If you’re looking for high-altitude tales of frostbit bravery and perilous icefalls, keep looking. This is the story of what happens when a man goes down instead of up.
With plenty of sunscreen and a cold beer swaddled in his sleeping bag, writer and desert botanist Jim Malusa embarked on a series of “anti-expeditions” to “anti-summits,” bicycling alone to the lowest points on six continents. (A devoted desert man with a horror of snow and ice, he was happy to discover that Antarctica has no exposed terrain below sea level.)
His first trip took him to Lake Eyre in the arid heart of Australia. Next he followed Moses’ route from the valley of the Nile to the Jordanian shore of the Dead Sea, and then raced against winter through Russian farmlands, from Moscow to the Caspian Sea. He polished off the “pits” by pedaling across the Andes to Salina Grande in Argentine Patagonia, around tiny Djibouti in the Horn of Africa to Lac Assal, and, finally, through the southwestern United States to Death Valley.
With a scientist’s eye, Malusa considers the lives of thorny devils and jumping cactus. As a lone man, he is overfed by grandmothers, courted by ladies of the night at the Hotel Volgograd, invited into a mosque by Africa’s most feared tribe, served up Chilean barnacles and road-kill kangaroo, serenaded by toads and dingoes, pursued by sandstorms and hurricanes—yet Malusa keeps riding. His reward: the deep silence of the world’s great depressions.
A lyrical, large-hearted narrative of what happens when a friendly, perceptive American puts himself at the mercy of strange landscapes and their inhabitants, Into Thick Air is a reading experience of pure pleasure from one of the most talented and warmly funny new voices to come along in years.