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Circumnavigating the world Beyond the Horizon

by Archives March 25, 2008

Invigorated by the trans-Siberian portion of Colin Angus’ trek around the world, I set out one mid-February day for a walk through the snow along the St-Laurent River. My city-soft legs soon had enough of punching through the thick crust and I nearly went blind from the sun’s glare off the snow. I packed it in after two hours.
Grateful for creature comforts, I curled up at home to read the rest of Beyond the Horizon, Angus’ account of his two-year circumnavigation around the globe using solely human-powered means. Reading his bare-bones tale of jogging/slogging 10 hours a day in minus 45 degree Celsius weather for months on end through sleet and mud, I was left in awe.
Beyond the Horizon is a classic adventure story that takes you through plot twists one might expect from a Shakespearean six-act play, starting with Angus’ improbable dream to undertake a feat never before accomplished. Before 2006, no one had successfully walked, bicycled and rowed the 40,000 kilometres around the globe. He did it, though he lost a partner, the respect of the Globe and Mail’s readership, and nearly his life.
The burly Vancouverite begins his journey with a partner who turns out to be a flake at best and a betrayer at worst – or at least that’s how he comes off in Angus’ account. Their first bad omen occurs about half an hour from the starting point, as Angus’ overloaded bike panniers detach from his Norco bicycle and he’s thrown into traffic. Not the type to give up, he hammers his homemade attachment into place with a piece of concrete.
Angus, his partner Tim Harvey and fiancée Julie Wafaei continue on to Alaska, where a sailboat they had converted into a rowboat waits to take them across the Bering Sea. The difficulties increase as the stakes get higher: a bladder infection strands Angus in a Siberian hospital and forces him to fly back to BC for treatment, he nearly dies of exposure when separated from his partners in a blizzard, and somewhere between an unfriendly sea-crossing and bicycling along treacherous roads, the pair’s partnership completely breaks down over communication and money issues.
The book’s least appealing feature is that it focuses so much on the partnership’s acrimony that the grand appeal of the adventure itself is a little lost in the petty human drama. But perhaps that’s a reality Angus would have been dishonest to ignore. When he’s reviled by the readers of a Globe and Mail article by Graeme Smith, he expresses his own frustration, “I didn’t get it. What was the fascination with the split in our team? . . . Was two men circumnavigating the planet by rowing across oceans and trekking across frozen wastelands not enough of a story?”
Angus’ first-person narrative is told in a stripped-down fashion with little in the way of histrionics, although the events themselves range from grim to hysterical. Thankfully, Angus writes with a modest and realistic perspective of his mighty feat, even underplaying at times the arduous journey’s realities. It nearly seems possible for an average person to believe they could undertake a similar trip – almost that is, until that average human gets outside and imagines not one day, but two years of slogging under 10 times more fiendishly difficult conditions. Then it’s hats off to Angus and to a great read.

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