We try to make it out to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia for vacation during peak fall foliage time each year — a chance to breathe in the cold mountain air, watch the colors change and reset as a family.
We stayed this time in Massanutten (a census designated place), in the heart of Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Much of the attraction to this area centers around the ski-resort, however during the fall time it served as a great base for us to explore the surrounding region.
One of the first adventures took us to the Massanutten Story Book Trail, located in Shenandoah County. It was a short, paved hike about 0.7 miles long. It was perfect for our family with kids of ages 5, 2.5 and 8 months. The trail is paved and very accessible for the most part. There are numerous boulders and a wide array of oak species to explore. The view at the end is pretty spectacular – with Shenandoah National Park in the far distance. We took this trail on in late October and I was surprised that there were a lot of gnats about, so be sure to pack some bug spray.
One of the highlights of our trip for the kids was visiting Showalter’s Orchard and Greenhouse in Timberville, Virginia. On a weekday, we found that we had the orchard mostly to ourselves. The kids got to enjoy some donuts, cider and apple treats. The trees in the orchard were packed with apples and were low lying. Fuji apples were in season at the time and the kids had no trouble filling up the bags. Old Hill Ciders are also pressed and made at this same farm in Timberville. We were blessed with spectacular clear skies.
The Massanutten ski resort area still had plenty of activities for the kids in the off season. There were playgrounds, ponds to fish, a water park, trails to explore, restaurants and even an area for gem hunting. The kids were never bored.
On our way back home, we made a stop in the small town of Gordonsville, Virginia for a lunch break. A local recommended The Jackson and Company Market and I’m glad that they did. It was a chilly fall day and it was the perfect place for the kids to warm up with soup and for the grown ups to have coffee. With a population of approximately 1500, the main street was where all of the action seemed to be. Shops were busy and people were getting ready to put up the town’s Christmas lights. There was even a blacksmith shoppe that we unfortunately didn’t have time to check out, but I guess it’s just more reason for us to come back to the mountains. We’ve been coming to the Virginia blue ridge and Shenandoah for years, and maybe we’re just simple folk, but it just seems like there’s endless things to see, do, and enjoy in this special place.
In traditional dad fashion, I filmed our trip on my trusty a6000. I’ve had the camera for 8 years, and it’s still going strong.
After almost 2 years of growing, my son and I were excited to harvest our first bag of Chesapeake Bay (Eastern/Virginian) oysters. It has been several months since our last check on the float, we found the whole thing was actually submerged due to the weight of the now much heftier oysters. This was really not an issue, as the oysters were protected in a cage. When we initially placed these guys in their cage, they were called “spat” not much larger than big sunflower seeds. After 2 years of filtering the brackish waters of the bay, several of these guys were actually larger than 4 inches! This was our first growth cycle, and it has certainly been an interesting and fun experience.
While we sat around the grill preparing a feast, we reflected on what we have learned:
Raising oysters is very easy. If you have a sturdy oyster float, and access to the water, you can raise oysters. They really don’t require much. They simply need to be upsized into bigger bags and cages and they grow. This is usually done every several months. If you also want to keep them separated and growing beautifully, shake and jostle them around in the bags so that they don’t grow to one another. This will also cut down on barnacle growth. Hosing them down every once in a while, will also keep algae off and keep them in better shape for harvesting and bringing to the table.
The spat is not expensive: $35 can buy you a bag of 1000 oyster spat.
1 oyster can filter 50 gallons of water in one day. This is why they are essential animals in the battle of cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.
The “R” rule doesn’t necessarily pertain to these types of oysters (triploid, sterile) . Seafood enthusiasts have always followed the “R” rule when it came to eating wild caught (diploid) oysters: “Eat wild caught oysters only during the months with the letter “R” in it.” There are two reasons for this rule.
Food safety: eating raw shellfish, always carries the risk of food borne illness from bacteria such as vibriosis (caused by the bacteria vibrio vulnificus). The risk of contracting this illness is higher during the summer months when the water is warmer. The reality is that this illness can be contracted from eating raw shellfish during ANY time of the year. It is more prevalent during the warmer weather however due to more favorable conditions for the bacteria to proliferate. Properly cooking your oysters can virtually eliminate the risk of catching this infection. The CDC estimates that approximately 80,000 people get vibrio infections each year and 100 people die from it each year in the United States. I always eat my oysters cooked.
Taste: Wild oysters are diploid organisms, meaning they carry a set of chromosomes from each parent. Farm raised oysters for the most part have been selected and altered to be triploid, meaning they actually carry an extra set of chromosomes. These oysters are sterile and do not reproduce. During the warm summer months is when wild oysters are active in the reproduction cycle. During this time, the oysters under go physiologic changes which alters their taste. They are more watery, bitter and just not tasty. Many of the restaurants that serve oysters year round, serve farm raised, triploid oysters. Triploid oysters grow faster because they do not go through the reproductive cycle. All o their energy is put towards getting larger. They grow to bigger sizes and they maintain their taste throughout the year.
Oysters are highly nutritious!
