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Rudy Hummel, 17, of Hermantown, Minn., climbs a ladder up to the platform that he sleeps on at his family’s home. Photo by Clint Austin / Forum News Service

Minn. 17-year-old spends a year under the night sky

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HERMANTOWN, MN - Rudy Hummel knows where he’ll be sleeping Saturday night.

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 “In my bed,” the 17-year-old from Hermantown said. 

That will be the first time in a year that Hummel, a junior at Hermantown High School, will have slept there. Hummel has been sleeping outside every night since June 7, 2013. On a platform in a tree. In a snow cave in his yard. In campgrounds. On a hotel balcony.

He started with the idea of sleeping outside all summer. When fall came, he didn’t want to quit. He decided to go for a full year. When snow arrived in early December, he and his dad built a snow house, and Hummel slept there through the second-coldest and third-snowiest winter on record in nearby Duluth. On 76 nights, the temperature dropped below zero.

In early April, he left the snow house and transitioned back to the tree platform, where he stays warm in three sleeping bags and a quilt inside a 1-person tent. He enjoys not having to scrape the ceiling of his snow house to keep it livable, but he misses the tomblike silence of the shelter. Those songbirds wake up early.

Midway through his year of sleeping out, Hummel decided to set up a website and raise money for Habitat for Humanity and Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory in Duluth. So far, his followers have donated more than $3,000 to those causes at snoreoutdoors.com. One anonymous donor is pledging $2 per day for the entire year – more than $700.

On Friday, Hummel will sleep on the tree platform one final time. He’s inviting people from across Duluth, the country and the world to share the experience by sleeping outside wherever they are, posting photos to his Snoreoutdoors Facebook page and, if they wish, donating to the causes he supports at snoreoutdoors.com.

Gaining perspective Hummel, a confident and outgoing young man, said he was sure he’d achieve his goal of sleeping outside all year.

“When I decide to do something, I can be pretty persistent,” he said. “My life philosophy is: If you want it badly enough and you’re willing to put in enough time and effort and stress, you can get it.”

As his outside-sleeping odyssey unfolded, Hummel began to look at the world differently in several ways. The experience gave him empathy for people who are homeless and don’t have a choice about sleeping outside, he said. It also has given him perspective on his place in the world.

“You think about a squirrel, or a bird at the bird feeder,” he said. “We consider them visitors, yet they live here, and we’re just as much visitors as they are.”

Organizing and publicizing his fundraising effort honed his public speaking and communication skills. His quest coincided with the “polar vortex” winter across the nation, and Hummel became something of a media sensation. He estimates he did at least 30 television, newspaper and radio interviews. He appeared on “A Prairie Home Companion” in St. Paul, where Garrison Keillor interviewed him on stage.

The experience was good for Hummel’s whole family, said his mom, Gail Johnejack.

“We’ve had the opportunity to meet some people and have experiences we wouldn’t have otherwise had,” she said. “We’ve gotten out of our shells a little bit.”

All the while, Hummel was writing a blog, finishing merit badges toward his Eagle Scout rank and keeping up with the demanding pace of life as a high school junior.

Motivating others Judging by the comments to his blog and letters he has received, Hummel has inspired others.

“You are a hero,” an older couple from Missouri wrote. “We love that you are so concerned for the homeless. We will do something to help you make a difference. We are not sure what, but maybe work for Habitat (for Humanity).”

Just a couple of weeks ago, Hummel received a letter from Bob Wolfe, 66, of Lakewood Township in St. Louis County. Wolfe, a Boy Scout leader, has slept outside at least once a month for the past 14 years.

“I’m convinced that we both understand the spiritual strength we all gain in that quiet solitude of a snow cave in the winter, or the rhythm of the spring peepers at nightfall, the call of the loon at summer dusk, or that chill wind in our face, rustling leaves in the fall,” Wolfe wrote. “I’ll be proud to sleep out this coming June 6, to share the night again.”

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