September 17, 2002
My website is up and running, newly redesigned, with one naked picture of which I am particularly proud. The Backpack Nation kickoff event was a big success, and as of today we have $740 in the bank on our way to the first $20,000 ambassadorship. I received a letter from across the seas. Also, I'm offering a $100 reward to five travelers. Details below. Wishing you all the very best. Brad
BACKPACK NATION KICKOFF
The kickoff at the Monticello Inn on September 11 was, I thought, a big hit. In the neighborhood of one hundred people filled the lobby, and I only knew about half of them previously. Three days earlier, John Flinn wrote a prominent column in the San Francisco Chronicle describing Backpack Nation - as best he understood it - and the column got lots of attention in the Bay Area. (It also prompted emails to me from people as far away as Wyoming and Malaysia! And now I've been receiving emails from people in Wisconsin and Texas, where the article was reprinted in the Sunday papers.)
Jamie Maddox, who had so graciously loaned me his new taxicab for the cross-country trip last summer, came by the Monticello and parked the cab out front of for a spell (it now says "Big Dog City" on the side - it is SF taxicab #872). In the back of the room I spotted Trudy Marin, who arranged the miraculous new prosthesis that my visiting friend received. Larry Habegger and Tanya Pearlman were the Travelers' Tales contingent. Local luminary Herbert Gold popped in, as did my other writing friends Jeff Greenwald, Lynn Ferrin, Alison Wright, Carla King, Michael McCarthy...who am I forgetting? Carol Ruth Silver, former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors said hello. Debi Echlin of 2nd Edition Books in Oakland, who sold 700 copies (!) of my book in hardback (at $24 each) was in the front row. Several long-time cab driving pals and many personal friends were there. My wife Rhonda and my daughter Sarah found a spot on the floor near the front and listened to their housemate, me, read from my book and then describe Backpack Nation - as best I understand it.
I'm clearly biased, but the room felt charged to me. People seemed wonderfully receptive to my brainstorm. I envision Backpack Nation as a way for we Americans (and others) to give expression to feelings that we have in abundance, but which we don't feel are expressed, or can properly be expressed, by our government - and during the question and answer period several people said, more or less, that they saw Backpack Nation as just such a possibility. I sense myself trying to downplay my excitement as I write this, but the truth is that I was one hundred percent thrilled with the evening.
On my website I have described my commitment to raising $20,000 to fund the first ambassadorship. I have contributed the first $100, and on the morning of the Monticello event I heard via email from Mr. Drew Buddie, a Scottish man who teaches at a school outside London, who said he was mailing to me five $20 travelers checks left over from a trip he made to America three years ago. Other members of the Monticello crowd left donations on their way out the door, and now the counter on the Backpack Nation page of my website has been updated to reflect these events: $740. Several people at the event, and a few others via email or in my personal life, have said that they are standing by their checkbooks, pens poised, waiting for the news Backpack Nation tax ID number has been established. And I'm working on that as fast as I can.
I'm realizing that one of my biggest challenges will be to learn how to channel all the support that has been offered. This is not something I can or will accomplish alone. I am relieved to know that people other than myself want Backpack Nation to send out an ambassador or two or a thousand. For the solitary Lone Ranger writer guy, this is going to be a new world - how does one let people help? How do I let people in?
I'm going to have to learn to give this thing away. I've been giving things away for a long time, but never away a whole project. But that's what will be required. Below I'm posting a List of Needs, and if you can fill any of them, or know someone who can, please, step right up. This can be your baby, too. Aren't you curious to see where it goes? Where we send it?
One thought: In the wake of the enthusiasm I've seen expressed regarding Backpack Nation, I've allowed myself to imagine that the first ambassador might actually happen pretty quickly. And if it did, how hard will it be to get from one ambassador to ten? That's only about $200,000 dollars - not so much money when a Nation is involved. And what sort of stories, what sort of attention and interest, would ten ambassadors generate? The mere promise of one ambassador has unleashed some stored up emotion, spawned a news story, emails from across the globe. We could have quite an interesting ride ahead.
LIST OF NEEDS:
- People to take this project on as their own, and to participate in whatever manner they see appropriate. One friend, Rachel Greenberger, called and asked what she could do to help at the Monticello Inn, and she wound up running the table where my book was available and donations were accepted. Photographer William McLeod has offered photographic services. Debi Echlin has offered to serve on the Backpack Nation Board of Directors. What's your talent, skill, ability, surplus, idea?
