For someone with a stubborn hatred of cities, I was surprised to find myself liking Vancouver.
The city is well-known as being one of the most desirable places in the world to live, but what I hadn’t quite appreciated before arriving were the reasons for the accolade. I previously supposed that many of the reasons must be subjective — a dense and varied culture, plenty of material wealth, relative isolation, boundless potential for one’s leisure time — few of which I’d deem a necessity for a meaningful and contented existence.
But few of us would fail to be seduced and subdued by Vancouver’s intimacy with nature; unimposing and mellow urban landscapes set amongst — rather than dominating — the surrounding encroachment of ocean, mountain and virgin forest, each a short walk from any front door out of which you might step out.
And fewer still would be loathe to live in a place without a segregating hangover of class divides; where people of all background and origin live together, truly integrated, with not a whiff of the strained and confused attempt at multiculturalism with which Europe still struggles; where striking up conversation with a stranger on a bus or in the street is a pleasant, expected part of daily life; and where one feels that all that makes Vancouver great is acknowledged and appreciated by those who live here, whether Vancouver born and raised, immigrant citizens of several years, or fresh new arrivals. This seems to be a place of gentle contentment, of free expression without pretension — and of good old-fashioned fun.
My brother Ben and I were staying with some friends of his who had invited us to make use of the two spare rooms in their house. Set very handily in the central district of Kitsilano, we used this spacious family home as the base for a variety of forays, including several epic inner-city hikes, a social visit to a coffee shop in which Ben worked for 2 years while earning his permanent Canadian residency, a day of spring skiing at nearby Whistler-Blackcomb — and, of course, Vancouver’s annual pillow fight, which took place by the steps of the art gallery and lasted a full half-hour.
This all-too-brief glimpse of life in Vancouver was rounded off with my obligatory swim in the chilly waters of the North Pacific, followed by an important trip downtown to the headquarters of Kona Bikes to collect a pair of gleaming Sutras. Because the visit, unfortunately, was not intended as a city break. No — I came to Vancouver to prepare for a new kind of journey; one which will in many ways be unlike any that have come before. Motivations change with time and experience, and there’ll be more on that in a future piece.
By the way, if you’re a regular reader and you’re wondering what became of the Great Camera Debate a couple of weeks ago, here’s the answer. I ended up keeping my old digital SLR body (thanks more to Gumtree’s total and utter ineptitude than personal choice). I flogged all my lenses and accessories, however, and bought a fixed-length 28mm prime lens made in the 70’s. The camera will spend the next two months in full manual mode.
I hope that this will put in the constraints I was looking for, without the maybe-a-little-extreme measure of carrying film canisters around. As with so many of the choices we face, the best answer turned out to be a compromise.
My U.S. Pacific Coast ride is kindly supported by Kona Bikes, Cascade Designs and Schwalbe. Read more about the gear they’ve supplied.