2023 in Review

Welcome to my Year in Review, in which I share photos and stories for (1) your entertainment and (2) the practical purpose of remembering just what the hell happened over the past 12 months. Enjoy!

[Click here to read this on The Adventures of Blake]

At 12:01am on January 1st, I was dancing my butt off at a fusion weekend in Toulouse (France). A week later, in Bern (Switzerland), I dee-jayed my first official set at another dance weekend—what an honor!

Toulouse, France – photo by Katia Iva
Thus began 2023: a year I was giddily mapping out in my journal.

I saw friends around Barcelona before flying back to visit family in Connecticut. I gave a new talk for parents at an alternative school near Boston (watch), jetted to Las Vegas, and gave the same talk again. In Vegas my touring bike awaited me, as well as an old friend in need of support.

A sunny winter trail run with Fred in the Pyrenees
Yamila and Sarah, co-founders of Bloom Academy in Las Vegas, where I gave a parent talk

Flying to Argentina with my bike in a box, I made my way to El Chaltén, the mountain-mecca where I would soon prepare and execute a month-long program for 21 young adults. Before and after, I took some epic trail runs (inspiring me to pen an ode) and hosted many delightful Couchsurfers.

Yes, my eyes hurt every day
Couchsurfers Jacky (Germany), Fiona (UK), Marta and Eloi (Spain)

Running the Unschool Adventures Patagonia trip was a delight. With my friends and trusted co-leaders Mica and Milla, we crafted a structured and intensive curriculum that taught Spanish (Mica), partner dance (Milla), and lifestyle design (me). The participants lived in a hostel that I rented in its entirety, explored the surrounding mountains, and worked with a local chef to co-create nightly dinners. Check out the UA Instagram for more stories & pictures.

The participants kindly endured my never-ending litany of “lifestyle design” challenges
UA Patagonia, in all our glorious weirdness

To entertain ourselves one afternoon, Milla and I recorded an unchoreographed fusion dance video—a first for me.

I squirreled my bike away in El Chaltén and flew to Buenos Aires for two weeks of tango private lessons with Alejandro Puerta—who is a legend, and taught me so much more than dance.

Alejandro Puerta: the man, the myth, the legend
A sunny Buenos Aires breakfast at the café kitty-corner to my apartment
Acroyoga with Anouk: a Dutch friend I made while dancing tango in Patagonia

After a quick stop in Santiago (Chile), I headed back to the United States, popping into Southern California to visit my youngest siblings, and then bee-lined across the Great Basin to embark on desert adventures with my old friend Dev Carey.

We backpacked in Southeast Utah, handed out free cookies in a Moab park, and got ourselves invited to speak at a high school. Back in Paonia (Colorado), I visited Marian, Huck, and Seraya (Dev’s family) and slumbered in the same yurt as 2020, when I lived on their property as a pandemic refugee.

Blake and Dev on Comb Ridge
Paonia, Colorado: my preferred backdrop for playing Catan

Dev and I drove to Missoula (Montana) to deliver a workshop for the Gap Year Association conference, and then I hopped an Amtrak train to Oregon to see friends and join an intensive fusion dance retreat organized by Milla (of Patagonia fame).

A rare non-dancing moment at the Myrtlewood Fusion Retreat

Hitching a ride with fellow dancers to San Francisco, I transitioned directly into a 3-week hike around the Bay Area in June. This was a unique and challenging adventure that criss-crossed urban-nature boundaries and helped me reflect upon the “maximizer” mindset that I frequently fall into on human-powered trips.

Snagging another ride with my old friend Ryan to South Lake Tahoe, with a pit stop at Deer Crossing Camp (under new ownership), I spent July visiting old friends, running trails, and volunteering as a backcountry trail crew cook. I also housesat/cat-sat for a friend’s spectacular property, spontaneously bartended at a Fourth of July rager, and ran 50km in the mountains amidst a heat wave.

