2011 in Review

Hello all,

I hope that 2011 treated you well. Back in 2009 I wrote an annual review of my life but haven’t done another since. It’s high time! Let’s see what I was up to this year…

January 2011: Guatemala

I started the new year sleeping in a tree. Really. For two weeks over New Year’s, my friends Julie, Vince, Jim, and I—all veterans of Deer Crossing Summer Camp—were adventuring in Northern Guatemala. With a hired guide we explored the ruins of El Mirador and climbed the biggest trees we could find with the tree climbing gear that we brought. Using hammocks specially designed for tree climbing, we slept in the trees for four nights. (Each of us had previously learned and taught tree climbing to kids at Deer Crossing.) But really, the best part was using an 8′ oversized slingshot to shoot weights & lines over 100′ tall branches. This was my first trip to Central America.

Julie and Blake in a tree!

(More Guatemala Trip Photos and stories from my travel blog)

 January-March 2011: South America

No sooner did I return from Guatemala than I departed for another adventure: the Unschool Adventures South America Trip. (Between the two, I enjoyed a fun little retreat with other Not Back to School Camp staff in Eugene, Oregon.)

In South America I led a group of 10 teenage unschoolers across Argentina, Chile, and Peru for 7 weeks (assisted by fellow trip staff Julie McPherson and Ingmar Nilsen). We learned to tango, spoke a ton of Spanish, surfed, saw epic geological formations, and explore Machu Picchu. Quite the epic trip. I blogged each day of the trip, which I really appreciate now. (There are also a ton of photos here.)

The Unschool Adventures South America group at…well, you know.

March-May 2011: India

As if I didn’t travel enough already this year, within a few weeks of returning from South America, I took off again—this time to India for 5 weeks with my girlfriend Brenna. (Directly before leaving I managed to squeeze in a few workshops at the InHome Conference in Chicago, where I’ll return in 2012.) This trip was ostensibly research for Unschool Adventures (conclusion: I’m not going to run a trip there), but honestly, I had a serious hankering for Asia and the Himalaya that needed to be filled. As with my other travels, I blogged each day. It’s too difficult to encapsulate a trip to India in a few sentences, so I’ll just say: I’m glad I went.

Blake and Brenna on a “sleeper” train in India

May-August 2011: South Lake Tahoe, California 

Exhausted from four solid months of international, I planted myself in beautiful South Lake Tahoe, CA, for the summer. I’d previously lived here two times, so I knew the place and had a few good friends close by. I rented a room and spent my summer swimming, trail running, writing, and cooking grass-fed/pasture-raised meats on the BBQ. I fund-raised $3000 to build a new website: Zero Tuition College; Brenna joined me for a month and we took a short-but-epic backpacking trip across Desolation Wilderness; I presented at the HSC Conference in nearby Sacramento; and I spent solid time with this year’s Deer Crossing instructors, former outdoor ed co-workers, my sister Liza, and my good friends Morgan and Aly.

Brenna, kicking Desolation Wilderness’ proverbial ass
Blake, Aly, and Morgan in the South Lake Tahoe Chevy’s

August-September 2011: Not Back to School Camp in Oregon

I love working at Not Back to School Camp…every year it somehow stays the same yet gets better. I worked the west coast sessions this year—3 total weeks of camp in southwest Oregon—as an advisor, workshop leader, and the first aid person. I chose not to lead a project (an intensive 5-day workshop) which freed up a lot of time for reflecting and Settlers of Catan.

The opening circle at NBTSC Camp Myrtlewood 2011

September 2011: Tahoe, San Diego, and Mammoth (all California)

After camp I flew down to San Diego to present at the Good Vibrations Unschooling Conference, popped back into South Lake Tahoe for a few weeks, and then took an epic backpacking trip in the Mammoth Lakes backcountry area. With such a huge snow load lingering from the winter, late September was the best time for snow-free hiking. My friend Vince joined me for a four day trip.

Vince, Blake, and the Mammoth Lakes backcountry

October 2011: Asheville, North Carolina

Sometime earlier this year I decided that I would move to Asheville to live closer to Brenna, so I visited for a few weeks in October. While there I organized and ran a short, totally new Unschool Adventures program based on the Zero Tuition College idea: ZTC Camp. (Don’t miss my blog post about it, too.) Tons of fun! Brenna and I then flew back to Tahoe and drove through Las Vegas, Zion National Park, and Four Corners en route to…

The ZTC Camp crew (plus Blake & helpers Brenna & Tara on the sides)

November 2011: Durango, Colorado

Two years ago I ran an Unschool Adventures Writing Retreat program on the Oregon Coast, and this year I decided to do it again in beautiful southwest Colorado. 19 teens from across the U.S. and Canada joined me and my four staff for a month of high-intensity writing. I mostly stayed out of the picture and let my staff run the show, which had been one of my goals for a while. (See my reflections on the retreat here.) While in Durango I scored some sweet runs on the trails behind our hostel.

The 2011 Unschool Adventures Writing Retreat students + staff, acting totally normal

December 2011: Driving Cross-Country, Asheville, and X-Mas with Family

I needed to get my car to Asheville, so Cameron (who staffed the Writing Retreat) and I drove Colorado to the Carolinas via Albuquerque, Austin, and New Orleans (the latter two I’d never visited). Back in Asheville I continued working on my Zero Tuition College book manuscript and produced a workable first draft, and then a quick trip up to Connecticut put me home for the holidays.

Blake and Cameron eat sweet-ass Mexican food in Austin, TX
Some of my east coast family, Christmas Eve

What’s Next?

Well, I signed my first lease! That puts me in Asheville at least through next summer…

Handing over the rent and deposit checks for my first house. (Baby not included in lease.)

More Unschool Adventures trips line the horizon

I have another book deal lined up…

and who knows what else?


Worst screw-up: Leaving my debit card in a Buenos Aires airport ATM, with the screen still active. (Thank you Wells Fargo fraud protection service.)

Top 3 overall trail runs: Bayview Trail (Lake Tahoe), Horse Gulch / Pautsky Point Trail (Durango), Shut-in Trail (Asheville)

Longest trail run: 16 miles around Emerald Bay (Lake Tahoe)

Most epic trail run: 8 miles from Hwy 89 to Hwy 88 via Carson Pass (Pacific Crest Trail / Tahoe Rim Trail)—on my birthday. Thank you Brenna for driving the shuttle!

Favorite household pet with which I lived: Frank, the 3-legged long-haired badass from Tahoe.

Closest I came to dying: While scrambling over hella-sketchy rocks in the Mammoth backcountry (with snow on the way)

Most unsolicited male hand-holding: Everywhere in India.

Favorite new word: “Guatever.” (Guatemala + Whatever)

Best cappuccino: It’s still Noble Coffee in Ashland, OR.

Runner-up cappuccinos: Ritual (San Francisco), Fuel (New Haven), Caffe Medici (Austin), Dripolater (Asheville), Confiteria Las Violetas (Buenos Aires)

Favorite new meat after 10 years of being a vegetarian: Grass-fed steak. Duh.

Fanciest dinner: Green’s Restaurant in S.F. for Brenna’s birthday

Best cheap-o meal: Tacos from the taco truck in the Ninth Ward, New Orleans



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