Often referred to as the Barefoot Sensei or the Barefoot Nomad, Mick Dodge gained popularity when National Geographic aired the show The Legend of Mick Dodge. The documentary series followed the ex-Marine-turned-nomadic-outdoorsman as he lived his day-to-day life in the wilderness of the Olympic Mountains in Washington state.
From the often daunting task of gathering food to his nature-based fitness program, the TV program explored the unique lifestyle of the man who left behind the modern world more than 25 years ago. Whether you tuned into his show the first time around or not, you won’t want to miss this wild true-life look how Mick Dodge embarked on his barefoot escapades in the forest!
Mick Dodge was born on August 29, 1951, in Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. There he spent the summers of his childhood there with his grandparents. The rest of his youth was spent traveling around the U.S. and the world with his career Marine father, Ronald Dodge.
During high school, the younger and elder Dodge lived on a U.S. Marine base in Okinawa, Japan. There, Mick Dodge graduated from Kubasaki High School, trained in martial arts and adopted many Buddhist principles that would contribute to his unique future lifestyle.
Before Dodge gained popularity on national television, he had quite an adventurous upbringing. After high school, he followed in his father’s footsteps and served in the Marine Corp for almost six years. After his military service, the Vietnam vet spent some time traveling around the Southeast Asian country.
Upon his return to the U.S., he found a 9-to-5 job as a mechanic in Fort Lewis, Washington. There he worked with his hands and got a better understanding of how to fix and construct various types of equipment. Although he didn’t yet know it, these skills would come in handy when he made a drastic life decision.
For four generations, Mick Dodge’s family had settled in the vast forested area of the Pacific Northwest. Originally from Scottish-Irish ancestry, his relatives were some of the very first to settle in the Hoh Rainforest in the Olympic National Park.
Dodge’s grandfather was a logger and he was keen to pass down the family’s deep-rooted knowledge of the land and wilderness survival skills to his grandson. He lived by the philosophy that every day is a new adventure. “My family’s perfected the art of dodging civilizations for hundreds of years,” explained Mick Dodge. But that’s not all.
As a young boy, Dodge says his father instilled him with a life-long passion for physical exercise. “Get your feet on the deck!” his father would shout every morning at 5 a.m. The father-son pair would then go for an invigorating three-mile sunrise run.
“I wouldn’t wake up until halfway through,’ Dodge recalls of those years. However, he did not seem to be cross with his father and that early taste of fitness served as the basis for his future passions that would later draw a following and media intrigue.
That passion for movement and physical fitness carried over into Mick Dodge’s adulthood. Not one to fear a challenge, in the ‘70s, he once ran a race from Washington to California AND BACK all the while towing a two-wheeled cart.
In another organized race in his early adulthood, he couldn’t understand why someone wanted to sell him a bib number. He ran the race anyway and was the first to cross the finish line. However, he ducked under the tape, afraid that he’d have to pay for it if it broke. “I dodged under it, and I’ve dodged the running crowd from then on,” he later explained.
As the years passed, Mick Dodge became increasingly disillusioned with the daily grind and modern society. So in 1991, he left the modern world and civilization behind and forged a new path (literally). “One day I just grabbed my gear and just walked on back here in the mountains,” he told National Geographic.
He journeyed back to the Hoh Rainforest of his childhood where he decided to live primarily off the land. With no easy access to food, he had to depend on primal instinct and all that the wilderness had to offer. As a rugged forest dweller, he has been known to sleep in the likes of tree stumps, caves and thickages of moss. But his story got even more interesting after that.
Ever since Mick Dodge gave up the comforts of modern life and first took up a life of bushcraft and wilderness living, he has been walking barefoot in the woods. His unusual decision to go shoeless is, however, rooted in several reasons.
According to Dodge, going barefoot increases his sensory awareness and connect with nature. He has also cited chronic foot problems as one of the leading reasons for his shoeless ways. He believes the decision helped cure him of his plantar fasciitis (heel pain) and his hammer toes. But that’s not all.
While the legendary barefoot nomad can more often than not be found exploring the wilderness shoeless, there is one thing that always adorns his feet. Intricate tattoos of roots cover his well-weathered feet and ankles. The physical markings represent the bond he feels to the earthen paths he walks.
