Circling the globe—the old fashioned way.
IT WAS A PRE-MARRIAGE COMPATIBILITY TEST UNLIKE ANY OTHER, one of endurance and commitment that either cements or obliterates a couple’s relationship. And when Julie Wafaei, MSc ’01, and Colin Angus completed the first human-powered trip around the world on May 20—including rowing 13,000-km across the Atlantic—they had not only done what no one else had accomplished, they: (A) still loved each other: and, (B) came back with a world of stories to tell.
The expedition began in 2004 when Angus and Tim Harvey, BA ’02, set out from Vancouver determined to show that non-motorized transportation can really take you places—and to draw attention to the impact of global warming at the same time. They made it as far as Siberia before agreeing to part ways. That’s when Wafaei—who had been managing the expedition from Vancouver and working at her day job, in molecular biology—joined Angus for the bike trek through Europe and the perilous journey across the Atlantic in a glorified, but seaworthy, wooden row-boat.
“A lot of times there were moments we thought we might not make it. We had some pretty adverse conditions on the Atlantic,” says Wafaei, in what qualifies as a definitive understatement. “We got hit by two hurricanes and two tropical storms on top of that. It was the worst hurricane season in history. Both hurricanes were formed on our birthdays. Very nice gifts. We both wished for better weather, too!
“Are we crazy? We’ve heard that on occasion.”
The dicey moments actually began not long after they headed for the high seas, such as the moment of “sheer terror” when they nearly got crunched by a freighter, only to be ushered to safety by its generous bow wave.
But the danger and the daily grind of 10 hours of rowing (each) were offset by the beautiful isolation of being at sea, and the marine life that kept them company: the schools of fish that trailed their boat, the sea turtles, dolphins and “flying fish that were absolutely incredible, you would just see a flock of fish take to the sky.”
Back home now, they are taking their stories of adventure across the country with talks and presentations of some of the highlights of the 100 hours of video they captured. Books are in the works, there’s hope for a feature-length TV documentary, and there are future plans for a rowing expedition through Europe.
And there’ll be a triumphant wedding next summer. It’s sort of the icing on the cake after the treachery they’ve endured together. “Being with the person you want to marry, traveling in that kind of intense environment—there’s a lot of things that can go wrong,” she says. “But we went ahead and did it. You’re either going to find out that you’re really not compatible or it’s going to bring you closer together. It’s an unusual litmus test… I don’t know if I would recommend it!”
In November, Colin Angus and Julie Wafaei will receive the Adventurers of the Year Award from the National Geographic Society.
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