I cycled over to Queen Elizabeth Park one evening to meet up with Monica, Pete and Travis, all from the office. Monica and Pete are one of the many, many couples who work there: permanent employees get a security badge, computer password and assigned spouse on their first day. We had packed a load of gas station ice around some cans of beer in a waterproof bag (normally intended to keep spare clothing dry on kayaking trips, now cleverly repurposed to keep the beer frosty), and we each cracked one open as we arrived: our loins were suitably girded for a spot of frolfing.

Thinking that perhaps it was just my sheltered upbringing, I’d had to ask to have the term ‘frolfing’ explained to me beforehand. This marvellously suggestive name is sadly just a contraction of ‘frisbee golfing’, and the game itself is exactly as you might imagine, unless, like me at the time, you’re still trying to imagine what sort of deviant practice might deserve a name like ‘frolfing’. Anyway, we happily frolfed the evening away, leaving our empty beer cans in neat piles beside the tees for Vancouver’s itinerant can collecters*, and as the light faded we headed over to Main Street for some booze ‘n food at The Whip.

It was a good night, made notable by the large number of hipsters sharing the restaurant with us, sporting too-small pork pie hats, painted-on jeans and T-shirts for obscure NY punk bands. Their iron steeds — a polished steel Pista, say, or a dented ’80s Japanese racer with Oury grips hauled right up to the stem — were locked casually to the nearest pole around which a hip-pocket-portable mini U-lock would fit. They were having a grand old time, and incredibly not one of them appeared to be the slightest bit self-conscious. “My God,” I said, “look at them all. They don’t feel an ounce of guilt!” Comparing this to home, where any fashion statement turns ironic pretty much as soon as a second person adopts it, this was a source of great amusement and bemusement to me. Maybe it reflects well on Vancouver, though; without the sneering disapproval that gets meted out to just about any identifiable subculture back in the UK, things feel a little more diverse and a lot more accepting over here. Try riding a shining vintage track bike up Buchanan Street while wearing a too-small pork pie hat and carrying a U-lock wedged prophylactically in the pocket of your painted-on purple jeans and see how far it gets you.

We chatted about a big cycling trip Monica and Pete had made recently through the Yukon Territory and into Alaska, and it occurred to me that most of the Vancouverites I’d met up to this point had at least one ‘big’ hobby or outdoor pursuit to their name, if not a whole bundle of them. Between them, Monica, Pete, Travis and Monica’s friend Jen could reasonably claim to take part in paddling§, kayaking, hiking, both road and mountain biking, kite surfing, scuba diving, and, of course, frolfing, on a regular basis. Pete in particular does more or less all of these things to an alarming degree of competence (he is, for example, one of only five people in the world qualified to teach diving with sharks), and, like everyone else, he’s horribly fit and healthy looking into the bargain. Most irritating of all, he remains a resolutely likeable chap.

What drove people to be so active? I wanted to know. There must be, I guessed, some yawning pit of emptiness inherent to the British Columbian soul, and the entire population was surely pursing every available activity to avoid their gaze turning inwards to that black, black heart of darkness. (I did actually raise this hypothesis with Jen a few weeks later, and received a predictably bemused response.) Spending a bit of time with the guys that evening, though, blethering away over frisbees and beers in the park and The Whip, I’m forced to reluctantly conclude that your average Vancouverite is a well-adjusted citizen who quite understandably enjoys spending time outdoors in a leafy, scenic city bordered by river and mountain. Occam’s Razor strikes again.

* viz. Vancouver’s growing homeless population. The streets are filled with guys trawling the rubbish bins for discarded drinks cans and bottles, worth 5ยข each at recycling centres.

If the collective noun for a set of hobbies is not a ‘caboodle’, I want to know why not.

§ Paddling involves single-bladed paddles and open, outrigger canoes. From Jen’s hurried attempts to distance herself from other forms of paddle-based sports, I deduced an implied hierarchy of seniority which goes something like: paddling, kayaking, canoeing and finally Dragon boating, the redheaded stepchild of the paddling fraternity. The same hierarchy in cycling goes: shaven-legged roadies ≥ hairy roadies ≥ mountain bikers ≥ anyone who uses Oury grips.