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Wed - Shred kinda weekend in Vancouver

Ho Lee Chit!! What a trip, what a weekend. It had everything - insomnia, van sleeping, friendly Canadians, less friendly American border control agents (with threats of deportation), dance till you die Persian wedding, classic North Shore trails, 7-eleven gourmet dinner and everything in between.

So let’s start from the beginning. Thursday, 8pm, Houston George Bush Airport - destination: Vancouver. What’s in Vancouver you ask? Well a lot of things but specifically we were there to attend Nejma’s wedding. And also it happens to be an iconic place for mountain bike riding. So I’m calling it the Wed and Shred weekend. But we are flying into Seattle and driving across the border since it’s friggin’ expensive to fly directly to Vancouver. We met Fred at the airport as he was flying in from Pittsburgh. He was on a week long business trip there and already was sleep deprived even before the trip got going. Past midnight Pacific time (2am Houston time) we landed, bleary eyed in Seattle, and waited for an eternity for our luggage to turn up and proceeded to pick up the rental van. We had made arrangements to spend the night at Aritha’s place. She’s a close childhood friend of Irish and has kindly offered to put us up for the night. We were already annoyed by the luggage delay and was feeling bad for Aritha having to stay up and wait for our arrival. Irish kept her updated with the delay and she was cool about it. So it was a surprise when we turned up at her house there was no answer, but then again it was way past 1am at this point. I still didn’t quite understand the logic of our decision but out of pure exhaustion we all decided to just pile back into the van and sleep outside the house. At around 3am someone started knocking on the window, and it was Aritha - absolutely horrified by the sight of us sleeping in the van. Turns out that she had fallen asleep waiting for us and her phone was on silent. She felt so bad as she ushered us into her house. Thankful that we have proper beds and got some proper shut eye.

Van Life

We didn’t have the luxury of sleeping in as Roberto (flying from LA) and Nassima (flying from Calgary) were already waiting for us in Vancouver. Aritha who used to be a chef, whipped up an amazingly delicious breakfast. We joked that we really just camped out in front of her house just for the breakfast. We are so thankful and blessed by her hospitality - thank you so much Aritha! With breakfast done we piled back into the van and made our way to Vancouver. We were greeted by a cheery welcoming Canadian border control officer. He asked the usual questions but not in the interrogative way that typifies many of my encounters with their American counterpart. This is when I realized that I have foolishly left my old passport which has my American visa. But he was incredibly reassuring in informing me that it’s not the end of the world, there are plenty of entry stamps in my current passport that proves my visa is still valid. He just said the American officers will just be more a pain in the bum than usual about it. Reassured that I won’t have any serious issues crossing back into the US, we entered the friendly nation of Canada. Roberto and Nassima had already made their way to the AirBnB so we headed straight there. It was way past lunchtime and Irish picked a cozy Moroccan restaurant called Moltaqaa, which means a place where people meet, gather and talk. Incredibly appropriate since we were reunited in Vancouver to celebrate Nejma’s big day. A unique thing about the restaurant is that it prides itself for serving healthy food, cooked without oil or fat. Fred tried to order a Coke and they don’t even offer any soda! So we all settled with a carrot, apple and ginger concoction, but it was actually mostly ginger! After the heavy late lunch we walked around the Gaslight district of downtown Vancouver and encountered surprisingly large number of homeless people on the streets, but we may have just picked the wrong streets to walkabout.

Back at the AirBnB the girls were tired and weren’t interested in having dinner. Also because they, especially Ghada were worried about fitting into their dresses for the wedding. The boys, had no such issues and also we are constantly hungry anyhow. But we were also tired and not in the mood for a full on dining experience so we headed to the nearest 7-eleven and bought their finest offerings of ramen noodles, chicken wings, multiple bags of highly nutritious chips and for dessert bars of various chocolates.

