Beware the bears! – a letter from Canada

A typical, if scary, day on the bike for Velocity’s new Canada correspondent

Beware the bears! – a letter from Canada

It was getting gloomy and I’d missed the sunset but, with the dry weather and deserted road ahead, I put my foot down on the descent. As I pushed around the first bend I saw a large, dark object parked in the middle of the road. Despite disc brakes, at 68km/h I was never going to be able to stop and thank goodness I didn’t. It was a black bear. It must have recently emerged from hibernation and, as I shot past, it looked almost as surprised as I was. I supposed it hadn’t seen any skinny cyclists, dressed in orange with bright flashing lights and a loud ticking freehub over the winter. A few bends later I dared to turn my head... it didn't seem to be following. I didn't stop for a photograph though.

At the base of the mountain I was quickly reminded that I’m still really, very, definitely British. I pulled up to the rangers' hut and eagerly told the bearded officer that there was a bear in the road. Not unlike a bear himself, barely looking up, he replied: “Well yeah, it’s their home. Duh.”

My name is Jack Haining and I oversee portfolio analysis for Grosvenor’s North American investment portfolio. Back in late 2018 in London, I was offered the chance to relocate to Vancouver, Canada. Much as I loved living in south London, riding around the beautiful, albeit often potholed, Kent and Surrey Hills, I decided to make the 7,600km leap (by 'plane, sadly, not bike).

Vancouver is one of the Grosvenor’s first strides towards diversification: the company acquired the 1,200-acre Annacis Island, transforming it into Canada’s first industrial park (glamorously now home to Metro Vancouver’s main sewage treatment plant, among other facilities). The portfolio also includes residential, office and retail properties in San Francisco, Washington DC, Seattle, Chicago and LA.

I’ve always been a keen road biker and I was a little apprehensive. I knew Vancouver was acclaimed for summer mountain biking, trail running, canoeing, climbing and generally anything else you can do on, up or in between big mountains. But I hadn’t heard much about road biking. There was one glimmer of hope: North America’s largest Gran Fondo happens annually between Vancouver and Whistler ski resort, so I knew the MAMIL community existed somewhere on this part of the West Coast.

The wildlife community, on the other hand, is conspicuous. On the North Shore of Vancouver there are several residential neighbourhoods and, when biking around, I often observe "Bear In Area" and "Lost Dog" signs strapped to posts distrubingly close to each other. Coincidence? I think not. The area is home to coyotes, mountain lions, bald eagles, sock-eye salmon, orcas and many more phenomenal creatures. It’s almost as common to see one of these here as it is to spot a grey squirrel or urban fox back in Camberwell.

And now that we’ve entered spring, road biking is in full swing. Just a short pedal from downtown you reach the base of Cypress, Grouse or Seymour mountains – ridden together as the Triple Crown, with circa 3,000m of elevation over 120km. Although it's hard to find positives in the pandemic, I’m enjoying the reduced road traffic: the mountain roads have been closed to vehicles, leaving bikes and nature to firmly take back and own the area (I accept that it was a popular place for animals before the lycra gang came to town!).

I came upon the bear last Thursday, on my regular evening unwind. I headed up Cypress Mountain, a steady 900m climb with a gradient averaging 5.7%. The road allows you to momentarily forget the lactic acid building up as, with every pedal stroke, you’re rewarded with panoramic views of Vancouver and across the border to Mount Baker in Washington State which, at 3,300m, dominates the skyline.

Having pushed up the mountain, I stopped to gather my thoughts (breath) and started the descent...

Thanks for reading, I hope to write some more about rides and adventures in the Pacific Northwest. If anyone has any questions or is interested in finding out more about making the move please reach out via Velocity. Likewise, if you have any suggestions, possible adventures or connections for an emigrant Englishman on a bike, let me know. I would be hugely appreciative.