British Columbia

B.C. woman replaced international travel with summer SkyTrain adventures

A teacher from New Westminster with a habit of yearly international trips came up with a creative alternative last summer to satisfy her travel bug and help her learn more about her own region.

Rachel Marshik found a creative solution to COVID-19 travel restrictions

Rachel Marshik outside the New Westminster, B.C., SkyTrain station last week. Over the summer of 2020, she walked the streets and lanes around every station in the system. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

When pandemic travel bans put an end to Rachel Marshik's annual travel plans, she wrote out the names of all 53 SkyTrain stations in Metro Vancouver and tossed the pieces of paper in a bowl for a project aimed at satisfying her wanderlust.

Every day last summer, the 35-year-old teacher from New Westminster drew out one of them, planned an itinerary of nearby sights and boarded a train to start her adventure. Setting out on foot for hours, she visited landmarks, local businesses and industrial parks — finding beauty in art and even garbage.

"I wanted to emulate the feeling of seeing something new, where you don't know what you're expecting and where it's sort of out of your hands," she said.

Marshik said she came up with the project, which was done at a time when travel was allowed between B.C. regions, to try to recreate the thrill of travelling she's done each summer since she was 19.

Murals in the alleys behind Main Street in Vancouver photographed by Rachel Marshik during the summer of 2020 when she walked the neighbourhoods around all 53 SkyTrain stations in Metro Vancouver. (Rachel Marshik)

She teaches at Burnsview Secondary School in Delta and has been all over Europe and also visited Africa and South America.

One summer she went to China to learn more about the country after teaching a class about the country's ancient history.

"I'm rather addicted to travel," she said.

But in 2020, when she knew it would not be business as usual with flights cancelled and advice against unnecessary travel, she came up with different travel plans.

She based the project on the way she travels when abroad, often looking up an area to visit, taking transit close by and exploring on foot, letting the day unfold spontaneously.

"You get to see things that are more unexpected," she said. "You get to let the things you see choose where you go."

The view from the Cambie Street Bridge near the Broadway City Hall SkyTrain station in Vancouver. (Rachel Marshik)

Marshik took a non-judgmental approach to the great variety in landscapes around the SkyTrain stations. Some are in dense urban centres, others on the fringes of leafy residential neighbourhoods while others are near industrial parks ringed by thoroughfares.

She saw people out and about, beautiful gardens, heritage homes and public art, but also dumped garbage and burned sofas.

A family out for a bike ride near Lansdowne SkyTrain station in Richmond. (Rachel Marshik)

Near the Scott Road SkyTrain Station in Surrey, an area which seems to have limited appeal to someone on foot, she found a forested path adorned with a teddy bear and a shop where she could buy South American candies. Even a torched sofa caught her eye and the lens of her camera.

"And I mean charcoal is beautiful in the sunlight, so that was still nice to see in a way," she said.

A burnt couch gleams in the sunlight in Surrey, says Marshik. (Rachel Marshik)

Another location that was memorable was the neighbourhood around the Marine Drive SkyTrain station at the foot of Cambie Street in Vancouver.

She wasn't expecting much, thinking the area would be mostly dominated by high-rise developments. But even there she found inspiring public art before discovering beautiful heritage homes and gardens in Marpole, including the childhood home of Canadian author Joy Kogawa.

"It was a really amazing walk in a neighbourhood that I didn't realize had that much heritage and history that you could still see so visibly," she said.

A photograph by Marshik taken inside from Douglas Coupland's Golden Tree art installation near the Marine Drive SkyTrain station in Vancouver. (Rachel Marshik)

Marshik shared her photos and experiences over email with a group of 20 friends and family, just as she does when she is out of the country. She said doing it for her SkyTrain station adventures helped her keep in touch with people during the summer.

"And so it was a project that wasn't just for me," she said.

Marshik is thinking of other ways to feed her travel bug if pandemic restrictions continue through to next summer. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

She is now thinking about something similar for 2021 if travel is still limited next summer. She encourages others to make plans for similar hyper-local projects to cope in these uncertain times, as long as they don't contravene provincial health orders.

"You're witnessing what people are doing in all these different neighbourhoods, whether it's struggles they're having or whether it's ways they're trying to reach out. You feel more part of the experience of the whole city."

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