Category Archives: success

Riding, writing, and pursuing our own nature

Hi Friends. We know, it’s been a long blog hiatus. Luckily, that’s because we’ve been making great progress on the book. With a first draft (mostly) completed, Brandon and I had a week of intense editing in Maine in late March. Now we’re thrilled to be receiving and integrating short bike-touring narrative contributions from ~10 of our favorite “bicycle warriors”!

The next step will be to edit the book, illustrate it, and lay it out for publishing. [We are eager to bring on some more volunteer editors willing to spend a few hours providing their feedback on our pre-published draft…. let us know if you’re interested!] It’s a fun, challenging, overwhelming, exciting and exhausting, and just generally incredible learning process and a true test of our discipline. We can’t wait to see the final product, and we hope you’re excited too! In a future post, we’ll share some of our lessons we learned from the early conceptualization of our idea all the way to the end product.

My friend Lucy recently shared this article with me. It was written a few years ago by John Taylor Gatto, a leading voice in the alternative education/unschooling sphere. Reading it gave me a kick of adrenaline and inspiration which I’m channeling into the book. Here’s a snippet:

Only you can educate you—and you can’t do it by memorizing. You have to find out who you are by experience and by risk-­taking, then pursue your own nature intensely. […] To know yourself, you have to keep track of your random choices, figure out your patterns, and use this knowledge to dominate your own mind. It’s the only way that free will can grow.

To pursuing our own nature intensely!

Claire (+ Brandon)

We took a day off to go on an epic hike in the White Mountains.

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Wise Words from 1,000 Elders

Thought I’d share this article with you all in case you haven’t stumbled upon it yet… a new book about life lessons from those at the latter end of their own ‘wise routes’.

The book – “30 Lessons for Living” – “offers practical advice from more than 1,000 older Americans from different economic, educational and occupational strata who were interviewed as part of the ongoing Cornell Legacy Project.” This NY Times article lets us in on a few of enlightening trends about marriage, careers, aging, regrets, and happiness.

Advice From Life’s Graying Edge on Finishing With No Regrets

I also really love this video about success (connected to the NY Times article):

Hope everyone is off to a 2012 full of adventure, love, and ever wider eyes.

– Claire

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12 New Years Un-Resolutions for 2012.

With mere hours until the clock strikes 2012, most people are crafting a line-up of hefty expectations for Monday and the 365 days to follow. Usually new year’s resolutions fall into a few categories: we want to get in shape, make more money, eat healthier, be kinder to people, call home more, take more time for ourselves, and wash our socks more often (right?). These conclusive resolutions are hard to stick to (or in my case, remember), so this year, I’m doing something a little different.

Here’s why.

This year I riled up the confidence to take a leap of faith onto, well, my bicycle. Brandon and I rode down the Pacific coast learning from innovators in alternative education and wise strangers with beautiful, dissonant, complex, raw stories about their life’s learnings. 2011 was a powerful year for us because of them and you.

More than any epic tailwind, we were propelled by the kindness of friends and strangers to support two young crazy people with a young crazy idea. Your advice, dollars (big and small), spontaneous ideas, kind enthusiastic emails, gear donations, clever comments on our blog posts, and ‘likes’ on our Facebook page (wink), meant more than you know. On days when the coastal wind was cold and our legs were tired and we were stuck somewhere far away, your gestures reminded us that we weren’t alone and we weren’t that crazy. Your wise words and small gestures sprinkled throughout the year helped us much more than any ‘lump sum’ resolution we made last January 1st.

So. Un-resolutions.

This year, instead of resolutions, I’m making a list of pocket-size {daily} inspirations. They’re un-resolutions because they aren’t “resolved”… these are ongoing simple quotes, photos, and reminders to live fully, healthfully, and with a hearty sense of openness in each breath – wisdom given to me in 2011 that I hope to offer out in 2012.

1. What is the most important skill? To see the sun every morning and to realize that the sun is shining. A lot of people they don’t see that the sun is shining, even if she is. That is, to see the nature. – Lotti Bitterli, our adopted Swiss bike mother

2. {quote by Ram Dass, art by yours truly}

3. If it isn’t the mystery or the mystery unraveling, then it is nothing. – Walt Whitman

4. I think success now means being in the moment, not being worried. It’s a lesson that becomes obvious as you age. You can always enjoy things that are in front of you. If you invest your time enjoying things, it pays great benefits. If you spend your time worrying, it pays no benefits. Become interested in the process. – Jim Irving, coffeeshop owner in Bodega Bay, CA

5. Everybody is your mirror. I think that we’re always getting feedback on a daily basis… it’s just this constant, circular thing. What if we saw ourselves as the source of generating what it means to thrive? And then that gets mirrored in our relationships and our world. – Kristin Hayden, founder of OneWorld NOW!

