not be parts of any park system. The AT runs close to a number of Mountaintops in Georgia, even right over a few designated spots. 

There’s a saying some people use: “If God brings you to it, He’ll bring you through it.”

On the AT, it is more like, “If the AT brings you to it, the AT will bring you over it.”

If you’re ever lost off the Appalachian Trail, just look for the tallest peak around and head that way. As you near the summit you’ll likely find the trail. 

There is a chance of thunderstorms so I hope that it’s clear enough for a while that I can put up an antenna. Throwing a 40 foot wire into a tree when there are thunderstorms in the area is generally considered a bad idea. Lightning is bad for radios and their operators, generally. Someone recently asked me in a hiking group about lightning, and how to deal with it. I told them not to worry about it. If lightning hits you, you either wake up, or you don’t. But you can avoid attracting it when possible, and staying off the air during a thunderstorm is considered good practice. Also, my home-made radio is NOT waterproof, so if it starts to rain I’ll have to take some steps to protect it. Thankfully the little walkie radio IS waterproof so I’m not worried about it getting wet. 

This weekend there are a few events on the air, so I’m hoping to find a clear spot where someone can hear me yelling into the ether. But either way, I’ll have a nice big battery to charge my iPhone with.

This section will be strenuous. Lots of people give up in Georgia, after thinking their hike will be more like a walk in the park. Georgia is tough, with lots of steep ups and downs. North Carolina in places is more gentle, with a steep up followed by lots of ridgeline walking. Georgia seems to have two attitudes: Up and Down, with not a lot of in between. I can see why lots of hikers give up before hitting NC and Virginia. If I thought the whole trail was like the first 60 miles, I probably would give up, too. 

QRP on the AT part 2.

I haven’t gone hiking since my last adventure, mainly because the weather was NOT cooperative. I like cool weather hiking pretty well, but When there’s a sudden snow storm and 30mph winds and -17 wind chill, I’d rather stay home and play video games.

I have a hike coming up soon, and thankfully Spring has fully set in, even in Georgia, so we don’t expect any temperatures under 30, and nothing over 75 at this point. It is a three day hike from Springer Mountain, the place where a lot of AT hikers sign their first log book and take a picture by the iconic bronze plaque on the rocks. We will be traveling from there to Neel gap, the one spot on the trail (I think) that runs through an actual building.

I’m taking my ham radio again. It’s Spring, which means less winter stuff and a lighter pack. I have been wlaking on the Dreadmill at the house about 2 miles each night, and I made a new antenna, all of which I hope mean a better trail radio experience. My old antenna was a purchase, and while it was supposed to work fine with a replacement wire, I wasn’t really happy with it. So I got online and looked around, and made a good old-fashioned Dipole.

I used 1/8″ coax (I forget the number, but its the thin stuff used for wi-fi antennas and such, 50 ohms like real radio cable. And it’s only about 10 feet so the loss should be minimal. I found an old 1 pound lead/tin solder spool and wound the solder onto a second spool. I don’t know if they even sell Lead/Tin solder anymore, but I still have enough to last the rest of my electronics life. I put the coax through the bottom and wound about 10 turns around the spool to make a 1:1 Balun. Basically it’s function is to choke off any radio waves that try to travel back down to the radio, and make the coax itself radiate. The stripped end I left in the middle of the spool.

I then measured out the appropriate length of wire, using that #26 silicone coated stuff. I soldered one wire to the center of the coax and the other to the shield, looping the end through holes in the spool as a strain relief, and tying them to thin cords. After a generous application of electric tape, I was done with the basics.

I strung it up between the house and a tree and plugged in the radio. Then antenna was too long for 40 meters (7.2 on your car radio FM dial) so I started cutting. I hate tuning antennas. Transmit, check the reflected power. Drop the antenna. Cut an inch or so off each end, test it again. Repeat as necessary until the reflected power is flat when you transmit. After about 6 cuts I got it right.

Its ugly and basic but its light and pretty easy to deploy. I only wished I had a coax connector on the bottom of the spool, so I could unclip the cable when winding up the wires. Overall the wires are about 66 feet long (33 feet  each), so I still need a good open section to put the thing up. The hardest part about transmitting off somewhere is stringing up the antenna. I swear a lot when I’m doing it, because no matter how I roll them up, the wires get tangled.

It is much easier to carry the 2 meter walkie-talkie but it doesn’t have near the reach of the 40 meter transmitter. I have talked to New Jersey on 40 meters with the 10 watt radio and my big antenna at the house (from South Carolina)

Unfortunately, the antenna I built should work on 40 meters AND 20 meters, because a half-wave 40meter antenna is a full wave 20 meter antenna, but this one reflects too much power on 20 meters, which is generally where the foreigners hang out in mid afternoon trying to talk to the states. But 40 meters is a good all-around talking band, and there is an emergency net that practices for several hours every day I hope to be able to talk to from the AT.

My last improvement was my microphone. I went ahead and bought a real lapel mike, with a little fuzzy wind guard on it, instead of the home made mike I had with the kit. The mike was $12 and works better with the radio. I tested the audio and there is a definite improvement in what I hear. I spent a good bit of time tuning the thing as well, as it was slightly off frequency. It is still about 50hz low on the readout, but it works.

