The desire to escape to solitude is all too common. With the immense stresses of everyday life, getting away from it all can certainly be appealing. While a week-long vacation will usually suffice, for others, not even a month or a year is enough. In some cases, it can take decades.
One man decided that he needed to get away from society and its strictures, but he didn’t settle for a week off from work. Instead, he hid from the world for nearly 30 years. When he was finally found, no one could believe his story.
When most people decide to take a break from life’s stresses, a week-long trip to a tropical locale will usually suffice. All people need is some brief time to recharge before returning to daily life.
Yet, for Christopher Thomas Knight, the “North Pond Hermit,” that wasn’t even close to being enough. Raised in Albion, Maine in 1965, Christopher had a relatively normal upbringing for the most part…
Christopher always had a hard time relating to other people, even his peers. He preferred enjoying his own company to spending time with others. But even though he mostly kept to himself, he was smart and his future looked promising.
Yet, in 1986, just as his life was supposedly coming together, Christopher ran away from everything he knew. His desire to escape society was so strong that he didn’t even tell his family or work what he was doing. In fact, with no map or compass, not even he knew where he was going.
After driving in no particular direction, Christopher ditched his green Subaru, leaving the keys in the ignition. Armed with a tent and backpack, he began his trek into the unknown. There was just one problem, he had zero experience living in the wilderness.
He spent his first two weeks simply traversing the Maine forests. But he soon realized how ill-prepared he’d been, especially in terms of getting food. He had no weapons to hunt, and he was forced to eat berries, which were harder to find than expected.
Christopher eventually realized he would have to break into nearby cabins for food while the inhabitants were away. At first, he stole mostly from their gardens, hoping they would think it was a wild animal who took their vegetables.
Simultaneously, Christopher soon began to deal with the harsh elements in the Maine wilderness—his tent would no longer suffice. And so, one night, he decided to sleep in an empty cabin. Too afraid the owners would return to find him, he decided to sleep outdoors from that point forward—no matter how bad the weather.
Christopher did eventually find an area to stay. It was so off the beaten path that he knew no one would ever just stumble upon him. Soon, he began to fully embrace the life of isolation he made for himself.
After creating a structure to live in, he did his best to keep quiet at all times for fear that someone would somehow hear him. All the while, it was common for Christopher to break into surrounding cabins to steal what food and drinks he could.
Over time, he became a skilled and stealthy thief. Even homes with alarm systems were no match for the man who used to install them for a living. Only when he was 100 percent certain no one was around would he dare to enter their home, sometimes taking spare keys, so he could get in easier the next time.
Christopher was always sure to only take what he needed. Any obvious moves would surely give him away. He mostly took snack cakes, bars of chocolate, and sodas, like Mountain Dew. This way, he could keep himself from losing too much weight and succumbing to the elements.
But eating wasn’t his only concern, he also had to maintain his shelter. So, he stole tarps, blankets, and coats whenever he could. He also pilfered magazines, not only to read, but so he could rip out the pages, lay them on the floor, and soak up any possible moisture.
Christopher was sure to leave as little evidence that anyone had broken into a home as possible. Though he didn’t break windows, he often removed doors, only to reinstall and repair them once he had all the supplies he needed.
This way of life continued for nearly three decades! But over time, no matter how precise Christopher tried to be, the inhabitants of the homes began to notice things missing, as well as a number of damages done to their homes.
Christopher soon began to even break into homes at night. Residents of North Pond, Maine, would often report having heard strange noises around their property during the evenings. Yet, they could never spot an actual intruder.
Though they’d just go back to sleep, they woke up to find random things gone from their homes. Most people reported missing various items to the police including books, magazines, pants, boots, radios, batteries, and junk food.
That’s when police focused their efforts on finding whoever was breaking into the homes. It wasn’t long before people began giving him various monikers. These included not only the North Pond Hermit but “Maine’s Loch Ness monster,” and the “stealthy yeti.”
Soon, everyone in North Pond was installing surveillance cameras in their homes. Yet, no matter what, he could seemingly break in and get away with it over and over. Without anyone to pin the crime on, however, police filed a report, where they referred to Christopher as the “Hermit Hermit.”
Police caught their first big break when Christopher decided to break into Pine Tree Summer Camp. An obvious choice, since it was stocked with all the tools and food anyone would need to survive in the wilderness, and there was a low chance someone would notice items missing.
But what Christopher didn’t know was that police were hot on his trail. The facility was managed by Sergeant Terry Hughes, who had a plan to catch the North Pond Hermit—he installed industrial-grade floodlights, military-grade motion sensors in the kitchen, and lots of food!
When alarms started going off on April 4, 2013, Sergeant Hughes leaped into action. When he arrived in the kitchen, fully expecting a burglar with weapons, he was shocked to find a seemingly normal middle-aged man.
