by Colin Angus and Julie Angus
In the realm of adventure travelling, participants have to come up with more and more peculiar trips to attract attention (just check out my review of “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”) or to make a statement. I recently attended a talk by one adventurer who ran across the Sahara Dessert (7,000 kms in 110 days) to draw attention to the region’s water crisis. The idea of having two showers in nearly four months was not appealing to me, but how about a nice holiday to visit the family?
A young Canadian couple, Colin and Julie Angus, decided to do just that. His relatives live on the windswept islands off the coast of Scotland, while her mother is from Germany and father from Syria. Linking these places together would not normally be all that difficult but this is not a normal couple. Colin was, among other adventures, the first person to circumnavigate the world on human power alone, and Julie was the first woman to row the Atlantic, so just getting on a plane and do some short flights was not going to work. Instead they realized that to a large extent you can make your way across Europe by boat by using open waterways, rivers and canals. But the difficulty is in the portages necessary to get from one canal to another. The answer, of course, is riding bicycles and towing the boats. This, obviously, presents some logistical challenges as to how to haul the boats and what you do with the bicycles and trailers once you reach your canal.
Montague folding bicycles, which are well-designed full-sized mountain-type bicycles, sturdy--and pretty heavy. They soon came to realize that there were no boats on the market that would meet their requirements for seaworthiness, speed and storage of the bicycles and trailers onboard so having no experience in boatbuilding they built a pair of rowboats. Named for two minerals produced by Commerce Resources, a key sponsor, Tantalum and Niobium looked like broadened sea kayaks and were built with the stitch-and-glue technique used for making wooden sea kayaks. I found this particularly interesting as I actually have had a set of plans for a 17 foot kayak to be built in this way for years but my lack of mechanical skill has always made me hesitant to build it. The Anguses, on the other hand, spent only a year in preparation for the trip all told.
But the real drama heart of the story is their cruise along the mighty Danube, which is not blue in the least, but as they head into Eastern Europe becomes polluted and dangerous. The irony, of course, is that the canals that made their trip possible marked the beginnings of the industrialization of Europe, with all its social and environmental effects.
Leaving their boats for shipment back to Vancouver via Turkey, they cycled the final portion of the trip, arriving at their final destination, Aleppo in Syria, on September 18, 2008. They had journeyed a total of 7150 kms, probably using their bicycles more than they had expected.
The expedition was followed on-line by schoolchildren, who asked questions and made suggestions about the trip. There is interesting social commentary, along with a fair amount of history, in the account, alongside stories of the struggles involved in moving onwards. The book includes appendices with distances covered, tips on kayaking or canoeing in the countries the Anguses visited, and even a chapter on how to build a rowboat in your backyard.
For a wonderful slideshow of the trip, go here. They have several websites devoted to their travels, including the Rowed Trip online journal.
Julie and Colin Angus are now undertaking a 21 city tour to promote the book and I will see them speak in Ottawa on November 19. Their final stop will be in Washington, DC, where they will speak at the National Geographic Society, the organization that named them “Adventurers of the Year” in 2006 on November 24. I am looking forward to their presentation and learning how they found adventure in a part of the world that might be considered more prosaic than, say, the high Arctic or Mongolia.
(Note: all photos are by Colin Angus and Julie Angus)
by Colin Angus and Julie Angus
Doubleday Canada, 2009
Hardcover: 384 pages
Suggested retail price: C$29.95 (but you know where you can do better...)