Ragged Mountain Natural Area – Charlottesville, Virginia

The transition period from March to April is one of the prettiest times of year in Virginia. Cherry blossoms make their display, snowing petals in the gentle breeze for just a couple of weeks before the landscape flourishes with green. It is also the nicest time of year to go scouting for new clear waters to paddle. The mountains to the west is where I have the best luck in finding such waters. While the coastal plains of Virginia offer incredible wildlife and scenery to paddle in, I’ve always been in love with the backdrop of a bare forest against a sparkling mountain lake. In my heart, Lake Moomaw and Switzer lake hold the top two spots in my ranking of favorite Virginia mountain lakes, but I’m always open to see if they can be dethroned.

With two kids in tow, (Lake moomaw and switzer lake) are just a tad too far for a daytrip. (3.5 hours and 2.5 hours respectively). A quick look at a map of Virginia led me to investigate the Ragged Mountain Natural Natural in Charlottesville, Virginia.

At an elevation of 737 ft. This beautiful 980-acre region is home to the charlottesville reservoir, a gorgeous clear lake with more than 4 miles of shoreline. This area offers seven miles of trail through its oak, hickory, pine and maple forests. The densely wooded area is home to white-tailed deer, black bears, bobcats, and dozens of species of birds including the popular pileated woodpecker in this area.

It had been a long time since I’ve used our Deuter Kid Comfort Active (child backpack carrier), actually haven’t used it since Utah (September 2019). Our 2.5 year old has also gained some weight since that time, but we have all been cooped up and ready for a decent hike. We started at the main parking lot and made a 3.0 mile round trip to the floating bridge. This hike is certainly not as remote as Shenandoah National Park, as you can still hear cars on the inner roads but it is still certainly peaceful.

The Deuter Kid Comfort Active in action in Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. Overall awesome kid carrier.

The trails were laid out clearly without any brush (another reason why I like spring hiking). We sat down and had a small snack at the floating bridge before making our way back across the dam and to the main parking area. In front of the parking lot are several picnic tables with a great view of the lake. We sat down and had lunch in the brisk spring breeze after working up a sweat. Down at the canoe launch are actually several canoes and kayaks that people just leave there unattended on the racks. I told our son that we would be back to paddle this lake one day, when it wasn’t as cold.

Whether you come here for the trails, water or wildlife, there is something here for everyone. It is a great trail for kids too, as it is not too strenuous. Stay healthy, stay safe everyone.


Directions (open 7:00am to sunset)

Physical Address: 1730 Reservoir Rd., Charlottesville, VA 22903

From I-64 in Charlottesville, take Exit #118B/US 29 North. After 0.4 miles, take the first exit for US 29 Business. At the end of the ramp, turn left onto Fontaine Avenue. Go 0.3 miles on Fontaine Avenue to Reservoir Road and turn right. Follow Reservoir Road for 1.7 miles to the sign on the right just before Camp Holiday Trails. This is the lower parking area. To reach the upper parking area, continue past the lower lot, stay right and pass the yellow gate, and travel up the paved road to the top of the dam and park by the kiosk and tool shed.

The City of Charlottesville owns and manages the land, parking areas, and trails at Ragged Mountain.  The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority manages the water and related infrastructure.

Dogs are not allowed at Ragged Mountain natural area (other than approved ADA service dogs).

COVID – 19

As a physician (Internal Medicine and Ophthalmology), I try to separate my work from this blog, but at a time like this, I feel the need to spread the message to as many people as possible.

