Mick Dodge goes by a number of names, including the ‘Barefoot Nomad,’ the ‘Barefoot Sensei,’ the ‘Walking Mountain,’ and ‘the Forrest Gump of Middle Earth.’ Whatever you want to call him, one thing is clear: this bushy-bearded man with gnarled, weathered, heavily tattooed feet is unlike anyone you’ll meet in modern society and civilization. These are two things Mick rejected more than 25 years ago when he went back to his roots, settling and living alone in the Hoh Rainforest in Washington’s Olympic National Park.
There, he lived relatively unknown for almost 20 years, until National Geographic caught wind of his existence and saw the dollar signs. True enough, the ensuing television show ‘The Legend of Mick Dodge’ proved popular with viewers, who were able to get an insight into an alternative way of life that many didn’t realize even existed. But how much of the show was the truth – and do you really know Mick Dodge?
Mick Dodge was born in the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, USA, on August 29th, 1951. His family, from Scottish-Irish ancestry, had settled in the vast expanse of forest found in the Pacific Northwest four generations before he was born and remained there since. In fact, his ancestors were some of the first settlers in the Hoh Rainforest in the Olympic National Park.
Not much else is known about the previous generations of Mick’s family, but we do know that he used to spend a lot of time in the Hoh Rainforest with his grandparents – going there every summer during his childhood, at least. The rest of the time, he never stayed in one place for long. Instead, the time was spent traveling around the US and the rest of the world with his father, Ronald Dodge, who was a marine.
Mick’s grandfather was a logger, and when he had the opportunity to, he was keen to teach his skills to his grandson in the same way as he did his son. These skills included wilderness survival as well as occupational skills, and he lived by the philosophy that each day holds a new adventure, especially in the rainforest. In essence, you just had to be open to experiencing it.
“My family has perfected the art of dodging civilizations for hundreds of years,” explains Mick. However, most American kids have to go through school, and Mick was no exception. During his high school years, he was based in Okinawa, Japan, on a US military base with his father. After graduating from Kubasaki High School, his life took a different turn.
He began to train in Japanese martial arts and, at the same time, adopted many Buddhist principles and teachings that, he later revealed, brought him more in tune with the natural world. Coupled with his early experiences with his grandfather in the rainforest, they began to shape the way he viewed the world, particularly his ideas about modern civilization versus nature.
Initially, Mick decided that he would follow in his father’s footsteps by serving in the Marine Corps, where he stayed for almost six years. When he finished his service, he was in Vietnam, having fought in the war. Instead of returning home as soon as possible, like most of the US soldiers, he decided to stay and spend time traveling around. This was a brave move for an American in those times.
Of course, the time eventually came that he needed to return to the US to see his family and earn some money. He found a simple nine-to-five job as a mechanic in a town called Fort Lewis in Washington. Undertaking hands-on work every day, he developed a comprehensive understanding of how to construct and fix different types of equipment.
Although he enjoyed his job and found it interesting, he regarded it as a means to an end – a way to pay the bills and stay alive, and nothing much else. He certainly didn’t think that he was acquiring skills that he’d use to the maximum later in life. Then again, he didn’t know at the time that he would make a drastic life decision in the years to come.
Mick stuck out his mechanic job while making time for his other passions in life. One of these was running. In the 1970s, in his young adulthood, Mick decided to run a race all the way from Washington to California and all the way back again while towing a two-wheeled cart behind him!
In another race, Mick was confused as to why organizers were trying to sell him a bib number as he just wanted to run and didn’t understand what all the formalities were about. He ran the race without a number and was the first to finish; however, he ducked under the tape. He later confessed that he was afraid he’d have to pay for it if he broke through it: “I dodged under it, and I’ve dodged the running crowd from then on.”
This passion for running was no accident, however. Mick had it instilled in him from a very young age by his father, who apparently would wake him up every morning at 5 a.m. by shouting: “Get your feet on the deck!” The two would then embark on a grueling, or invigorating, depending on your mindset, three-mile sunrise run as a way to start the day.
