September 22, 2002

On September 11, I stood up in front of a room packed full of people and vowed that Backpack Nation would raise at least $20,000 and send out at least one ambassador. This cheeky promise comes from a guy who has never in his life had $20,000 (maybe half of that once, maybe twice) and whose net worth is almost always as shapely as last night's full moon.

So imagine the delight, the uncheckable gushing warmth I felt when I viewed my email Friday morning, before running out the door for a night of camping at Pt. Reyes, and found this message from my old friend Tim Booth, who is now the Special Events coordinator at Principia College, from which we both graduated in 1972: "I'm writing a check for $500 and sending it today (to hell with the deduction)."

And just tonight, at the San Francisco County Jail, I showed slides and talked about writing and travel to a writing workshop of inmates. It was very touching for me - I hadn't visited a prison in a dozen years - and here were these thoughtful human beings sharing their lives and their dreams with me and listening to me talk about things that…well, I wondered in advance how relevant all my travel talk would be to people incarcerated…but their minds were unimprisoned - these gentlemen were as engaged and receptive and inspiring as any group I've spoken to during the past two years. Fia was from Samoa and wondered if I'd ever been there. Curt was going to sail a boat around the world when he got out. Allen had written me a letter telling me how much he'd appreciated my book. And at the end, when I outlined Backpack Nation, "Slick Rick" said he was going to donate $50 when he is released in a few weeks and regains access to his funds.

I realize that I just have to keep speaking this project to make it real. Emailers tell me that today's Sunday newspaper in Rochester, New York, reprinted John Flinn's article about Backpack Nation from the San Francisco Chronicle two weeks ago. A reporter who wrote about the taxicab trip across the States last summer, says that his newspaper would probably not be interested in a Backpack Nation story until "you're actually ready to launch your first couple of subsidized travelers." I told him not to look away for too long. There are too many people out there who want this thing to succeed. Two have written to say that they'd be honored to act as ambassadors and they're working on their applications, but they're each in a position in life where they don't need the $10,000 personal expense money and could pay their own ways. You could send twice as many ambassadors this way, they say. All they needed was to hear that there was a format being born that would assist them in expressing their own generous instincts. Like all of us, I think.

Eleven days old. $1,330. What fun!

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