Curse my busy procrastination; where does the time go! It feels like it has been non-stop since my return from Europe back in the summer of 2013. Upon my return I went on a week-long hike at Algonquin Provincial Park then decompressed for six weeks at Sauble Beach, Ontario. Sauble Beach is the longest freshwater beach in Ontario and I have spent many of my younger summer years growing up there. During those weeks I chilled out, jogged and swam all the while working on my re-entry into the Canadian job market. After Sauble I spent a short time in Ottawa hanging out with friends, eating sushi and playing Catan before being slingshot across the country to Vancouver, British Columbia.
I was open to working anywhere in Canada. One of my friends said that I should get a job out in Vancouver so he can visit sushi…err…me. Low and behold I did get an opportunity to work out West. I managed to find a one year contract at a small private college located in Vancouver. Move cross country to work, ski, bike, hike, kayak, eat sushi and drink lattes? Sure! My bags weren’t even unpacked.
Welcome to Vancouver, population +1. Time to cross many items off my West Coast bucket list while here.
It took a couple days for me to find a place to live. My new job was in the small city of New Westminster (Vancouver’s version of the Etobicoke in Toronto) and I prefer to minimize my commute by living close to where I work. After aggressively searching in “uptown” New Westminster, cross-referencing the bed bug registry for apartments to avoid, I finally found a gem. My new home was a nice little bachelor apartment on top of a small hill overlooking a valley of homes. More importantly directly from my living room I had an unobstructed and fantastic view of the eastern mountains, the ability to see fireworks launched from people’s backyards on special nights, Canada Day and Halloween, and on one rare evening, by complete luck I saw a meteor streak across the sky vaporizing into a orange and green light.
Vancouver is a really laid-back city and the locals are noticeably polite. Passengers on public transit say thank you to the operator as they exit the bus and there are less reports of road rage compared to more larger metropolitan cities.
Taking transit is easy. The above ground Skytrain is an efficient way to get from one part of the city to the other while checking out the mountain scenery. You just have to be aware of their fare payment system which uses multiple zones with varying costs. In some frustrating cases even if you are taking only one Skytrain stop over into the next zone you have to pay for two zones. If you somehow “forget” to punch your ticket in their payment machines you may bump into a transit constable and be given a fine of around $300 for trespassing. The city has been working for the past few years in setting up the compass card, swipe on and swipe off the bus system, and it does not look like it will be fully implemented problem-free in the near future.
What was really tough to get used to in Vancouver was the constant rain; the city was sometimes referred to as Raincouver. My previous stay on the island of Mjlet during their torrential downpours in the winter helped acclimatize me to my new environment. About 80% of the time I was outside I had a small umbrella handy just in case. It snowed twice in the city during the winter months. City drivers are not used to that one inch of snow on the ground and the result is spun-out cars from the highways into ditches. The winter temperatures rarely go below five degrees Celsius. Though since the seaside air is damp it can get bone chilling cold in Vancouver, where you feel more cold than you would in actual colder and drier climates. The welcoming summertime weather where the sun shines down on cloudless days for months at a time offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy kayaking, hiking, mountain biking and patio time at local pubs.
There were plenty of local events and activities to keep me entertained. I kayaked in English Bay keeping a lookout for Sea Lions bobbing their curious heads in and out of the water, judged a chilli cook-off in Gastown and played some of my favourite board games at a specialty cafe.
Vancouver has a strong bicycling infrastructure with a considerable amount of bike lanes and off-street paths that cut through the city. I bought an average hard tail mountain bike with locking front forks and converted it to commuter use with slicker tires, bike rack and drop down bars. Leisurely rides around the city were effortless. The real test of this bike was during my 660 km bicycle tour around Vancouver Island. Unfortunately, the thicker and smaller diameter tires made for a much slower ride losing on average 5 km/hr in speed during my daily 5+ hour rides. Still it was a great experience to tour Vancouver Island on bicycle visiting Tofino, Courtney, Victoria, Sooke and Port Renfrew and Lake Cowichan to name a few.
It’s important to note that Vancouver also has a very high level of bicycle theft. You would need multiple locks for your bike and that would only slow down a bike thief. Police have set up decoy bikes in the city and at large mountain biking events like the ones you find a Whistler. My bike was almost stolen outside or Mountain Equipment Co-op. Luckily, a good Samaritan stopped the would-be thief. People in the area who post Craigslist ads mostly sell clean bikes but you also find stolen ones, and from time to time you get the post from someone who has had his bike stolen asking anyone if they have seen it.
There’s a big difference in skiing on Ontario “mountains” verses the real mountains of British Columbia. In Ontario you can take 5-10 minutes to ski from the top to bottom at places like Blue Mountain. Whereas in BC at Whistler-Blackcomb it can take you approximately 40 minutes. One of my friends flew out and joined me for a mini-Whistler ski vacation and we made sure the hotel we stayed at had a whirlpool to soothe those sore apres-ski muscles. The local mountains around Vancouver, Cypress, Grouse and Seymour, offered an affordable day in the city’s backyard. I skied Cypress a few times and consider it hit and miss, alternating between rainy ski and sunny ones. On sunny days you can get great views of the city and the ocean as you glide your way down the hill.
There’s no shortage of hiking trails in Vancouver. Places like Stanley Park are inner city getaways where one can go on leisurely hikes (or bike rides) taking in the local scenery through the park or along the seawall. For a real workout the Grouse Grind offered a one and half hour (average) continuous climb up Grouse Mountain. It seems to be a right of passage to become a Vancouverite, and here I thought getting a beard would suffice. Some people even do the Grind after work three or four times a week. I did the hike yet forgot to buy the souvenir Grouse Grind t-shirt in the gift shop.
Taking hiking up another notch I completed the West Coast Trail. A 75 km hike along the southwest coast of Vancouver island which takes 5 to 8 days to complete. This hike has been on my bucket list since 2008. I completed it in 5 days taking into account the tides and the lack of rain, mosquitoes, cougars and black bears. Half way through the hike there was a snack shop at Nitnat Narrows that sold Snickers chocolate bars for $3…worth every penny.
There are probably more sushi restaurants in Vancouver than there are cafes. The sushi tastes so much fresher and better on the west coast. They are a delicious commodity, ranging from ultra cheap and tasty to skip half your month’s rent for a unforgettably tasty and fresh meal.
After my year in BC I traveled back to Ontario by train. Taking a four day cross country trip on Via Rail allowed me to relax and take in the unique scenery not afforded by high altitude plane or car.
There’s still plenty more places on the West Coast I have yet to explore, either by car, on foot, by bike, kayak, seaplane or sailboat. So consider my time in BC an unfinished adventure.