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Friday, October 24, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 61.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Riding and reading with Brian Benson
A unique author event celebrates a Wisconsin-to-Oregon bicycle-trip memoir
Benson is looking forward to his forthcoming bike/reading tour of Wisconsin.
Credit:Dawn Jones

It may be a Madison first, a mini bike tour/author reading called a "Ride and Read" that will start at the Pinney Branch Library and head to the Central Library. It's led by UW-Madison grad Brian Benson, the author of Going Somewhere: A Memoir, just out from Plume.

In fact Benson, who hails from the area near Land O'Lakes, Eagle River and Conover, will be bicycling around the state for his seven-city book tour (with detours to Chicago and Minneapolis).

It's appropriate, since the book centers on a two-month, 2,500-mile bicycle trip Benson took from northern Wisconsin to Portland, Ore., with his girlfriend, Rachel. The trip tests both their mettle and their relationship, as well as Benson's spokes.

After buying their touring bikes, panniers, etc. in an unnamed Madison bike shop, the two hit the road with minimum prep and few specific plans.

Roughing it with basic roadmaps in the days just before smartphones hit, the couple discover small-town park campgrounds and generous strangers who offer their yards, homes, showers and food. Early on, they also discover the Mesabi Trail in northeastern Minnesota, a paved bike path through the Iron Range: "The pavement -- pitch-black, unblemished, something-to-call-home-about pavement-- rolled over sudden hills, bent from ragged rock to cobalt mine-pit crater lakes to birch-filled bogs, all the while tucked into hushed boreal forest," writes Benson.

"If you ever get the chance to get up there, it's so fun," says Benson in a phone interview from his current home base of Portland.

"I loved so much of the trip for different reasons," he says. He does single out Minnesota, from the north shore of Lake Superior to the Mesabi Trail: "It wound through the prettiest parts of the forest. And along the way we met so many generous, giving people, it felt like every day we got surprised with something that we didn't feel like we deserved -- it was almost an amusement park state."

Benson is looking forward to his forthcoming bike/reading tour of Wisconsin: "I'm excited to be able to spend some time on county roads and Rails-to-Trails routes, and I have never spent much time in the Driftless area. I'm coming down from Minneapolis to Madison, and I have to do it kind of quick -- I have four days to ride 300 miles through the hilliest part of the state. So that's going to be fun."

He's not being sarcastic, judging from his affection for conquering hills, as described in Going Somewhere. That's one of the sources of tension between Benson and Rachel that drives the narrative, in tandem with chance adventures.

"I hope that people get a sense from the book of the generosity and goodness of people in this country," Benson reflects. A loaded touring bike is a conversation-starter, "and Rachel and I found that that's all we needed. If we could start a three-second conversation, pretty much instantly we were having meaningful interactions. It was a good way to get to know a place, but also an affirmation. In some ways, this country and people are divided, but the walls are also arbitrary in a lot of ways, and they come down really quickly."

Ride and Read with Brian Benson
July 19, with bike ride at 1 pm at Pinney Library, 204 Cottage Grove Rd., heading to the Central Library, 201 W. Mifflin St. Benson will read from Going Somewhere at 2 pm as part of the Wisconsin Book Festival's year-round programming.

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