Into Thick Air: Biking to the Bellybutton of Six Continents

Into Thick Air

by Jim Malusa

I don’t, personally, actually know any botanists, but I have to admit that I’ve never thought of it as an especially adventurous profession, so I certainly wouldn’t have picked Jim Malusa, a scientist whose specialty is the biogeography of southern Arizona, as the guy–most–likely–to undertake (and write about) a series of very adventurous bike trips. Yet (to the good fortune of readers everywhere), he did. As described in Into Thick Air: Biking to the Bellybutton of Six Continents (Sierra Club/Counterpoint, 2008), he spent parts of six consecutive years riding his trusty bicycle to the lowest spots of all six continents, overcoming everything from extreme weather, extreme insects, and the very real possibility of land mines if he strayed off the road in Africa. His journey takes him from Darwin, in northernmost Australia, to Lake Eyre, deep in Australia’s desert (my favorite part because I love reading about Australia) and in Asia, from Cairo to the Dead Sea. In Europe, he goes from Moscow to the Caspian Sea, while in South America he bikes from Puerto Montt in Patagonia (bemoaning the ever–present winds), to Salina Grande in Argentina. In Africa, he toured from Djibouti to Lake Assal; and finally, he went from Tucson (his home) to Death Valley. Malusa has a knack for meeting interesting people, hearing fascinating tales, and seeing unusual sights. For example, there’s an old state cafeteria in Volgograd, he tells us, “featuring perhaps the world’s only aluminum bas–relief of dumplings.” Malusa’s philosophy of travel is summed up in this super sentence: “Travel without surprises was merely an agenda.” I’ll try to keep that in mind on my own trips.

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