Former mechanic and marine Mick Dodge traipses through the Hoh Rainforest in Washington state wearing clothes made of buckskin, and he has no shoes on his feet. His long, grey hair and matching beard indicate that he’s been here for a while; in fact, Dodge has managed to make a life in the wild for decades.
Dodge hasn’t always lived this way; he spent six years serving in the U.S. Marine Corps and even served in the Vietnam War. But something called him to a more natural way of life. First, it meant he ditched the soles of his shoes to go barefoot, but that didn’t quench his desire for simplicity.
Instead, Dodge slipped away from his 9-to-5 lifestyle and made his home in the Hoh Rainforest, where he had grown up. That was in the late ‘90s, and the former Marine has done more than just survive. He has created a lifestyle that others want to learn from – and it all starts with his unbelievable survival techniques.
But before we discover how Dodge can live in such an environment, let’s learn a little bit more about the Hoh Rainforest itself. Sitka spruce and western hemlock trees – some towering overhead at more than 300 feet tall – stand tall here. The Washington-based protected area encompasses nearly 25 miles of forests, which snake alongside the Hoh River. And it’s this pretty Pacific Northwest backdrop which set the scene for Dodge’s childhood.
Many settlers who started out in the Hoh ended up moving from the forest to Forks, Washington. Dodge’s great-grandfather ended up settling in the small town, too, which today serves as a hub for excursions into the Hoh. And Dodge’s father made sure his son spent plenty of time outdoors.
As Dodge recalled to The News Tribune in 2014, his dad would wake him up every morning at 5:00 a.m. so that the pair could go on a run. His Marine father would say, “Get your feet on the deck!” Then, they’d log three miles on foot; though, Dodge said, “I wouldn’t wake up until halfway through.”
From his father’s training, Dodge developed a long-lasting passion for exercise and fitness. He also followed his dad’s career footsteps; Dodge also became a Marine, and during that time he served in the Vietnam War. Afterward, he returned home and apparently bounced around the country for a while.
Dodge told the Mother Nature Network in 2014 that he never earned a college degree, but he did hold a high school diploma. And, after the Marines, he held a slew of different jobs, as he recalled. Dodge said, “[I was] a heavy equipment mechanic. I have also dug ditches, chopped wood [and] washed dishes.”
By the late 1990s, Dodge started to put down roots in his native Washington state. He owned a home in Yelm, took a job at Fort Lewis and, just as his father had trained him to do, he got up every morning and ran. Now, though, he combined his workout with his work commute, a route which required him both to run and swim.
Dodge even kept clean clothes on the opposite bank of the Nisqually River so that he had something dry to wear to work. Eventually, though, this commute got to be too long, so the one-time Marine decided to move closer. With that in mind, he ditched his house in Yelm in favor of camping out on the base of Fort Lewis and going into work from there.
Still, life as a camper wasn’t enough for Dodge. According to The News Tribune, he dreamed of spending more time outdoors, both enjoying the natural landscape and honing his own physical fitness. The former Marine also told the Mother Nature Network that he had physical ailments that drove him from his traditional lifestyle, too.
Dodge said, “My feet hurt… They hurt so bad that I could barely walk and I had always used my walk and run to handle the stress of modern living, make sense of the modern world story that I was living.” But he knew exactly where he needed to go, adding, “The Hoh is home for me. So I went home to heal my feet.”
However, Dodge ended up doing more than just healing his feet; he came up with a proprietary workout studio of sorts called Earth Gym. The fitness center runs without a piece of traditional equipment in sight. Instead, according to his website, “[Dodge’s] lifetime of scouting and deep excursions into the wilderness have inspired and informed an ever-evolving series of playful ways to stretch and tone with trees, wind, water and stone.”
Also featured in the Earth Gym are straps, cargo nets and ropes, as well as limbs and burls gathered from the overhanging trees. Interestingly, it’s not just Dodge who uses this all-natural equipment, either. He also garners new students who hear about his work through websites or word of mouth.
In teaching others at the Earth Gym, Dodge relies on the principles that brought him to the Hoh in the first place. He aims to inspire in his students a connection with nature. And through that bond, they can learn to move in a way that benefits their bodies – no traditional workout equipment is required.
When Dodge shared the details of his Earth Gym with The News Tribune, he gave an example of the way his workouts could replace gym-based sessions. His students wouldn’t need a treadmill, he said, when they could jump into the Sol Duc River. There, they could sprint upstream to challenge their bodies in the same way.
With exposure came videos of Dodge’s way of life, and one of them was seen by Liza Keckler, the vice president of development for the Seattle-based production company Screaming Flea. As she recalled, “The first tape I saw was him climbing a tree and singing a song. I thought, ‘Who the heck does that?’”
As it turned out, a person who did such a thing could be a reality TV star – at least, in the eyes of those at the National Geographic Channel. They opted to make a series called The Legend of Mick Dodge, which followed him on his daily jaunts through the forest. But filming didn’t quite go as planned for the network; simply put, Dodge refused to live his life in an inauthentic way.
Of course, reality TV isn’t always true to life. Instead, participants often have to follow scripts and enter scenarios that their producers organize. Dodge rescinded on some of the different ways his lifestyle would be presented to viewers. For instance, he allowed for a wardrobe change to amp up the survivalist aspect of the show.
Outside the show, Dodge would don plastic outerwear on wet days in the rainforest. He told The News Tribune, “The art of living out here is the art of staying dry.” But on his show, he’s never seen wearing such a protective shell; instead, he wears buckskins on camera, which he would typically put on only on dry days.
