I’m surprised Colin Angus didn’t succeed in digging a hole to China when he was a kid, because the guy is an unstoppable force. And if it were possible to find China in a sandbox, he would have done it. A few times.
Angus has defied death more than once, voluntarily putting himself in situations that test not only the human spirit, but survival itself. In 1999, Angus, South African Scott Borthwick and Australian Ben Kozel decided to take on the world’s most dangerous white water. After hiking 200 km from the Pacific Ocean to the South American Continental Divide, the team located the trickling source of the Amazon and followed it 7,200 km to the Atlantic in a rubber raft. They did it in five months with little fanfare at the end of such an epic challenge. In his book Amazon Extreme, Angus recounts dodging bullets spit off by the Sendero Lumineso, a left wing terrorist group in Peru as they paddled through the “Red Zone.” The gunfire was the least of their worries considering they lost all their cooking equipment when the raft turtled early in the trip. Documentary film footage shows Angus expertly using a broken shovel blade as a frying pan to cook the rice and dried beans that were their vital (and only)food source for the trip.
On Monday, Colin Angus and his wife, Julie (nee Wafaei), joint recipients of the 2007 National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year award, were at the Hollywood Theater in Vancouver to promote their upcoming Tribal Journey. The Nisga’a Tribe has invited the couple to join them on a 220 km journey from North Vancouver to Squamish this July. For Julie, the first woman to row unsupported across the Atlantic from mainland to mainland, 220 km has to be a stroll in the park. A short float in a boat.
Fittingly, Colin and Julie met at a public transit bus stop in 2003. I suppose they agreed that time was being wasted waiting for buses as the lean and driven couple decided to take on the world—propelling themselves by human power alone just one year later.
Colin Angus squeezed in a mini-trip before this, deciding to conquer the fifth longest river in the world and navigate its entirety, simply because no one else had. He convinced his fellow Amazon paddler, Ben Kozel and a documentary filmmaker from Vancouver, Remy Quinter, to join him on his next voyage. Lost in Mongolia, Colin’s second book, chronicles the harrowing float from Mongolia, north to Siberia and onward to the Arctic Ocean. It quickly becomes a desperate page turner, pulling readers chapter to chapter to find out if everyone survives. The grittiest bits of the book unfold when Colin becomes separated from Remy and Ben. When their raft overturns in the violent waters of a flash flood, Colin attempts to retrieve a lost bag of film. Colin is swept away with the current as well. His effort is in vain and when he pulls up on shore, he is left waiting. And waiting. For 12 days, with no shirt, no shoes (and no service!), no passport, food rations or clean drinking water—Colin succumbs to a delirious state with few options or answers. Did Ben and Remy pass by him already? Was there a split in the channel that he didn’t see? Colin opted to continue on, alone, hoping his teammates were waiting for him in Hutag, a village 100 km downstream. Concerned nomads nourished him with yak’s milk tea and horsemeat after finding him nearly skeletal and spent.
(Colin wrote about this unexpected separation and the havoc it wreaked on his mental state in magnetic detail for Explore magazine; the article appears on the Angus Adventures site– http://www.angusadventures.com/yenisey.html).
It was in June 2004 that Colin took on the world. He began the unfathomable odyssey with journalist Tim Harvey, but ended it with his then fiancée, Julie. Before reaching Moscow, Harvey and Angus were butting heads, and much of their fiery clash is documented (from Colin’s perspective) in Beyond the Horizon. Harvey found his own way around the world, choosing to travel through Africa and South America before his return. He joined Angus from Vancouver to Alaska and across the angry Bering Sea to the unwelcoming embrace of the dark Siberian winter where they rode bikes across the frozen tundra to Moscow. A wind chill of -30 was considered a pleasant day. Julie arrived for the last and critical leg from Moscow to Lisbon by bike, followed by four months at sea, crossing the unfriendly Atlantic (over 10,000 km). But they didn’t stop there. Colin and Julie biked from Costa Rica to Vancouver, bringing Colin’s adventure to a close after a jaw-dropping 43,000 km. The first human-powered circumnavigation of the world title belonged to Colin Angus. Rowing across two oceans and trekking through 17 countries and surviving every possible mishap, starvation, hallucination-inducing thirst, altitude sickness, trench foot, a urethra stricture that required surgery and a slight case of cabin fever.
So, how do you pack for two years, for the landscapes that will take you from temperatures of bone-shattering -50 to a blistering heat of +40? In part, they packed 4,000 chocolate bars, 72 bike inner tubes, 250 kg dried food, 31 dorado fish and 80 kg of clothing from bikinis to ski gear. And somehow, in the middle of Atlantic, between storm fronts, Colin managed to make birthday pancakes for Julie with strawberry jam and whipped cream.
The documentary Beyond the Horizon left me slightly claustrophobic even in the great dimensions of the Hollywood Theater. Colin and Julie spent four months in a specially designed row boat in a cabin that appeared to be smaller than a public washroom stall. Due to the close quarters of their cabin, they actually fashioned protective head gear out of stuffed nylons to prevent head injury from the turbulent storm waters. There were relentless hurricanes that created swells reminiscent of The Perfect Storm—which didn’t instill as much fear as Julie expressed when they were nearly clipped by a freighter ship due to their diminutive size, bobbing about in the Atlantic unseen.
Colin apologized at the beginning of the double-screening of Amazon Extreme and Beyond the Horizon for the amateur camera work, but the sometimes shaky camera and dialogue (that often gets blown away with the high winds found at 18,000 feet elevation in the Andes) created two documentaries with a focus on the emotions and energy of the teams–not the budget. I was glad to finally have the visuals to accompany the books I have read with white- knuckled anxiety over the years.
And there’s more. Julie has published her own account of the Atlantic exploit in Rowboat in a Hurricane. Written with a female spin and the mind of a microbiology grad, her book should prove to be as compelling as her counterpart’s.
And still more…. in September 2008, Colin and Julie traced their ancestral roots and rowed from northern Scotland to Syria. This was a mere 7,000 km, seven month trip through an interconnected route of canals and roads (where they pulled out bikes from their amphibious vessels) across 13 countries. Rowed Trip, a book they co-wrote is to be released this fall.
And I thought my two and a half hour commute into Vancouver to see the documentaries was epic—4km on foot, 70km on Greyhound (with a sketchy seat mate), Skytrain, public transit bus and on foot again to the theater on West Broadway with a buttery spinach pie and hockey puck of honey halva in my hand from the Greek bakery.
The question is, how will Colin and Julie keep topping themselves? I can imagine their morning conversation over just-picked dandelion tea in Victoria.
Colin—“What should we do today, honey?”
Julie—“I dunno. How ‘bout we bike to Winnipeg for dinner?”
Colin—“There’s that place in Portland we’ve talked about, you know, with the all-you-can-eat soft-shelled crab on Friday nights?”
Julie—“Okay, but only if we can row back on the Pacific, I’ve got yoga at noon tomorrow with Jamie.”
Really, I can’t imagine them sitting in for a quiet night of take-out pizza and a movie. How sloth-like. How unadventurous.
Prepare to be stunned by the inspirational stories of Colin and his wiry match, Julie. The obstacles they battle head-on showcases their raw courage, titanium nerves and enviable determination.
Reading about the vicious tropical storms, being lost, lurking crocodiles, cracked and bleeding lips, Siberian snow hitting bare skin like knives—all of this will take away your right to ever complain again.
And their message to the audience?
Ride a bike. Not necessarily 7,000 km, but at least to the bloody corner store.
For inspiration visit– http://www.angusadventures.com/
For more about Tribal Journeys: http://tribaljourneys.wordpress.com/