You’d think he would have learned from his Amazon misadventure, but humorously intrepid river runner Angus (Amazon Extreme, 2002) is back on the wildwater, this time following the mighty Yenisey.
Thirty-five hundred miles long, running from Central Asia to the Arctic Ocean, the Yenisey (with its unruly tributaries the Selenge, the Ider, and the Moron) is no shrinking violet. Why would a person take it on after nearly dying, many times, while rafting the Amazon? Says Angus: “In spite of the pain, the rot, the smell, the arguments, the gunshots, and the altitude sickness, I had never felt so alive and engaged.” It’s this bracing clarity before the squalid and the sublime that makes Angus so pleasurable a companion. He and his two friends know what they’re doing, but this is still a seat-of-the-pants operation: risk is part of the deal—on the upper river in particular, with its great sucking whirlpools and punishing whitewater—but willful stupidity is not (except for the time Angus gets separated from his companions for nearly two weeks, with only a kayak, a lighter, and his khakis). Hardship is everywhere, from biting insects to tempests to the “terrible time wading through chest-deep snow.” On the other hand, Mongols and Russians are everywhere, and the most common words heard are “come and eat and drink with us!” The three young men eagerly comply, getting to see a cross-section of the riverside population: a few days with a mob man in Bratsk, an afternoon in a bear-fat-illuminated banya with a hunter-gatherer, a period of sharing a teepee with a Nenet family above the Arctic Circle. Even the lower river, typically a languid phase, is full of vim as they row around the clock to get to the ocean before the river freezes solid and the quest to be first down the fifth-longest river in the world thwarted.
Godspeed, Colin Angus, and may there soon be another river to fire your hapless exuberance and your readers’ good fortune.