“Yes, but when it’s raining down here, it’s snowing up there.”
“Up there” is the mountains. By the end of November (and two months of solid rain), I was quite ready to throttle the next person who cheerfully told me that.
Then ski season started. And I understood.
I hadn’t been snowboarding in years; I’d loved it in my twenties, but recently I’d been living in South Australia, a place best described as “flat”.
Move to Vancouver, however, and it’s hard to go twenty minutes without tripping over a mountain. Some of them are so close it’s just a $2.50 bus ride from the city to the ski field.
This was amazing.
By New Years, nothing could make me happier than looking out my window to see it pouring with rain.
I wasn’t alone.
Living in Vancouver, living with rain
People move to Vancouver not for the weather, but in spite of it. They put up with six months of solid rain because of the outdoor life that the city promises, from skiing and snowshoeing in the winter, to hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing in the summer.
There’s some of the world’s best cold-water scuba diving off the BC coast (if you can cope with 7°C water), as well as bays and lagoons for kayaking, stand up paddle boarding and sailing in. There are rugby teams, volley ball games, marathons and Iron Man challenges here. Heck, there’s even a circus school for those who never quite gave up their dreams of running away from home.
The city actively encourages the locals to be sporty, with numerous free tennis and basketball courts dotted around the city, skate parks, and an impressive network of bike lanes around the city and beaches.
I bought I bike when I moved here. I planned to cycle to work on fine days, and catch the train when it rained. I didn’t. I cycled to work every day over winter, and I wasn’t the only one; every morning I would pass dozens of other cyclists like myself, beanies under our helmets for warmth, wearing waterproof trousers and ski gloves in the freezing rain.
The locals aren’t about to let a little thing like rain stop them from being active.
A friend of mine recently took up hockey. This isn’t unusual given how passionate the locals are for the game, but he decided to do it slightly differently. He took up unicycle hockey.
Yep, that’s right. Playing hockey while riding a unicycle.
I wasn’t sure what I found harder to believe; that riding a unicycle isn’t challenging enough for some people, or that there’s enough of them to form two hockey teams.
This, I had to see.
They meet each week under the northern end of Cambie Bridge, so I headed down one Thursday to check it out.
It’s an informal match, with no set teams, the sides just being made up from whoever turns up that week. The skill range varies as well, from people who have been riding unicycles for close to a decade, to the newest members were still just learning. It actually looks harder than it sounds.
During the break, my friend asked if I wanted to give unicycling a go.
I have enough trouble with two wheels, so losing one was probably not going to end well, but I’ve always prided myself on my stupidity and stubbornness.
We went and stood next to a railing I could use for balance, and he took me through one of the trickiest aspects of the unicycle – how to get on it (the other tricky parts being “staying on it” and “moving on it”).
The seat on a bicycle is solidly positioned between two wheels and doesn’t move forwards or backwards unless the whole bike moves. On a unicycle, however, the seat is hinged around the central point of the wheel, meaning it moves independently of the wheel. And also, (in my case), independently of the rider.
It’s also very responsive to the slightest change in balance.
I shifted my weight forward slightly, and the unicycle took off, leaving me on the same spot, although about half a metre lower and minus the unicycle.
Over the next twenty minutes, I got a lot of practice at getting on and then falling off the unicycle. Fortunately, falling isn’t as dangerous as I’d thought. Usually, the unicycle wanted to move much more than I did, so all I had to do was let it fall away from me, and I would drop safely to my feet. Not that that stopped me from screaming like a little girl every time it happened, or anything.
After a while I was able to balance on the unicycle for whole seconds at a time, something I considered a huge achievement.
That is, until I discovered that some of the cyclists are also into “muni” – mountain unicycling. It’s exactly what it sounds like; mountain biking, except minus most of the bike.
My few seconds of not falling didn’t seem quite so impressive now.
The break over, the cyclists returned to the game; angling and jostling for the ball, running into each other, but mostly just having fun. This wasn’t a serious competition, just the chance to hang out with other slightly insane like-minded friends.
Eventually, the sun dropped below the horizon, and they called it a night. I’d enjoyed trying unicycling, but I wasn’t quite ready to rush out and buy one just yet. It’s an expensive outlay when the most you’ve mastered is falling off without getting hurt.
As I said my goodbyes, however, they casually mentioned that they usually bring a spare bike to game, just in case anyone drops by who wants to learn.
Next Thursday, I may just take them up on that. It’s what living in Vancouver is all about.
For more on what to do in Vancouver, see our Sports and Recreation in Vancouver page.
Sarah runs a blog, Vagabond Days, about being a Kiwi working in the Canadian film industry and all the unexpected adventures she’s had since arriving in Canada. Among others, she has worked on the set of Lord of the Rings and Gravity.