March 12, 2003

Dear Friends,

It was a rather phenomenal month for Backpack Nation. After an article about Backpack Nation appeared in USA Today (Click here to read) my inbox was flooded with applications - altogether 137 arrived by the February 28 deadline (50-60 of them cascaded down upon me in the last 36 hours). Three partners helped me select twenty of the most promising ones, and now the final selection committee is reading those twenty and by April 1 we will have identified the first Backpack Nation ambassador.



The 137 applications that arrived were, overall, simply stunning. I felt that I'd have been happy to see almost any one of their authors become the first Backpack Nation Ambassador. The whole process made me ache for the day when Backpack Nation has matured to the point where the director, upon receiving a strong application can simply pick up the phone and say, "When can you leave?"

Two comments were repeated over and over by the applicants. One: "(A friend or family member) forwarded news of Backpack Nation to me and said, "This sounds just like your kind of thing!" Two: "I feel as though my entire life up to this point has been designed to prepare me for exactly this mission."

It was a very difficult job to pull 20 applications out of the bunch, but I had good help, and we did it, and now the broader selection committee is reading all twenty. There will be an ambassador identified by April 1.

I have a friend named Kathleen Edwards. Kathleen's grandson Cole is the same age as my daughter Sarah and lives a few doors down the street from us. Shortly before Cole and Sarah were born, I met Kathleen and her husband Dave on the street in front of my house and the three of us quickly discovered a shared passion for travel. Dave and Kathleen are in their mid-fifties and have backpacked all over the world, and now we've spent hours here and there trying to one-up each other with our stories. A few months after Cole and Sarah were born, Kathleen and Dave were in a motorcycle accident in San Francisco. Dave came out pretty much ok, but Kathleen is in a wheelchair now and is not expected to walk again.

When Backpack Nation was three or four months old, and when the dollar counter was stuck in the $3,000-4,000 range, I had a period of some distress. "Twenty-thousand! I told people I would raise $20,000, and now I'm not sure it's going to happen. I'm going to look like an idiot. I'm going to be a failure." I had imagined that the money would roll in effortlessly and voluminously - the way encouragement has. But it wasn't happening - maybe this was all a colossal mistake?

And then one day as I was heading out to pick up Sarah (and Cole) from their kindergarten, I noticed that someone had slipped an envelope under the front door. Inside was a $500 check for Backpack Nation from Kathleen. There are many people in my life I sort of silently 'expected' donations from, but for the most part the money has come from other sources, from strangers or from people I had never thought of as potential donors. Kathleen had never once entered my mind as a potential donor.

But ever since the day I found her envelope I have been at ease about the money. Backpack Nation is a good idea - of that you have made me absolutely convinced. And good ideas do arrive, I like to think, with their own inherent supply. The money will come. Less than $1700 is needed to send the first ambassador out fully funded, and then my focus will be on making sure that the person/family/village/organization that the ambassador selects is also fully funded.

I've found it interesting to observe where this money comes from (about half of it has come from people I've never met) and I'm curious to see where the rest of it comes from. Click here to contribute

Someone has, finally, visited Tony strictly as a result of my book. I met Gregg Butensky, a web designer who lives in San Francisco, when he came to the Backpack Nation launch event in San Francisco on September 11 - six months ago. Gregg is his own ambassador to the world, and a while back started a library in the Philippines that he funds and visits from time to time. Last month he detoured to Banaue to visit Tony.

Not long ago I was experiencing some small chagrin over the guesthouse. Several friends and I had contributed several thousand dollars for Tony to transform his home into a guesthouse. But when terrorism shrank the global tourist trade, the stream of visitors to Banaue dried up almost completely. I began to think of the guesthouse as perhaps being a mistake.

But Gregg's report: "Banaue is the kind of town where a traveler will go and stay for two or three days - the rice terraces are stunning, but then it's time to move on. But Tony's place is everything a traveler wants. It's quiet. It's out of town, but within easy reach of town. It's very comfortable. Rita cooks great food. It's the kind of place where you arrive and think, 'I could stay here a week.'" Gregg stayed several days. Some day very soon the tourist trade will come back, I hope, and Tony's guesthouse will see the sort of traffic we once imagined.

Gregg is the person who created the photo gallery for my web site and within a day or two he will have added some pictures he took of Tony and the guest house and Tony's 17-month old son, Bradley. (If you're looking for someone to do a little web work for you, I highly recommend Gregg - the photos look a lot better on my website than they did when I handed them the raw material. He is quick and efficient and his email address is gregg@madnomad.com.)

Several people responded to my plea for monthly donations to help Tony buy some additional rice paddies that will enable him and his family to be self-sufficient (we're still working out the details of the deal). Right now we've got commitments that total just under $100 a month, and we need about twice that. If you would like to make a small monthly donation ($5 or $10 or $20) or a one-time donation of any size, please contact Susie Whittlesey at swhittlesey@hotmail.com. One person who contributed said that with all the confounding and confusing news in the world right now, it was a relief to feel like she was doing something "specific" to bring about a little positive and tangible change.

My wonderful British editor, Sadie Mayne at Bantam, has just printed 5,000 more copies of "Take Me With You" (she's now printed nearly 30,000). These new copies contain a three-page afterword I recently wrote which discusses the creation of Backpack Nation and which should steer yet more people in this direction.

The results of the voting on the WH Smith Travel Book of the Year should be announced next week. Many thanks to all of you who voted for my book.

March 13 - El Cerrito Library — 7 pm - 6510 Stockton Av, El Cerrito, CA
March 26 - Private Reading Group, Lafayette, CA
April 4 - Writers' Center of Marin — 7 pm
April 11 - Books, Inc., Mountain View, CA, 7:30 pm
April 17 - Lafayette Library, Lafayette, California 7 pm
April 22 - Recreational Equipment Inc., Concord, CA 7pm
April 23 - Recreational Equipment Inc., San Carlos, CA 7pm
April 24 - Recreational Equipment Inc., Fremont, CA 7pm
May 7: Monticello Inn, San Francisco, CA (Wild Writing Women's guest speaker)
May 8 - Recreational Equipment Inc., Santa Rosa, CA 7pm
(Need a speaker? I'm available)

The first Backpack Nation ambassador will be identified.

Thank you for all of your continued support and encouragement,


January 11, 2003

December 11, 2002

November 14, 2002

October 15, 2002

October 11, 2002

September 22, 2002

September 17, 2002

August 10, 2002 - Backpack Nation

July 1, 2002 - Adventures and Hard Lessons in Publishing

April 14, 2002 - Another Reason Why I'm a Huge Baseball Fan

You can read Brad's dispatches from the month-long taxicab trip across America in the summer of 2001 by clicking here.

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