When reminiscing about these early years, Mick recalls: “I wouldn’t wake up until halfway through!” However, as painful as it may have seemed at the time, it certainly served him well. Not only was he motivated and disciplined, but he was also fit and had incredible stamina. Again, this would benefit him in later life. Although he didn’t realize it at the time.
Mick still got out of Washington and traveled around the US when he could. In the late 1980s to early 1990s, he would often visit the beautiful beaches in California. This is where he met Jacquie Chandler, a woman that lived nearby who would end up helping to change Mick’s life completely.
Of course, neither of them knew it yet. Jacquie saw Mick before he saw her and, apparently, was intrigued by how he was using natural items to exercise. For example, using sticks to balance and stretch, swinging from trees using ropes he found on the beach and lifting large stones and other objects to develop his strength.
Jacquie approached Mick and began to ask about his methods, which he was more than happy to share. She was impressed and even had a few of her own ideas to offer, which Mick was very receptive to. The pair quickly became friends and started developing an exercise practice of their own that differed from anything either of them had ever seen before.
The practice focused on using natural items such as trees, stones, sticks, and boulders to stretch, strengthen, and tone the body while simultaneously forming a connection with the earth and Mother Nature. They aptly named it ‘The EarthGym’ and vowed to keep developing their techniques and ideas to achieve the best physical and mental outcome possible.
Despite his passion for The EarthGym, as the years passed and Mick continued with the daily grind in his nine-to-five job, he began to feel increasingly removed, lost, and disillusioned with modern society. He just wasn’t happy with the direction that his life seemed to be taking and knew that he’d have to do something to change it. The problem was figuring out what exactly that ‘something’ was, though.
In 1991, however, he figured it out, deciding to leave modern society and civilization completely and forge a new life for himself out in nature, where societal norms, expectations, and regulations could not touch him. “One day, I just grabbed my gear and just walked on back here in the mountains,” he told National Geographic years later.
Mick decided to travel back to the Hoh Rainforest in Washington’s Olympic National Park and live primarily off the land, neither relying on nor indulging in anything the modern world had to offer. He knew he wouldn’t have easy access to a food supply, nor any modern medicine if he needed it, but he resigned himself to depend on, and survive off, primal instinct and everything nature has to offer.
He decided that he would sleep in whatever he could find – whether it be caves, tree stumps, or thick moss. He also made one more vital decision: not to wear shoes. For years, he lived in almost complete isolation, with little contact with the outside world. Not many people knew of his existence, and he carried on with his life without any disturbance.
Even though Mick had disconnected himself from modern society, he still kept in contact with his friend and co-founder of The EarthGym, Jacquie Chandler. Although she had since moved to Lake Tahoe in Nevada, they were both completely committed to exploring, developing, refining, and, ultimately, sharing their practice with others who were willing to learn.
It was through The EarthGym that Mick was discovered and shown to the world. By then, he had been living like a nomad and forest-dweller and teaching students, who he refers to as his ‘tribe,’ for more than 20 years. Two of his students at the time, who happened to be interns as a film production company in Seattle, asked Mick if he would mind if they filmed his work for one of their assignments.
He didn’t mind at all. In fact, he was eager to share his practice and allowed them to capture all areas of the program. The students took their video back to Seattle and submitted their assignment. It immediately captured the attention and imagination of the production company, which, in turn, sent it to contacts at National Geographic.
Not missing a trick, National Geographic immediately bought the rights to the footage, sensing immediately that this barefooted man in the rainforest would make for fantastic television and through-the-roof viewing ratings. Their idea was to go to the Hoh Rainforest and film and produce a series called ‘The Legend of Mick Dodge.’
Somewhat surprisingly, Mick agreed to his own television series, and National Geographic filmed 36 episodes between 2014 and 2015, running over three seasons. It depicted Mick as a survivalist that was living off the land, showing a never-before-seen glimpse of his daily routine and nomad lifestyle, which they expected to fascinate and intrigue viewers.
