It's not every day that someone decides to leave their home, car, job, belongings, and money behind to go live off the land. We've heard excursion stories before, but this story isn't like that. For Mick Dodge, living in the forest isn't a test, it's a lesson. And he's been learning from his teacher, Mother Nature, for nearly three decades now. "The Barefoot Sensei", as Mick is commonly referred, uses his military and martial arts training, as well as his bare feet, to thrive in the wilderness that he calls home. Here's what he has discovered.
A Worldly Nature Lover
Mick Dodge grew up in the 1950s as the son of a career Marine, Ronald L. Dodge. He often moved with his father and graduated from high school in Okinawa, Japan. From there, he followed in his father's footsteps and joined the Marine Corps, where he served for six years.
He told the Mother Nature Network that he likes to read books and has had a string of jobs after serving in the Marines including being a heavy equipment mechanic and a dishwasher.
A Return To His Home Land
Mick's knowledge of nature stemmed from his grandfather, a logger, who taught his grandson how to survive in the wilderness. Mick's family had managed to live outside of civilizations for centuries, residing in the Hoh Rainforest in the Olympic National Park.
After years working a 9 to 5 job and conforming to aspects of modern society, Mick decided to make a shift. He left behind his old life to move into the Hoh rainforest that his ancestors once inhabited.
It All Started With His Feet
Mother Nature Network asked Mick Dodge what it was that compelled him to move to the forest. His responded plainly, "My feet hurt." He goes on to explain that his hammertoes and plantar fasciitis were so severe that he could barely walk.
Losing his mobility was very serious to Mick, not only because he needed to get around, but because he relied on physical exercise to cope with the stresses of modern society. He says he went to Hoh to heal his feet.
He Became A Part Of A Whole New World
Mick explains that as he became in touch with the Earth, more than just his feet started to heal. He found pain relief in his back, neck, and heart. He talks fondly of how this transformation entirely changed the way he thought.
Mick told Mother Nature Network, "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."
Then Mick Realized It Wasn't So Simple
Mick tells National Geographic that there are more than 200,000 nerves in the feet, and this helped the senses become more in touch with the surroundings. He says, "My feet became my map." However, Mick also warns that though it is a matter of listening to your feet, it's vital to pay attention and not to underestimate the Earth.
On one long run, it began to snow. Mick says he cut up his moose hide jacket and used it to protect his feet. Had he not done this, he would have lost his toes.
He Passes Along What He Knows
Around the same time that he changed his lifestyle, Mick joined Jacquie Chandler to create The EarthGym. The program uses nature to provide physical training. The Mick Dodge official website states that EarthGym evolved into a practice, also known as Walking Mountain Yoga, that encourages people to step away from machines and develope a physical practice with the land.
The website states that, "Mick is the core guide, scout and channel for the earth's deep teaching and trainer for the practice where he lives: along the rivers of the Olympic Mountain Range in northwestern Washington."
The Barefoot Sensei
The EarthGym encourages participants to use sticks, like the one pictured, to assist with stretches. Due to Mick's beliefs about the feet being the guiding source, he inherited amongst his community the nickname "The Barefoot Sensei", while his colleague and cocreator of the EarthGym, Jacquie, became known as "Moonhair".
Mick's practices appeal to yogis, runners, hikers, and animal lovers according to his website. He learned his techniques through his military service and leading boot camps, as well as his martial arts training in Japan.
A Military Childhood
Since Mick moved so often with his father, he was able to be exposed to various cultures that played a part in his unique way of life. His varied skillset and openness to others likely had to do with time spent around the world from a young age. However, it was also inside of the home that Mick's character was built.
He says that his father, in a typical military manner, would wake him up at five o'clock in the morning to go run three miles together. This regimen helped instill Mick's reliance on running as a means of physical and mental health.
A Man's Got To Eat
Mick describes himself as an omnivore. He lives under a tree stump, and when he wakes up, he picks and eats plants. As his hunger increase, it fuels him to find sustenance.
When he struggles to find food, he resorts to returning to the road to find roadkill. Animals that get runover serve to either feed Mick or act as bait to catch a larger animal or a fish, and thus a bigger meal.
The Most Dangerous Encounter Mick Had Wasn't With An Animal
Mick indicated to Mother Nature Network that his most dangerous encounters are never with animals. When asked if he'd ever had any close encounters with animals, he replied with a story that took place one day while he was walking along a road.
He says, "Some idiot talking on a cellphone, doing at least 80 miles per hour, almost hit a deer and then me. 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."