Outside of clothing, though, Dodge wouldn’t relent to the show’s producers. For starters, he did not want to read from a script while on camera; as he put it, the lines were things he “wouldn’t say.” Producers also came up with storylines for each episode, and some attempted to place Dodge into out-of-character situations.
For instance, in one episode producers wanted Dodge to hunt a bear, but the survivalist refused to do so. Instead, he sent a videotaped plea to the National Geographic Channel’s bosses in New York City. After that, the storyline of the episode changed – Dodge went mushroom-hunting instead.
And, eventually, Dodge was able to speak freely off-script, too. Liza Keckler realized this was the way forward, even if it made the show relatively tougher to produce. She admitted to The News Tribune, “It would be easier and faster to give him lines to say. But he’s not an actor. He’s a real person.”
The Legend of Mick Dodge ran for three seasons, two of which had on-air dates, while fans could buy the third one on DVD. Although filming came with points of contention between the show’s star and its production team, Dodge did reap some rewards from taking part in the show.
Dodge told the Huffington Post in 2014, “The way they present stories on television is fascinating to me. I was learning a tremendous amount from them in doing it. What was really powerful for me was to watch the shift of the cameramen. They began to grow beards and go barefoot. They were just touching into this mountain which is just a powerful, powerful teacher to me.”
To that end, Dodge has made a barefoot lifestyle one of the main focuses of his rainforest-based existence. As previously mentioned, the former Marine arrived to the Hoh with a slew of foot-based problems – plantar fasciitis and hammer toes among them. But ditching his shoes helped him to cure those ongoing ailments, he claimed to The News Tribune.
In fact, his life outdoors healed Dodge in more ways than one. He recalled to the Mother Nature Network, “The results came quickly. Not only were my feet healing, but my back pain, neck pain and most of all my heart pain disappeared.” The former Marine found himself running again, too.
Dodge contended to The News Tribune that he enjoyed going barefoot. He also found himself interacting with nature more naturally this way, too. Still, he does slip into buffalo-skin footwear sometimes after a dangerous icy walk. He said, “I took off up to the glaciers and almost lost my feet.”
And the decision to go barefoot changed Dodge. As he poetically put it to the Mother Nature Network, “I was muscling my mind into the heart of the matter. I was dancing as the fire, running as the wind, strengthening as the stone and flowing as the water within, by the simple act of touching with my bare soles and allowing the Earth to teach. It is a simple matter to follow your feet, but it does not come easy.”
Living off the land has Dodge doing more than just going barefoot, though – he also has to eat. On a daily basis, he told The News Tribune that he wanders through the Hoh Rainforest by “[choosing] a direction” and going that way. And along his uncharted paths, he finds what he can eat.
For instance, Dodge once discovered the body of a sea lion washed up on a beach. He then ate the creatures remains and held onto one of its teeth, which he decided to wear around his neck. As the survivalist put it, his wardrobe choice was a way to honor the mammal that fed him.
Obviously, Dodge relies on foraging in order to survive, and he’s not the only creature in the Hoh Rainforest who does so. He also recalled the time that he happened upon an elk that a cougar had killed – Dodge wasn’t the only one who wanted some of the meat. He said, “There was a bear coming in for it, there was a coyote coming for it and there was Mick. I got my share.”
Desperate times call for desperate measures, though, and Dodge has resorted to eating maggots when he can’t find anything else. He said, “What I learned is that I’m a hungerarian.” This is what he tells his students who come to learn from survivalist but refuse to eat meat. He added, “They say they don’t want to hurt animals. What? You hate plants?”
Of course, Dodge doesn’t just need food to survive – he has to drink something, too. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, he gathers all of his drinking water from nearby springs and streams. He neither filters nor boils the water, either, and he prefers it that way. He said, “I can tell the difference when I go back in the city. I can taste the dead water.”
Dodge told the Mother Nature Network that water proves its importance when he’s sick, too. As he explained, “We are all walking sacks of water. I find during those times when I had been around people from the city, I would catch some kind of cold or flu. I would enter back into the Hoh and drink the water and soak my entire body in the glacial water.”
On top of that, Dodge found that fire helped him feel better, too. He added, “Fire is one of the elements of the forest that I have learned to develop a relationship to use in healing.” He also relied on the forest’s bounty – namely mushrooms and herbs – to deal with illness. And when in doubt, he asked experts in herbal healing.
Still, Dodge believes that the biggest threat to him is neither illness nor lack of food or water – it’s other people. He recalled to the Mother Nature Network a time in which someone driving and talking on a cell phone almost struck him and a deer. He explained, “The most dangerous encounters that I have ever had in the gated wild, walls of the city and in the open fenced lands are with two-footed creatures.”
Dodge does have a few people in his corner who he trusts, however. Along with his aforementioned herbalist, he has a friend who takes him into her cabin when winter rolls in. But even then, the call to the wild entices Dodge – he can only stay indoors for a few days at a time before he’s ready to run through the wilderness again.
In the end, Dodge’s connection with nature is what it’s all about. He has found a middle ground between the wilderness and the real world where he loves to live. He explained, “By getting some distance from the comforts, habits, physical structures like shoes, machines, walls, electronics, I find myself seeking out what makes sense, what fits, and integration of the wild and tame make sense.”
One of Dodge’s most important realizations was that he could “break free of the polarization of the modern world,” where, he said, “people are always trying to put you in [a] box.” From his outdoor lifestyle, this survivalist clearly cannot be defined in traditional terms, especially because he’s always changing. And he has one entity to thank for that. He concluded, “Appreciation is such a weak word to express what I feel for the Earth and the transitions that I have gone through.”