"Beyond the Edge: A Backpacking Trip Around the World," by Mike Dennison; Sagarmatha Press, 1999, 268 pages, $15.95.

"Beyond the Edge" is one of those books you can't judge by its cover or even the first 70 pages. It's a book that moves very slowly in the early going but then contains some intriguing tales of obscure areas on the other side of the world.It's an adventure story in which the author not only discovers plenty of excitement but also more meaning to life. The book also has a strong local angle because Mike Dennison lives in Utah and graduated from the University of Utah.

Dennison sold all his worldly goods and left on a 14-month backpacking trip in the mid-1990s and afterward concluded, "Each country offered at least one more way to look a the world."

Other than his Utah connections, the first six chapters almost caused me to quit reading the book. Then, it exploded with tales of the Himalayas, Mount Everest and Africa that compelled me to finish the book in a single day.

Lost airline luggage, bug bites and sickness from rancid cooking oil were some of Dennison's early obstacles. He discovered that Thailand residents found it strange he would run just for exercise, but the trademark on his trip was doing handstands on mountain peaks or significant landmarks, highlighting his former gymnastics career. He also found a handstand could be offensive in some countries, and so he always asked permission before doing one.

Some of the bus rides he took were an adventure of their own, some 13 hours long with only six inches of extra tire space on narrow, remote mountain roads. He learned some countries purposely don't let reports of bus accidents go public or they would hurt tourism.

Road paving in Himalayan areas didn't mean machine work, but rather people hand-pounding rocks into gravel and using small buckets of tar to do the paving. Cars and trucks were also hand-carried to Kathmandu on huge platforms by 50 to 75 porters. Then, some 100 vehicles would share 12 miles of road in remote villages.

Time zones were also odd in Nepal, with one area using five hours and 40 minutes ahead of Greenwich as its standard and 2051 as the year, not 1995.

The story of Dennison reaching the Mount Everest base camp at an elevation of 18,021 feet was the book's strongest point, and that feat required one month and 240 miles of hiking. A graph in the book shows the numerous elevation changes along that rugged route. Indeed, the book's cover shows Dennison doing a handstand in that area.

Dennison also tells of a 26.2-mile race, the Everest Marathon, where the elevation averages around 14,000 feet and where participants must have a daypack with the required items at the finish line or face disqualification. This race, probably the world's must grueling marathon, is perilous, too, with many cliffs.

The author was one of 70 participants in this race, finishing 31st in just over six hours.

The story of climbing Mount Kenya, elevation 17,000 feet, and of finding snow in Africa was also fascinating.

Dennison went on a safari in Africa and also met gorillas up-close and personal in Zaire. He completed his trek by spending time in England and Europe.

All in all, "Beyond the Edge" is a great way to have a vicarious world backpacking trip. Dennison exhibited extraordinary courage, stamina and patience in going off-road on many trails in places where he didn't speak the language and where he had no idea where he'd be spending the night.