After a soggy day spent traipsing around a rainy Vancouver, I’m ecstatic to wake to sunshine the following morning. I have ambitious plans for the day involving two wheels, so I head for the bike rental shops near Stanley Park.
The Korean proprietor of Stanley Park Cycles seems pleased when I tell him precisely what I want: a simple, five-speed bike with up-swept handlebars, a bell, a basket, a helmet, and a lock. The whole setup runs a modest $21 for the day. The bike shop man sees me off with a wave, and soon I’m pedaling along the seawall in Stanley Park.
Two days before I’d trudged slowly along this path, but today I breeze casually along on my shiny, blue bicycle. Billowing clouds are reflected in the unruffled surface of Coal Harbor, and the sun glints off the steel and glass facades of buildings downtown. Boats docked at the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club are lined up in rows, their masts aligned with nautical precision. I happily pedal along, stopping occasionally to take photos. The day stretches before me, full of possibilities.
I stop near Prospect Point to take in the view. A forlorn-looking raven lands nearby and eyes me hopefully. I’ve always had a soft spot for ravens, so I rummage in my daypack and produce a Cadbury bar. "Here, Scruffy. Want some chocolate?" The raven cautiously hops closer as I unwrap the bar, then flaps off with the prize I toss to him. He’s soon back for more, however, and I’m pretty sure he ends up getting more than his share.
It takes less than an hour to cycle around Stanley Park, which gives way to English Bay Beach. As I approach Burrard Bridge, I contemplate crossing over to Granville Island on it, but the roar of traffic overhead discourages me. I know there are ferries to the island, but I’m not sure where they dock. Luckily, at this moment, I come upon an outdoor café, and there, relaxing in the sunshine, is a friendly-looking woman who looks like she might know the answer.
Gisèle Michaud not only knows where I can catch the ferry, but she provides me with extensive tips on the best route to take as I cycle around Vancouver. I begin to feel guilty for taking up so much of her time, but she seems happy to talk, and soon we discover that we having something in common. We both are language teachers – she teaches French to English speakers, and I teach English, sometimes to French speakers. We laugh at this coincidence and swap the rueful anecdotes teachers share with one another as a sign of solidarity.
I’m sorry to have to part from such a delightful new friend, but with the information she’s given me, I have a better idea of where I’m headed. By my reckoning, it will take me the rest of the day to get there. "Goodbye!" "Au revoir!" I’m back on the bike and headed for the ferry, which docks just as I reach the landing.
Two dollars takes me across the water to Granville Island. The market by the pier is crowded with people enjoying a sunny day on the waterfront. Street musicians serenade people along the pier, and children squeal with delight as clouds of pigeons descend upon them when they hold out breadcrumbs. It’s a festive scene, but it’s tricky making my way through the crowds with my bicycle. I lock the bike up and take a brief stroll through the covered market, but I’ve got the urge to keep going rather than dawdle. I find the bike path once again and head west, toward Vanier Park.
I pass the Shakespeare festival Bard on the Beach tents and the Maritime Museum, then pedal along a long stretch of sand at Hadden Park, all the while following the signs for the Seaside Bike Path. The route becomes less straightforward as I approach Kitsilano Beach, petering out not long after I pass the immense public swimming pool. I contemplate going inland, joining the traffic headed toward Jericho Beach, but the idea holds little appeal after the traffic-free hours spent on the bike path. Instead, after stopping a moment to take in the gorgeous view of downtown Vancouver from Kitsilano Park, I head back toward Granville Island, retracing my path.
It’s nearly 2pm when I reach False Creek, a peaceful area of upscale condominiums and chic, waterfront homes. The seaside bike path as it runs through False Creek is a pure delight, and although many visitors sing the praises of biking in Stanley Park, I’m equally, if not more, impressed by this stretch paved in red brick winding through this scenic community. Here’s where I’d live, I tell myself, if I lived in Vancouver. The fantasy builds as the path goes on. Yes, and I’d surely have a sailboat just like that one docked over there, and a little dog I’d take for walks along this winding brick path. I’m torn between getting a pug and a cocker spaniel. It’s a tough decision.
Suddenly, the bucolic waterfront community gives way to a gritty industrial area. I’m still faithfully following the signs for the Seaside Bike Path, which should take me all the way around False Creek and back along the other side. There are fewer people around in this area, which lasts about a mile before ending near the modernistic geodesic dome of Science World. I’m back in an area with verifiable landmarks. I stop to get my bearings, straddling my bike as I wrestle with the map.
"What kind of bike is that?" I look up to see an athletic-looking man with two small children in tow. "Umm… I’m not sure," I answer feebly. But it doesn’t really matter; it’s just something he asked to start a conversation. He’s curious about what an obvious tourist is doing all the way down at this end of False Creek. I tell him I’m taking photos for a travel journal on Vancouver I’m planning to post on the internet. "Oh, then I know where you should go -- Wreck Beach," he says with a wicked gleam in his eyes.
"Oh, sure, take photos at the nude beach," I counter, feeling pleased I’ve detected this insider joke. "I’d be real popular if I showed up there with a camera."
The two children are tugging at his arm, urging him to take them to the science museum, so I wave goodbye to yet another friendly Vancouver resident and am on my way. I’m intrigued by the gleaming glass complex up ahead, which turns out to be the Plaza of Nations. A work crew is setting up for an outdoor concert, the sound system blasting an upbeat tune, Sting singing
I’m an alien I’m a legal alien
I’m an Englishman in New York
Past the gleaming high rises near Coopers’ Park and all along the waterfront near Yaletown, the song echoes in my head. I try to come up with a version that involves an American in Vancouver, but it just won’t parse. Before I know it, I’m back by the café where I met Gisèle Michaud earlier in the day, but now the café is crowded with bright young things yakking on cell phones. I cycle on by, amused by my nostalgia for something that took place, what, four hours ago?
I pedal back along the long stretch of English Bay, and then cut across the southern end of Stanley Park. I stumble across Lost Lagoon, nestled like a secret in the heart of Stanley Park. It seems like a good time get off my bike and walk a bit. The geese and ducks are enjoying an afternoon siesta by the lagoon, while one swan, his head tucked under a wing, seems sound asleep as he drifts on the water. That’s the life, I think, living in Stanley Park without a care in the world.
It’s approaching the witching hour of 6pm, when I have to return the bicycle, but there’s still time to take one last ride along the waterfront at Coal Harbor, where people sit on benches dreamily watching seaplanes land and take off. By my reckoning, I’ve covered some 30 miles or so on my little blue bike, and while my legs and back ache a bit, I’d go further still if the bike were mine. With considerable regret, I take it back to the shop, giving it an affectionate pat as I hand it over to the assistant.