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
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'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
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.
Flying Within Europe Has Never Been Easier -- Or Cheaper.
© Joe Wiebe
as appeared in theVancouver Sun, Sept. 11/04.
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