Posts Tagged With: Rowed Trip

In Lieu of Maternity Leave: Leaving the Country

When you are a massage therapist, you are bestowed with a lot of contemplative time (unfortunately accompanied by a pan flute soundtrack). Most often I have five to six hours of uninterrupted reflection a day as my hands navigate chronically irritated muscles, scar tissue, non-turning necks and stubborn low backs. In between hypertonic hamstrings and quads (and pan flute solos), my  mental auto-pilot finds comfortable cruising altitude in rehashing bits of the books I’m reading. Currently, I’m jumping between chapters of Ewan McGregor’s Long Way Round and the Frommer’s Iceland guide.

Long Way Round is the bromance McGregor wrote with fellow actor and road trip enthusiast, Charley Boorman. The motorbike fanciers took a dude trip on the backs of souped up BMW bikes from London to New York (part of a Bravo doc series in 2003). Yes, you can actually do this. It’s a mere short cut across Kazakhstan and Mongolia. Disclaimer: I’m not scheming a similar adventure (although if I did,  I would choose a BMX versus a BMW to retrace their route), but, I’m always hungry for sweaty and dusty travel memoirs. From my chaise lounge outpost in Belize I finished  Julie and Colin Angus’ Rowed Trip which chronicled the just-engaged couple’s macho and ambitious row and bike from Scotland to Syria, visiting their ancestral grounds. Before that I was flea-bitten and a little lonesome with Britta Das in Mongar, Bhutan in Buttertea at Sunrise, practically sipping the salty tea with my eyes trained on her ominous Himalayan backdrop. A few weeks ago I was hanging on to Thomas Kohnstaam’s backpack as he tromped and boozed his way through Brazil on assignment for Lonely Planet in Do Travel Writers Go To Hell?

Whether writers are sculling the edges of the Black Sea, detailing servo-booster brake and beefy Boxer engine performance off-road, emotionally excavating the isolation of monsoon season or staring at the weeping ceilings of some shit hostel with a crush of strung-out Aussies, I am there. Five pages into the Frommer’s guide,  I’m already in Iceland too (fast forward to September 2012). I make note of the Museum of Small Exhibits in Upper Eyjafjordur that exhibits master carpenter (and dare we say, hoarder?) Sverrir Hermannsson’s collections of cocktail napkins, tacks, fake teeth, hair elastics, waffle irons and (wait for it…) “pencil shavings in unbroken spirals.” There’s also a Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft, Skogar Folk Museum (carved headboard and makeshift mousetrap artifacts) and of course, the Museum of the Phallus which must make every man so immensely proud of his member. There are 276 specimens on display, including last year’s donation from a 95-year-old Icelandic man, Pall Arason, whose legacy will remain erect.

I already have Kim signed up to try Icelandic classics like putrefied shark, sheep’s head jelly, cod chins and Brennivin (‘Black Death’)–a potent fermented potato mash and caraway seed hooch. Afternoons escape me as I read about the likes of the Vogafjos Cowshed Cafe in Bjarnarflag. The cafe looks directly into a milking shed (milking times are 7:30 am and 5:30pm). Warm milk is passed around and homemade mozza and feta is on the menu. “Bedrooms in old Icelandic turf farms were often placed directly over the cow stables for sharing body heat. Cow intimacy carries on at this cafe.” How great is that?

And this is how it happens. I’m massaging and traveling in my head and scheming about our next trip. The pan flute concerto is replaced by the hum of a bright and shiny revelation. The Employment Standards Act and Maternity Leave! I have zero interest in having a baby, but I like the 52 weeks off deal. In lieu of the baby part, I would like to take a baby trip. I’ve worked 600 insurable hours in 52 weeks and contribute to Employment Insurance. So, how can I sign up? I’d like 15 weeks of paid mat leave, and then would be more than happy to do the 35 week parental leave benefits. Even though it would be 55% of my average earning, it would still make for a nice weekly travel paycheque.

Better yet, I might be able to convince my employer for a “top-up” to 75% of my average pay with a guarantee that I’ll return to my job in a year. Selling points to Best Boss Ever: No future concern about needing random nights off for parent-teacher interviews, the school’s Christmas assembly, the spring performance of Macbeth or last minute can’t-come-in-today-due-to snotty noses, high fevers and snow days.

Disclaimer: I have nothing against spring performances of Macbeth, or smiley preggo moms. However, there must be some fairness here, to those who would like to skip maternity leave and leave the country instead. Because, if you do the math like me (and I skipped a few classes in my day), the average mother gets A LOT of holiday time. Generous companies that allow employees to accrue vacation time without a cap still rarely dish out more than 10 weeks holidays for 25+ years of service. Which means, a mother of one child is earning the vacation equivalent of someone who has worked at a company for, practically a lifetime. Said mother could work one year and qualify for 52 weeks off which would take the average non-mother entitled to the average 2 weeks vacation a year, a whopping 26 years of work. Two years of mat leave is 104 weeks off which equals 80 dog years and probably 230 years working for the same company (with no gold service pen).

Again, I do love mothers, but, I believe they are hogging vacay time with their womb staycations.

*Editor’s Note: By no means is this to be misconstrued as a desire for me to see firsthand the workload of the modern mother. I get it. It’s not the 52 week holiday package I would choose. And, this is also not a cry out for babysitting offers. I traded in my biological clock for a travel alarm clock long ago.

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Digging a Hole To China

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. 

hollywoodOn 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).

placardIt 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.

cropped angusFor inspiration visit– http://www.angusadventures.com/

For more about Tribal Journeys:        http://tribaljourneys.wordpress.com/native woman

Categories: Flicks and Muzak, On My Bookshelf | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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