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Teen preps for semester outside

EAST MIDDLEBURY — As the New Year begins, many people will be turning up the heat in their homes and enjoying the outdoors through the nearest window.
But this winter, Kendra Dempewolff of East Middlebury will spend her days living outdoors — skiing and canoeing the wilderness of New Hampshire and Vermont, sleeping in a handmade cotton tent and making many of the things she needs to survive. She, along with 10 others, is gearing up for Jan. 6, the beginning of a five-month-long program with New Hampshire-based Kroka Expeditions.
Last week, she said she was both excited and nervous about her upcoming adventure.
“I wake up every morning and have to go to work, but (on the program) you wake up every morning and have to do something or you won’t survive,” she said. “‘I have to start a fire or I’m going to freeze to death,’ or ‘I have to get up and get dressed or I’m going to freeze.’”
Dempewolff, 18, graduated from Middlebury Union High School last June and is taking a gap year before college. She works at Carol’s Hungry Mind Café and is taking a Spanish class at Community College of Vermont in Rutland.
She has been planning to do Kroka Expeditions since May, when she attended a youth environmental conference that was also a stop along the way for students enrolled in last year’s Kroka program.
“I met all the students from last year, and I was like ‘I’m going to do it!’” she said.
In mid-November Dempewolff spent a weekend at the base camp in New Hampshire, where she met the other members of this winter’s group, who are all from Vermont, New Hampshire, New York and Massachusetts. The 11 campers learned more about how the semester would be structured.
For the first month, the group will live in huts at base camp, making things and learning various skills to prepare for their trip. Among other things, they will learn to cross country ski and make anoraks, mukluks and a tent large enough to hold the whole group.
Then, during February and March, they will ski 300 miles, stopping near the Canadian border. There they will build a canoe and craft their own paddles. With their new canoe and others built during previous semesters, the group will travel another 300 miles on the Connecticut River, back to base camp, and to the semester’s end on June 6.
The group will be able to communicate with parents and friends by mail, but for the most part they will be interacting only with each other and their teachers.
“I’ll get to know a group of my peers so well — I’m going to be living with 10 people my age for five months. Hopefully I’ll still like them by the end,” Dempewolff said with a laugh.
The group will also be journaling daily, and they will be bringing along colored pencils for drawing. The program’s academic focus is centered around living outdoors, with topics ranging from natural science to geography to visual arts. But what the group learns will have more immediate applications than learning those things in a classroom.
“I’m going to build a canoe and it has to be good, because if it’s not, I’ll sink when I’m going home,” Dempewolff said.
As December begins and the days get colder and colder, Dempewolff is excited about the coming adventure but she’s also considering the fact that she’ll be living outdoors for most of the winter.
“I’m just trying not to psych myself out about it. I’ll be wearing so much wool, and we’ll be skiing all day,” she said. “Nights are going to be a little chilly.”

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