The year started on a low note: the end of a major relationship. Suddenly I found myself on-the-road again and decided to clear my head by taking off to Europe on a last-minute bargain-basement flight.
My good friend (and fellow nomad-at-the-moment) Matt and I rented a canal-side apartment in Amsterdam through HomeAway. We explored the city by bike and made new friends through Couchsurfing. I continued writing my new book at Knowmads, an alternative business school and co-working center where I met a gaggle of super-friendly social entrepreneurs from all over the world.
The gorgeous and highly bikeable streets of Amsterdam.
Matt, Blake, Seth (Casa Zimbabwe ’01-’04)
A presentation at Knowmads by Pieter, the founder.
So. Much. Good. Cheap. Chocolate.
I popped into Spain for a week before returning stateside, flew to Chicago to present at a homeschooling conference, and failed to recruit enough people to run Trailblazer, my mini-conference for self-directed learners ages 18-22, which I canceled. That’s okay—I was already gearing up for the next big adventure: the 4-week Unschool Adventures Buenos Aires Tango trip.
This was a trip I’d wanted to run for a long time. Tango, tango, and nothing but tango, in my favorite foreign city in the world. I caught the Argentine tango bug when the very first U.A. group took two weeks of lessons in 2008. After that I’d never gotten enough tango in my life.
This trip enabled 8 awesome teenage unschoolers, my co-leader (and brother) Cooper, and I immerse ourselves in the study and practice of this elegant dance for an entire month.
Cooper and I, finding ourselves.
Subte linea A (Subway Line A): our favorite way to get around town.
Taking a Tuesday-night large-group lesson at La Catedral, a hot spot for beginner gringos.
Our thrice-weekly private class with Alejandro Puerta (center), tango teacher extraordinaire.
One of the U.A. students dancing with a stranger at a Buenos Aires milonga (public tango dance).
Gelato, our true love.
Post-milonga crew. I actually stayed awake until 2am or 3am consistently on this trip. MILESTONE.
Emo Blake appeared at the Recoleta cemetery.
Evening group meeting at the apartment.
Returning stateside again, I zipped down to Asheville to officially move out of my apartment, pack my car, say goodbye to friends, and start a slow drive westward, back to my home state of California.
Q: Why California?
A: Living in North Carolina for two years was a fun and valuable experience that I’m really glad I did—but my heart never really left Northern California. Each summer I’d abandon the muggy southeast to bum around Lake Tahoe, visit friends and family in the bay area, and hike in mountains that were higher than 4,000′. The vast wildernesses of the West called to me. When the opportunity to build my Hogwarts for Unschoolers appeared in late 2013—and it quickly became clear that the property would be in California—I knew that I wanted to return.
I spent the entire month of May on the road, staying with friends (old and new) in Tennessee, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, and California. I enjoyed some of the most epic trail runs of my life in Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. Here are the highlights, and below is a teaser from Western Colorado.
On June 1st I landed my butt in San Francisco, where I sublet a friend’s room in the Lower Haight and then NOPA neighborhoods. I’d always been curious to live in the actual city of San Francisco and this was my big chance. Hills, hipsters, and high-quality cappuccinos: I soaked them up.
Here are a few other highlights from the California summer.
Recertifying my Wilderness First Responder in the Marin Headlands (that’s fake blood).
Touring LucasArts in the Presidio, courtesy of Jeremy Stuart of Class Dismissed.
Finalizing the drawings for my book with my illustrator, Shona.
Climbing Half Dome (in Yosemite) with my sister Liza.
Getting interviewed for a documentary about alternatives to college, funnily enough, at my old college, UC Berkeley.
Professionally recording the audiobook version of The Art of Self-Directed Learning.
Attending the World Domination Summit conference in Portland, Oregon.
Windsurfing in the Columbia River Gorge. (Hydroplaning—finally!)
Visiting Crater Lake, Oregon…Yawn! (Just kidding.)
In August, things started heating up with Hogwarts. The Roddy family and I focused our search on large acreages of land in the California Sierra foothills, eventually discovering a 400ac parcel outside of Mariposa which they purchased! (Hooray!) It only took 11 months of searching, two failed offers on properties in California and Oregon, and one instance of me relieving myself into a 5-gallon bucket of frozen excrement in Western Massachusetts. (Ask me about that one in person.) I also presented on my Hogwarts for Unschoolers vision at the HSC Conference and online Homeschool+ conference (video).