They weren’t wrong: ‘The Legend of Mick Dodge’ proved to be extremely popular, and ratings went through the roof. Mick’s unique way of life drew in viewers episode after episode, and National Geographic knew that they had hit the jackpot. The man that had once been unknown to most and a mystery to pretty much everyone was now being revealed.
‘The Legend of Mick Dodge’ showcased him swinging from the trees, resting high up on branches, building rafts out of wood he found in the rainforest or befriending creatures that he met along his way. By the look of it, it seemed as though there was no doubt that he’d completely mastered this way of life.
It also revealed the reasons why he chose not to wear shoes the majority of the time. According to Mick, going barefoot had a number of advantages. Firstly, it apparently increased his overall sensory awareness and enabled him to connect to nature and Mother Earth in a way that he would not have been able to do otherwise. To put it simply, it helped him to be at one with nature, which was vital if he was to survive his new way of life.
There was another reason which was somewhat more practical. Mick had suffered from foot problems for a number of years, namely, hammertoes and plantar fasciitis (heel pain). Walking barefoot, according to him, helped to cure him of these ailments and afflictions, enabling him to move around pain-free for the first time in years. Lastly, Mick claims that his feet help him to navigate his way through the rainforest, which is vital for his survival.
“My feet became my compass, my feet became my map,” he told National Geographic, going on to explain that the feet have more than 200,000 nerve endings and are, therefore, one of the most sensitive parts of the body. As a tribute to the sensory enhancement that Mick achieves through his feet, which are, admittedly, extremely worn and weathered, he has adorned both of them with intricate tattoos. Although it’s not entirely clear how and when he got the tattoos, he says that they represent “the bond that he feels with the earthen path that [he] walks.”
This bond with the earth is crucial for survival, according to Mick, who claims that it’s vital to find a way it into the rhythm of the rainforest, even when it seems silent. He states that intensive training is required to learn how to move as one with your natural surroundings while simultaneously getting rid of your ego, something that Mick claims to be one of the most detrimental things to adapting to the rainforest.
Once you’re able to do this, according to Mick, you will be able to move with stealth while decreasing what he refers to as ‘traveler’s noi.’ This, apparently, helps you not only with hunting and gathering all the food and resources you need but also with preventing an attack by other animals that could be tracking you.
Mick initially heard of this concept of being at one with the earth not when he moved to the rainforest, but when he lived in Japan as a child. The Japanese speak of and teach an idea called “the Yamabushi,” which, translated to English, literally means “to become one with the forest.” The Yamabushi people are a group of Japanese hermits that live in the mountains.
According to Japanese legend, as well as current popular superstition, the Yamabushi have supernatural powers because of their connection to nature and their environment. The idea was extremely interesting to Mick as a teenager, and he always felt as though he wanted to be like them, admitting that he drew inspiration from them during his time in the Hoh Rainforest.
‘The Legend of Mick Dodge’ did, however, show one significant problem that Mick faced on a daily basis, and it became apparent fair early on in the series: finding food. It was a constant focus for Mick, as he had to ensure that he was able to hunt and/or gather enough every day to sustain himself, which was no easy feat.
Usually, Mick was able to find a decent meal every day, and sometimes, they even seemed extremely appetizing, such as freshly caught fish with just-picked wild mushrooms. Other times, however, the meals looked unappetizing at best, absolutely disgusting at worst. Of course, these were the meals that viewers, and National Geographic, loved.
These included not only strange-looking plants that clearly didn’t taste particularly pleasant, but also large, thick, slimy worms and other horrible-looking bugs, which apparently provide protein and, therefore, a good amount of sustenance and energy. Sometimes, he’d even boil rocks and drink the water, which he claimed provided him with enough minerals and nutrients to keep him going.
‘Forest stew’ is an all-time favorite of Mick’s, according to the show, and is an accumulation of edible plants, leaves, and fungi that can easily be found in the forest. The added ingredient? Different types of algae, which, Mick claims, all taste delicious despite looking foul. He puts them all together in a pot with some spring water and heats it up before tucking in.
