Good-humored essays that chronicle an oddball odyssey through the urban outback. It's neither pristine river nor virgin forest that rattles the affable Rockland's wandering bones, but that awkward border -- in the wilderness or in the city -- where nature and man's handiwork collide. Chair of American Studies at Rutgers Univ., Rockland (A Bliss Case, 1989) undertakes a series of decidedly unscholarly treks across the wilds of the Northeast corridor. In his search for adventure, he boldly goes where no man wants to go: kayaking the south Jersey meadows in January; camping in Manhattan's Inwood Park; biking Route 1, known as ""Death Highway,"" through Newark, N.J. Prowling the forgotten canals and the traffic- and retail-choked highways of Megalopolis, the unlikely ""new frontier"" that sprawls from New York to Philly, he finds a Whitmanesque splendor in the flotsam of the industrial age. Seeking to ""redefine adventure in contemporary terms,"" he brings it within reach of the average schlepper: No triathlete, Rockland knows when to bag the tent and check into a motel. Hiking all 275 blocks of Broadway, as he does in ""Copping a Pee in the Big Apple,"" requires no superhuman effort. It is, however, a charmingly contrarian way to view the world. That charm -- and his self-mocking style, boyish enthusiasm, and unrepentant (but harmless) male chauvinism -- lend a refreshing tone to the contrapuntal ruminations on wildlife, geology, urban myth, Indian history, and the pleasures of PB&J scattered throughout his love song to postmodern America. Rockland delights in camp as much as any devotee of pop culture, but his inquiry into the things consumer culture values, then abandons (and the snapshots he presents of our deteriorating cities) forms a powerful cautionary tale. Perfect for armchair travelers or urban adventurers looking for new ideas.