Although it is still very early in the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that the world will never be the same. As the SARS-CoV-2 makes it way around the world, we will all experience our version of the pandemic at different times. Healthcare workers scramble around the world to contain the virus and minimize casualties. The battle against this virus will not be won in the hospital wards and in the clinics, it is fought in our homes and neighborhoods with prevention. The soldiers in this battle are the people who live in this country. by staying home, you are contributing more than you will ever realize. That is our main weapon. With such contagious pathogen, the goal is absolutely containment. Preventing the disease, is MUCH more efficacious to our health care system, than treating it. This emphasizes the importance of staying home as much as humanly possible. What sets SARS-CoV-2 apart from influenza, SARs and even ebola is its ability to shed virus in asymptomatic people. This fact, is what makes it so difficult to control. People are able to shed virus to dozens of people around them, unknowingly before they even start to have symptoms. Keep this in mind. In a perfect situation, we would be able to test EVERYONE to identify all of those that are asymptomatic, however given the situation and our resources, this is simply not possible. The only way to prevent it’s spread is to treat the situation as if you had COVID-19. Quarantine yourself for the next 14 days. Only then, with our given resources, would we stand a chance against this outbreak. Stay home, go for a hike, go outdoors. Keep 6 feet away from each other. Take care of eachother. Remember, healthcare workers are going to work, so that you don’t have to. Please spread the message. We will beat this.

Stay healthy and safe,

John Le

R. Garland Dodd Park at Point of Rocks – Chesterfield County, Virginia

On my last day of break, I wanted to take the family out to explore the freshwater tidal marsh areas of R. Garland Dodd Park in Chesterfield County, Virginia on the Appomatox River. The park spans 176 acres and offers something for everyone of all ages. Apart from the beautiful 2.7 miles of walking trails, there are 2 baseball fields, 2 basketball courts, a football field and 6 tennis courts which are all lighted. There are also 4 soccer fields and two different sets of playgrounds, and numerous shelters.

The main attraction to the park is the floating boardwalk through the Ashton Creek Marsh. In the heart of winter, the place seemed desolate but still very beautiful. I imagine that in the summer, this place would be teeming with wildlife; birds, turtles, and dragonflies to mention a few. We enjoyed the very short hike down to the first Marsh Overlook where the floating board walk begins. Interestingly, at this location is another playground area which seems to be almost hidden in the woods. Our son very much enjoyed the floating boardwalk, as he hopped over the panels to avoid the small gaps. With walking stick in hand he explored the marsh and the plants, marveled at the ducks as they flew in formation and observed the sporadic movements of the dozens of tadpoles.

At the age of 28 months, he is a very capable hiker on flat terrain such as this. Towards the South Gully Bridge is a beautiful outlook on the Appomatox as the marsh opens up into flowing river water. This area is interestingly of historic significance as well. This land was the southern end of the Union position during the Bermuda Hundred Campaign. These were a series of battles fought at the town fo Bermuda Hundred during May of 1864 during the American Civil War. There is evidence of the Union Army’s earthworks in the area however relic hunting is prohibited in the park.

The park is listed as “at Point of Rocks”. The Point of Rocks is a plantation home that was built in 1840 of historic significance during the civil war. It was named after the 60 foot high sandstone cliffs on the Appomattox River. The house had signficance as an observation point during the war for Union General Benjamin F. Butler. It was used for a time as a hospital as well. The home today is owned privately by descendants of John Strachan, but part of the land is part of the park today.

Whether you come for the views, the sports or the history, there is certainly plenty to explore at R. Garland Dodd Park. (30 minutes away from Richmond, VA)

Park Layout

Pocahontas Days – Chesterfield County, Virginia

A nice Tuesday off had our family seeking the outdoors for a nice change of scenery. We head to our closest state park, Pocahontas for a stroll through the forest and playground with our toddler.

It is obvious to me that he feels the same sense of freedom and bliss that I experience when I am outside. It’s probably only natural that we all humans feel this way. We have evolved and have been wired to spend our time outside. The energy that is poured through the body when you are outside is certainly palpable.

Interestingly, the act of physicians prescribing “outdoor time” for their patients has picked up significant momentum in recent years. Especially in Canada and Europe. Keep in mind that this is distinctly different from an exercise prescription. The mere act of being outside has been linked to help treat, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, depression, anxiety and several other chronic maladies.

Even on this cold and cloudy January day, this little kid is happy as a clam to explore treasures of the forest.