Mick is not opposed to hunting for meat, however, and over the years, he has refined his archery skills so that he is able to seize the moment when it is presented to him. In the rainforest, this is not as often as you might think, as animals are extremely good at hiding among the undergrowth, making them difficult to hunt.
Mick was taught to use a bow and arrow by his grandfather at a young age and has always understood that a primal instinct to hunt is inherent in mankind. Therefore, he has no problem killing to eat when it is necessary for survival. He also notes that hunger actually enhances his primal senses, something he refers to as ‘hunter mode.’
When he hunts, Mick wears a suit of moss that he makes himself in order to provide camouflage while he wanders through the wilderness, then waits silently in the thick undergrowth. The whole process can take him hours, sometimes even all day, and requires a great deal of patience and perseverance, as well as skill when the pivotal moment comes.
When he’s in this mode, Mick is sometimes referred to as ‘The Boss of the Moss,’ and usually, it’s for a good reason, as he has an incredibly high success rate. Usually, he is able to shoot and kill a bird that is in the tree branches, which provides him with enough protein to last for a couple more days. Not to mention, it makes for a tasty dinner too!
‘The Legend of Mick Dodge’ also revealed some surprising eating habits. Mick likes to drink home-made olive oil, claiming that it’s healthy and strengthens the joints; plus, he carries with him a jar containing elk testicles, which he considers to be ambrosia. “I am an omnivore, able to eat a wide variety of food, which also means that I learned how to become a scavenger and allowed the hunger in my belly to guide me into discovering all kinds of food,” he said.
“When a cougar kills an elk, the entire forest moves in to eat. So I do the same,” he said. “But there is one highly spiritual food that I try to maintain in my stashes and storage places, and that is chocolate-chip cookies. My grandmother got me hooked on them.”
Mick has also managed to become skilled in making alcoholic drinks from natural ingredients found in the forest. As ‘The Legend of Mick Dodge’ revealed, during summer in northwest Washington, he is able to make what he describes as his favorite rainforest beverage: forest wine. It’s made with a variety of berries that he finds, and there are a lot.
Blueberries, huckleberries, and blackberries are just some of the fruits of the forest that Mick often finds, which he harvests using a self-invented tool that he calls the ‘berry picker.’ He then lets them ferment before heating with fresh spring water and lemon-flavored oxalis leaves. After funneling the mixture, he bottles it to consume as desired. Although he’s been known to use it as a bartering tool too.
Although his somewhat frivolity during the warm summer months, viewers did begin to wonder and question what he did during the summer. Surely, he wouldn’t be able to run around barefoot all the time during the colder weather? Well, with Mick admitting that, once, he nearly lost his toes, ‘The Legend of Mick Dodge’ revealed the answer.
It showed him on multiple occasions wearing buckskin boots that he had made himself. Plus, he had a number of garments that he’d fashioned out of various animal hides. And, although it was not featured on the show, he has since admitted that he does own a few plastic sheets that he uses to keep dry during storms, and you can’t really blame him for that. “The art of living out here is the art of staying dry,” he says.
‘The Legend of Mick Dodge’ also revealed one of the barefooted nomad’s all-time favorite phrases, and it caught on with many of the viewers. This phrase was “Yoish!” which he could repeatedly be heard saying as he went about his day-to-day routine in the rainforest. Although viewers initially assumed he had made it up himself, they were wrong.
Mick explained that the word “yoish” is a multi-purpose Japanese term that he picked up back in his high school days. Apparently, it has a variety of different meanings, depending on the context in which it is said, but he uses it as a term of encouragement when teaching his students, as well as to help him focus his attention on something.
‘The Legend of Mick Dodge’ also revealed that he was not quite as much of a loner as one might have thought he was, considering he was leading a relatively solitary life deep in the Hoh Rainforest. Of course, he had interaction with his friend and EarthGym co-founder Jacquie Chandler, as well as his students, but it may surprise you to know he had more contact with the outside world than that.
When it comes to close family and friends, Mick will break his nomadic solitude, considering them to be pretty much the only reason to re-enter the modern world every now and again. Other than that, he doesn’t miss modern civilization, so he shuns it altogether.
