In June, 2004, Colin Angus left Vancouver on his bicycle. Nearly two years later, he rolled back in, looking like a castaway, and having completed the first human-powered circumnavigation of the globe.
Angus cycled, skiied, and rowed a route that took him to Alaska, across the Bering Sea and the Siberian winter, across Europe from Moscow to Portugal, then across the Atlantic to Costa Rica–a 156-day rowing odyssey. From there it was a short 8,300 kilometre ride back to Vancouver. Along the way he burned through 4,000 chocolate bars, 72 inner tubes, 250 kgs of freeze-dried foods, 31 dorado fish (caught from the sea), 2 offshore rowboats, 4 bicycles, 80 kgs of clothing. And he showed the world that if he can travel 43,000 kilometres without polluting the planet, then the rest of us can get off our butts, and clean up our own acts.
“We lay in the rowboat cabin as the seas swelled and the sky boiled like a devil’s cauldron. Slanting yellow sun beams cut between black squalls, and corrugated cirrus clouds interlaced the remaining areas of blue. Huge anvil heads roiled and billowed, like slow-moving atomic explosions. Flashes of lightning illuminated the IMAX screen of the horizon. Such energy and volatility would have been breathtakingly beautiful, if we had been watching from nearly anywhere else, and if it weren’t for the fact that it was all just a prelude to a killer storm.
It was hard to believe that yet another tropical cyclone was heading our way. We had chosen the worst hurricane season in recorded history to make our five-month, 10,000 km unsupported rowboat crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. Now, two months into our voyage, it looked very likely our expedition might come to an abrupt end.
Our voyage across the Atlantic was only a part of a much larger expedition: an attempt to complete the first human-powered circumnavigation of the planet. So far we had trekked, skied, cycled, canoed, and rowed non-stop across three continents and were half-way across our second ocean. Now, as I huddled in the dog-house sized cabin with my fiancée waiting for the Hurricane Epsilon to reach us, I cursed myself for ever believing I could achieve such an impossible quest.”
—From Beyond the Horizon
From the Hardcover edition.close this panel
Taking the Plunge
A year after my Google discovery, in 2002, I was feeling philosophical. Like so many people, I was struck by the paradox that the human struggle for advancement was killing the planet that sustains us. The scientific community agreed that global temperatures were rising as a direct result of human intervention. If this pattern continued, within decades climatic conditions on our planet would change at an unprecedented rate. Coastal cities would flood from the rising oceans, lush agricultural land would turn into desert, and storms would increase in both strength and number. Millions would die from displacement and starvation.
Despite this apocalyptic forecast, the solution remains simple. Humans need to reduce their emissions of so-called greenhouse gases. The one hitch: such conservation may result in a short-term dip in the global economy. Quality of life–as defined by economists–might decline, especially for those who prefer driving their SUV to fetch a carton of milk rather than walk or ride a bicycle. The immediate benefits, however, would be less air pollution, a healthier population and a rise in innovative technologies and industries that cater to a less destructive society. Most important, a reduction of emissions would ensure atmospheric equilibrium and ultimately benefit all of our children, and their children, and their children’s children.
These are the facts.
Although the appropriate course of action is clear, our society has chosen a different route. Total greenhouse-gas emissions increased by 50 per cent between 1970 and 2000. This trend is not changing.
Like many socially conscious citizens, I did what I could. I used my bicycle or public transit for almost all my transportation needs. I kept the heat low in my home. I tried to minimize my reliance on the power grid. It was frustrating, however, that despite the changes and efforts made by a few, overall greenhouse emissions steadily continued to rise. What else could I do to make a difference?
I revisited my daydream about a human-powered circumnavigation of the planet from a more serious perspective. Such a journey would garner much publicity, and this media attention could be leveraged to promote zero-emissions travel. If I could make it around the entire planet using my own muscles, it might inspire others to ride their bikes to work or walk to school. Suddenly, I realized that this expedition would be more than just a once-in-anyone’s-lifetime adventure. It could also be a loud and clear statement about the urgency of climate change, an action that would speak louder than mere rhetoric about the issue. I could chronicle the expedition in a book to convey the message to a wide audience.
I ran my finger over the surface of a globe. I tried to imagine the easiest route and how I might traverse the various regions. By the middle of 2002, I had decided that I would do it. I would attempt the first muscle-powered journey around our planet.
I felt somewhat like a child who declares he is going to fly to the moon. Although I had stated to myself that I would do it, and had every intention of carrying through, I still struggled to believe I would be successful. As the child starts clearing toys from the launching area, I began tapping on the computer, doing Google searches to glean some rudimentary information about what I was up against.
Because of these extreme nagging doubts, my initial preparations weren’t accompanied by the usual enthusiasm I feel when striving for a more simple and achievable goal such as building a small boat or planting a vegetable garden. Instead, I laboured on the project simply because I said I would. It felt as though I were begrudgingly working for the small part of my brain that felt success was a possibility.
From the Hardcover edition.
Colin Angus has co-produced two documentaries for National Geographic and written for Cruising World, The Globe and Mail, and Readers Digest, among others. Colin shares his exploits with the public through presentations and speaking engagements. He lives on Vancouver Island with his wife, and is preparing for his next adventure.close this panel
“Angus writes fluently especially about the excruciating hardships he suffered. He gives good hurricane, too. His book is a great read.”
“Imagination and originality have long been Angus trademarks. [Beyond the Horizon] is livened by his fiendish sense of humour, and provides a fair view of modern adventure.”
—The Globe and Mail
“[Angus] paints vivid pictures of obscure places and cultures.”
“This rich travelogue, filled with adventure, romance, drama, and humour, is a must-read for any travel enthusiast.” —Coastlines
“A remarkable testament to a tenacious will, extraordinary endurance and pure obstinacy. Forest fires, drowning, freezing, drunken Siberian truck drivers, Mexican banditos. . . are all well-documented.”
—Winnipeg Free Press