Visiting Deer Crossing with Ryan and his family
I’m just a man who wants to grill unreasonable quantities of meat in the backcountry
Bartending with Morgan and Aly
Feeling spry on the Tahoe Rim Trail
It’s hard to be self-employed at Lake Tahoe in July

In August, it was back to Oregon for more friend-time and working my 15th season of Not Back to School Camp. At the same time, I ran a 3-week Kickstarter for my latest writing project, Do What You Love and Die Trying, a high-disclosure/high-vulnerability manuscript that I’d steadily developed over the previous year.

Imagine my delight when the campaign was fully funded within 24 hours, and by the end, 300+ copies were pre-ordered! (The Kickstarter was a one-time, limited print run… which is my way of saying, “sorry, no more copies are available.”)

Playing Carcassonne with friends in Portland
My 2023 NBTSC advisee group, captured in the middle of an icebreaker
NBTSC campers turned staffers! Aww.
Evan, one of the NBTSC directors, demonstrating how the cookie crumbles at camp
Deer Crossing mini-reunion in Corvallis

After spending an extra week in Oregon with Grace Llewellyn and Tori (a fantastic woman I met earlier that summer, thanks to Grace), I rented a car and road-tripped south to the Sierra Nevada to continue my long-time affair with that mountain range. My lower back didn’t appreciate the intensity of this love, alas, and I ended up hobbling out of the mountains just as I’d hobbled away from the Te Araroa in 2019 and across the Mexican-Guatemalan border in 2016. Come on, lower back—let’s work together!

I saw a couple physiotherapists, healed up, and finished my road-trip in Colorado, consolidating my already few possessions in Paonia and joining another incredible fusion weekend (organized by the incredible Milla) in Denver. That weekend I quietly turned 41, without fanfare (perfect) and among friendly dancers (also perfect).

The California High Sierra: still Blake-approved
Dev, Huck, Milla, Marian, and (other) Blake in Paonia

After a comically delayed flight to Connecticut for a family gathering—shout-out to my brother Cooper for picking me up at 4am!—it was time to get back to work.

Axe throwing: how modern families bond. (Aunt Wendy is an alien.)

Trains brought me to New York, where I met a bunch of teenagers and my co-leader Sydney, and together we flew to Germany for the Unschool Adventures Berlin trip. The trip mission was to see how much cool stuff we could discover in a big city while spending almost no money. Think of it as training wheels for your twenties! Despite some hardship in the infectious disease department, the trip was a success. (Again, see the UA Instagram for stories & pictures.)

Look how excited they are for Low-Cost Good Times in Berlin!
The entire Berlin group, posing at our favorite S-Bahn station

After my trusty trip assistant Vick escorted the group back to the New York, I spent November visiting friends in Belgium, Holland, Berlin (again), Leipzig (Germany), Bavaria (Germany), and Vienna. This whirlwind month included two more fusion dance weekends (with another appearance of DJ Blake), a gorgeous hike near the Austrian border, filming another spontaneous dance video, a heated high school discussion about Israel/Palestine, and a group apartment in Vienna with four fellow dancers and countless dinner guests.

Visiting Anouk’s tango class in Edam
Ping-pong in Berlin with Schmitty 
Weronika and Antonia at European Micro Fantasia in Berlin 
Emelie and Maria at the forbidden bridge in Berlin 
Hiking in southern Bavaria with Veronika + co. (Guess who was the least prepared? 🇺🇸)
The Vienna apartment crew + dinner guests

In December I returned to my beloved Freiburg (Germany) to lead some new dance connection workshops (success!), run an online seminar about organizing teen trips, and visit friends in nearby Heidelberg from an earlier European bike trip. Back in the US, 350 hand-numbered copies of Do What You Love and Die Trying shipped (thank you, Cameron). Now I’m finishing a spontaneous day-trip to the Swiss border, crafting this post on a series of slow trains, empowered by the Detuschland-ticket: a €49 monthly pass that gives me unlimited access to public transport and local trains across Germany. (Best idea ever!)

with hardcore cyclist (and future accomplished biochemist) Elena in Heidelberg 
“Collaborative cooking” in Freiburg
Freiburg, you’re not half bad