Three Lakes Park & Nature Center – Chamberlayne, Virginia

The winters in Virginia continue to get warmer and warmer. We have not yet had our first real snow fall yet and it is mid January. 2019 was the 2nd hottest year in recorded history, falling just behind the year 2016. The effects of climate change have made itself blatantly clear all over the world. The australian wildfires, rising sea levels and record shattering heat waves. This past weekend, it was 70 F in Richmond, Virginia! It was unsettling warm and sunny, we made the most of this situation and decided to venture to a new local park at the recommendation of a friend. We made our way to Three Lakes Park in Chamberlayne, Virginia.

Our son was eager to run once again in open space. He had been cooped up and had a mild case of cabin fever. He grinned from ear to ear as he sped through the forest. Nothing beats real world interaction to solidify things that he has read in his books. He was able to identify several birds and ducks as different parts of the tree. While we were walking, I realized that everything seemed just a little bit easier. I then realized at 27 months, he is now able to hike on his own! We completed a circuit just under 1 mile and he was able to walk the entire way! He even found a little hiking stick to call his own. After spending some time throwing rocks in the lake, he spent his energy on the large playground until the Nature Center opened at 12:00pm.

We were all very impressed by Three Lakes Park & Nature Center. The trails were flat and easy for the kids and the impressive 6,500 square foot Nature Center is one of the nicest we’ve ventured to. There is a 50,000 gallon aquarium which gives visitors a “fish-eye” view of the underwater world. Our son thoroughly enjoyed this center as he explored the migration patterns of the birds, and marveled at the number of turtle species in the tanks! The nature center is open from 12:00pm to 4:00pm most days and is free admission.

There’s no question that the future of our planet is at stake. We are all stewards of the planet, and we can dictate its course. We can either change the speed at which it is damaged, or change the speed at which it is recovered. Most importantly is the fact that the future is in the hands of our children. Get them outside to enjoy the beauty of our planet, so they know what it is exactly that they will be fighting to protect. A small act performed by millions can change the world. Start with your local conservation organization.

 

Building a Wannigan: In the Hudson’s Bay Tradition

If you have spent some time canoeing up north, you might have run into paddlers lugging around a heavy wooden box along for the ride. Oddly enough, the paddlers hoisted this box on their back, with a thick leather strap banded across their forehead to support the weight. Inside this mysterious box were plenty of camping treasures: pots, pans, lights, games, matches and more. This traditional piece of canoe gear is known as the wannigan or wanigan. Essentially, it is a wooden box that serves as a mini camp kitchen – storing cookware, food and goods on a canoe or snowsledding trip.

The tumplines that are used for carrying these boxes are just as interesting. They are thick and durable bands of leather that serve as a harness for these heavy boxes, and they allow the wannigans to be “tumped”. For over 200 years, wannigans have been on canoe voyages. Their use can be tracked as far back in the hands of the hardy voyageurs (french canadian fur trappers). For them however, this was not a recreational camping box, but functional storage device that they hoisted through hundreds of miles of mosquito-ridden boreal forest, day in and day out. Life for them, was certainly hard.

The wannigan can make even the most remote of places, feel like home.

Today, the spirit of the wannigan is very much alive and well in all parts of canada and the northern USA. There are certain camps in Ontario that continue to use traditional equipment such as wannigans on their canoe trips. Camp Keewaydin is a fine example. At these camps, children hoist these heavy boxes with them through Canadian boreal lands as they make their way through expeditions on their own.

 

There are those that feel that the wannigan is impractical or just downright unnecessary in the age of waterproof plastic bins. Love them or hate them, I believe that wannigans help remind us to exercise a little bit more caution on canoe trips. They remind us of the history of canoeing in Canada and serve as an important link to our past.

I’ve always wanted to build one to for the family and to keep traditional way of canoe camping alive. More importantly, I wanted something to build and share lasting memories for the kids.

Step 1: The design

The iconic Hudson’s Bay Company stripes on one of their point blankets.

The most important part of designing your wannigan is building one that actually fits your canoe! Since most canoe hulls are pretty close in size, the dimensions of all wannigans are relatively similar. Most wannigans are simple box designs, although there are some out there that are actually curved to the hull of the canoe.

