To the bottom(s) of the Earth but why? |

To the bottom(s) of the Earth but why?

Charles AgarAspen Times Weekly
Title: Into thick air: Biking to the Bellybutton of six continentsAuthor: Jim MalusaPublisher: Sierra Club Books, San FranciscoPrice: $16.95

Good travel writing takes you places, and in his book Into Thick Air, author Jim Malusa does just that.The book chronicles Malusas five-year quest to reach the lowest points on five continents (luckily there are no spots lower than sea level in Antarctica).Malusa calls his an anti-expedition, borne of a harebrained idea and executed with none of the pomp and circumstance (or long underwear) that accompany the worlds famous peak baggers.But Malusas reason for the quest is never made clear; even something like Sir Edmund Hilarys because its there explanation for climbing Everest would have made Malusa a more sympathetic trip leader.His first few forays to Australia, the Middle East and Russia are financially supported by lukewarm assignments from the online editors at the Discovery Channel, and Malusa spends a lot of time griping and worrying about lugging a laptop and connecting to the Internet to file stories. Ho-hum.I had little sympathy for a man getting paid to travel, and wanted Malusa to just loosen the ties to convention and embrace the uncertainty of the road something we see in the better moments of the book.A husband and father, Malusa is a botanist by training and a keen observer. His prose is peppered with eye-popping detail and the kind of historical, cultural and literary background that make for enjoyable reading. He also seems to have the kind of lovable, bumbling manner that gets him into all the right trouble with foreign bureaucrats or warms the hearts of locals something like the unassuming charisma of a William Least Heat-Moon (author of Blue Highways) or a less obnoxious version of Bill Bryson.But though Malusa creatively chronicles the kind of minutia and the inevitable trail magic that lift the armchair traveler out of his seat, he lost me in the mission.Much of the ride was interesting and enjoyable, but the organizing theme a bunch of uninspiring holes in the ground seemed contrived. Who needs such a mission when youre crossing entire continents on a bicycle? Just take the trip and tell the tale.Instead, Malusas treatment of his journeys at times was as uninspiring as the


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