Eastern Oyster (Crassostrea virginica) nutrition facts per 3.5 oz serving. (Approx 3 oysters)
Protein: 9 grams.
Carbs: 4 grams.
Fat: 3 grams.
Zinc: 555% of the Daily Value (DV)
Vitamin B12: 538% of the DV.
Copper: 493% of the DV.
Selenium: 56% of the DV.
7. Be safe when shucking oysters. Wear proper gloves when handling the cages and the oysters as their shells can be razor sharp.
Location: Sherando Lake Recreation Area, 96 Sherando Lake Rd, Lyndhurst, VA 22952
Latitude : 37.919724, Longitude : -79.01
The George Washington and Jefferson National Forests contain almost 2 million acres, with most of these acres in Virginia (1,664,110 acres). The remainder is mostly in West Virginia (123,629 acres) and then Kentucky at 961 acres. It is home to some of the most beautiful mountain lakes in Virginia. Lake Moomaw and Switzer Lake are two of my favorites. I’ve heard much about the popular Sherando Lake, which is probably the most popular of the lakes given it’s ease of accessibility and plethora of facilities and amenities. Many people come here to swim, camp, hike and of course fish the stocked trout.
During a week long trip out to the Blue Ridge Mountains, we made a day trip to Sherando Lake to check it out. With 2 little ones in tow, we hiked an easy trail around the lake at 1.4 miles with very little elevation gain of about 100 ft. The spring-fed lake is small at 25 acres, but picturesque. The entrance to the lake is magnificent, with small stone bathhouses and small bridges that cross meandering creeks. There is a designated beach area for swimmers which I’m sure is packed during the summer months. The trees were starting to turn in late October and the air was crisp.
If you are thinking about heading to Sherando Lake for a day trip or for a camp out, just do it. You won’t be disappointed. (For the paddlers out there, make sure you bring your own canoe/kayak, there are no rentals on site.)
Location: Sherando Lake Recreation Area, 96 Sherando Lake Rd, Lyndhurst, VA 22952
From I-64: Take exit 96 just east of Stuarts Draft. Turn south onto State Route (SR) 624 and continue. At Lyndhurst, the road changes to SR 664/ Mount Torrey Rd, but there is no distinct turn. Continue south on SR 664 approximately 8 miles to the entrance to Sherando Lake Recreation Area on the right.
The Frazier Discovery trail is a 1.3 mile circuit hike on Loft Mountain in Shenandoah National Park, notable for several great overlooks. With an elevation gain of 462 ft, it is labeled as one of the easier trails in the park, we found it perfect for our small hikers (4 and 2 years old). Located at milepost 79.5, it is closest to enter from the Southern end of the park at Rockfish Gap (approx 20 miles). There are several overlooks on your way to the trail head, so take your time getting there.
We parked at the Loft Mountain Wayside Camp store and information center and crossed the road (skyline drive) to begin our hike. Hiking on a Tuesday, we were fortunate enough to have the mountain to ourselves. It appeared that the leaves were changing colors slightly later than normal. I find that peak fall color in the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountain region is last week of October and early November.
The trail is well marked, and frequently traveled. There are plenty of rocks so hiking boots are definitely recommended. Unlike several other trails through Shenandoah National Park, there was no stream or river bed on this hike….But the views were killer. Have fun out there, and be safe.
After a long clinic day, my brain feels fried. I often use the zombie mindset aftermath to edit some old videos and clear out the old video project list. Here are some clips from a canoe trip back in 2017 to Philpott Lake in Virginia. Nothing fancy, just some canoeing and music. Stay safe out there everyone, looks like COVID numbers are on the rise across the whole country. Stay healthy.
The Blue Ridge Mountains along the border of Virginia and West Virginia is one of my favorite places. It has some of the most scenic views and fantastic waters such as Lake Moomaw and the Jackson River. We have been coming to this area for many years to camp and hike, but I only recently learned about the 3300 acre mountain escape known as Fort Lewis Lodge and Farm. This hidden gem has been family run and operated since it’s opening in 1989. I’ve been wanting to go for the past year and a half but reservations have been hard to come by. Their season runs from April till October.
(I filmed this video on a sony a6000 with a Tameron 28-75mm lens)
From the moment he stepped foot in a canoe, my son has never been satisfied with just sitting and taking in the views….. He wanted to paddle! He was not even 2 years old and at the time there was not a paddle small enough for him. This was my chance to make him one. As with all projects, we both learned a lot and had a blast making it.
Selecting the wood:
Traditionally, canoe paddles are made from hardwoods. The definition of a hardwood is a species of tree that will yield a seed that has a coating on it, either in the form of a fruit or a shell. (Oak, maple etc). Softwoods, yield seeds that do not have any particular coating. Example: many conifers. The terminology is sometimes misleading because there are some softwoods that are actually harder than hardwoods, but in general, hardwoods are usually indeed harder. These trees take much longer to grow to the equivalent size and as a result are usually denser.
