Deerfield teen marks one year of sleeping outdoors

Mild winter helped make nights bearable for 15-year-old student at Academy of Charlemont

  • Kyle Nitzsche, 15, of Deerfield, is finishing a year spent sleeping in a tent outside his parents’ home. Recorder/Paul Franz

  • Kyle Nitzsche, 15, of Deerfield is coming up on a year spent sleeping in a tent outside his parents’ home. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

For the Gazette
Tuesday, April 05, 2016

DEERFIELD — It’s been one in-tents year for Kyle Nitzsche.

The 15-year-old Academy at Charlemont student was to mark the final night of his extended outdoor adventure by heading out last Wednesday evening, March 30, to the family’s 17-acre yard for one final stay in the tent that’s been his home not far away from home since last March 31.

Inspired by a family friend, who had remarked casually that he had spent nearly 200 nights camping over the course of a recent year, Nitzsche decided to pitch the family’s green-and-yellow four-person Eureka! Tent in the yard off Lower Road and spend the next 200 nights in the semi-wild.

“I thought it would be fun to sleep outside and see how I would feel,” he told The Recorder last fall, as he was approaching his 200th night and recalled the fear of nighttime thunderstorms and waking to gunshots and the satisfaction of “sleeping through all the conditions and feeling how different they are — a really, really cold night, a rainy, warm, muggy night. And the soothing call of spring peepers, along with visits from deer and turkeys.”

It was enough fun that Nitzsche decided last fall to go for a full year of tenting — and a leap year, at that.

Nitzsche, who has slept in the yard throughout, except for a few nights on a daybed on his aunt’s porch during a summertime visit to Wyoming, a tenting stay outside a friend’s house nearby, a night on the balcony in Cooperstown, N.Y., during a visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and two weeks camping in the Adirondacks last summer with the National Outdoor Leadership School.

And then there were a few nights recently in his grandfather’s horse barn in Colorado, where he says it wasn’t any warmer than being out in the tent and he was also suffering from the flu.

And even though there were nights when he admits he really didn’t feel like leaving the cozy warmth of his home to put on wool socks, a down top over his pajamas and a hat and climb into the sleeping bag outdoors, this was a particularly mild winter.

“If I did it last winter, it would have been a lot harder,” said Nitzsche, who figures his mother’s vintage 30-year-old sleeping bag, originally rated for -20 F degrees, is probably a 0-degree bag by now, and that he should have asked for Coleman sponsorship instead of trying to replace the half-dozen camping mattresses that have popped over the course of the year.

An extra-loud alarm clock that his mother, Bea, bought to make sure her sound-sleeper son would be able to awaken for school had its top bells so frozen from winter temperatures that their run was reduced to a clackety-clack, said the woman, who added how proud she is of the teen.

Bruce Lindwall, the family friend who inspired Nitzsche’s yearlong outdoor adventure, and who leads outdoor experiences for Expedition Education Institute, said he’s delighted to know that his own experience “took hold” with the Deerfield teen.

“It’s just great,” said Lindwall, a former Sunderland and Northfield resident who now lives in Deerfield, N.H. “So many young people these days are deprived of the outdoors,” because of the enticements of indoor convenience and technologies, and because of what he called irrational safety concerns by many parents. “People are deprived of the opportunity to wake up and hear night sounds around them — the owls, the wind, and just being able to reach out your hand and touch the ground.”

Nitzsche, who plans to bring 365 mini-doughnuts to school Thursday to celebrate the return of days when he’ll be able to wake up in the morning in the comfort of his bed, said he learned, “If I put my mind to something, I can accomplish it.”

With a newfound familiarity with the outdoors, added Lindwall, “He’ll never see it quite the same again. And that’s all for the better.”