Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Into Thick Air: Biking to the Bellybutton of Six Continents by Jim Malusa

I had to include at least one bicycle touring book among my vicarious vacations. Into Thick Air has the added appeal of checking off Europe and Australia, leaving only Antarctica "unvisited" in my April travels.

The book is based on a series Malusa wrote for Discovery Online wherein he rides a bicycle to the lowest point on each continent. He doesn't ride around the world from lowpoint to lowpoint in one long trip; he flies into a convenient airport and rides a few hundred miles to each one (except Death Valley, which he rides to from his Tucson home).

I enjoyed this book. Malusa really connects with the locals, and most are exceedingly generous. With a background in botany, he describes his natural surroundings vividly. I think his ride through Djibouti was my favorite, though the ride from Cairo to the Dead Sea was very interesting. Djibouti surprised me because the people are so friendly—aside from some kids who throw rocks at him—and because the French Foreign Legion has a presence there. I hadn't heard about them in such a long time that I assumed they had disbanded.*

* I remember the Foreign Legion being portrayed when I was young, circa 1980, as elite, mercenary, and very dangerous (i.e. its members didn't live long). But I must admit that a good portion of that impression came from jokes in Mad magazine.

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