“My feet became my compass, my feet became my map,” he said on his National Geographic show The Legend of Mick Dodge. Dodge has explained that the feet have over 200,000 nerves endings, which really help when getting in touch with nature, but might be quite painful when it comes to body art.
So what does one who has lived barefoot in the forest for more than 25 years do every day, you might wonder? Well, for Mick Dodge, there is no lack of options. Every day brings a new adventure and is ripe for learning, growing and connecting.
Abiding by his own laws and the laws of nature, Dodge isn’t pressured by the monotony of modern life. Apart from gathering food, he enjoys spending his time running through the wilderness, reading books and otherwise exercising his body and mind. For this barefoot wanderer, meditating and examining the trees, caves and ravines are important daily activities that help him bond with nature. But that’s not all.
Although Mick Dodge’s life path didn’t lead him to become a forest nomad until 1991, he had an encounter a decade prior that greatly influence his outlook. In the early ‘80s, the Washington native would walk five miles from home to work and back. He would often camp out to avoid the long journey.
As one who was always close to nature, Dodge additionally once took on the daunting task of running 60 miles from his home north of Olympia, Washington to Seattle, Washington. During that endeavor, he first became involved with an inspiring network of mountain people. Unknowingly at the time, his journey would eventually lead to primetime fame. But how did it all begin?
With his bushy white beard, unruly long hair and nontraditional way of life, Mick Dodge has racked up numerous nicknames over the years. He’s been called “Walking Mountain,” “Barefoot Sensei,” “the Forrest Gump of Middle Earth” and “The Barefoot Nomad.”
He has also been referred to as “The Jedi Master for Aspiring Survivalists,” “Tree Beard,” “The Hobbit” and Big Foot.” No matter what you call him, one thing is certain, Mick Dodge’s distinct lifestyle and unique brand of Zen would pique the interest of the mainstream media.
Mick Dodge had been living as a forest-dweller and nomad for more than 20 years by the time National Geographic caught wind of him trekking through trees and greens. His name had come up due to his involvement in a rustic workout regime.
In 1994, Dodge and Jacquie Chandler established a nature-based community workout initiative, called EarthGym. After videos of a group of young women who had trained with Dodge on Whidbey Island in Olympic National Park emerged, National Geographic approached him about having his own show.
For two seasons running between 2014 and 2015, National Geographic broadcast the documentary series, The Legend of Mick Dodge. The show followed the day-to-day events of the title (and sole) character as the reclusive forest dweller traveled barefoot in the Hoh Rain Forest in the Pacific Northwest.
The production that provided an unseen-before-glimpse at Dodge’s dauntless daily routine living off the grid was a fan favorite. And although he doesn’t use the likes of TVs, his unique way of life made for many nights of viewing pleasure. And what they saw was endlessly entertaining–read on to find out more.
Along with his daily adventures that might include hanging in the trees, building a handmade raft or making friends with forest creatures, Mick Dodge had his work cut out for himself when it comes to food. Luckily, the humble forest hermit has largely mastered the skill of hunting and gathering to sustain himself.
While the National Geographic cameras loved it when he slurped down slimy worms for sustenance, he doesn’t always have to rely on such cringe-worth snacks for nourishment. Wild mushrooms, fish, worms and even boiled rocks can provide him the kind of minerals and nutrients necessary to keep going. But plants weren’t his only form of sustenance.
Along with eating what he readily find with his bare hands, Mick Dodge is an adept archer. And while Dodge considers himself a pacifist, he also acknowledges the primal hunting sense that is inherent in mankind. Taught by his grandfather, Dodge has explained that the hunger associated with fasting can enhance the primordial senses that are beneficial in “hunter mode.”
With his bow in hand, a stealth Dodge camouflage in a special suit of moss will quietly wander the wilderness for hours, scouting for his next meal. Tediously and silently the “Boss of the Moss” will scour the tree branches for an ample bird that he must strike with blunt precision for a good serving of protein-filled poultry.