6. There is no one alive who is Youer than You. – Dr. Seuss


8. {Ubuntu ngumuntu ngabantu} A person is a person through other persons. – Zulu proverb

9. {We are very small} Touch the earth lightly. – lots of people, especially Annemarie

10. Sometimes it’s important to eat a nice hot donut. – Joey, my college roommate

11. How do I find success? I start the day being the best man I can. Endeavor to be a better man. And go to bed with no regret. And wake up in the morning with no guilt. – Fred Williams

12. Breathe and be wide-eyed. The unofficial motto of our project and the closest I can get to a resolution for 2012.

To 2012 we go!

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Why self-directed learning is the future of education

Hey, watch this:

Sal Khan, the founder of the Khan Academy, is a brilliant dude and one of the most super education innovators of our day. A few sprinkles of wisdom that I love about this short video:

  • The future of education is one or two giant classrooms where information is available and learning is self-directed
  • In this classroom, everyone will work at their own pace, so when students want to take a break to pursue an idea (like building a robot for 6 months, or embarking on a bike adventure wink wink) it will be a-okay
  • “Teachers more than ever are fountains of knowledge, experience, mentorship, and humanity as opposed to fountains of a scripted lecture.” zing.
  • The best learning happens when the student demands knowledge, rather than having it preemptively delivered to them (how many times have you or your kids said, “I’m never going to need to know this!”?)

We can apply this idea to our every day lives pretty easily. Think about the last time you wanted to try cooking up a new dish for dinner. How did you figure out what to make? I’d venture to guess that you decided to look up a recipe online (maybe on, or perused one of your existing recipe books (genius!). And what did you do when you stumbled upon a cooking term you weren’t familiar with? You probably looked it up (brilliant!). If someone had narrated recipes to you sometime when you weren’t interested in actually cooking anything, you might have tuned out the lecture and ventured into the inner-depths of lala land. But when you had a practical and immediate demand for the information, you learned it quickly and relatively easily.

When we understand what our goal is – what it is that we want to create – figuring out the steps to get there is fun, relevant, and intuitive. If the steps aren’t intuitive, we can reach out to teachers and mentors for guidance. I think this simple idea is the key to unearthing our next education revolution.

Check out the Khan, OpenCourseware, P2PU, and Zero Tuition College for more free learning tools… these guys are spilling out knowledge and resources for whenever we decide we want to soak ’em up!

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Ten ‘Wise Routes’ to Self-Discovery without School

What if we prioritized self-discovery over academic achievement? What if every high school graduate was encouraged to spend a “gap year” soul searching – creating things, working, apprenticing, adventuring, exploring, risk-taking – in the real world before jumping head-first into college? In a recent post, I said that funneling high school students directly into college doesn’t just promote a one track definition of “success”, it also forgoes an opportunity for students to apply their ideas and explore their passions in a way that will benefit their future education (however extensive that ends up being).

So what could you do with, say, a year of self-directed learning on your own? Here’s a list of ten “wise routes” to self discovery without school, chock-full of links to my favorite organizations and ideas for your (or your kid’s) time away from the education system:

1. Become an education hacker. Whether you want to learn how to build a website, speak Spanish, start a garden, write a book, become an expert on the French Revolution, or double knot your shoe laces, there are oodles of ways to educate yourself about just about anything for free. Watch this video for a great intro. Then check out for free online collaborative courses, find a Free Skool in your area, create your own Citizen Circle, or join the Uncollege movement.

2. Go on a group roadtrip. Looking to see what’s “out there” far and away from your own “bubble”? Why not go on a roadtrip with Roadtrip Nation (in a big green RV) or The Otesha Project (a group bike trip!)?

3. Explore jobs, internships, and apprenticeships. What if you spent a year exploring 4 different jobs, internships, or apprenticeships for 3 months each (or 2 for 6 months each)? This is a cool way to ‘dip toes’ into a few different fields, make connections without committing to anything long-term, and potentially make a few bucks along the way.

4. Voyage abroad. There’s no doubt that traveling abroad and experiencing a different culture is one of the most life-changing things you can do. It’s usually not free, but there are some great gap year traveling programs that offer scholarships. Our faves?: OneWorld Now!, Carpe Diem, and The Traveling School.