First Time in Georgia… on the AT

On Saturday March 3rd a group of us left Columbia, SC for a Georgia AT Section. It was particularly interesting since another group had gone down on Friday morning for a short hike and campout, so we were going to do a key swap hike. It was also the AT Kickoff weekend at the Amicolola Lodge 40 miles south of us, so we were pretty sure everything would be busy. We weren’t disappointed.

We barely found a parking spot just down the road from the Mountain Crossings store at Neel Gap, and the 6 of us headed up the hill to the store. We saw the famous “shoe tree” where hikers throw their boots (for a reason unknown to me). 

After a brief visit inside, we started the bulk of the hike, which consisted of a roller coaster of steep ups followed by gentle downs. I can see why a large part of the hiking population gives up in Georgia. Parts of TN and NC seem much gentler, with short steep ups followed by rolling ridge lines and great views.
There wasn’t much water along this section of the trail. I stopped at a spring and was soon surrounded by a group of 6 hikers. One guy got the trail name “Colonel” because his last name was Sanders and his first bit of trail magic he got was a piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Two others were trying a thru-hike just like Colonel. Another couple were first-time section hikers, trying to fill a sawyer bag laying it down in the spring. They watched me fill mine with my red squishy bowl, and wound up borrowing it.

On down the trail we had split up pretty well. I ran into Mark and Mike, out in front of me, but Ron, Karen and Carol were behind us, having stopped at the store for a moon pie. Everyone I ran into seemed to be planning on spending the night at Low Gap Shelter, which was kind of concerning since I didn’t know how big the area was. Some shelter areas are nothing more than a little hut forced onto a hilltop, while others surround a large low spot or saddle between hills, with a wide tenting area.

I stopped as planned on the top of Wildcat Mountain, which is a “Summit on the Air” spot for Ham Radio activity. I set up my radio and wire, and started trying to call people. It was very noisy on the air, with lots of band fading and static, plus a CQ contest was going on, and it was hard to find a clear frequency. I finally gave up on my SotA stuff and just started trying to answer some contesters. I got one guy in West Virginia who gave me a clear signal report, and I was happy.

After that, I packed up and headed on. I had 5 more miles to go before dusk, and the sun was sinking. I made it into Low Gap with sunlight to spare, but it was behind a mountain and was edging on towards darkness. Thankfully Low Gap wasn’t the “shelter on the hilltop” kind of place, and there was a huge tenting area around it. We camped right off the trail on a slight slope, only going near the shelter for water, which had a nice flow of creek water next to it. The shelter itself was packed with thru-hiker hopefuls. After all, everyone is a section hiker until they get to Maine.

By this point I was exhausted. 2 hours of sleep and a 4 hour drive, plus a 12 mile walk uphill… I made my food and got in the hammock, after briefly talking to my hiking partners. The group had already swapped keys, so Jim, Pete, Dorothy, Chris, and Laura could drive our cars into town the following day. I intended on staying awake in the hammock for a while, but by 8pm I had fallen asleep. I woke up at 1am and hadn’t moved. My tent lights were still on, so I switched them off and fell asleep again.

At 6 I reluctantly awakened, needing to go to the bathroom. The sun wasn’t up yet, but the nearly full moon made it quite bright outside. I started laboring at packing some of my things, not wanting to give up the warmth of my hammock, as it was still 31 degrees outside. Finally I gave in and went to get water and make breakfast. When everyone started moving out, I slung the pack on and headed north, needing to do ten miles before getting to the car. It’s amazing that even though you eat the food and drink the water, the pack never seems lighter. In fact it almost seems heavier the second and third days.

Walking to the car was pretty much uphill all the way, with teasing downhills that lead to another uphill. Finally we reached another shelter with a privy (a kind of outhouse). I had run into Mark and Mike, but I was out of fuel by this time and in desperate need of the privy services. Thankfully it was still cold, so the privy didn’t smell. I took full advantage of it, before cleaning my hands and sitting in the sun to eat what was left of my food. I brought the perfect amount, as I ate everything I had before getting back to the car.

After the shelter was a brief up and then a long 1000 foot descent into Unicoi Gap parking area. The parking area was full, as a local ministry set up a hiker feed with hamburgers and water. The burgers were overcooked, but tasty any way. I met two deaf people with their hearing interpreter, and a blind guy named “Vaper” who was being helped slowly along the trail by his seeing-eye wife. They would do around 5 miles a day. I was amazed at his resilience, as it is all I can do not to break my ankle on the rocks, and I can see them.

Back at the van, the whole party united once again, and we headed down to Helen, Georgia. As we were leaving the Unicoi lot, we saw a hiker looking for a ride into town. We had seen him at Neels and at the Shelter. He had black curly hair and a brown/green outfit and pack on. I kept calling him Frodo because from a distance his face and hair strongly resembled the hobbit. We gave him the trail name, to spare him from such indignities as “Donkeybutt” or “stinky”.

The video in this case was a bit difficult to make, as I had to deal with two groups going two directions over multiple days, so I just kind of tossed the pictures wherever. Anyway, if you walk from Neel Gap to Unicoi, you’ll see this stuff..