Most wannigans are stained after their completion in a wood stain of one’s choice. I decided I wanted to create on in a more artisan fashion. In keeping with the tradition of this old piece of gear and the history of canoeing in Canada, I decided to paint this wannigan in the tradition of the Hudson’s Bay company. Known as one of the greatest companies in the world, this British company played an integral role in shaping the landscape of Canada and the fur trade. I always thought the classic Hudson’s Bay color scheme looked pretty cool. Basically plain white, with stripes of indigo, yellow, red and green, in that order. This color scheme and pattern was originally used on the Hudson’s Bay “Point Blanket”. This wool blanket was sold during the 1700 and 1800s and an item frequently traded with amongst First Nations people. The “point” system was a series of black lines at the corner of each blanket along the selvage. The number of lines would indicate how large the blanket was when it was unfolded. The pattern and design is seen today on numerous Hudson’s Bay Company goods, such as mugs, clothes, towels, canoes and even stuff animals.

If you are interested in learning more about the Hudson’s Bay Company, here are two great links.

 

Most wannigans have a lid that is flush with the sides, making the outline an even box. My brother created a wannigan in this style and we noticed that on trips with heavy rainfall, the wannigan actually started collecting water inside. To combat this problem, he cleverly sewed a Hudson Bay flag skirt for the wannigan which eventually worked to keep things dry. I decided in my design that I wanted to avoid this problem all together. I was going to make a lid that was slightly larger than the dimensions of my main compartment.

Duluth waxed canvas canoe packs, and wannigan with HBC skirt.

Creating a lid with a lip, would also allow me to wood burn a chessboard on the under surface to play during rainy day under the tarp or by campfire at night. The lip, would work to naturally keep the chess pieces from falling off the sides.

Step 2: The frame

I wanted to create a wannigan that did not have any metal screws. This one is held together by it’s joints as well as occasional wooden pegs and of course wood glue. The the large sides are from plywood and the ends are pine. While constructing the box, it certainly helps to invest in several large clamps at the ready. I subsequently applied several layers of colonial maple wood stain on the wannigan.

Finishing the lid.

Step 4: The fiberglass.

While some May consider this next step to be unnecessary, I knew it would add many benefits. Yes, I’m talking about adding a layer of fiberglass on the inside of the wannigan. This layer would not only strengthen the box, but would also make the inside waterproof – also making spills infinitely easier to clean. I’ve never worked with fiberglass or epoxy resin for that matter and this proved to be the most challenging step. One thing I learned was to mix small batches! In larger quantities I found that the epoxy and resin once mixed generated a lot of heat and solidified very quickly. It is of utmost importance to mix as accurate ratios as instructed as possible. This is a messy business so make sure you’re protected and working in a well ventilated area.

Step 4: Wood-burning

This was one of my favorite parts of the project. With the help of my brother, we tracked down several hudson bay logos on the internet. I was looking for one that was actually NOT as finely detailed because that would prove to be much more difficult to burn. Once you are satisfied with your design, print the logo out in “reverse”. From there, I used the hot pen and a flat surface to heat the paper and ink onto the wood. This would allow just enough ink transfer onto the wood so you can burn your design into it. I noticed that woodburning is not as easy on a softwood such as pine. Woodburning the cheeseboard also proved to be quite laborious however still enjoyable.

 

Step 4: The painting

This hbc canoe, and it’s contrast of wood and paint was where I got my inspiration for this wannigan design

This process actually took the longest. To ensure that the white was actually as “white” as it could be with clean stripes, I had to make some careful preparations. First off, it is critical to use a primer before the paint to soak up any stain. I gave this layer of primer a full 24 hours to dry, I wanted to prevent any peeling of paint because I was going to be using a lot of paint tape. After it was completely dried, I applied 3 coats of white paint, latex, and water based. Once this layer was completely dried I carefully taped the areas that would be striped. To make sure that the colored stripes would NOT BLEED ONTO the white paint, I actually painted OVER the taped margins with white paint to fill any possible micro gaps and for capillary action to soak up any potential paint. This is a CRITICAL STEP.