5. Help your community thrive. You don’t have to travel around the world to discover new things. Why not invest yourself in helping your own community thrive? Learn from neighbors or volunteer at a community organization in  your area. Check out City Repair to get some ideas for reigniting community interaction.

6. Start your own venture. Is there something you want to change in your community (or world!) that isn’t being addressed? You can start your own venture and even get coaching and start up money to do it! Check out Ashoka’s Youth Venture or contribute your idea on Changemakers to win funding and recognition.

7. Build. Something. Big. At TEDxYouth last weekend, we heard the incredible story of Kendall Ronzano, a high school student that decided to build her own HOUSE and founded Nerd Girl Homes. If you like learning by doing, why not build something of your own? And hey – there are tons of great bike collectives all over the world where you can get free help building your own bike (coughsocoolcough).

8. Start a blog. Blogging is a great way to share your interests and ideas with a community of people interested in following along. I was inspired by my friend Rachel’s “Never-Have-I-Ever” blog, in which she tried a new thing every day for a year, and wrote about it online. To get tips on how to create a good blog, visit the WordPress support page, sign up for a class with Britt Bravo, or just read a bunch of blogs and get a sense of what you like!

9. Design your own Wise Route. If you don’t want to pay a program to have a cool travel experience, why not design your own? Whether its a backcountry hiking trip or a cross country bike tour, designing your own adventure is an incredible learning experience. Grab some friends, pack your bags, download an Adventure Cycling map, hop on a bike, and see what’s out there!

10. Embark on a quest for silence and inner peace. Sometimes in our search for ourselves, we forget to look inwards and focus on inner peace. The quest for less, not more, can often be the most challenging. Spend some time alone (perhaps in the wilderness). Meditate. Breathe. Be present. Prioritize you.

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College Shmollege: Re-routing the path to success

I am SO over all these programs that define success as getting more kids into college. Sure, I think we can all agree that college opens more doors for teenagers than, say, a four year stint flipping something falsely described as a “meat” in a fast food joint, but by promoting college as the only real path to success, we are doing today’s youth more harm than good.

Is the path to success a one-way train track to college or might it be a complex network of squiggly routes, different for each of us?

An empty promise

This article in GOOD about a nifty program called College Unbound reveals some chilling stats about our broken education system today:

Tuition’s doubled in the past decade, rising faster than any other item in the Consumer Price Index since 1978. Student loan default rates are increasing. Only 56 percent of students complete a four-year degree in six years. And a nationwide study last year, using a test called the Collegiate Learning Assessment, found that 36 percent of students demonstrate no gain in learning between freshman and senior year.

And how about this statistic from the same article?: first generation college students have an 11% chance of graduating from a four year college. Yep, for those that aren’t math-inclined, that’s an 89% dropout rate. Ouch. So much for social mobility.

College once promised an undeniable return on investment. It was generally assumed that the amount you paid for a degree would be dwarfed by the amount you’d make once you got out. Looking at the number of my highly educated friends that are now working in coffee shops, restaurants, and farms (respectable jobs that don’t actually require a debt-incurring degree), it’s not hard to see that this promise has lost its gut.

It once made sense to ‘discover yourself’ and find your passions in college. Today this idea has an irreconcilable price tag. It doesn’t make sense to go to college to ‘find your passion’ (eyes closed, fingers crossed!). It makes sense to explore yourself and find your passion first, in the real world, and then decide if college is the best way to get there.


Today’s parents, teachers, coaches and administrators somewhat unanimously preach that doing well in school and going to college is THE ONLY way to pave the path to success. Our society holds students to insanely high (sometimes even aggressive) standards of academic and extracurricular performance (if you have any doubt, or just want to watch an über-powerful film about this, check out Race to Nowhere).

This type of pressure can suck… the joy out of learning. By teaching students that they must meet these standards in order to be successful, students learn to prioritize compliance at the cost of their genuine curiosity and interest in learning. Is it just me, or is this totally barbaric?

Researching professor Peter Gray says (and I’d recommend reading the whole article)

Schools, as we generally know them, interfere with children’s abilities to educate themselves. When we confine children and adolescents to schools, where they are assigned to rooms by age and can’t choose their associates, where they can’t pursue their own interests but instead must conform to the dictates of the teacher and the time course of the bell, we interfere with their abilities to educate themselves.

What would happen if parents encouraged their kids to take a summer, semester, even year “off” to explore the world on their own (through travel, apprenticeships, work, taking a risk on a new idea, creating their own project, etc.)? What would happen if teacher were allowed to give students a week each semester (or a day each week) to learn whatever they want, in or out of the classroom, and share it with the class afterward for no grade? That would be a step in the right direction…

What if every parent, teacher, coach, guidance counselor, and school set just as high standards for their child’s self-discovery process as they did for their child’s success in the classroom?