For a project such as this, you will likely not find the board of wood that you need from Lowes or Home Depot. Your best bet is to go to your local lumber mill or wood working store. In this case, we were fortunate enough to find our wood from Woodcraft. If you haven’t spent much time in a lumbar yard, some of the terminology might be confusing. You will hear the term “board foot”. This is the unit for which wood is sold. IT is misleading because it is actually a unit of VOLUME not length. A board foot describes a piece of wood that is 1inch thick, by 12 inches wide, by 12 inches long. Hence 144 cubic inches. For our project, we used a 3′ x 1” x 4” foot long piece of hard maple.
When you are selecting the wood, make sure that there aren’t any knots or wood defects in the areas that you will be using, ESPECIALLY in the shaft of the paddle. These knots can lead to weakness in the paddle and could eventually fracture down the road.
hand bench plane (I used a #4 Wood River plane)
jigsaw or bandsaw
sandpaper (120 and 220 grit)
woodburning pen (optional, if you want to add designs to the wood)
woodstain (if you want to stain the wood)
linseed oil (optional)
Selecting the design:
When selecting the design of the paddle, keep in the mind where the paddle will be primarily used. Is it flat water? whitewater? tripping? leisure paddling? There are numerous types of canoe paddle designs to choose from. These mostly differ in the shape of the blade of the paddle. Different paddle shapes will move different amounts of water. I’ve always prefered the beaver shape paddle, it is not too wide and it is not too narrow.
The Woodworkers Journal: provided a template for one of their Northwoods canoe paddle. A beavertail shaped paddle. I didn’t use these exact dimensions because we are completing a scaled down version for my 2.5 year old son. But I was influenced by the overall shape. Notice how the design templates are for one half of the paddle, when you are finished tracing that half, flip it over and trace it again to create the complimentary side. This will allow for the most symmetrical template possible. If you’re going to making many paddles over the years, consider making this template out of wood for safe-keeping over the years.
Once the outline has been drawn on the paddle, use a bandsaw or a jigsaw to cut out the paddle. If you spend extra time making the cuts as precise as possible, this will save you time later with the hand carving, shaving and sanding. I used a Bosch jigsaw.
Here is the video of the northwoods canoe paddle making process.
The key point to make during the remainder of the carving process is to maintain symmetry through the axis as well as throughout thickness. Use a gauge to mark the very center of the board on it’s axis as well as its thickness. The line, will let you know how close you are to your desired thickness of the blade. You may decide to vary the wood thickness based on the type of wood as well.
When working on a project like this, I want to emphasize the importance of knowing your tools and how to maintain them and to keep them functioning at their very best. There is no better example than the bench hand plane. If your tool is properly sharpened, maintained and tuned, this part of the project can be the best part. If your plane is not set up correctly, this could lead to a very frustrating experience.
In addition to keeping your tools finely honed, it is crucial to take into account the wood’s grain direction. Ideally your board is free of knots, this will make for the easiest planing. If there are knots, just be cautious of the grain drain direction change in these areas which could leave to tear outs. One way to battle this is to take shallower cuts if necessary. There are numerous tutorials online about how to read grain direction on a board.
Here is a useful video on how to set up a hand plane.
The handle is probably the most difficult part of the carving process. There are many different methods to tackle this portion. Some paddle companies will actually do this part all by a large drum sander. Others will use files to whittle away the handle. I prefer to use the spokeshave, although this can be a little, especially if you are making sharp turns. I sanded parts of the handle afterwards with a belt sander.
This step is entirely optional; I really wanted to put a logo on our canoe paddle, with a maple leaf (representing our Canadian heritage) and an oak leaf to represent our currrent home, Virginia. Similar to the wannigan I constructed, the wood burning process is a very enjoyable part of the paddle making process. Now if you were a professional furniture or paddle maker, you could consider just getting an ironing brand. Who knows? Maybe one day we will start canoe paddle business. It certainly seems like there are quite a few out there. There is one paddle company in Minnesota named: “Sanborn Canoe Company” that appears to be doing well. They specialize in artisan paddles.
There are different ways that you can finish your canoe paddle handle. While some people will varnish the entire paddle, others leave the handle unfinished. I opted for the latter. I left the handle unfinished and unvarnished. I later added 3 coats of boiled linseed oil on the handle. The decision to oil or varnish your handgrip is purely personal preference. I found that over long canoe trips, the feeling of a varnished hand grip can make your hand a little raw after thousands of strokes. Finishing with linseed oil, gives the handle a buttery smoothness, similar to an axe handle. Over the years of use, the grip will darken naturally.
For the canoe enthusiast, I can’t think of a more rewarding experience than using a paddling that you’ve created. It is also a fantastic father son bonding experience. As with other projects, I always find that I learn so much from even the smallest of projects. In this case, the big take home point, is that maintenance of your tools and knowing how to calibrate and hone them is essential to getting a precision job done. The hand plane was a joy to use once sharpened and calibrated. This holds true for the spokeshaves as well. Obviously with any project, the use of a work bench with clamps to suspend your work also makes the task of carving your paddle infinitely easier. Have fun.
**This is the best canoe paddle carving I have found on the internet. It features Ted Moores (craftsman) and this video from the 1990s was produced in Ontario, Canada.**