AWESOME PERSON #13 – MEET BRENDAN LEONARD
I had been working for a nonprofit, Big City Mountaineers, and left in January 2011 to work as a remote copywriter for a big tech company. I wanted to stay connected to the outdoors in some way, so I decided to write a weekly post on Semi-Rad and see if people liked it.
2. I love how you gear Semi-Rad towards us “regular folks!” What are your aspirations for it in the future?
I think it will largely stay an adventure-writing site, although sometimes I go into other less-relevant topics, like Eddie Vedder, and my grandmother. I think it’s just a fun place for me to put things that I hope will reach people on some level, whether that’s just making someone laugh, or inspiring them to do something different. As long as I keep getting support from great sponsors (shout-out to Outdoor Research and Vasque!), I’ll keep doing it.
3. What inspired you to start writing in the first place? Do you have a background/education in writing? You have a few books too…what would be your advice for an individual looking to make writing a living?
I earned a master’s in journalism from the University of Montana, and spent four years working at newspapers. Since I graduated in 2004, I had always spent a lot of time pitching stories to magazines, and got a few stories published. I kept trying, and eventually, I got some stuff published in bigger magazines, and by 2012, I had enough freelance work to make a go of it full-time. I actually make way more of my money writing for online publications than I do for print publications. My advice? Stick with it and don’t expect it to happen overnight. And when it happens, don’t expect to make a lot of money.
4. The day Steve Casimiro from Adventure Journal contacted you seemed like a pretty big deal! Where were your thoughts? Had you finally felt like you “made it” at that point?
It ended up being a big deal, but it was very casual at first. First, Steve just published my Semi-Rad essays on Adventure-Journal.com, and then I started writing other stories for him. We’ve been working together for almost four years now, and I really think he’s one of the few people who understands how to put something out there that has soul. I didn’t feel like I’d “made it,” but I still don’t feel like I’ve “made it,” if that makes any difference.
5. Brendan, what were you doing before you started off on all your adventures? What made you want to drop it all and hit the road?
I was working from home, and my relationship with my girlfriend ended right as our lease ended, so I packed everything in my car and hit the road—the whole story is in my book, The New American Road Trip Mixtape [ http://www.amazon.com/The-American-Road-Trip-Mixtape/dp/0615826393/ref=tmm_pap_title_0 ]
6. What was it like bicycling across America? What route did you take and what were your favorite parts? How about the hardest/least favorites? (For all the bike geeks, you’ll have to include a description of your bike and gear :)).
It was probably the best travel experience I’ve had. We did nothing but ride and eat and talk to people, and we burned 6,000 to 8,000 calories per day. One of the great joys of my adult life was trying to replace all those calories every day. We rode the Adventure Cycling Association’s Southern Tier Route, which is just over 3,000 miles from San Diego to St. Augustine, Florida. My favorite part was probably west Texas—Marfa, Marathon, and Alpine. I rode a 1988 Raleigh Team USA that I bought off Craigslist for $100, and towed a BOB Trailer behind it.
7. What kind of van did you have and how were you able to make a life in it for 3 years?
I had (and still have) a 2005 Chevy Astrovan, with the back seats removed, and a big box with a bed on top in their place. It’s not great for cooking inside, so I spent most of my time avoiding winter in the Southwest.
8. What do you do for money? I know you write a lot and have a few sponsors, does that provide enough to sustain the life you live or do you have other means?
Yep, I write full-time, and that pays enough. It’s a lot of work selling and doing all the writing, but I enjoy it.
9. Love and the seasonal life. Have you made it work and if so, how?
My girlfriend is also a freelance writer and we work together on a lot of projects.
10. What does your family think of your lifestyle? How about your friends back home?
I think my parents just want me to be happy, so I think they’re into it. Since I can work from anywhere, I get to see my parents a lot more than I used to be able to when I had office jobs.
11. Looking back, are there any regrets or anything you’d like to do-over, if you had the chance?
Not really. I guess I might have done the inside of my van a little differently—I’ve seen some pretty cool setups and been a little jealous. But other than that, I can’t regret too much!
12. What is the one piece of advice you have for anyone looking to change up their life and start new?
Do it. It’s only scary for a little while. Then it’s awesome.