Round Rock New Neighbors is a social organization of women welcoming women in the Round Rock area since 1978. Both "new" and "old" neighbors are welcome. For more information: [Barnes & Noble requires that RRNN's book club be open to the public, so you do not need to be an RRNN member to attend book club, and both men and women are welcome and do attend. ]

Literary Events

The Friends of the Georgetown Public Library’s Hill Country Authors Series events will be listed here. Next event:

Nov 1, 2017 2:00 PM in the Georgetown Public Library.

Highlight and right click on this "link" to see everything you need to know to attend.
The Nobel Prize in Literature was given to author Kazuo Ishiguro.
Amazon is planning a video series based on stories by Philip K. Dick. Date of release is not yet announced.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

We Discuss Extreme Travel

The air is always tingling with excitement when we meet! What comments will give me further insight into the book I recently read? Did I miss anything in the book? Will someone/everyone appreciate something I say? What will this meeting make me think about?

Jim Malusa called his book about bicycling to the lowest point on 6 continents, Into Thick Air: Biking to the Bellybutton of Six Continents. The low points were generally somewhere between 50 and 300 feet below sea level, except for Lac Assal at minus 505 feet and the Dead Sea. 1350 feet below. The author doesn't mention much about the air, except for a variety of temperatures, ranging from minus 28 degrees at the Caspian Sea to 118 degrees at Lac Assal in Africa. Only upon reaching the Dead Sea does he say he feels the air pressure increasing, and he doesn't dwell on the subject. Logic says that if we don't feel the air thinning until we reach approximately 8,000 feet above sea level that we wouldn't feel a difference in pressure until we went quite far below sea level. I'm not sure of the science, though; we might feel air pressure thickening more quickly than thinning.

Almost everyone at our discussion had read the book, and half enthusiastically liked it. Others didn't have much criticism but weren't interested in the bicycling aspects of the story. Consensus was reached that the author chose unique places to travel! One criticism that got Phyllis riled, with others of us agreeing, was that the author visited these places on long and dangerous trips while leaving his young wife and babies at home. The travels spanned 6 years, much of it during the first years of his children's lives. I felt that the author's opportunity to earn money with his clever travel ideas was worth the difficulties. He was close to 40 years of age at the beginning of the travel, which does indicate that his travel-writer career clock was slowing, even during this important time for his wife's biological clock. As Malusa indicated occasionally during his stories, it was difficult for him to leave his growing family like that. Hopefully, he has been able to provide lots of family time and relaxation for his deserving wife after finishing the extreme travel.

Our discussion touched on some details of the book but mostly centered around the dangers of Malusa's trips, the contrast between expected dangers and the experiences he had, and the changes in the dangers of travel that have occurred since Malusa's last trip, which ended shortly after the 9-11 crisis. Malusa faced some real dangers in nature, sleeping outdoors near habitats of deadly animals. He also expected to face dangerous people in many places, but he seemed to always rise above this fear and conquer it with style, making friends wherever he went. He seemed to have a way with the people he met, always finding helpful and kind people in spite of warnings to expect unfriendliness.

From discussing Malusa's adventures with mostly friendly people in his far-flung travels, we moved to sharing our own stories of extreme or otherwise dangerous travel. We have been around! Here are notes I took as fast as I could during the discussion. I hope I didn't leave anyone out or make mistakes in reporting (I can easily edit this if you send me additions/corrections) - we all appreciate everyone sharing their stories to make our afternoon at Barnes & Noble more interesting!

Patty went to Egypt within the last few years, and she and her husband chose to go on a guided day trip to the remote pyramids mentioned in Malusa's book (page 76), the Step Pyramid, the Bent Pyramid, and the Red Pyramid.

Patty's son and daughter-in-law took their children to Ethiopia for a month in 2011, where her son taught in the medical school and daughter-in-law at the law school. This was part of our book conversation when we were talking about Khat, the leaf that Malusa encountered and enjoyed in Djibouti. Patty said that Khat was available in Ethiopia. She said it is illegal in the United States and doesn't keep well for traveling.

Kathy went to China and noticed guards with machine guns.

Dennis was in Paris in April of 1960 during the Algerian Crisis, when some rebelling French paratroopers were threatening to take over Paris. Dennis was walking along peacefully when he noticed a guard with a machine gun trained on him for a while and decided his trenchcoat must have made him look suspicious.

Joyce was in Germany and encountered a "demonstration." The government brought tanks out. Joyce encountered another demonstration when she was in London during May Day. Apparently, that's a big day for demonstrations, and the Americans were warned to stay away from the area that day.

Jay was in Prague in 1969. He said machine guns were everywhere.

Frank went on a tour of the Tower of London in 2002 and was in a long line to see the Crown Jewels. Not only are you not allowed to stop in front of the jewels, but there is a lot of security there. Frank was standing near a door while in line, and a soldier with a big weapon appeared in the doorway.

Lydia was in Amman, Jordan last year and said she had a friendly experience. She and her husband spent some time working in Saudi Arabia a while back and had no problem, but she wore traditional Arab women's clothing when she left the American area.

One theme among most of the above shared experiences is that the armed guards and guns seen during these trips stand out in people's memories, because Americans were not used to seeing guns around the city before 2001. I remember my first airport trip after 9-11, which happened to be in October of that year. The huge machine guns all over the airports were a shock to me! Now, we see armed guards all over the airports and don't notice much.

A couple of travel media that Dennis recommended for those who enjoyed Into Thick Air:
Attending Marvels: A Patagonia Journal, by George Gaylord Simpson
A TV travel series on the Science Channel (SCI): An Idiot Abroad.  If you Google it and go to the show's website, you can see some clips from the shows.

To see Jim Malusa's photos from the trips in Into Thick Air, go to

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