UBC and Wreck Beach - October 26, 2023

My second full day in Vancouver, and I was keen to leave the downtown. Without much thinking, I headed south, passing another time through the West End, the neighborhood that I found myself most calm and peaceful in since my arrival. 

I rented a public city bike from Granville Island and started westwards. Rode on the shore and through the neighborhoods of Kitsilano and Jericho Beach. I was quite excited to be on a bike, riding through a beach neighborhood. “Yeah, this is what I had in mind when I thought of Vancouver”. I enjoyed views like this one: 

I wanted so much to stay in that spirit of high flying enjoyment that I elected not to check whether or not there would be a place to dock my bike once I arrived at my destination, the University of British Columbia. I’m on a $0.25/min after 30 minutes plan, so dropping the bike off is something I’d like to do, especially now that it’s been almost an hour since my last pickup. Eventually I arrived. And sure enough, there was nowhere to drop the bike off. Turns out, UBC has installed Mobi bike docks, but they aren’t functional yet. Luckily, it was just a 10 minute ride off campus to the nearest dock. Hopped on a bus and came back the way I left. 

I grabbed a poke bowl on campus and looked for somewhere to eat. I saw a turf field in the middle of campus with a good number of students sitting, eating and talking. That’s where I was going to go. 

When I got there, I thought: “I want to talk to someone here”. 

I briefly looked around and analyzed which group I’d approach. I quickly narrowed my shortlist to only Western-looking students (in my experience, they're the ones I can most establish rapport with). I saw one group, a particularly good looking bunch. One guy and two girls. They were the ones. But I hesitated. I was scared. “What if they think I’m weird for approaching them cold like this? People don’t really do that. I’m going to feel uneasy”. These were the kinds of thoughts going through my head.

I walked past them and sat down and just looked around. Often at the group. And especially at one of the girls who I found particularly cute.

After a few minutes, I was victorious over my ego, over that voice holding me back. I rehearsed a quick intro line in my head and headed towards them. I introduced myself, told them I’m visiting and want to know what studying at UBC is like. I got the impression that they were a little taken aback at first. I just kept going, stayed cool, and continued asking questions. I soon after asked if I could sit and eat with them. They welcomed me.

They were a cool bunch. Studying topics I found interesting: philosophy, neuroscience…I forget what they guy was studying. All 20 years old. They reminded me of myself when I was their age, very much identified with being a student, with what I was studying. I had a pleasant conversation with them. They made some recommendations for places to check out around campus. Slowly they left to go to class or study. Afterwards, as I sat there alone, I was happy with what I’d done. That I’d done something uncomfortable. This was rewarding.

The philosophy student girl was cute. I thought about telling her that I thought she was cute, about getting her number. I didn’t. I was too scared. Scared of how I’d feel inside, physically, just getting the words out to tell her. Scared of how I’d feel in the event that she “rejected” me (I had already decided in my own mind that rejection was the likely outcome). Scared of being seen as "lesser" or a fool by her friends watching all this happen. That also happened.

Two of the recommendations I got from the students were the UBC Botanical Garden and Wreck Beach. Just down a set of stairs from campus, Wreck Beach is a clothing-optional beach part of Pacific Spirit Regional Park, on the University Endowment Lands. It sounded like a cool place, so I checked it out. 

When I got there, there were some clothed and some non-clothed individuals. I quickly had the thought: “I want to join the nudists”. Oh but no, there was no way that was going to happen. Some things, like asking that girl out earlier, I just have too many blockages in me to do. 

I sat there for some time. Again with an internal dialogue going on in my head. “I want to. But I’m not going to. Nope. Better play it safe and visit the botanical garden, check out that photo-worthy drawbridge I heard they have there."

Eventually I got up and walked away. I started down the trail going eastwards. For the entirety of that walk, all I thought was: “Wow. I really want to join those people. And I’m really walking away. I want to be there but my feet and legs and body are here, moving me away”. I passed a couple moving in the other direction, and said a very cheerful “Hello!” as I passed. An outer persona not at all congruent with how I was feeling on the inside.

I think that sparked something in me. “Seriously?”, I thought. “Am I going to seriously deny myself this opportunity that I so clearly desire, and that I genuinely believe would be good for me?”. I stopped at about the 300 m point on the trail, and just stood there for a while. Somewhere in my standing still, looking out at the horizon in front of me and at the trail on either side, came an inflection point. “I’m going back. I’m going to ask to join them”. And I just walked. Didn’t think much about it. Approached a gentleman sitting down on one of the logs in the camp and asked “Can I join you guys?” He directed me to another individual, the man who had essentially founded the group, to whom I repeated my question, adding that I thought it'd be very freeing. 

He, completely in the nude, looked me–with boots and a sweater and jacket–up and down, and gave me what sounded like a not totally sure “Yeah, okay." He continued, "You can set up against that big log right there, it shouldn’t be too cold.” I walked over and began stripping down: without much hesitation, but not looking at anyone, still feeling a little uncomfortable. I took everything off and sat down in the sand, back against the log. I didn’t move much. I got offered drinks. Engaged in some conversation with a few men around me about travel, society, life. Joked around. Gazed off at the mountains of Vancouver Island in the distance behind the setting sun’s reflection on the water. 

Behind me a woman played guitar and sang David Bowie and the Beatles. Some of us sang along with her. 

I was content with what I was doing. I was happy that I overcame my fear.

I’m not sure how long I was there for. Maybe 30-40 minutes. As some of the others got dressed, so did I. I thanked the man who welcomed me for having done so, and he told me I was welcome back any time. I said goodbye to another gentleman who I'd befriended, and went on my way. I started off again on the same trail I did previously, but this time with a much realer sense of happiness and satisfaction. Any cheerful “hello” given to a passerby would’ve been much more genuine. 

Finally, the image of a man whose travel advice I really admire, Jordan Luke Collier, came to mind. And along with it the thought: “Yes. Experiences like these are what I'm after with my travels”. The UBC botanical garden could wait. 

View from the trail between stairs #6 and #7 at Pacific Spirit Regional Park. Wreck Beach is to the right of the photo. Large logs adorn the beach and a set of reflective tarps keep nude sunbathers relatively protected from the cold.

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