Back to Home

Recent Magazine Articles...

My primer on the 2006-07 Vancouver Canucks appeared in the Sept/Oct '06 issue of Coastlines magazine. You can read it here.

My article about Munro's Books appeared in the July/August 2006 issue of Coastlines magazine. You can read it here.

My article about Spinnakers appeared in the Summer 2006 issue of Toro magazine. You can read it here.

My article about the World Baseball Classic appears in the March 2006 issue of Toro magazine. You can read it here.

Check out "Stage Fight," which appeared in the October/05 issue of BC Business magazine.

My profile of Colin Angus appeared in AirLines (August/05). You can read it here.

My memoir, "Apricot Platz," was published in Geist #55 (December/04). You can read it online here.

My profile of Anosh Irani appeared in enRoute (May/05). You can read it here.

You can read my travel piece about Poland here.

I have also written several author profiles for newspapers.

Vancouver to Moscow

Colin Angus: Vancouver to Moscow or Bust
© Joe Wiebe
posted September, 2004.

     Colin Angus once survived for twelve days in the wilds of Mongolia with nothing but a pocket knife, a pair of pants, and a kayak. He lived on nettles and wild rhubarb, and sucked sap from birch trees. He also benefited from the kindness of a local herdsman named Tengel who sheltered him in his yurt for a night. The horseman fed him and clothed him - he literally gave Colin the t-shirt off his back - and even offered him his wife, who apparently wanted a blue-eyed baby. The way Colin tells the story in his book, Lost in Mongolia, he declined only because he was expected to perform in front of a "studio audience" of Tengel's extended family and friends.
     This misadventure occurred in 2001 while Vancouver-based Angus was attempting to travel the length of the Yenisey, a little-known river that runs from Mongolia through Siberia to the Arctic Ocean, and just happens to be the world's fifth longest, at 5,500 kilometres. Colin had two companions on the trip, but when their raft was dumped by floodwaters, he took off in the kayak to try to find their film bag. They didn't meet up again for almost two weeks. Colin and his cronies accomplished their goal months later just as the river was beginning to freeze up. They experienced many other adventures along the way, including hooking up with a Russian mobster who wined and dined them for a few days, touring them around in a bulletproof SUV, always surrounded by armed bodyguards.
     In 2000, before his escapades in Mongolia and Russia, Colin became the first Canadian to run the Amazon from source to sea. He and his two partners nearly died of dehydration, though, before they had even dipped their raft in the Amazon. They had started at the Pacific coast of Peru, and were making the way to the source of the river, high in the Andes. They had to cross a desert first, and the fifty-year-old map they were following was, simply put, wrong.
     On the Amazon, they were nearly killed several times in uncharted rapids. Colin describes getting sucked underwater "helpless, a plaything of the river god" so many times in his books that it becomes almost casual, yet he could have been killed each time. Shining Path guerillas shot at them while they rafted down a more placid stretch of the Amazon, and later that same day, the Peruvian Army took Colin and his mates captive, interrogating them before letting them continue on their journey.
     Colin Angus has tackled challenges that would seem impossible - or impossibly crazy - to most normal people. And he isn't done yet: right now, if all has gone according to plan, Colin is somewhere in eastern Siberia, about a third of the way through an exclusively human-powered expedition from Vancouver to Moscow.


Vancouver to Moscow or bust.