At the end of the summer I returned, as I always to do, to serve as advisor, project leader, first aid guy, and prank-target-in-chief at Not Back to School Camp in Southern Oregon. I love it so.
Staff intros. (Photo: Kay C.)
Post-advisee cuddle puddle. (Photo: Gemma C.)
All-camp meeting. (Note that NBTSC is not religious, but it does rent space from a church camp.)
Cross-dressing ultimate frisbee. (Photo: Gemma C.)
Prank #1: Wrap everything in Blake’s tent in homemade Christmas wrapping paper. Truly ingenious.
Prank #2: Throw Blake in the creek. I don’t go without a fight. (Photo: Gemma C.)
They always win. (Photo: Gemma C.)
After camp I officially released The Art of Self-Directed Learning and then packed my bag for Nepal.
Q: Why Nepal?
A: In late 2013, when I realized that my annually-repeating Hogwarts dream might actually materialize in the near future (and my international trip leading days might be numbered), I laid the groundwork for the two remaining trips on my Unschool Adventures bucket list: Buenos Aires Tango and Nepal. After visiting India in 2011 (on a personal trip), I decided that India would be a little too challenging for me as a teen group leader. But Nepal—India’s smaller, quieter, more mountainous, and more tourist-friendly neighbor to the north—felt like a great middle ground. Nepal’s trekking scene and Tibetan-influenced culture had always attracted me (seeds planted by the movie Seven Years in Tibet) and my friend and fellow youth-leader Hannah had recently spent time there. Thus emerged the 6-week Unschool Adventures Nepal trip.
Day one, departing SFO.
Layover in Hong Kong.
The view from our homestay.
Unschool Adventures might better be called, “Bringing Settlers of Catan to Every Corner of the Globe”
High-elevation rice paddy hike.
“Poon Hill” with the Annapurna range in the background. (I was sick as a dog.)
Early morning circumambulation around Boudhanath Stupa.
Guided meditation at Kopan Monastery.
Unguided fun at Kopan Monastery.
Elephant riding at Chitwan National Park.
Final evening together.
The Holiday Card. (Shot in Pokhara)
…and we shall never forget the endless repeating Nepali bus song.
During the 10-day monastery retreat portion of the trip, two important things happened to me. The first was a realization that I have a deep respect for wilderness people—those who purposefully craft their lives around being close to the woods/mountains, even at the cost of financial and personal difficulty—and I felt a correspondingly strong calling to buy a house in South Lake Tahoe, California. The second was more personal, deeply impactful, and is still up in the air.
Back in the U.S. again, I popped over to the Unschool Adventures Writing Retreat to say hi and ran a workshop series for Dev Carey’s Gap Year group. My friend Julie and I moved into The Surf Office, a neat new place in Santa Cruz, for a 3-week personal productivity retreat. I did some long and beautiful training runs in the Santa Cruz mountains in preparation for my first-ever marathon, the North Face Endurance Challenge in the Marin Headlands, which I completed in early December. I experienced a major car crash and lost my beloved 1997 4Runner (no one was hurt). And I spent a lot of time connecting with friends old and new in the bay area, which I never regret.
The daily Santa Cruz sunrise walk.
The Dipsea Trail, one of my favorite trail runs in the bay area. (I ran a Double Dipsea in prep for the marathon!)
As 2014 drew to a close I launched a brand-new online program for young adults (ages 17-19) not going to college, enjoyed family holiday time on both coasts, and felt decidedly grateful for the life I lead and the people who surround me.
What’s coming in 2015? The short answer is “we’ll see,” but I anticipate:
- Living in Boulder and South Lake Tahoe
- Running a Hogwarts pilot program in September/October
- No international Unschool Adventures trips
- More running, more adventures, and more fun work with self-directed teens
Thanks for following the journey.
Goals Achieved in 2014
- Publish a book about the general theory of self-directed learning (The Art of Self-Directed Learning)
- Give away 10,000 free online copies of Better Than College (and counting)
- Explore the Himalayas
- Dance with a stranger in a Buenos Aires tango milonga
- Run 26.2 miles on trail
- Windsurf in the Columbia River Gorge
- Meet Russell Roberts
- Meet Daniel Pink
- Meet William Deresiewicz