No. 21: “Road Fever” by Tim Cahill

Travel Blog  •  Rolf Potts  •  05.11.06 | 9:54 AM ET

To mark our five-year anniversary, we’re counting down the top 30 travel books of all time, adding a new title each day this month.
Published: 1991
Territory covered: Tierra del Fuego to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska
A founding editor of Outside magazine, Cahill has been credited with revitalizing adventure writing—a genre that had previously been confined to breathless, semi-fictional tales of danger in the pages of low-culture men’s magazines. The tongue-in-cheek titles of Cahill’s early essay collections—“Jaguars Ripped My Flesh”; “A Wolverine is Eating My Leg”; “Pecked to Death by Ducks”—are a nod to his pulpy precursors, but his writing is the opposite of pulp: informed, nuanced, self-deprecating, and frequently laugh-out-loud funny. Road Fever, Cahill’s only book-length travel narrative, chronicles a 15,000-mile dash to set a world record by driving overland across the Americas in less than 24 days. In many ways, it’s an anti-adventure book, since a large portion of the tale documents the process of making plans and procuring corporate sponsorship—but this says a lot about the competitive, publicity-driven, and weirdly postmodern state of post-Exploration Age adventure. The author’s partner in the journey is professional endurance driver Gary Sowerby, and together the duo deal with fatigue, dangerous roads, stubborn bureaucrats—and an overabundance of sponsor-supplied pudding—as they race north into the pages of the “Guinness Book of World Records.” As the miles speed by, Cahill’s exuberant reporting and eye for the absurd make for an amusing and exhilarating ride.

Outtake from Road Fever:

Remorse before the fact is a common pre-adventure sensation. There is an overwhelming sense that you left the water running in the bathroom. You have, in fact, neglected something so simple and self-evident that people didn’t see any reason to tell you about it: the Wall of Flames in Chile, for instance, or that Big Hole in the Earth that Swallows Trucks just south of Rio Gallegos, the River of Acid, the Meteorite Firing Range, the Living Dinosaurs…

For more on Tim Cahill, check my interview with him, as well as interviews in Salon and Mother Jones.

Rolf Potts writes the Ask Rolf column for World Hum and is the author of Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel. His last story for World Hum was The Art of Writing a Story About Walking Across Andorra.


Columnist Rolf Potts is the author of Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, and Marco Polo Didn't Go There: Stories and Revelations From One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer. His stories have appeared in National Geographic Traveler, the New York Times Magazine and Conde Nast Traveler, as well as in “The Best American Travel Writing.”


1 Comment for No. 21: “Road Fever” by Tim Cahill

Suebob 05.11.06 | 5:12 PM ET

Love Cahill. He is on my top-5 list of travel writers. His stuff is coffee-out-the-nose, book-ruining funny.

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