Archive for August, 2014|Monthly archive page

The Things We Do For Fun

It takes a certain kind of person to live in Canada.* Life here can be tough; in winter, the temperature in many parts drops to -30C, and most of the country is just frozen tundra, mountains or bears. There is even a town in Canada where it is illegal to lock the doors of parked cars. The reason? In case someone needs to escape from a polar bear. Seriously.

Canada has, at most, a thin veneer of civilisation spread over a country that is just untamed wilderness. People live in harmony with nature here. A white-knuckled, slightly terrified kind of harmony, but harmony, all the same.

Canada is not for the faint of heart.

And then there’s the west coast of North America. A place known for the granola-eating, teva-wearing alternative lifestyle the locals embrace, where even the near constant rain isn’t enough to keep them from their week-end adventures.

So what happens when you get to Canada’s west coast, and the sporting enthusiasts meet the hardy survivors? Well… You get Vancouver. A city of rain, mountains, and extreme sports fanatics.

The city itself is just a small island of civilisation, surrounded by mountains and forests** that stretch, nearly unbroken, to the north pole; a vast hinterland that the locals consider to be their own personal playground.

The weekend roads are packed with cars carrying kayaks, skis, mountain bikes, or paddle boards; here, you don’t mark the passing of the seasons by the return of the birds or by the falling of the leaves; you mark it by the changing of sports racks on cars. “Oh, I saw a kayak rack on a car today. I guess it’s almost spring.”

It’s what’s best about Vancouver; sure, the city is a lovely, clean place to live, with nice parks and a long waterfront and harbour, but… It’s not somewhere you’ll move to if you want to become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company; the money chasers are all over in Alberta drilling for oil, and the fashionistas are… well, definitely not here. True, there is a vibrant film industry, but apart from propping up the pub scene, that doesn’t mean that much.

Instead, the people that live in Vancouver either come for the sports, or they stay for them. After all, there’s not that many places in the world can you go kayaking in the morning, play a round of golf in the afternoon, then close out the day with a few hours of night skiing.

Of course, this has created a city of very, very fit people, something you need to factor in when deciding to do anything outdoorsy.

Last weekend, my boyfriend and I decided to go for a hike up Mount Garibaldi for the day. The trail was rated as Intermediate, with a recommended round time of about 4-5 hours. To me, this sounded like a nice stroll in the woods.

In hindsight, the fact that it was called Mount Garibaldi should have clued me in on what to expect. The trail was basically just up for eight kilometres. Later, I discovered we’d climbed over a kilometre in height. That’s a lot of up. Yet, people here run it. For fun. Because people here are insane.

After several hours of unrelenting up, I decided to take a break to die quietly on a rock by the side of the trail. Of course, that was when I ran into a colleague on his way down. “Don’t worry,” he said, trying to reassure me. “You’ve only got about another hour to go.” This didn’t help as much as I think he thought it would.

Eventually, however, I made it to the top, past the grinding switchbacks that constituted the up part of the hike, and began the short descent down to alpine lake that was our destination.

There, I (reluctantly) had to admit, the view was worth it. Surrounded on all sides by dense woodlands, the cobalt blue lake was nestled deep within the peaks of the mountain. The calm waters echoed the cloudless sky, while across from us, the snowbound reaches of Mount Garibaldi watched over the lake.

I had been told by my colleague that the water in the lake was lovely to swim in. I took this with a grain of salt, as Canadians think any water they don’t have to break ice to get to is “lovely”. And here, looking across the water to the snow encrusted peaks beyond, I got the feeling this wasn’t far removed from that. Yet, people were swimming in it. Heck, one group had brought inflatable boats up to paddle in – and I’m not talking about the lightweight, easily-torn kind, I’m talking the heavy-duty, thick plastic ones. The heavy kind. These folks carried them up eight kilometres of grueling switchbacks to play on the lake in.

I had to admire that kind of dedication to fun.

But still, nearby glacier or not, the water looked tempting. Maybe it was the perfect shade of aquamarine that made it so inviting, or maybe it was the fact that it was 32C, I was beet-red in the face, and my t-shirt was drenched in sweat (I’m not exactly an attractive exerciser), but, for whatever reason, I decided to try the water. I experimentally dipped my toe in, and was surprised to find the water wasn’t too bad. Maybe my colleague wasn’t completely insane? I stripped down to my underwear and made my way into the water.

I yelped as the first bite of ice-cold water closed around my ankle. Okay, once the water was deeper than 3mm, the lake was pretty much as cold as it looked. But, after a few minutes, the temperature began to be quite bearable. Or maybe my limbs had just given up complaining. Either way, I continued to ease my way into the lake, going slowly until I was about mid-waist deep, before gracefully slipping over on an underwater rock and quickly submerging myself up to my shoulders. Once I’d recovered from the shock, I decided to heck with it, and ducked my head under.

Yeah, it was cold. Exhilarating and refreshing, but mostly cold.

I splashed around for a little while longer, enjoying the novelty of swimming next to a giant hunk of snow and ice, before eventually realising that frost-bite is never sexy. I made my way carefully to the shore over the uneven footing, then set about finding a nook in one of the many volcanic rocks that lined the lake, and settled in to spending the afternoon relaxing, reading, and hopefully thawing out.

Summer days in Vancouver are long and sunny; the perfect kind of day to spend lazing by a lake, occasionally dipping in to cool off, then lying back down on the sun-drenched shores to do more Nothing. And so we did just that. The lake is a popular weekend destination, and plenty of the locals had trekked their way up to spend the day swimming and unwinding; I could hear their conversations floating across the water as I lay back on the dark shore front and dozed.

Eventually the day grew cooler, and it became time to head towards home. I slipped my shorts and shoes back on, and readied myself for the long slog back down the mountain’s slopes. It was a two hour hike back down, but we were exhausted and hungry from the day’s exertions, and dinner was several hours overdue. So, instead, we decided to do the trek down in true Vancouver style.

We ran it.

*Crazy. It takes a crazy kind of person. But a lovely, polite, crazy kind of person.

**Also, the US.

 

Lake Garibaldi

 

Garibaldi

Me frolicking in front of a glacier. I think I would like my Canadian residency now, thanks Canada

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