We’re interested to hear your thoughts about this post in the comments section, and hope you’ll to stay tuned for our next post: Ten Wise Routes to Self-Discovery Without School.

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Portrait in Sound: Fredrick Lee Williams

 [Note: This recording contains some swearing… earmuffs kids!]

Sometimes picking up a box of Rice-A-Roni from the store can be a wild experience… at least it was for us back in Quinault, Washington. We’d nearly finished riding for the day when we realized we didn’t have any food to cook for dinner. After asking a few locals for suggestions, we learned there was just one place to grocery shop within 30 miles – a small mercantile perched crookedly off the side of highway 101. As we balanced our bikes precariously out front, an old man with tinted sunglasses busted through the front door. “Now what the hell are you doing with all that crap on top of your bi-cycles?”

An hour and a half later, we had moved precisely 4 feet from that front door. Seated comfortably on the wood bench outside the store’s entrance, we listened to Fred’s life stories and sage advice. We were enthralled by his wise ramblings (which almost always had a point at the end), eagerness to (quite literally) spell out his morals, and wild rants with passersby: a local truck driver, an old friend, a young native Quinault woman that worked at the mercantile, some slick, sharp-shooting cops.

I’ve posted 14 minutes of Fred Williams’ brilliance here for you to enjoy. I have left it raw on purpose. To someone that wasn’t with us in person, following his sweeping hand gestures (like the way he cups his mouth when he says COMMUNICATION) and theatrical facial expressions, it might feel confusing at times. Go with it. These moments of roadside banter are decidedly more illustrative of Fred’s character than any answers to the questions that invoked them.

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Ride Somewhere Far

If we get bad grades, we are not failures. If we decide to take a gap-year, we are not drop-outs. If we want to re-think our educations, we are not threatening our futures. What we do threaten is the dogma of success that continues to weigh down the spirit and creativity of a new generation of potential leaders and thinkers. This is not an attack – it is a plea.

Take a moment to consider the pieces of our lives that we’ve normalized with one another – ask yourself, what are some pervasive influences of our high-speed culture? The parts of our dreams and expectations for our futures that have been passed to us like a homogenized contagion. The voices of our mentors encouraging independence and creativity, but hesitant or disapproving of life paths radically different than their own. There is clearly a security that we feel in being able to all relate about trending interests, entertainment and gossip – “do you have the new igadget?!” – to be asked about our college plans and hope to receive approving nods and shoulder pats – “so what schools are you applying to?”. But how do we actively challenge that norm, especially of our educations – and succeed?

Taking your education into your own hands may be an incredibly intimidating task when you’ve been led through the hallways of block period schedules for so many years. It may even take some seriously ground-breaking conversations with parents and friends for them to understand that your needs are rational – but it’s true! – we all have diverse needs and we all learn differently; it’s a bit silly to have needed Harvard Research to recognize that – but it’s helped! The acceptance of alternative schooling is clearly on the rise but still, our education system has evolved at a fraction of the speed as our cultural consciousness. It is normal, critical even, that you feel empowered to change it and catch up. The initiative, the inspiration and the adventure that others will see as you revolutionize your education will be a catalyst for more to do the same.

Ok – so what does bicycle touring have to do with any of this?

Imagine, at 17-years-old, three months of travel in a local or remote region meeting professionals in the fields of your interests; strangers excited about your adventure; support from your mentors, friends and family; all the while receiving academic credit, but most importantly, discovering and developing practical and social skills for the rest of your life that traditional schools can only attempt to embody. Bicycle travel is an inexpensive, healthy and exciting vehicle to bridge life and experiential education. Not to mention – far less dependent on costly fossil fuels!

So much of our youth is a search for identity – but we continue to spend the majority of our time at this stage with a large group of similarly confused individuals of the same age. Somehow we are convinced that peer pressure and age-segregated pass-fail systems with a handful of team sports will create legions of critical, creative and competitive thinkers; and that if we just stick it out for another four years we’ll probably have a nice paycheck and a golden retriever, or poodle if you prefer. Sure, this system works well for some – but what has it taught us and at what cost?

The Wise Routes Project is an experiment in living. A shout-out to jump on a bicycle and go far with your questions and curiosities. If school bores you, say so! Everyone is your teacher and it’s time to discover your interests now so that later programs can serve you well. Make learning something you enjoy – and convince the rest of us that it’s worth it.