When summer rolls around in northwestern Washington, the legendary Mick Dodge gets in the festive mood and to brew his favorite forest beverage, “jam juice.” Using a self-invented apparatus he calls a “berry picker,” the industrious outdoorsman harvests berries for fermentation.
He mixes a collection of blackberries, blueberries, huckleberries and any other berries found in the forest along with lemon-flavored oxalis leaves and fresh spring water before heating the mixture and funneling it. He’ll then bottle the elixir for some surefire forest fun or as a good for bartering.
And what about those frigid Washington winters, you might ask? Although the Barefoot Sensei is able to pass most of the year scampering around serenely while barefoot, there are certain measures he must take when the temperatures drop. One winter he almost lost his toes!
He’s been seen more than once on The Legend of Mick Dodge wearing buckskin boots. And although the National Geographic series that followed him only showed him in animal hides, he also reportedly owns some plastic garments to keep dry. Additionally, when the temperatures drop too low he warms up at his girlfriend’s cabin.
If you’ve seen an episode of The Legend of Mick Dodge than you’ve no doubt heard him repeatedly say his catchphrase “Yoish!” According to Dodge, the word is a multi-purpose term that he picked up from his sensei back in his high school days in Japan.
Dodge explains that the word has many meanings, but generally, he uses it to help him focus his attention or effort. He also uses it as a term of encouragement when teaching others about his unique fitness program, which you won’t want to miss on the next page. Yoish!
Although Mick Dodge feels most at home barefoot in the Olympic Mountains, that does not mean that he’s a loner who has no contact with the outside world. In fact, the Barefoot Sensei regularly instructs group fitness sessions based on his EarthGym program that utilizes what nature provides for physical training.
From school children to adults, Dodge teaches his students using gear he’s created or found (cargo nets, ropes, straps, stone weights, sticks). The unique outdoor exercise approach combines elements of wilderness training, martial arts, Marine Corp drills, running and weightlifting. His trainees reach him via websites of word of mouth. But what about his family and friends?
Along with the people who Mick Dodge meets through EarthGym training sessions, he chooses to break from his nomadic solitude in the wilderness when it comes to close family and friends. He holds those people very dear and one of the most important (if only) reason to re-enter the modern world.
One time, he received an invitation to attend the wedding of his best friend’s daughter. He decided that he would definitely attend the event but on his own terms. That meant that Dodge packed up camp and trekked barefoot for almost a month to reach the wedding that took place in northern California.
Mick Dodge has been known to dive headfirst into a stream to catch fish with his bare hands. He finds roadkill to be a good source of protein that he needs to supplement his largely veggie-based diet. And whether he’s walking, running or climbing, the intuitive nature-dweller want to highlight that he does not define himself as a survivalist.
Although he is well versed in survival skills and can literally and figurative navigate his way through the plush, dense flora and fauna of Washington state, he prefers to refer to himself as a “thrillvivalist.” It’s the thrill of all that the natural world has to offer that keeps him going more than any other ideology.
There are still more astonishing aspects of the incredible life of Mick Dodge – read on!
Nature provides Mick Dodge with most of what he needs to live. From baths of glacier water to help cure the flu or the hollows of a tree stump to serve as shelter, Mother Earth abounds. While the uses of some natural features are pretty obvious, Dodge has creatively fashioned others to suit his needs.
While many of us just go to the nearest store to get a toothbrush, Dodge can make one out of a stick and a pinecone. He can utilize a Candy Cap mushroom as a water fountain. And fern leaves? Well, those he uses as nature’s answer to toilet paper. Talk about organic! But what happens if he falls ill?
While the legendary Mick Dodge spends the majority of his time braving the elements, he is only human and is not immune to the ailments that sometimes strike. Although he has strengthened his immune system and body in his cleansing lifestyle, he sometimes needs some extra help.
Dodge avoids conventional medicine at all costs and prefers to utilize natural remedies found in the forest. He says fire and glacier water are also effective healing elements. In addition to the plants and herbs that he is familiar with, he’ll turn to his friend, forest healer Doc Gair, who is versed in healing and herbal arts. But the doc isn’t his only friend in the woods.
