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.

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

Happy New Years

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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!

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

Rip Rap Trail – Shenandoah National Park

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South Entrance to Shenandoah National Park, Rockfish Gap.

Fall is the busiest time along Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, and it’s easy to see why. The crisp mountain air and the gorgeous colors have us strapping on our hiking boots as much as possible. This last impromptu hike was actually suggested by our friends. They are preparing for a trek through Patagonia and wanted to get some good hikes in to build endurance. They suggested a trail I had never been on, the Rip Rap Trail Loop in Shenandoah National Park. A strenuous 9.8 mile that starts at Wildcat Ridge, then meets up with the Rip Rap Trail to finish the loop. We entered the park through the familiar Rockfish Gap Entrance and parked in the Wildcat Ridge Parking Area.

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Mountain streams

The initial trail is a moderate descent down into the valley where we traveled along side the mountain stream known as Meadow Run. We crossed the streams several times and before beginning our ascent up to Chimney Rock. I would say that the first half of this hike is much prettier than the second half. I am partial however to hiking along the gentle streams as they meander through the valley. This hike is known for it’s beautiful watering hole at the bottom of the valley where two streams merge into one 50ft long watering hole. I’ll try to come back one day in the summer to camp and swim at this location. Peak fall colors seemed to arrive later than ever this year, attributable to the much warmer temperatures we have seen over the past years.

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crossing streams

I often worry about how climate change will impact the fragile environment around us. This would mean hotter summers, longer mosquito seasons, a harsher environment for the brook trout that thrive in cold mountain streams. In Canada the effects can already be seen with ticks on the rise, as they are able to establish more stable populations in the increasingly warmer climates.

For those that have not seen it, Leonardo DiCaprio released his documentary “Before the Flood” last week. It highlights climate change and the barriers we face as a planet in addressing this pressing matter. I highly recommend this film to everyone. I thank DiCaprio for his efforts in raising awareness about global warming, an issue that affects us all.