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My First Online Course: The Way of Adventure

Today I’m proud to announce The Way of Adventure, my first online course. It’s an advanced leadership course for ages 13-23, but you can participate at any age. The best part: it’s 100% free.

What’s the message?

One the big reasons I created this course was to better explain my idea of “adventure.” I consider myself an adventurer, but I’m not always off on dangerous outdoor trips or exploring far-flung corners of the globe like other adventurers I know. I prefer a more commonplace and accessible conception of adventure, which I started to define 8 years ago in College Without High School:

An adventure, specifically defined, is any challenge that requires a lot of learning in a small amount of time.

The passage continues: “Traveling cross-country to teach rock climbing at a summer camp is an adventure. Crafting an online marketing plan for your friend’s small business is an adventure. Spending three months on an organic farm in Italy to learn permaculture and the Italian language is an adventure. Walking into a physics professor’s office to get book recommendations, working nights as a veterinary assistant and volunteering at a disaster relief site are all adventures. And going to college, too, is an adventure.”

With this new course I share my updated definition:

At its core, adventure is about intentionally putting yourself into uncomfortable situations that lead to growth.

Continued: “It’s about designing a life instead of accepting the one you’re handed. It’s about living in such a way that, whether you die next week or at age 90, you will not regret your choices. You can still have safety, comfort, and approval with a life of adventure. Same with degrees, jobs, cars, houses, and spouses. But they’re byproducts of a life well-lived—not its ultimate purpose.”

I continue promoting “adventure” because it’s a universally popular idea with young people and an easy gateway to the ideas of self-directed learning and taking control of one’s education. I also think adventure is a good thing on its own, separate from any notions about education; I like pretty much every adventurous person I meet, regardless of their beliefs about the school system. These people are typically optimistic, courageous, conscientious, and forward-looking. It felt right to design my first online course around “adventure” rather than my time-worn banners of self-directed learning and unschooling. Continue Reading

2016 in Review

Welcome to my annual year in review! I’ve got lots of photos and stories to share with you from a very adventurous 2016.

This year I’m also doing something new: Instead of just recounting the past 12 months, I’m also doing a forward-looking review. I’m going to tell you now what I hope to have accomplished by the end of 2017.

The question I’m asking myself, as Chris Guillebeau puts it: “This time next year, what 3-5 things will have made the year amazing?”

By December 2017, I hope to tell you that I…

  • ran two impactful programs for self-directed young people that earned glowing feedback: the 12-week Argentina Semester and 7-week Southeast Asia trip.
  • gave presentations in England and Europe as part of a self-organized speaking tour meant to spread the ideas behind self-directed learning.
  • dedicated serious time to dance—tango and blues fusion—through festivals, private lessons, and social dancing.
  • built, tested, and launched my first online course.
  • spent at 30+ days hiking or backpacking.

I see this as a combination of new year’s resolutions, staying true to my goals, and fortune-telling. I’m not discounting the possibility or importance of serendipitous events; I’m just trying to go into 2017 with some clear intentions for how I’ll measure my success.

Alright—now back to 2016! I’ve divided the year into five parts:

  1. Guatemala
  2. New Zealand
  3. Argentina
  4. California
  5. On The Road

Part 1: Guatemala

January

On New Year’s day I woke in Xela, Guatemala, where I spent January escaping the winter, improving my Spanish, and reflecting on my nomadic lifestyle. I arrived on December 31st from Oaxaca (Southern Mexico) via a series of buses, taxis, and bicycle rickshaws. Traveling solo with a lingering lower back injury, I wasn’t able to walk very far, so I spent a lot of time working from my sweet top-floor apartment overlooking Xela (a.k.a. Quetzaltenango) which I rented for $550/month.

Xela, Guatemala

Continue Reading

Failure Survey, 2015-2016

I’ve been reading a lot of articles about the pernicious effects of social media: how we see only the highlights and victories of other people’s lives, and how that makes us feel less accomplished or worthy.

I’m guilty of perpetuating this, of course. On Facebook I only share the most beautiful photos, positive praise, and inspiring events in my life.

So for a change of pace, today I’m sharing a list of my failures over the past two years. Each of these has been a real struggle or concern in my life, and I don’t have a good solution for most.

Business: Many of my recently launched Unschool Adventures trips have not met minimum numbers, and I’ve had to cancel them (see them here). I haven’t grown my business’ audience enough to make these trips viable, or I’m offering the wrong kind of trips.