Kristin Hayden on transformative experiences, success, thrival, and what really matters….

And now… the first podcast from the Wise Routes Project. Finally, you can give your twiddling thumbs a cold ice bath and sit back with your favorite high quality speakers.

Kristin Hayden is really cool. She started One World Now!, an organization with an exclamation point in its title. Why? Because Kristin is exclamation-pointy about creating a world where young people realize their potential to be change makers with a global consicousness. OWN! works with high school aged youth to provide language, leadership, and study abroad experiences that will pop their bubbles, throw them out of their comfort zones, and open their eyes to new places and cultures they never knew existed.

What’s especially cool about OWN! (besides the !) is that, unlike almost ALL of the other prominent gap year or high school study abroad programs, they focus on providing cross-cultural opportunities to mostly low-income students and students of color. In our ongoing exploration of alternative education approaches, this has been one of our biggest questions. How do you make new opportunities in learning available to everyone, not just the privileged few?

So sit back, relax, unplug your phone, sign out of Facebook, Twitter, G-chat, and that New York Times article you were reading, put your iPhone, dog, and kids on silent, and enjoy 13 minutes with Kristin Hayden.

To thrive.

Matt Hern is a radical questioner. He’s the kind of questioner that picks apart the very question he is being asked before chewing it. You won’t find Matt Hern gulping down any questions. Matt is a leader in the de-schooling movement but he doesn’t particularly adhere to the word “education” or “school” or “learn” (“‘Learn’ seems inadequate to the task,” he’ll say. “It’s code… now you’re learning means now you’re doing what the school wants you to do. It seems mechanistic.”). He doesn’t even really adhere to the word “kids” (when asked how many kids he has, the answer is “depending on what you mean when you say ‘have’ and ‘kids’, somewhere between 2 and 12”).

Matt Hern is a character. If you expect a writer of multiple books about education to be dry, you haven’t met Matt Hern. Matt Hern will call you ‘champ’ before he’s met you and ‘dude’ once he has. Matt Hern will share mind-blowing wisdom about the world with you while he shoves heaps of scrap cardboard from a backlot dumpster into the trunk of his borrowed car so that he can help urban garden-ify a skinny plot of unused lawn between a random office building and its parking lot. Matt Hern spits wise words so fluidly that you’re more likely to run out of space in your notebook and start scribbling on your arm than find a sentence not worthy of writing in pretty little letters and framing on a wall.

This video is a four minute snippet from our evening at Matt’s house the night he invited us to eat dinner with this family in Vancouver and gave us the creative challenge of running wild in his backyard garden and coming back with something resembling a salad. The task was representative of Matt’s greater philosophy of change, which he likens to a potluck. 

Matt created the Purple Thistle Center – a democratically run “unschool” collective in Vancouver – with a bunch of teenagers using the potluck approach. Potlucks are better than dinner parties, he’ll tell you. When you have a dinner party, you can spend all day preparing all these different dishes for people and it’s a lot of work. But when you have a potluck, all you have to do is cook one dish – something you would do anyway – and provide the space. And what you come up with is a much more creative dinner party full of things you never would have thought to make. And everyone gets to delight in lots of dishes and only had to contribute the part they were enthusiastic about.

To Matt, a potluck approach to education means first finding out what the students want, what they get excited about (genius!). So eleven years ago he brought a group of teenagers attending the school where he used to work together around his kitchen table (at the same kitchen table, in fact, where we did this interview) and asked them a simple question that noone else was asking:

What do you need to thrive?

These teens wanted a space to do and make things, so that’s where they started. Matt found a space that they dubbed the Purple Thistle Center, and let the teens decide what they wanted that space to be so that each could contribute what they were most enthusiastic about doing. Now, eleven years later, the Purple Thistle Center is a thriving community space that thousands of young Vancouverites use for artistic, social, political and educational endeavors every year.

What do you need to thrive? is not an easy question to answer. But it’s a question that mainstream educational dialogues are missing (avoiding?), perhaps, as Matt suggests in this video, because its response could throw the entire system to shambles.

The conversations we had with Matt in Vancouver inspired us to ask this question to more people as we travel down the coast – from wide-eyed young kids to old folks with deep wrinkles, from those that society calls “successful” to those living on the fringe. Maybe what we hear will challenge the ways we think about creating a world where more people can thrive. Maybe it will mean rethinking school. Maybe we’ll have to rethink everything.

So we throw the question to you, blog reader. What do you need to thrive?

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