Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Into Thick Air

Into Thick Air
© 2003 Jim Mauser
388 pages

            Jim Mauser might be interested in the view from the Seven Summits, the highest points of each continent, were it not for the fact that they have accessibility issues. To Mauser, any place you can’t bike to isn’t worth bothering with. When Discovery offers to drop Mauser in the middle of nowhere and film him attempting to find his way back to civilization, Mauser has a better idea: why not finance and film his traveling to the seven lowest points on Earth – the seven anti-summits?   And so he embarks on a six-continent journey (Antarctica lowest point being covered by a very large pile of ice), through war zones and Passover, assailed by dogs, hurricanes, and crowds of children joyfully attempting to stone him,  to six of the lowest spots on Earth. Although his destinations are anticlimactic in the extreme, it’s the journeys getting there that makes this book. Mauser is rivaled only by Bill Bryson for the sheer entertainment value of his narrative, and is similar to him stylistically,  but Mauser records his world journeys with a botanist’s eye.  Those eyes are open to the full sweep of the glorious panorama of nature around them  -- the wildly divergent climates, the abundance of mesmerizing and often lethal fauna. Central to Mauser's story, like many travelers' tales, are the people he meets along the way, their kindnesses and eccentricities recorded along the way. Mauser isn't quite as vulnerable as world trekkers; his anti-summits are made in six completely different legs that take the better part of a decade to complete, and his starting locations for each leg seemed to be a week away from his destination, at best.  Even so, he's at considerable risk given his luck at pedaling into a place right before drama hits -- like a sudden case of the monsoon in South America -- and people around the world offer him friendly smiles and a stomach full of local cuisine. Into Thick Air is a fantastic cycle-touring book, treating the reader to a wide spectrum of human cultures and natural environments, with plenty of wry humor and scientific commentary on the way.

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