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.

Pumpkin Patch – Rockville, Virginia

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From Richmond, a short 30 minute ride can get you to the middle of nowhere

When we received word that 100 trick or treaters were descending upon us for halloween, we decided to get ready. It was a perfect day to pick pumpkins. We went to the Lloyd Family Farm about a half hour away. The farm was pretty packed with visitors and fall activities, like hayrides, corn mazes, halloween tours and of course pumpkin picking. Apparently, black widow spiders live under pumpkins, who knew?

UCI 2015 – Road World Championships

The 2015 UCI Road World Championships is well underway in Richmond, Virginia running from September 19–27, 2015. It is the 88th Road World Championships. This marks the first time in 29 years that the race is held in the United States. The last time in 1986 at Colorado Springs. The last time it was held in Canada was 2003 in Hamilton, Ontario. I know nothing of road cycling but it’s been pretty exciting to watch. It’s been great for Richmond as well to help put us on the map.

Old Town Discovery – FURY

On June 23, 2015, we drove an hour and a half to Farmville, VA to check out some canoes at the Appomattox River Company, the largest canoe supplier in central Virginia. It was over 100 degrees F and I was in shirt and tie from work, dripping in sweat as we navigated through the warehouse. The guys there were super helpful and knowledgable. We originally came to check out Nova Craft canoes, but they really didn’t have the models we were after. We originally sought the light yet tough materials such as Royalex but ever since the company stopped producing this material, Royalex canoes have been hard to find. Since we are mostly paddling rivers, we needed something more durable. After much debate, we decided that the best canoe for us at this time was the Old Town Discovery 15,8 (2015). Built like a tank and almost as heavy as one too at 87lbs, this is the workhorse for most outfitters because of the durable three layer polyethylene construction. The best thing about the 2015 models are the new webbed seats, upgraded from the terrible, formed plastic seats. I figured if we can portage an 87lb canoe, kevlar will feel like paper. We are proud of our new addition to the family, her name? Fury. Time to find some paddles.

Piankatank River – Gloucester, VA

It was a perfect day for kayaking on the Piankatank River, the main tidal river of the Chesapeake Bay. Located on the Middle Peninsula between the Rappahannock and York Rivers, it is a prime spot for fishing, crabbing and bird watching. The river attracts all species of birds including kingfishers, blue herons and bald eagles. My friend Francisco was able to join us. Gloucester County is truly a peaceful place, the pace of life is slower and the sight of trucks carrying crab pots is always pleasing for some reason. I would like to return and paddle through Dragon Run one day, a 36 mile long stream which serves as the main fresh water tributary of the Piankatank River.