(Note: Rachel Hemond, an 18-year-old from Acton, MA with Type 1 diabetes, spent five months in the Vermont wilderness, managing her blood sugar using the Omnipod System and with the support from a network of doctors, family, and friends. This is the third of a 10-part series of blogs Rachel wrote about her experiences.)
The second summer of my apprenticeship at the Kroka outdoor education program wound to a close and I returned to the everyday life of a high school senior: applying to colleges, looking for scholarships, balancing mountains of schoolwork with spending time with friends.
But I couldn’t seem to settle back into my life fully. Surrounded by good friends, challenging classes and good stable blood sugars thanks to the Omnipod System, I had grown comfortable. This very sense of ease left me, well, uneasy – and unwilling to resign my senior year to dullness.
In October, a close friend of mine mentioned that he had signed up for Kroka’s Vermont semester. Jokingly, I suggested that I do the program as well to keep an eye on him. We both laughed it off, and I returned to tests and homework and long nights in the library.
But the idea of a semester in Vermont with Kroka stuck in my mind. I’d drift off in the middle of physics class, imagining skiing down a craggy mountain and feeling the formula for acceleration rather than solving endless equations. In calculus, I doodled hillsides covered in sketched-out spruce trees. Even in English, one of my favorite subjects, I would lose track of a lecture on Siddhartha because it reminded me of a discussion I’d had over the summer at Kroka.
So only a few weeks after the seed was planted into my mind, I knew I had to try to make the Vermont Semester possible. I set up a meeting with my guidance counselor, laid out a plan, and hoped for the best.
I was told no. No way could I get out of classes after only half a year and still graduate, no way could I skip the AP exams to go whitewater canoeing, no way could I be out in the wilderness when I should be deciding on colleges. No. Absolutely not.
Before getting rejected, I had treated the idea of semester as abstract, a sort of diversion from my more mundane concerns. But being shut down made me realize that Semester was more to me than skiing and heart-stopping, breath-stealing adventures; it represented a freedom that I had tasted in my summers with Kroka. It is the freedom of living simply but well, away from the constant background buzz of media and the superficial concerns that high school often includes. Being told 'no' only made the truth clearer to me: I needed this semester, needed fresh air and clean snow and the bite of winter to bring me back to life
But how to move forward? Well, in my case, it was a combination of determination, pig-headed stubbornness, and the hard work of an incredible group of people.
My counselor, seeing how important the winter semester was for me, rallied and convinced the higher-ups to hear me out, accept Kroka’s credits, and let me graduate. I talked to each of my teachers and received responses ranging from questions of my sanity to desire to join me, but all were enthusiastic.
School squared away at last, I filled out my paperwork and began the somewhat insane task of packing out everything that I would need for five months away from civilization.
(Next: Preparations and packing. How to keep insulin from freezing? Packing, preparing, and planning: Freezing insulin, resupply boxes, and Sharpie galore)