In a few days, I fly back to El Chaltén (Argentina), where I’ll reunite with my touring bike and meet two American friends with their own bikes. Together, we’ll pedal north around Christmas to begin a month-long voyage on the Carretera Austral: a drop-dead gorgeous, 1000km, half-paved route through the heart of the Andes. 🏔️

A few other 2023 happenings:

Inspiring writing I discovered this year:

  • Freddie DoBoer on whether college is worth it, William Deresiewicz on overhauling higher education, and Paul Graham on doing great work.
  • Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, Command and Control by Eric Schlosser, A Wild Idea by Jonathan Franklin, Global Inequality by Branko Milanovic, All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy, and One Long River of Song by Brian Doyle

…and a few excellent quotes:

  • “Life can find you only if you are paying real attention to something other than your own concerns, if you can hear and see the essence of otherness in the world, if you can treat the world as if it is not just a backdrop to your own journey, if you can have a relationship with the world that isn’t based on triumphing over it or complaining about it. . . . we put ourselves as the center of the world, strangely, by eliminating our concern for the smaller self.”
    – David Whyte, The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship
  • “Would the temporary loss of a considerable portion your personal freedom in middle age be significantly neutralized by the experience of loving someone more powerfully than you ever have? Would the achy uncertainty of never having been anyone’s father be defused by the glorious reality that you got to live your life relatively unconstrained by the needs of another? What is a good life? . . . I’ll never know and neither will you of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”
    – Cheryl Strayed, The Ghost Ship That Didn’t Carry Us
  • “6 questions to ask yourself to see if you’re going down an illiberal path:
    1. Are you capable of entertaining real doubt about your beliefs, or are you operating from a place of certainty?
    2. Can you articulate the evidence that you would need to see in order to change your position, or is your perspective unfalsifiable?
    3. Can you articulate your opponent’s position in a way that they’d recognize, or are you straw manning?
    4. Are you attacking ideas, or attacking the people who hold them?
    5. Are you willing to cut off close relationships with people who disagree with you, particularly over relatively small points of contention?
    6. Are you willing to use extraordinary means against people who disagree with you (e.g., forcing people out of their jobs or homes, violence/threats of violence, celebrating misfortune and tragedy)?”
    Megan Phelps-Roper
  • “Love is the ultimate outlaw. It just won’t adhere to any rules. The most any of us can do is to sign on as its accomplice. Instead of vowing to honor and obey, maybe we should swear to aid and abet. That would mean that security is out of the question. The words ‘make’ and ‘stay’ become inappropriate. My love for you has no strings attached. I love you for free.”
    – Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker (via Hannah)
  • “Depression is fear with hope removed. It arises as we discover that something we thought could be ours will never be ours. Unhappiness is when we worry about not having something, depression is when we realize we’ll never have it, and freedom is when we realize that nothing is ours and nothing can be ours, so that, in effect, nothing isn’t ours.”
    – Jed McKenna, Spiritually Incorrect Enlightenment
  • “I love technology because technology expands human potential. Ten thousand years ago, we could build some hand tools, change which plants grow on a small patch of land, and build basic houses. Today, we can build 800-meter-tall towers, store the entirety of recorded human knowledge in a device we can hold in our hands, communicate instantly across the globe, double our lifespan, and live happy and fulfilling lives without fear of our best friends regularly dropping dead of disease. I believe that these things are deeply good, and that expanding humanity’s reach even further to the planets and stars is deeply good, because I believe humanity is deeply good. It is fashionable in some circles to be skeptical of this: the voluntary human extinction movement argues that the Earth would be better off without humans existing at all, and many more want to see much smaller number of human beings see the light of this world in the centuries to come. It is common to argue that humans are bad because we cheat and steal, engage in colonialism and war, and mistreat and annihilate other species. My reply to this style of thinking is one simple question: compared to what? . . . it is my firm belief that, out of all the things that we have known and seen in our universe, we, humans, are the brightest star. We are the one thing that we know about that, even if imperfectly, sometimes make an earnest effort to care about ‘the good’, and adjust our behavior to better serve it.”
    – Vitalik Buterin, My techno-optimism

Thanks for reading.
♥ Blake

(Browse previous year in review posts: 2022, 20212020201920182017201620152014201320122011.)



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