Saturday - the big day of the wedding. But for pre-wedding entertainment I have booked us some mountain bikes for us to try our luck on the famous North Shore trails. Well at least that’s the plan for the boys. On the way to the bike shop we dropped the girls off at downtown, for them to take a ferry ride. We picked up our rental bikes which were DeVinci Spartan 27.5 wheels. I was slightly apprehensive about the bike as I’ve never ridden 27.5 sized bikes and the North Shore trails are extremely technical and definitely not for the faint hearted. But I was pleasantly surprised how well the bike performed, and with 170mm front and 165mm rear travel it took everything that the North Shore threw at us. The only thing noticeable adjustment I had to do is the steering input. I have a longer 29er bike and with it requires a fairly aggressive steering input, so initially I found myself oversteering but that took one run to resolve. From the bike shop we drove up the road to the entrance of the Mt. Froome trails. Fred hasn’t ridden a mountain bike for a long time so we decided to warm him up on Bobsled which is a blue flow trail. Second run we upped the ante and hit the Pipeline which a single black trail. Pipeline has all the classic feature of a North Shore trail. With heavy rainfall in the winter the forest floor gets very boggy and so the trail builders create all this fantastic network of elevated wooden features and rock features to bridge over the boggy sections. The could be ladder bridges, skinnies, teeter totters and they could be fairly lengthy. But they also require a lot of skill to remain balanced and fall off, and even the regular trail have a lot of roots and steep step down that are very intimidating. Basically you need to have some serious skills to enjoy these trails. You can’t go terribly fast on these trails and it’s really about fine slow speed almost trial like skills - something I have very little of. I’m glad that I sent Roberto first, he’s much better at reading lines. But even then we had to stop numerous times to scout the trail and pick out the best line. Needless to say we skipped some features and I amusingly fell off a wooden ladder. The neat thing about these features are that they are built from all the wood and rocks found along the trail. If a tree fell down they’ll create a feature out of it. So everything feels very organic feel which I dig. Fred was completely out of his comfort zone and ended up dragging his bike on foot most of the trail, but nevertheless marveled at the trail features. All the trails are really an equisite work of art!

For our last run Roberty and I challenged ourselves to Ladies Only - a double black trail. Fred went down Bobsled again and showed a major improvement which we were all very happy for. Ladies Only turned out to be a beast, some say it is the most technical North Shore trail. I surprisingly performed better on Ladies Only. Pipeline seemed to have adequately prepared for it. I can’t fully describe the features on this trail - just watch the video! It is intimidating, and can mentally knock you of your game. But at this stage I had enough trust in the bike and managed to do all but a few super gnar sections. The upper half of the trail was in great shape but the last lower section was in a pretty bad shape. Too rutted out and loose to able to trust the trail to support the braking and cornering - and that’s no fun. But alas we survived with huge grins on our faces. We wanted so much more but we had a wedding to go to.

Persian weddings, as it turns out is more of all night dancing party than anything else. As soonest as the bride and groom enters the hall, everyone joins them on the dance floor and starts dancing together, sometimes in small groups and sometimes as a single large circle. This went on well over 2 hours, without any break. It was entertaining to participate and watch, but still being sleep deprived and exhausted from the ride I was praying that they’d stop and serve the food, which they did at about 9pm. I was thankful for the break, mostly for me poor ear drums. The groom’s father and sister performed a traditional Persian song which was mesmerising to say the least. Have I already mentioned that there was a lot of dancing? Perhaps not surprisingly the cake cutting also involves some interesting dancing with a knife. As far as I can tell, the tradition is that 3 women each from the groom’s and bride’s side take turn dancing with the knife to cut the cake. The groom then slips money on their dress as they perform. I guess you could say it’s a PG version of a strip show?? Lastly the bride takes the knife and does her own dance, and the groom decide she is worthy enough to be his wife and she gets the permission to cut the cake. Then the mass dancing ensued until 2am. Thankfully the girls ran out of juice at 1am and we headed home. Of course all this while my body clock is still working on Central time which was 3am….

Amazingly everyone was up by 8am the next day, we had to get breakfast, packing and cleaning done by the checkout time of 11am. Our flight out of Seattle was 10.45pm so we had a bit of time to wander around Vancouver and said goodbye to Nejma and her family. For lunch we stopped by Granville Market which has a wealth of mind blowing gastronomic options. It would have been nice to been able to spend more time at the market but we had to get going as we anticipated some trouble with the border agents over my missing visa. True enough we were escorted for secondary inspection and the border control agent was not amused by the situation and threatened to impose a $585 fine and perhaps go even as far as revoking my visa - depending on the mood of his supervisor. When he said that I knew he was full of BS and it was all just scare tactics. But at the same time I didn’t aggravate the situation so I just let him be. After 30 mins of waiting and my credentials checked out and we were let out. We made a beeline to the airport with 10 mins to spare to get on the flight. We landed safely back in Houston at 5am Monday, amazed that we were all still functioning (just barely) after such an intense weekend.