Step 5: The finish

Choosing the finish was actually more difficult than I thought. Typically, for any stained wood surface, you have a variety of options. For something that is going to brave the elements, you want it to be UV protected as well as water resistant. For such purposes, marine spar varnish (an oil base) is usually preferred. I realized that my project was different than just stained wood…I was working with stained wood as well as carefully painted pattern with a mostly white background. The pure white color posed an issue. Most spar varnishes will actually YELLOW the white.

I had to search for quite some time before I was able to find the finish that would NOT stain the white. It was a water based spar varnish that particularly says: “no yellowing”, make sure you look for that statement, because there are plenty of water based varnishes that will actually YELLOW your project. Believe me, you do not want to sand and re apply the finish. Another method is to have a sample test piece of wood that you can test the finish on. The water based varnish dries very quickly so you have to work relatively fast. Once the coat is totally dry, usually in about 3 hours, VERY gently run a 400 grit sandpaper over the surface to remove any bumps that may have developed. You ARE NOT sanding at this point, it is a VERY gentle grazing with the sandpaper. I ended up applying 5 coats of water based varnish to the wannigan.

Step 6: The tumpline

Another piece of traditional canoe wear, is the tumpline. Classically this Is a piece of leather strap that is tied to the canoe or waningan to assist in carrying and distributing the weight. The broad band of leather is placed over the forehead and the load is rested on the upper back. It sounds like an unusual way to carry loads but it actually works to help ease weight from the shoulders.

you can virtually use any type of rope for the tumpline but I wanted this thing to last the years and also to be crafted in the traditional sense. I purchased a leather tumpline from “Pole and Paddle” for $85. A bit pricey but worth it in terms of quality.

Conclusion:

As with most projects, the construction of this wannigan, turned out to be a much larger task than expected! I certainly don’t consider myself a woodworker but I tackled this project to also learn more about the craft. I was happy that I got my first experience with epoxy resin and fiber glass. I also have a much larger respect for the construction of a level and even box! I also got to try wood burning for the first time. All of these skills will come in handy in the future for bigger projects. At the end of the day, I was certainly glad that I built it. Although large, difficult to carry and heavy…….a canoe trip just wouldn’t be the same without this treasure chest. When you are out in the middle of boreal forest, with the water lapping on the sides of your canoe, and the distant calls of the loon fill the air, it brings me great satisfaction to know that I have a trusty kitchen with me, filled with tools, games and memories.

As I stare at this untouched wannigan, I wonder where this box will take us? How many seasons will it last? How many lakes will it see? how many portages shall it endure? and what adventures lie ahead? Only time will tell….

Garden 2019

As we enter the heart of autum, I reflect on the weird garden we picked from this past season. We didn’t intentionally grow a garden this year, but it grew anyway. In the middle of summer, the tomato vines were growing out of control from our initial planting 2 years ago. This prompted me to look up which vegetables were actual annual vs perennial (survives for longer than 2 years).

  1. raspberries, blueberries and other berry bushes
  2. asparagus
  3. rhubarb
  4. kale
  5. garlic 
  6. radicchio 
  7. horseradish
  8. globe artichokes
  9. lovage
  10. watercress

Minh and I were forced to put up the foundation to keep them from overtaking our lawn. I’ve never seen more grape tomatoes! Minh thoroughly enjoyed the task of weeding and tending to the tomatoes. He’s an industrious little fellow. Another perennial plant in our garden is the raspberry bush in the corner. The raspberry bush did quite well this year and it yielded more berries than the year before. Minh was particularly excited about that. We are well into autumn now and the fruits are all picked.

Upon further reading, it looks like with proper care, the raspberry bush should continue to deliver more berries year after year. One thing, we haven’t been doing is pruning. The branches (also called canes) that bear fruit, only live for two summers. In the first year, the new cane is green. It eventually is enveloped in a brown bark and lies dormant in winter. When it warms again, it becomes a “floricane” which yields berries in early to mid summer and dies. I guess I’m going to have to start pruning the dead canes.

In the spot where we leave our rotting pumpkins, it looked like an extensive vine groundwork was laid however, but we didn’t see any pumpkins, I suspect that the buds were eaten by the local squirrels.  Alas, next year we shall be ready for a real harvest….