A Deep-Rooted Connection To Nature
The fact that Mick lives at the base of a tree is proof enough that he adores feeling connected to nature. But as a reminder to himself, he also got his feet tattooed. Either foot is covered with tattooed roots, symbolizing that through his feet his becomes rooted in the Earth.
Mick follows his feet like a map, and uses them to listen to the Earth. He says that when barefoot, you experience different terrain and learn from it.
Mick Is Extremely Innovative
Mick still enjoys certain modern luxuries by creating them himself. He made a "jam juice" drink out of a mixture of berries, water, and Oxalis leaves. One of his more notable inventions was a hot tub he constructed by suspending a metal barrel over a low-burning flame.
He also attains items from thrift shops by bartering. Though Mick lives in the forest, he still remains close enough to civilization to stay in touch with and benefit from modern society when he needs to.
Mick Stays In Touch With Family
Mick does stay in touch with his human family, but he is often photographed with his canine relatives. His dog, Gabu, is his partner in survival. The two look out for one another and also reconnect after independent excursions. But Mick doesn't shy away from bringing other dogs along for the ride.
Though Mick prefers his life in the woods, he does return to society when it's right for him. Especially when it comes to big family events, like weddings, Mick will happily hike wherever the event is taking place, and get washed and dressed up under a waterfall.
Mick Hits The Television
After a group of women filmed and posted videos doing EarthGym workouts with Mick, National Geographic decided to inquire about creating a show centered around Mick. The show ran through 2014 and 2015, making Mick a well-known celebrity.
When Mother Nature Network asked why Mick agreed to do the show, he described his three passions. His first is the Earth (his teacher), the second is his community, and the third is training at EarthGym. He seemed to have felt it was his duty to share all he has learned with the world around him.
"I Am Not A Legend"
Despite the National Geographic show being named The Legend of Mick Dodge, Mick states that he does not feel as though he is a legend. "The land is the legend," he tells Mother Nature Network.
Aside from finding television boring and not liking his voice, Mick also says that he doesn't like the idea of becoming famous because he feels that fame "always comes with blame and shame." He says that he would respond to those looking to find him by showing them his ways of life.
You've Got A Friend In Me
The Mick Dodge website lists a few friends of Mick who have taught him a thing or two about furthering his survival skills. These friends sometimes pop up on the National Geographic show as Mick carries on through his daily life.
The list includes the founder and head instructor of Tribal Edge primal arts training center, Ben Sanford, Mick's steelhead and salmon fishing guide, Pat Neal, and the archer pictured, Norman Claassen Archer, amongst others. Mick's love of community may have to do with his ability to expand his capabilities through the lessons of others.
Does Mick Ever Get Lonely?
When asked about women, Mick says he has met tons of incredible women, many of whom became like sisters to him. Though he doesn't specifiy the nature of the relationship, he does mention one woman in particular.
He calls her the Cedar Woman and says they shared a vision for the land. She is a part of the Olympic Mountain Earth Wisdom Circle, which Mick calls base camp. He says it is her wisdom that he keeps coming back to.
Appreciation Doesn't Even Describe What Mick Feels
He says that appreciation is "such a weak word" when it comes to trying to convey how Mother Nature has helped him evolve. He says that by separating himself from modern comforts and structures, like walls and electronics, you no longer put yourself in a box.
Rather than trying to give himself a title, prove himself to others, or earn some type of rank, Mick has found a much more basic way of living. He simply focuses on what fits and makes sense for his life.
It Isn't About Avoiding Society
Mick says that his physical fitness practice helps him navigate stepping in and out of modern society. He admits that he can't get away from civilization, and doesn't seem resentful about that. It appears to be more about attaining what he needs from the Earth in order to live a better life, rather than choosing a side.
Mick emphasizes how living in the forest helps him become less polarized. He grounds himself in nature. He hopes to show more people the recovery they can achieve by remembering to become in touch with nature, not to demolish civilization.
A Man Of Many Names
Mick has racked up several nicknames over the years as he's grown in popularity. These include, "Walking Mountain," "The Forest Gump Of Middle Earth," "The Jedi Master for Aspiring Survivalists," "Big Foot," "The Hobbit," "Tree Beard," "Walking Mountain," "The Barefoot Nomad," and "The Barefoot Sensei."
Despite his many names and being increasingly well known, he says he doesn't care a bit what people think of him. He says he doesn't know what people think but he does wish they would care more about the land.