One time, he was invited to one of his best friend’s daughter’s wedding, and decided that he would go – but it would have to be on his own terms. Consequently, he packed up his camp, prepared food to take with him, and trekked barefoot for almost a month to reach the wedding in northern California!
Of modern society, Mick says: “There is no way to get away from it. So I developed a physical fitness practice in how to step in and out of it, stepping out of the walls, machines, electronics, social babble for a while, ground back into the natural flow of the land, and then go back in.”
While nature provides the majority of what Mick needs to survive, he does sometimes rely on bartering in order to obtain items he cannot find himself. Whether it’s his trademark forest wine, rare finds washed up as a result of Washington’s notorious heavy rains, or his logging knowhow, Mick occasionally trades goods and services at a thrift shop or nearby town.
In an episode of ‘The Legend of Mick Dodge,’ he attempts to trade tree burl for some leather pants made by Karl Holmquist, a local leatherworker. The desired outcome? To later swap the leather pants for a better bow and arrow than the one he already had. Unfortunately, it’s unclear whether he ended up succeeding.
Despite being a real living legend, Mick is still human, and like all of us, occasionally falls ill. Although it’s true that his clean eating and intense fitness regime has strengthened his immune system over the years, it’s still possible that an illness or ailment can strike him down. Then, he requires a little extra help.
Mick prefers to avoid conventional, modern medicine at all costs; instead, preferring to make natural remedies from ingredients found in the rainforest. He is familiar with a vast array of healing plants and herbs, and also says glacier water and fire can also be effective. In addition, he often turns to another forest dweller, his friend, and healer Doc Gair.
Doc Gair is well versed in herbal remedies and healing, and can often help with health problems that Mick cannot solve himself. However, the healer is not the only friend that Mick has in the rainforest. There are more people that share his love of the wilderness and enthusiasm for all things natural and an unconventional way of life.
This community of mountain and forest dwellers helps one another with not just survival but also physical, emotional, and mental well-being. “On my journey, I have formed so many wonderful connections with [men and] women, formed strong brother-and-sister relationships with them,” Mick says. “I may not be able to figure out what they are always talking about. But if their soles are touching the earth, I am more able to figure it out.”
Despite there being more remotely living nomads in the Hoh Rainforest area than one may initially expect, over the years, Mick has created a few bonds and relationships that are now solid. As such, he has a close circle of people that he now considers to be his friends and family, people he can turn to in any time of need.
This small band of people includes Will of Stone, one of Mick’s long-time students; Ben Sanford, a founder of an outdoor center; Huckleberry Leonard, a singer; Pat Neal, a fishing guide; and Norman Claassen, a master archer. He has formed strong, long-lasting relationships with each of them. However, there’s one more person in Mick’s inner circle, and arguably, it’s the most important.
When National Geographic was filming in the Hoh Rainforest, Mick actually had a permanent companion that served as his fellow wanderer: his dog, which he called Gabu. They had been side by side for years, relying on each other for companionship and company on the often-lonely road through the forest. That wasn’t the only reason they stuck firmly together, however.
Gabu provided Mick with an extra layer of safety and protection against all of the wild animals in the forest, which included cougars and bears, and, obviously, Mick helped to protect Gabu too. After all, two is better than one. However, like her friend, Gabu was fiercely independent and could not be controlled by anyone, even Mick. She would wander off into the forest, sometimes for hours, before returning.
Asked on ‘The Legend of Mick Dodge’ whether he had ever experienced any close calls with wild animals, Mick responded with an interesting, and, to many people, unexpected answer. He said that, although he’d seen the grizzly aftermath of bear and cougar attacks, and wears a necklace featuring a tooth of a sea lion found washed up on shore, there’s one animal that’s easily the most dangerous.
That animal? Humans. “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, recalling one time when he was walking along a road around the outskirts of the Hoh Rainforest when a motorist on a cell phone “doing at least 80 miles per hour” almost struck a deer, then him.