Dance: I’m an extremely slow learner, and I’ve had the experience of dancing with a stranger at an event (dance festival or tango milonga) who obviously doesn’t enjoy the experience and actively avoids dancing with me again.

Girlfriend: In my pursuit of a meaningful long-term relationship, it’s been swing-and-miss, over and over again. I’ve invested more hours in online dating than I care to admit. I make wrong guesses about who’s attracted to me, I misread people’s intentions, and I send mixed messages.

Running: Though I’ve been going on cool runs, I’m not getting any faster or more efficient. If anything, I’m getting slower. I’m really bad at doing anything resembling “training,” like going on shorter runs at faster paces.

Writing: Both of my big published works this summer, How to Live Nowhere and Off-Trail Learning, have received minimal traction. I’m trying to write for wider audiences and not doing a very good job of it. And my podcast listener numbers are flat, not growing.

Health: I’ve given up on strength training over and over again, despite my friend Fred even making a custom work-out plan for me. I’ve done nothing to curb my sugar addiction that I know is detrimental to my long-term health; I eat large bowls of ice cream most nights, and eat out when I could easily cook for myself (with healthier meals and less money spent).

Family: Despite living only 3 hours away from my west-coast family, I’ve failed to visit once this summer.

Long-term projects: As I review projects that I’ve launched with fanfare over the past years, I’ve given up or stalled on many of them (see: Open Master’s and Hogwarts).

I’m not writing this post so that you’ll comment and say “Oh Blake, don’t worry, you’re wonderful.” I’m not looking for sympathy or praise. Just trying to keep it real here in the online world.

Do I Own My Business, or Does it Own Me?

A friend recently shared an article that describes Unschool Adventures, my little travel tour business, with scary precision:

Let me ask you a question. If you went overseas for six months leaving your business behind, when you came back would it be in better or worse shape than you left it? Would you even have a business left?

If your answered negatively to either of these questions, then it’s likely you don’t have a business – rather you ARE the business. . . .

Don’t get me wrong, [such a business owner] may be financially successful. Their business may be thriving with a loyal base of customers but the problem is they are stuck – shackled to their business.

If they were to leave or get sick for an extended period of time, their business would cease to exist.

Yup, that’s pretty accurate. Unschool Adventures is me. Although I hire staff assistants on the trips I run—and once in a blue moon an entire trip happens without me—if I completely ignored my business, ceased my marketing efforts, or attempted to outsource everything, it would soon fold. Continue Reading

Trip Report: Kings Canyon High Basin Route

My friends Julie, Fred, and I just completed a 49-mile backpacking trip—mostly off-trail—through the California High Sierra, crossing the range from west to east. Here’s the report.

Introduction

Something I’ve wanted to do for a long time is hike across the Sierras, one-way. There are many ways to do this on-trail, but that’s boring.  I wanted to do something that left the valleys and reached the highest of the High Sierra, going deep into the rugged granite peaks that line the region. When Andrew Skurka published his Kings Canyon High Basin Route guide last autumn, I found a section of it that matched these goals. My friends Julie and Fred—both former assistant directors of Deer Crossing Camp like myself—enthusiastically joined. (Another friend and former assistant director, Morgan, got sidelined by a work emergency last minute. We missed you Morgan!)

Disclaimer: This route is hardcore! Don’t attempt it unless you have significant cross-country backpacking experience, map and compass skills, strong ankles, beefy thighs, and a sick love of getting pummeled by gnarly mountain terrain over and over again.

All photos by Julie McPherson and yours truly.

Day 1: Lodgepole to Silliman Lake

  • Hours: 3
  • Miles: 4.5
  • Starting Elevation: 6,800′
  • Final Elevation: 10,000′
  • Highest Elevation: 10,000′ (Silliman Lake)

We spent most of Day 1 getting a 6-hour ride (thanks Dana!) from South Lake Tahoe to our starting point, Lodgepole campground in Sequoia National Park on the western side of the Sierras. Two days prior we dropped Julie’s car at the terminus, Onion Valley Trailhead, on the eastern side of the Sierras.


(Can’t see the map? Disable your ad blocker!)

 

Getting back to Julie’s car from the west side (without a vehicle) would have been incredibly challenging, which meant that we were fully committed to this hike after started. Onion Valley or bust!

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The first few miles followed the Twin Lakes trail, and then we cut up Silliman Creek following an easy use trail and smooth granite slabs.
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We camped by Silliman Lake (SPOT coordinates) near a Sierra Club group. Our thighs ached from gaining more than 3000′ in three hours, but this was a mere taste of things to come. Continue Reading