     It will take Angus and his partner Tim Harvey an exhausting eleven months to traverse their 18,000-kilometre route. And here's the catch, they will travel under their own power only - cycling, skiing, rowing, even walking if necessary.
     Colin and Tim departed Vancouver on their heavily laden bicycles (150 lbs. each) on June 1st, headed for Fairbanks, Alaska, 3500 kilometres north. They planned on riding at least 100 kilometres per day. In fact, at press time, they were managing 120 - that is until forest fires closed the Alaskan Highway between Whitehorse and Fairbanks, blocking their path. Unwilling to fall behind so early in the expedition, Colin and Tim loaded their gear and their bikes into a canoe and started paddling down the Yukon River, which will also get them to Fairbanks. Unfortunately, the river's meandering route is twice as long - 1,600 kilometres versus 788 by highway - which means they will have to paddle around the clock to stay on schedule.
     Upon reaching Fairbanks, they will transfer into their rowboat, the Bering Charger, a converted eighteen-foot "trailer sailer" without a mast or sail, and head down the river to the Bering Sea, 1,600 kilometres to the southwest.
     "It's going to be a nice, enjoyable trip down the river to the ocean," Colin says when we in the spring as he is preparing for the trip. This is Colin's idea of a joke, but he is also making a point. Rowing all day for weeks on end may not be most people's idea of an easy trip, but it is much more desirable than trekking through the untouched Alaskan wilderness.
     From the mouth of the Yukon River it is about four hundred kilometres across the Bering Sea to the coast of Siberia, which they will row. Remember, this is a human-powered expedition, which means no sails to assist them.
     "To most people, it just sounds crazy, rowing a boat across an ocean," Colin acknowledges. "A tiny, open rowboat bobbing around the high seas, and waves crashing over it. But in reality, it's a boat that can safely flip upside down, and it's got all the integrity of a larger boat." The duo also has survival suits and satellite phones. Most importantly, they have picked the calmest time of year (August) for their crossing, based on charts and meteorological data.
     There is also landfall halfway across the Bering Sea: St. Lawrence Island, a 120-kilometre-long rocky outcrop with only 190 inhabitants, where Colin and Tim intend to stop for a few days. Though politically part of Alaska, its indigenous population is more closely related to the natives of eastern Siberia. Also, if a storm blows up, it will be a safe harbour to aim for, though they will have to be careful of the rocky shoreline.
     Upon reaching the port of Providenia on the east coast of Siberia, the travelers will check in with Russian officials. One of their biggest challenges on this expedition is not getting slowed down by the notorious Russian bureaucracy, which, in remote Siberia still operates much as it did during the Cold War.
     After clearing customs, they will row along the coastline five hundred kilometres west to the city of Anadyr, where they will leave their boat and wait for winter's arrival. In spite of the infamous cold of the Siberian winter, it would be almost impossible to cross the region's vast marshes and bogs during any other season. But they will be passing through some of the coldest places on Earth. In the severe cold, even with high-tech moisture-wicking fabrics, excess sweat can chill a body, so they will need to control their exertion and maintain a low heart rate to avoid perspiring.
     From Anadyr, it is 13,000 kilometres overland to Moscow (equivalent to crossing Canada twice!), which they estimate will take about seven months to cover. The team will ski or cycle if the roads are clear enough. For one stretch, where the most direct route is the Trans-Siberian Railroad, they hope to convert their bicycles to ride on the rails, but as the expedition website deadpans, "a vigilant lookout for trains will be required on this section."
     If all goes well, Colin and Tim will arrive in Moscow in May 2005.

