Saturday, July 28, 2012

Back in the States with a pocket full of loonies

On climbing trips it can be pretty easy to get so focused on the destination that we miss out on some really fun places in between.  As I sit here in a hotel room in Grand Junction, Colorado, I'm finding it hard to even remember all of the places I've been in the past couple weeks.  Just in the last three days, I've driven from Squamish to Vancouver, back across the border through rainy evergreen forests, across plains and high deserts in Oregon and Idaho, past fires and stunning red canyons in Utah, and today continuing across the mountains to my brother's place near Colorado Springs.

Let me back up to Vancouver though.  For most climbers I know, going to Squamish is usually a matter of flying into Seattle and driving up across the border, with Vancouver being little more than a source of traffic to delay their arrival at that perfect granite playground.  For me, however, Vancouver was an opportunity to stop and visit my good friends Nick and Tatiana, breaking up the drive for the evening and giving me a chance to experience what is now one of my favorite cities.  That's not something I say lightly either, considering my general dislike of cities.  And I'll admit that the route that Google chose for me through the city's open air drug market didn't help things much initially, but the view from their window in Coal Harbour instantly erased any initial misgivings.

Even if you're not fortunate to stay on the 28th floor above the water, the downtown section is really a beautiful place, with an exceptionally clean and safe feel.  The area feels both modern and old at the same time, a feeling I first had while standing on the docks below towering glass buildings to watch the 9 o'clock cannon being fired over the harbor.  It's an area that felt equally easy to get around by car or foot, and it was immediately obvious that careful attention had been paid to making it a bike-friendly city as well.

If you're there and in the mood for a walk, Stanley Park is hard to beat.  A gorgeous forested peninsula, the park offered the best views I found of the city itself.

I only made it through a fraction of the park, but there was a ton to see, whether you're more interested in nature...


Or one of the most spectacular gardens I've ever seen...

The park also hosts the city's rowing club, where Nick got his morning workout as I walked.

The downtown area is also perfect for nighttime walking, again with a safe feel, and I couldn't get over the views of the city lights down near the marina.

As someone who likes to eat, availability of good local food is a key factor in my enjoyment of any city, and Vancouver didn't disappoint.  With the most visible Asian population I've ever seen, I'll admit I was excited when sushi was one of the dinner options that night.  It's probably hard to go wrong with salmon anywhere in British Columbia, but the salmon sashimi was some of the best I've ever had.  I was even more excited the next day when we went to De Dutch, a local chain serving thin Dutch pancakes topped with just about anything you might want.  Perfect climbing fuel if you ask me.

Obviously it can be hard to schedule time away from such amazing climbing for some city sightseeing, but for those climbers heading back down to Seattle for their flights home, I'd also highly recommend a stop at the Skagit River Brewery, maybe an hour north of Seattle.  After the wait to get across the border, the deliciously hoppy Sculler's IPA was just what I needed.  The gorgonzola and prosciutto salad was also outstanding, and it was good to start another long drive with good fresh food.

If only I always ate so well on the road!

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