Dave Howell set out to ride a bicycle solo from Seattle back to his home near Milwaukee to ponder some serious questions.
And he wrote a book documenting the trip, the lessons he learned, and the characters he met along the way, called The Descent into Happiness.
Howell will be reading from his book April 21 at 7 p.m. Boswell Books in Milwaukee, an event co-sponsored by Ben’s Cycle.
We’re thrilled to be a part of this! We read the book this weekend and loved it. Howell’s story is part love story, part thinking about thinking, part character sketches of the people he meets along the way, and part bicycle journey tale.
Howell, a professor at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, wanted to think about being alone while still engaged with a wife and family, a job, and the community at large.
His wife of 20-some years, Sue, bought him a Salsa Vaya, and he set about making the trip in the summer of 2015.
He said he was able to find a deep sense of empathy on the bike trip, not because of the bicycle, but because the bicycle slows everything down enough to pay attention to others.
“If you want an empathetic lifestyle, you need to slow down enough to listen,” Howell said in an interview.
And the empathy was one of the lessons he learned along the way.
“I want to exercise my humanity more,” he said. “Show more generosity, share more. Otherwise, you miss out on opportunities.You have to work to stay open.”
Howell has raced mountain bikes in the Wisconsin Off-Road Mountain Bike Series (WORS) and loves to ride fast, but this time he wanted to ride slowly and rediscover the bicycle and the world around him.
He used maps from Adventure Cycling throughout the trip.
With a background in ethics, poetry, creative thinking, and research, it’s no surprise that Howell writes a lot about thinking in his book. What is surprising is the lightness of his touch in the words. There’s no heavy philosophy-speak in the book, although he talks about deep subjects.
He tried to eat healthy along the way, he had to often eat at bars and gas stations. So there were many nights of cold Dinty Moore stew and Pabst Blue Ribbons.
“You learn a lot about food priorities in this country,” he said.
One of the more interesting parts of the story comprise the title of the book. Howell describes what could easily be the most challenging parts of the ride – climbing the mountains and riding into headwinds – as happiness.
“Happiness means you’re willing to suffer for me. Mountains made me happy. Headwinds made me happy. Bike touring,” he said,” is not really fun, but it’s exhilarating and brings me great happiness.”
You can read more about the book and Howell’s other adventures at davidhowell.org.
Order the book here or get one at the reading April 21. See you there!