The summer of rain (2018)

I’ve lived in Richmond for 16 years now, and this past summer has certainly been the wettest one to date. The month of June saw a total of 13.32 inches of rain (normally an average of 3.94 inches). It seemed to have rained pretty all summer. We were lucky in Virginia to have avoided the heart of hurricane Florence that wrecked havoc in the carolinas. The hurricane did spawn several tornados that made their way through Richmond, causing significant damage and killing one person. There is no denying, that our climate is in flux. Each year, the temperatures are hotter, the storms stronger and the atmosphere more volatile. While mulling about climate change in the rainforest that is our backyard,  I stumbled across a surprise from last year’s planting. Fresh raspberries that somehow found enough sunlight to bloom…..

Here’s to a better autumn!

First Snow in Richmond

The Winter Storm Helena arrived to Richmond, Virginia on January 7, 2017, making it the River City’s first official snowfall of the year. We received over 8 inches of snow and with temperature highs around 20s F, it created for the perfect winter wonderland. We spent the weekend playing and exploring this new landscape, blanketed in snow.

We first dominated the slopes of Forest Hill Park and somehow ended up on local TV. We were a little older than the average sledder by about 20 years but that didn’t stop us. We drank at the local craft brewery (Ardent) and hung out at cafes. Despite the condition of the roads, we all gathered to celebrate the wedding of some old friends. The snow made for some great pictures for them.

 Unlike your northern US cities, snow in Richmond falls maybe 3-5 times a year. The average US city accumulates 26 inches of snowfall per year. In Richmond, the yearly average is about 12 inches. The city is not really equipped to deal with it, and as a result, everything essentially shuts down. Everyone is in full relaxation mode – getting outside to build snowmen, sled down the hills or gather at breweries. I sure do miss snow.

The iced over Nickel Bridge
The James River, and Nickel Bridge in the background

Happy New Years

The North Fork of the Shenandoah River

We spent Christmas in a cabin along the Shenandoah River, just west of Shenandoah National Park. The weather was warm enough to paddle, so we paired up siblings and went head to head in canoe races up and down the river. It was rare for all of us to have a holiday break together so we naturally had to make the most of this occasion. I had never been to the town of Shenandoah (population 2354 in 2013) before this outing. And as we drove through this sleepy town, it was hard for me to imagine that this place served a key role during the civil war. There were three iron ore furnaces around this town which smelted raw iron into pig iron. Apparently in the days before the war, this pig iron was shipped down the Shenandoah River to Harpers Ferry in West Virginia. During war time, these goods were transported by wagon to Gordonsville, VA and then subsequently by rail to Richmond where it could have been used at the Tredegar Iron Works. Both of these Virginia mountain towns now are peaceful and quiet as can be. I was especially impressed by Gordonsville’s display of Christmas Lights. It was certainly a welcoming sight while driving through the winding, dark and foggy roads of the mountains.

I just realized that I have not been able to produce any new videos of canoe trips this year. I have several projects in the works right now but they have yet to be polished. I’ve been very happy overall with the performance of the Sony a6000 both as a still and video camera. Lately I’ve been experimenting with different lenses and shutter speeds in videography and have been able to catch some pretty decent footage. For our trip in Quebec, I also brought along an external audio recording device to see how the audio quality would compare to the native mic. Here is a demo reel of random shots I was able to capture in 2016.

2016 Demo Reel: by John Le

As the holidays come to a close and a new year around the corner, I look back at how much time I was able to spend with family and friends and the total number of nights I camped outdoors. While it was a good year for paddling and hiking, the total number of nights I spent outdoors, totaled just five. Four of those nights were in the La Verendrye Wilderness Reserve of Quebec, Canada and the other night was spent camping in St. Mary’s Wilderness. I’ve made up my mind….in 2017, I’m going for double digits. Happy New Years to all!

Gordonsville, Virginia – all decked out for Christmas. In the middle of the Virginia mountains.

Pike Place Market – Seattle, WA

One of the first places we visited in Seattle was the Pike Place Market. Open since 1907, it is one of America’s oldest public farmers’ markets. It attracts more than 10 million visitors annually, earning it the rank of 33rd most visited tourist attraction in the world. Certainly a place to overwhelm the senses; the smell of fresh cod in the air, vendors bargaining, the fresh, salty air from the Elliot Bay and of course tastes of all different sorts. I was able to pick up a cool book on canoeing in British Columbia, serving as a little incentive to return one day.


The Hunt for the Red Prospector

The canoe is a Canadian icon. One model in particular exemplifies the spirit of northern canoe tripping, it is known as the Prospector. The Chestnut Canoe company was based out of the maritime province of New Brunswick and was the leading producer of fine wood canvas canoes at the end of the 19th century. They created numerous models for all types of uses including the cruisers, trappers, freights, Ogilvy’s, pleasure canoes and of course the coveted Prospector.

Chestnut Canoe Company, based out of Frederickton, New Brunswick.

The Prospector stood apart from the rest, with the ability to be used in every setting. Spacious enough to accommodate an expedition, a moderate rocker to respond quickly in rapids, and a shallow arch for stability. Since the closure of the Chestnut Canoe Company in 1979, no other canoe design has been imitated as much as the Prospector.

Although Prospector canoes are still made today by numerous different canoe companies, the Prospector made out of Royalex ceased to be in production since 2014.

Richmond, VA to Erie, PA and back in less than 24 hours.

Royalex is a composite material developed in the 1970s.  It is light and very durable, ideal properties for any canoe. It is comprised of an outer layer of vinyl and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic with an inner layer of ABS foam. Unfortunately, PolyOne, a plastics company and producer of royalex at that time ended production of this material due to low demand. The last sheets were shipped out in December 2013. When word got out that royalex canoes were no longer in production, these canoes became highly sought after items. Especially by whitewater paddlers who swore by royalex canoes for their durability and lightweight.

Incidentally, one day while browsing the web, I came across a brand new one at a remote outfitter in New York state. After a series of quick phone calls, I learned it was a brand new 16ft red prospector at 52lbs. Almost half the weight of our Old Town Discovery of 3-ply construction. We decided it was time to act. We were prepared to make the drive from Richmond to New York. Fortunately, the outfitter was making a  trip to Erie, PA for an outdoor show and they would be able to meet us there with the canoe. This thankfully shortened our trip by 1.5 hours each way. On a snowy night on March 4, 2016 at 3:00am, we left Richmond in the hunt for the prospector to bring her home.


Nova Craft’s modern logo still features the Thunderbird.

Nova Craft Canoe was founded in Glanworth, Ontario in 1970. The company switched owners when it was purchased in 1986. Despite this change, Nova Craft kept its name as well as its original symbol. The Nova Craft emblem features the Thunderbird. The Thunderbird is an important symbol in several Native American tribes. It is of particular significance to the Haida of the Pacific Northwest as well as the tribes of the Great Lakes. It is said to be a being of supernatural size and power, capable of producing thunder claps with its great wings. This symbol is found on numerous cedar canoes of the Pacific Northwest tribes and usually holds the top position of totem poles.

Some thought we were crazy for driving 14 hours to pick up a canoe. Funny, we thought it would be crazy to not get her. If that’s what it takes to “paddle the truth north” (Nova Craft’s slogan). She’s now back in canuck hands. Welcome home girl.