“I don’t think it’s ending anytime soon – I might even continue going to college,” said Isaac, who is a Boy Scout. “It’s a lot of fun and I’m not ready to stop.”
On January 12, to celebrate his 1,000th night of sleep outside, Isaac took up residence in a snow shelter called a quinzhee that he and some of his scout friends from Troop 15 built at the Lakeside Presbyterian Church in Duluth.
While most of Isaac’s nights have been in his backyard, for the milestone, Isaac’s parents left him sleeping alone in the quinzhee next to the building where he attends Boy Scout meetings with his father, Andrew Ortman. , the troop’s scout leader.
“He never gets tired of it – every night is a new adventure,” said Andrew Ortman, 48, noting that his son even insisted on sleeping outside after he broke his left wrist in an accident at home this this month.
“We came back from the ER and I went back outside like I always do,” Isaac said. “It’s like the time we saw a bear approaching our patio door. Thirty minutes later, I was brushing my teeth and getting ready to go to sleep outside.
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Isaac’s mother, Melissa Ortman, was a little worried that night, she said, but after the bear left, she and Andrew agreed to keep the party going.
“He knows he has to come inside a bit and contact us if something is wrong,” said Melissa Ortman, 43. “After 1,000 nights, he has our trust.”
Isaac gave up his room for a hammock and sleeping bag on April 17, 2020, when he was in sixth grade, he said, noting it was the start of the coronavirus pandemic when more and more people were heading outside.
“I slept outside at home cabin, and I was like, ‘Wow, I should break my own night out record for a week,’ he recalls. “So I slept outside all the time on vacation and just decided to move on when I got home.”
His dad recalled that Isaac did a lot of research to find the best gear to keep him warm and safe while sleeping outdoors for four seasons.
“He found a waterproof hammock to put on in the yard, and he has a few sleeping bags, and some underquilts and overquilts that he can add depending on how cold it is,” Andrew Ortman said. “He has a great system.”
Isaac said he usually sleeps in his clothes and adds an insulated hood to keep him warm in the winter.
“It covers my entire face and tightens so only my nostrils stick out,” he said. “Even in the cold, I sleep very well. My dad says it’s hard to wake me up sometimes.
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After two years and nine months of his routine, he says he prefers snow, rain and wind to the heat and humidity of summer.
“Unless it’s below zero, I like to stick one of my legs out at night so I don’t get too hot,” he said. “If you are cold, you can always put on layers. But in the summer, there’s not much you can take off.
“You sweat, plus there are mosquitoes,” he added. “And the 4th of July is the worst. It’s noisy all night. »
To break the routine (and escape the occasional downpour), Isaac will sometimes pitch a tent in the garden, he said, noting that when he’s staying with friends he’ll sleep outside under the stars or pitch a tent, even if they decide to enter.
Melissa Ortman recalls a recent night when her son was sick with a 102 degree fever.
“He stayed true and walked out — he wanted to go all the way,” she said. “Since he started doing this, he’s grown in so many ways, not just his height.”
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Family vacations require advance planning so Isaac can sleep at a campground with his father while his mother and older sister, Lilly, stay at a motel. Isaac has also slept in his family’s fishing boat when parked in motel parking lots.
“I guess a lot of people might find that a bit unusual, but for us it’s now normal routine,” Andrew Ortman said. “I’m proud of Isaac for persevering. A big snowstorm, a migraine, a leaky tent, nothing discourages him. He really learned to persevere.
Isaac said he’s not ready to break records for sleeping outside, although there are a few other records in the books already.
In 1980, a teenager named David Ross from Manchester, England, ended a series of sleep outside for four years and 46 days. Closer to home, fellow Minnesota Scout Rudy Hummel made headlines in 2014 after sleeping outside for a full year.
And currently, English teenager Max Woosey launched his own outdoor sleep marathon on March 29, 2020, to raise money for a hospital treating an elderly friend. He still sleeps in a tent.
“I’m not doing this for records or a cause — I’m just having a good time,” Isaac noted. “But with the guy sleeping in England, I guess you could say it’s an unofficial competition.”
With his high school graduation 3½ years away, if anyone is going to camp and break the 1980 record, he said, “it might as well be me.”