     Why does Colin Angus do this? Why does he sacrifice stability and safety for these dangerous expeditions? Is he crazy?
     "He's an absolute lunatic," Tim Harvey says without any prompting when we meet over breakfast prior to their departure, but since Tim is accompanying Colin on the journey, he might just be crazy, too.
     Colin laughs when he hears Tim's assessment. "I wouldn't say lunatic..." he starts, and then laughs again before admitting, "Well, lunatic is fitting in a way."
     "There are guys out there that do way crazier, way more dangerous stuff than I do," he insists. "Those guys you see doing those crazy ski movies going off huge cliffs - I would never do anything like that, because I actually do have a sense of fear. These expeditions are a little more sedate than that."
     Colin does not appear to be crazy, nor does he look the part of a rugged adventurer. There are some clues, however, like the trim, muscular build you just know he did not get at the gym. His face, weathered beyond his thirty-two years, has spent too much time in the sun and wind. Sitting in a Kitsilano café, he passes for any other kayak, bike, and snowboard-obsessed Vancouverite. His beach-bum drawl, however, is betrayed by the eloquence of an enthusiastic storyteller with the desire to live a life worth telling tales about.
     "I just have this feeling like you're on the planet once," he says. "Whatever it is you're going to find intriguing, whatever is going to make your life satisfying and enjoyable, why not just go out and pursue it?"
     The fact that he keeps going on his quests for adventure after all he has been through shows the ferocity of his personal philosophy. Though he never intended adventuring to be a career, that is what has happened. In addition to his books, he has also produced two award-winning documentary films about his trips, and spends much of his time between expeditions showing the films at sold-out auditoriums. Adventuring has not made Colin rich. The lifestyle has not been conducive to stable relationships with women, either, although he did get engaged just before leaving for Moscow. Fiancée Julie Wafaei joined Colin and Tim for the first two weeks of the trip, and then returned to Vancouver where she will be updating the expedition website with photos and reports from the guys.
     Colin feels that one of his biggest challenges on this expedition is to treat it more like a marathon compared to the sprints he has done in the past.
     "Because of the length of this trip, you're going to burn yourself out if you push hard on a daily basis. Instead, you have to slow everything down, be easy on your body, don't wear out your joints, don't wear out your muscles. It's just a matter of consistently, steadily going at it."
     Slow and steady - not the axiom you might expect from a thrill-seeker who risks his life regularly. All the preparations he and Tim have done, all the training and researching, the planning and back-up planning - these are not the sorts of things a crazy adventurer does. Maybe Colin Angus is not the "lunatic" he might seem to be at first glance. Maybe, in fact, there is something to be learned about life from this man who has done more living than the average thirty-two-year-old.
     "Too many people lose sight of their dreams, or give up on themselves," he says. "But if you have a conviction that something can be done, and break it down into small tasks, almost anything is possible."
     This philosophy has taken Angus from the Pacific shores of Peru to the top of the Andes, then down through the broiling rapids and steaming rainforest of the Amazon River to the waves of the Atlantic. It has taken him from Mongolia through Siberia, across the frigid depths of Lake Baikal, above the Arctic Circle to the Arctic Ocean itself. No doubt it will take him from Vancouver to Moscow, and who knows, maybe all the way around the world.

Joe Wiebe is a Vancouver-based writer who considers riding his bike around Stanley Park to be a major expedition.

Follow Colin Angus on his current expedition at: www.vancouvertomoscow.com.

UMM


EasyJet


Flying Within Europe Has Never Been Easier -- Or Cheaper.

© Joe Wiebe

as appeared in theVancouver Sun, Sept. 11/04.

