It’s dark. Really dark.
I can’t wait for spring. Solstice is Dec. 21. Then it’s only six months to the longest day. Sigh. Happily, even during these darker days, bright lights offer solace. Every year, newspapers publish a list of properties that have great Christmas lights. Usually, they are far-flung, the assumption being that we drive to each location. This year instead of driving, why not bike, board or walk the lights?
Try the Spirit Trail out-and-back from Park and Tilford to the Shipyards at Lonsdale Quay. It’s a safe route for all, where “old meets new.” The lights at Park and Tilford are an old-timey favorite. The garden displays more than 150,000 lights. Make sure to bring a cash donation for entry to help our North Vancouver firefighters raise money for various charities. Wind your way through the garden and then continue on the Spirit Trail behind Rona. The lights and Christmas tree at the Shipyards and the Polygon Gallery are a more recent tradition, flashier and trendier – fitting for this awesomely walkable Lolo neighbourhood.
Because the Spirit Trail is relatively flat, you won’t expend a lot of energy to stay toasty. Make sure you dress warm all over and use hotshots to keep gloved hands warm on the handlebars or in your pockets. The great thing about this outing is that hot chocolate opportunities abound at both ends.
You could just turn around at the Shipyards and go back to Park and Tilford for a round trip total of six kilometers or, if you can pull the fam away from hot chocolate, you can extend your adventure. Keep meandering along the Spirit Trail past the Quay, through the marina and under the tunnel (yes, there’s a tunnel!). Ride or stroll through the Harbourside district, admiring the city lights and those on boats at Burrard Yacht club. Follow the coast then turn North at McKay Creek, crossing the curly bridge over the train tracks. Cross First Street at the light, then keep moving west.
Once you are in Norgate you can explore this “safer streets” neighbourhood. This area was traffic-calmed a while ago and the absence of cars roaring through has really contributed to its sense of community. The best seasonal lights are along Sowden and off-shoot streets Fernwood, Cottonwood and Whitewood. It’s interesting that Norgate has this cool community vibe, which shows up visually at both Christmas and Halloween. If you go back to Park and Tilford from here, that makes a 14-kilometre round trip.
Keeners can continue farther along the Spirit Trail under the Lions Gate Bridge and through to Ambleside, where the pier is lit for the season and you can shop for gifts at the Ferry Building. Past the end of the Spirit Trail at 18th Street, the Dundarave Festival of Lights combines charity for the Lookout shelter with scores of trees lit to brighten our darkest days.
Because (sadly) the Spirit Trail does not continue past 18th, you can walk the Seawall the remainder of the way or, if you’re biking, hop on up to Bellevue Avenue and continue riding. If you have a passel of people and kids, especially on bikes or scooters, this route is not as safe as the Spirit Trail, but still doable due to slower speeds and not a ton of traffic. Your call. You could always just park your bikes and boards at the Ambleside bike corral at 14th and Bellevue and walk to Dundarave and back. That would throw in an hour round trip.
To celebrate the solstice on Dec. 21, West Van sparks up the Dundarave bonfire and you can stay dry under the big tent if it’s raining. Sing some carols, watch the lighted carol ships sail by and greet the Hollyburn Sailing Club lighted kayaks as they arrive ready for a mug of nog. If you’ve walked or ridden all the way from Park and Tilford, you deserve a mug or two as well. One-way, this entire route is 15 km. A bit stiff for a round trip walk, but a perfect ride. Remember you can always get back to your starting point on the bus, or using a car share, no matter what form of active transportation you are using. And, you can start from any point along the way.
Best of the season to all of you using feet, bikes, skateboards, and scooters for transportation. Ride and walk safely into the New Year.
Heather Drugge is a sustainable transportation advocate who has used her bike for transportation for 20 years. She’s looking at getting an e-bike and maybe a jetpack next. Northshoremoves@gmail.com