The adventurous life of The Legend of Mick Dodge star is largely solitary. However, the “Barefoot Nomad” who roams the Hoh Rainforest does has a beloved band of friends who share his enthusiasm and love of the wild. Some of his fellow outdoorsmen have also been featured on the show.
Dodge’s small but similarly-minded group of pals include homesteader/singer Huckleberry Leonard, Mick’s long-time student Will of Stone, outdoors center founder Ben Sanford, fishing guide Pat Neal and master archer Norman Claassen. Still, there is one companion who Dodge spends the majority of his time with.
At the time that the National Geographic Channel filmed the show about Mick Dodge, the famous forest dweller did actually have a semi-steady companion. His dog, Gabu. For years, the two had relied on each other for survival and provided companionship on the often lonely road.
With bears, cougars and elk roaming the woods Dodge knew it was safer for the two to stick together. Still, like her master, Gabu was an independent and wild spirit and would sometime go off on her for hours before returning to her trusted human companion. But the story doesn’t end there.
Along with shoes, Mick Dodge claims that he lives without currency or institutionalized financial systems. So while he doesn’t have a bank account, debit card or checkbox, the National Geographic Channel did pay him cash money for his show, The Legend of Mick Dodge.
Seeing that the adventurous outdoorsman depends largely on bartering to acquire any goods not readily found in nature, his salary from National Geographic was transferred to the Olympic Mountain Earth Wisdom Circle community, to which Dodge belongs. But where does he barter? Read on to find out!
While nature provides much of what Mick Dodge need for his brazed bushcraft ways, he does sometimes rely on bartering for a more extensive selection. Whether it’s his trademark jam juice, rare finds or his logging knowhow, Dodge can trade his goods and services for others at a thrift shop or nearby town.
This isn’t Macklemore’s thrift shop, though. In one episode of The Legend of Mick Dodge, the main character attempted to trade tree burl for some leather pants made by leatherworker Karl Holmquist. He was hoping to later swap the pants for a new and improved bow and arrow, the type of which might not have come in handy with his most dangerous encounter so far…
When asked whether he’d had any close calls with animal, Mick Dodge had an unexpected answer. Although he’s seen the aftermath of cougar attacks and wears a necklace made of the tooth of a sea lion that he found washed up on shore, he says there’s one being that is the most dangerous of them all.
“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,” he explained. He recalled one instance in which he walking along a road toward his home camp when a motorist on a cellphone “doing at least 80 miles per hour” almost struck a deer and then him!
Sometimes herbal remedies just don’t cut it when it comes to the aches and pains that can largely impact the livelihood of the ultimate outdoorsman, Mick Dodge. Over the course of his time in the wild, there is one method that has stood out at the ultimate luxury and pain/stress alleviator.
A good ol’ soak in a tub does just the trick, except that first he has to get to digging. That means a large hole lined with a waterproof tarp must be fashioned along with an improvise heating system (a.k.a. a car battery or fueled water heater). Then he pumps gallons of water from a nearby ravine through the heater into the tub. Real simple, but how real is it all you ask? You’ll soon find out.
Although he doesn’t own a car, cellphone or TV, Mick Dodge isn’t totally unaccustomed to the modern world outside the realms of the woods. Viewers have brought into question the authenticity of Dodge’s nomadic life and whether he ever leaves the wilderness.
Although the National Geographic cameras might opt not to film such activities, Dodge has admitted that he has occasionally wandered into modern society here and there to place Skype calls for the show’s publicity while eating hamburgers and his guilty pleasure, chocolate chip cookies. However, he’ll slip back into his preferred habitat as soon as possible.
According to him, the last time Mick Dodge watched television was when he was a child and it bored him. While he hasn’t sat down to watch the National Geographic show about him, he says he has watched some clips and liked seeing the breathtaking scenery and his friends.
“But I will not watch them [episodes], mainly because I cannot stand to see myself on television or hear my voice, and I am not a legend. The land is the legend,” he said. Explaining that fame is a modern construct to “trap and confine the spirit,” he avoids it at all costs. Still, he’s happy to provide insight into his lifestyle and surroundings.
These days, people can try to keep up with him through his website or occasional social media updates. Yoish!
Source: National Geographic, Business Insider