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Into Thick AirInto Thick Air
Biking to the Bellybutton of Six Continents
Jim Malusa
ISBN-13: 978-1-57805-141-0
336 pages
Black and white maps

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 botanist Jim Malusa bicycled alone to the lowest point on each continent, a six-year series of “anti-expeditions” to the “anti-summits.” (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.)

Malusa’s 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. Later journeys found him pedaling across the Andes to Salina Grande in Argentine Patagonia, and around tiny Djibouti in the Horn of Africa to Lac Assal. He polished off the “pits” by riding from his Tucson home 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 large-hearted narrative of what happens when a friendly, perceptive American puts himself at the mercy of strange landscapes and their denizens, Into Thick Air is a reading experience of pure pleasure from one of the most talented new voices to come along in years.


“I’ve followed Jim’s reports of all of his hilarious and amazing journeys, and I am happy to claim him as one of my favorite writers.” --Barbara Kingsolver

"Delightful debut travelogue by botanist Malusa.... Whether describing a visit with a Bedouin family in the Egyptian desert, a hitchhiking journey with road-kill gourmands in the remotest parts of Australia or a chat with gauchos while trying to escape the brutal Patagonian wind, he always seems well-informed and outgoing.... It's not as informative as the works of Bill Bryson, but easily as funny. Steeped in sarcasm and alive to the irony of any situation, observant and wry, omnivorous in the scope of its details." --Kirkus Reviews

Jim Malusa has reported on assignments for The Discovery Channel and Natural History, including travels to Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, the Atacama Desert in Chile, and Three Gorges Dam in China. A botanist and a lover of maps, his specialty is the biogeography of southern Arizona flora. Malusa lives in Tucson with his wife and their two children.  Visit his website,







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