- Someone to hold my hand, walk me through, or just flat out take over the establishment of nonprofit status and a tax ID number for Backpack Nation.
- A system for accepting and processing incoming essays - anyone with any experience at this? I've already heard from a dozen people who are working on their essays.
- Speaking engagements. Talking about this idea energizes me and helps me refine it - and I also get ideas from audiences. I'm particularly interested in college-aged groups - I'm curious what reception Backpack Nation will receive from that demographic.
- Journalists or people with access to journalists to spread the word. And everyone to simply pass the word. Please send anyone you know the website link. It's already generated emails from all over the world.
- And money - of course. Everyone likes to see the counter move. Even a few dollars.
NEWS FROM ABROAD
(Warning!: Please do not read this section if you are in the middle of reading "Take Me With You" or are considering it. This section blows the book's surprise ending and will diminish the reading experience.)
I have received a letter from you-know-who saying that he and his wife are planning a party to celebrate the progress on the new guest lodge they are building on the site of their old home, and also to celebrate the birthday of their son born just one year ago on October 6. They named him...Bradley! (How about that! I am deeply honored and flattered.) Tony's father, Pedro, who recently won reelection to a third and last term on Banaue's local council, is donating a pig to the celebration.
The guest house, Tony says, is moving toward completion. Actually, his letter could have been written by anyone who has ever been through a building project of any kind. The project has cost far more money and taken far more time than Tony says he ever imagined. The outer structure looks complete (he sent a picture) and the work is continuing, but the project won't really be "finished" for quite some time. Last week two people bought copies of the book that were signed by Tony ($50/ea) and yesterday I was able to send him a check for $100 that should come in handy.
YET ANOTHER OPPORTUNITY / $100 REWARD
When I mentioned the above to my friend Susie Whittlesey, who met Tony in Oakland last summer, she wrote back to me:
"...I had a thought that...he's going to need continuous financial support for several years until his business gets launched. What do you think about setting up a fund for him whereby we would each contribute what we can once a month? Those like you and me who don't have much expendable income could surely come up with $10 a month...and several of these ten dollars would undoubtedly make a huge difference in Tony's life."
Since then another friend has said he liked this idea, and now there are two people in the $10/month club. If you'd like to join, just let me know. When you visit Banaue, you'll appreciate the difference your money made. (PS - I send Tony whatever money I can spare. I've promised to share with him some of the royalties from the UK version of my book - I get 32 cents per copy, I believe, and that money arrives, usually, on a six-month delay.)
And on the website I've offered $100 to each of the first five independent travelers who send me a picture of themselves trekking with Tony. (Tourism is still way down in Banaue, although the region where Tony lives is peaceful as can be and is hundred of miles away from the Philippines' trouble spots, with miles of open ocean and then miles of mountain ranges separating them.)
WEBSITE REDESIGNED BY BOOTSNALL
BootsnAll.com is the outfit that created my website, but they're more than that, too. They are four guys passionate about travel, who three years ago started their site as a way to solidify the traveling community. Every day they post to their website a story submitted by a traveler somewhere in the world. They work from humble offices in Eugene, Oregon (I visited two years ago). Please check them out - www.BootsnAll.com. I think they did a beautiful job on my new website - and hopefully it'll all be finished soon - but that's my foot-dragging, not theirs. I can't recommend them highly enough.
A SMALL HONOR FOR "TAKE ME WITH YOU"
This following arrived from Sadie, the editor of the UK version. (WH Smith, the largest book retailer in the UK, ordered 5,000 copies of my book early on and has displayed them prominently at its branches all over the former British Commonwealth.)
"I can now confirm that you are one of ten authors who have been chosen for the Travel Writing Award shortlist in WH Smith's Book Award 2003. This award is now into its third year and is unusual in that it is entirely voted on by the public. The displays for the Book Award will go up after Christmas in WH Smith's branches and the public will vote on the winners by the end of January (last year, 14,000 votes were cast each week). In other words, TMWY is going to continue to have a high profile in the most important retail outlet in the UK throughout the coming Christmas! This is a real achievement, especially as quite a few of our biggest authors didn't get a look-in. Well done, you!"
THANKS FOR READING THIS LONG EMAIL!