     London to Milan for €0.99! This deal might seem unbelievable, but it is regularly advertised on the website for Ryanair, a Dublin-based economy airline that flies to 84 destinations in 16 European countries. The same price is available for other cities, too, including: Stockholm, Oslo, and Hamburg. €1.99 will get you from London to Salzburg, or for €3.99, you can choose between Rome, Venice, or Riga. Reading the fine print reveals that this price does not include taxes, fees, and charges, which turn that €0.99 into €14.85, or about $36 (Cdn). That is a significant difference, but then again, London to Milan for $36 is still an incredible price.
     Competition between several low-cost European airlines over the last decade is making budget travel much easier. For those of us for whom a trip to Europe is a major financial endeavour, but still would prefer a little comfort -- say, a two-star hotel instead of a cot in a backpackers' hostel -- a two-hour flight versus an overnight train is a tantalizing prospect. The prices these airlines offer are often much less expensive than a train or even a bus ticket, so it seems to be an easy decision.
     Aside from Ryanair, there are several other low-cost carriers serving the 700 million residents of Europe and the huge number of tourists who flock to the Continent each year. EasyJet, a British airline that boasts 92 aircraft flying 178 routes from fifty European airports, claims to have carried more passengers in Europe last year than British Airways. Over on the Continent, Hanover-based HLX's catchy slogan is "Fly for the price of a taxi - from €5.41." GermanWings offers 22 destinations from Köln and Stuttgart. Yet another option is Amsterdam-based BasiqAir.
     Considering most of the thirteen countries that joined the E.U. this spring are in central and eastern Europe, that market seems to be destined for rapid growth. Slovakia's SkyEurope is well on its way to reaping the benefits. Calling itself "the gateway to central Europe," SkyEurope operates from bases in Bratislava (conveniently only 50 kilometres from Vienna), Budapest, Warsaw, and Krakow, connecting with all the major western and southern European centres. Other options in the newly trendy Baltic states include: Estonian Airlines, Lithuanian Airlines, and AirBaltic, based in Latvia. Intrepid travelers take note: each of these fly to Moscow, too.
     With all of these low-cost options for flying within Europe, almost any travel itinerary could be achieved on a budget. However, there are other considerations. To get the really good deals, you need to book far in advance. Most of these airlines operate like Westjet here in Canada, selling a preset (and unknown) number of tickets at several price ranges. For instance, a Ryanair flight from London to Milan tomorrow might cost as much as €99.00 ($240 Cdn.), though even just a few days away, prices fall as low as €27.99 ($67 Cdn.). To get that €0.99 deal, however, you probably have to book several months in advance.
     Cancellation policies are strict, but then again what airline is easygoing about letting their customers off the hook? No refunds are allowed, but these budget airlines generally offer some flexibility - for a price. EasyJet, for instance, will let you change your reservation up to two hours before the flight for a fee of €15. It is important to note, however, that you will also have to pay the difference if the tickets for your new flight are more expensive. EasyJet will even let you change the name on your ticket for €15; in other words, you can sell or give your ticket to someone else if you cannot use it yourself.
     It is also important to note that these airlines do not always fly out of the main airports. This can be a problem in London, where most of them fly out of Stansted, Luton, or Gatwick airports, while international flights almost always go through Heathrow. It may not sound like a big deal, but let's say you are flying home to Canada at the end of your whirlwind trip through Europe, and bought a cheap fare from Warsaw to Stansted. First, you wait in line at customs upon arrival, then you wait for your luggage to appear. Next, you transfer from Stansted to Heathrow on a National Express coach, which costs €20 ($50!), and takes anywhere from 80 minutes to two hours depending on the time of day. The only cheaper way to get from airport to airport is to go through central London using the Tube and other connections, but with all the different transfers involved, you only save a few pounds and give up at least an hour more of your precious time. Once you get to Heathrow, you have to check in with your airline (another line-up) and then go through security - a huge queue that can take anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours at busy times!
     Still, a $100 flight across Europe might save you enough to allow you to be able to go somewhere you otherwise could not afford, and this may justify the several hours of added hardship. This is not a problem in other major cities like Paris where most of the budget airlines fly through Charles de Gaulle, just like Air Canada and other international airlines.
     It is doubtful that these budget airlines will replace the Eurail pass as the preferred choice for the backpacker simply because a rail pass offers unlimited flexibility: when the gang at the hostel decides to take a side trip to Nice or Normandy, you can just take the next train with them. But for those of us who know exactly which cathedrals, museums, and beerhalls we want to explore in our precious two weeks of holidays, nothing beats the convenience of flying. These budget airlines make flying an affordable option as well.

Some European budget airline websites:

airBaltic - www.airbaltic.com
Air Berlin - www.airberlin.com
Basiq Air - www.basiqair.com
BMI - www.flybmi.com
easyJet - www.easyjet.com
Estonian Air - www.estonian-air.ee
Lithuanian Airlines - www.lal.lt/en
OpenJet - www.openjet.com
RyanAir - www.ryanair.com
SkyEurope - www.skyeurope.com
VolareWeb - www.volareweb.com


Copyright © Joe Wiebe. All rights reserved.
statistics