However, sometimes when it comes to general aches and pains, which are quite common when you spend your days running barefoot through a rainforest, climbing trees, and sleeping in tree stumps, there’s one thing that stands out to Mick as the ultimate pain reliever and stress reducer. Plus, it represents luxury not often experienced in the rainforest.
It may come as a surprise, but it was a long, hot soak in a bath. Obviously, though, he didn’t have a conventional one to hand, so he had to make one himself, and, therefore, get digging. He would work for hours, creating a large hole lined with a waterproof tarp, then fashion an improvised heating system using an old car battery or a fueled water heater. Pump gallons of water from a nearby ravine through the heater and into the tub, and you’ve got a hot bath.
Naturally, many people wonder how anyone could live in a rainforest for 25 years without getting bored, but Mick seems to do so without any problem at all. He claims that he doesn’t feel pressure to conform to societal norms and expectations and that he doesn’t care for the monotony of modern life.
According to him, the rainforest presents a new adventure every day, something that allows you to learn, grow, and connect with nature. In addition to foraging for and gathering food, Mick spends his days running through the forest to keep fit, inspecting flora and fauna, and practicing mindfulness. He also likes to keep exploring, claiming he always finds something new in the rainforest.
One of the main criticisms of ‘The Legend of Mick Dodge’ was that it had been dramatized, with some viewers refusing to believe that what they were seeing was real. The truth is, in fact, a mixture of both. Staying true to the typical reality TV industry, National Geographic certainly dramatized some scenarios from Mick’s life.
They also missed out on some details from Mick’s life, details that may have made the whole story more believable to viewers (although maybe, admittedly, less shocking). For example, although he doesn’t own a television, cell phone, refrigerator, etc., Mick isn’t totally opposed to leaving the wilderness and using technology when required.
He admits that he has to occasionally wander into civilization to catch up with close friends and family via Skype calls and communicate about the show, and he even admits that hamburgers are his guilty pleasure during these times, as well as chocolate chip cookies. However, he still prefers his nomad lifestyle, and always returns to it as soon as possible.
Of course, National Geographic didn’t want to film that part of his life or even allude to the fact that it exists. However, when viewers began to question the authenticity of Mick’s lonely lifestyle, it may have been a good idea to show, or at least admit to, it. Mick, meanwhile, has no problem sharing these details with people when they ask.
While Mick claims that the last time he watched anything on television was when he was a child, and, apparently, it bored him, he has watched some clips of ‘The Legend of Mick Dodge’ (although not an entire episode yet, according to him!). His opinion? He loves looking at the breath-taking scenery and seeing his friends on-screen.
However, like a true nomad, he says: “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 avoids fame at all costs, explaining that it is a modern construct to “trap and confine the spirit.” He even donated his payment from National Geographic to the Olympic Mountain Earth Wisdom Circle community. Even so, he’s more than happy to provide insight into his surroundings and lifestyle.
Currently, the show is off-air, but The EarthGym is very much still up and running. Of course, ‘The Legend of Mick Dodge’ only helped to publicize it, increasing its popularity. Now, it attracts students from all over the world who want to train with the 69-year-old legend. According to the up-to-date website, the practice “embodies the philosophy that we train *with* the Earth until we become *as* the Earth.”
It goes on to state that “EarthGym practices restore our native way of being and help people remember and restore a healthy, playful connection with the land, themselves, and each other.” It also employs Mick’s practice of not wearing shoes, with the aim, according to the website, of “de-feet-ing” all the students who participate.
The EarthGym practice is credited completely to Mick’s unique approach to, and perspective of life that has developed as a result of extensive traveling during his childhood, his understanding of wilderness survival skills, martial arts training in Japan, and Marine Corps discipline, among others. Jacquie is still involved, incorporating movement and dance into the physical side of the practice.
According to The EarthGym website, the principles and practices that Mick, along with
Jacquie, have developed can be applied to people of all ages and from all walks of life, and do not exclude anyone. As such, it’s recommended to casual walkers and dedicated yogis alike. Hence its seemingly ever-growing popularity.