His first book under his belt, Brian Benson is completing the last stretch of a Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois book tour – by bike.
A narrative nonfiction, Going Somewhere tells the story of his cross country bike trip – from his parent’s driveway in Land O’ Lakes Wisconsin to Portland, Oregon. Benson’s tale involves personal growth, physical pain, bicycle breakdowns, and a woman named Rachel.
Benson describes his book tour as mixed – in the best sense; in Duluth, he enjoyed a stimulating conversation with the two people who showed up. While, in his hometown, 150 people packed into the town hall.
“My kindergarten teacher was even there. So the Land O’Lakes one was particularly special because it’s a small town. The population is somewhere between 500 and 600. It just reminded me of why I love being from there; in small towns, people turn out and are so supportive.
Benson says many people seem to connect to the ‘physicality’ of the long biking trip and what a dominant role dealing with high winds played in the journey. Benson, now 32, says others connect to his ‘inner’ journey to try to figure out what he was going to do with his life.
“People have definitely also talked about the relationship and that’s where I’ve gotten mixed reviews on it and that’s something I expected because I tried to be really honest about what I was thinking the entire time, which were some not so generous thought,” Benson says.
The trip's inspiration took shape after Benson graduated from UW-Madison. He made a backpacking trip with a friend to Latin America. That’s where Benson met Rachel.
“Pretty quickly after getting there I met a guy who invited me to a jazz show. A friend of his was singing, and that was Rachel. She was so focused and new clearly what she was doing; she’d make these decisions really quickly and not look back. And one of them was that she wanted to take a bike trip across the states. I immediately latched on to the idea,” Benson says.
Benson wasn’t think of a book when he started writing about the odyssey. He simply decided to write up something that happened during their long ride through North Dakota. Rachel could not find the chocolate Benson desperately wanted to eat.
“There were so many moments like that trip when I blew up nothing into everything. It was a part of that trip and so many relationships. So I decided to write something based on that; and also in North Dakota, so many things happened in that state; the wind was such a force and it was when things really shifted in the trip,” Benson says.
Benson says he has evolved since the journey seven years ago.
“When I couldn't decide which direction we should take on the trip, I would a lot of time agonizing over it. I learned that one of the most fun thing is when things start to go wrong. Maybe it’s not fun at that exact moment, but it always leads you meeting such kind generous thing. And another thing is learning to be okay with asking for help,” Benson.
The journey took place seven years ago and for now, Benson is based in Portland, Oregon. He’s writing and nurturing others to write as well.
“I’m committed to social justice. So I’m working with an organization in Portland called Write Around Portland. It offers ten-week workshops in prisons, affordable housing, treatment centers and lots of other places where people have stories to tell but don’t have encouragement to share them, or definitely access to writing workshops,” Benson says.
Thursday Benson gave a book reading at Boswell Book Company. Now he’s heading to Chicago where, on Saturday, he’ll finishes the Midwest leg of his tour at City Lit Books.
Benson will be traveling aboard Rudoph – the bicycle he built and named in honor of his grandfather.
“When my grandfather was conscripted into the military he didn’t have a middle name and everybody else did, so he made up Rudolph on the spot. I love riding the bike; I built it when after the long trip from Wisconsin to Oregon,” Benson says.
His grandfather lives in Chicago and plans to finish reading his grandson’s book before Benson arrives in town.