February 16, 2004 12:00 PM

By Pete McCarthy

TRAVEL

Decoding the mysteries of such weird places as Tangier, Tasmania and Rocky Sullivan’s pub in New York City, Anglo-Irish writer McCarthy rivals master traveler Bill Bryson. In pursuit of Irish lore, he meets an uncrowned king of Ireland in Morocco, a psychotic Tasmanian goose and Jeremy the Dogmusher, host of a husky-powered thrill ride in McCarthy, Alaska (“the middle of nowhere but not so central”). Even the throwaway gags are keepers: Hotel TV is “terrible. I’d rather watch a still photograph of the hotel lobby. Luckily, they’re showing one on Channel 3.” And here’s the essence of making the road your home: Talking to strangers beats “being with family, because no one can see the gulf between what you’re saying and what they know you’re like from years of unpleasant experience.” Don’t look in the rearview, Mr. Bryson: Someone might be gaining on you.

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