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Woodstock resident promotes book — and simplified life

by: Elizabeth Ussher Groff The front (not in view) of Brian Willson’s well-worn shirt displays a design he and his wife created. It states: “Human powered Transportation: Every rotation of the wheel is a revolution. Less & local, slow, small, simple – history’s sustainable model.”

Hand-cycling 700 miles from Portland to San Francisco takes courage, stamina and motivation. Brian Willson, a Woodstock resident, made such a trip - to promote his new book, describing his personal journey from high school basketball star to Air Force officer in Vietnam to peace activist to advocate for sustainable living.

Taking side routes, and averaging 10 miles per hour, Willson hand-cranked a bicycle that lets his two metal prosthetic legs rest in stirrups. He arrived in San Francisco in mid-July, after leaving Portland on June 25th.

His book, 'Blood on the Tracks', which he characterizes as 'a psycho-historical memoir', was released by P.M. Press in June of this year. Among other aspects of his life, it tells how he suffered a fractured skull and lost both legs below the knee in 1987, when he was run over in California by a train that had accelerated to three times its 5 mph speed limit during a well-publicized protest of a munitions train that was carrying bombs to Central America.

In the ensuing years, Willson has become a renowned peace activist, praised by such high profile actors as Ed Asner and Kris Kristofferson. Activist and author Daniel Ellsberg wrote the forward to his book.

Besides providing a portrait of one man's life journey of profound change, the book makes a passionate plea for simple living. Today, at age 70 (his birthday was on the Fourth of July), Willson is deeply concerned about 'our lifestyle in America that is totally unsustainable'.

In November of 2010, THE BEE published a story about how he and his wife Becky Luening had transformed their simple ranch-style house in the Woodstock neighborhood into a modest but highly sustainable solar-powered home, with many conservation features.

Willson sees what he describes as a narcissistic or self-centered aspect of our society 'leading to destruction of community and the earth, both [of which are] indispensable for human dignity and survival.' The solution to such a self-destructive path? 'Culture change: The need for more eco-consciousness, empathy toward each other, and a lifestyle that is simpler and more local.'

Since 1997, Willson has hand cycled a total of 60,000 miles. He did, however, elect to take the train back from San Francisco to Portland! When asked to comment on the strength and stamina it took to hand cycle the 700 miles from Portland to San Francisco, he said it was a 'commitment to remain in good physical condition, eat healthfully, and demonstrate a policy of moving myself without burning fossil fuels.

'And it is joyful,' he added.