When Sergeant Hughes demanded the criminal to get on the ground, he immediately complied. As he got down, candy fell to the floor from his backpack. The man had no identification and didn’t want to answer any questions.
After two hours of questioning, Christopher began to open up. Investigators were shocked to learn he was living in isolation for 27 years! “The level of discipline he showed while he broke into houses is beyond what most of us could remotely imagine,” Sergeant Hughes said.
In an interview, Christopher once admitted that in his 27 years living in isolation, he only interacted with one person—a hiker making their way through the Maine wilderness. And what did he say? Simply, “hi.”
On October 28, 2013, Christopher pleaded guilty to 13 charges of burglary and theft at Kennebec County Superior Court. But what shocked people the most was that for his crimes, which estimated to be upwards of 1,000 break-ins, he only received a seven-month jail sentence.
Additionally, he had three years of probation, had to meet with a judge every Monday, and pay each of his victims $1,500 in restitution. Furthermore, the judge demanded he took part in a program for people with mental health issues.
While serving his jail sentence, Christopher made an effort to reconnect with his family that he abandoned without so much as a goodbye all those years ago. When he was finally released, his brother offered him a job.
Of course, with such a unique story, it was only a matter of time someone wrote a book about it. Just recently, Michael Finkel, an American journalist, wrote the book The Stranger in the Woods, after interviewing Christopher while he was still incarcerated.
By the end of his journey, Christopher had all but lost who he was. “Solitude increased my perception. But here’s the tricky thing: when I applied my increased perception to myself, I lost my identity. There was no audience, no one to perform for. There was no need to define myself. I became irrelevant,” he explained.
We may never know why Christopher sought such extreme solitude, but Mick Dodge can certainly shed some light upon the subject. More commonly known as the “Walking Mountain”, Mick is a seasoned survivalist in Washington and his show on National Geographic documents his peculiar lifestyle as a man voluntarily living in the rainforest.
Though born in the very rural Olympic Peninsula of Washington, life for Mick wasn’t always spent in the woods. Growing up in the 1950s, young Mick often traveled the world with his father Ronald, a marine. After high school, he himself spent six years in the Marine Corps.
Mick served in the Vietnam War before traveling around other parts of Southeast Asia when he was discharged. There he learned martial arts and came to believe many Buddhist teachings, most of which he still lives by today.
Eventually Mick settled down back in the U.S. and found work as a mechanic in Fort Lewis, Washington. Learning how to work with his hands proved appealing to the young man, and would later inform a drastic decision…
The idea of getting back to his family’s roots was starting to take hold in Mick’s mind, as his Scottish-Irish immigrant ancestors were among the earliest European settlers of the Pacific Northwest. “My family’s perfected the art of dodging civilizations for hundreds of years,” Mick explained.
Similarly, Mick’s father always emphasized the importance of physical fitness. Every morning at 5:00 a.m., he would say “get your feet on the deck!” and make Mick go on a three-mile run with him.
By the early 1980s, Mick was regularly walking five miles to work and back, sometimes camping out partway through the journey instead of going all the way back to his home.
Mick stayed active, but he just wasn’t satisfied with modern life. So in 1991, he finally decided to get “off the grid” for good. “I just grabbed my gear and walked on back here in the mountains,” he described.
From that point forward, Mick made his home the Hoh Rainforest – a place he spent most of his childhood. He lives off the land, relying on mainly his wits and what nature provides, often using caves and tree stumps for shelter.
Mick gave up just about every modern luxury, even shoes. Besides his claim that walking barefoot allows him to be more sensitive to nature, it’s helped relieve foot problems that plagued him throughout most of his life.
He also finds significance in the fact that feet have over 200,000 nerve endings. “My feet became my compass, my feet became my map,” he said. This connection to nature is reflected in Mick’s tattoos.
Even without a television or computer, Mick finds plenty to keep him busy. Besides the time it takes to do what’s necessary to survive such as hunting, he reads books, meditates, and still enjoys running.
In time, Mick started to develop an almost legendary reputation, earning nicknames such as “The Barefoot Nomad,” “Barefoot Sensei,” “Walking Mountain,” “The Jedi Master for Aspiring Survivalists,” “The Hobbit,” and even “The Forrest Gump of Middle Earth.”
Mick may have lost interest in mainstream society, but that didn’t stop him from attracting media attention. In 2014, National Geographic created its own reality show, The Legend of Mick Dodge, documenting his unconventional life.
Of course, Mick himself is barely interested in TV, especially when he’s so busy just trying to survive. He spends a great deal of time gathering food, like mushrooms and fish, while sometimes indulging in more unusual snacks like worms and even boiled rocks, which he claims are a source of nutrients in their own right.
Mick’s archery skills, as taught by his grandfather, are an asset to his hunting. He’s actually a pacifist, but he says primal hunger puts him into “hunger mode” when he naturally craves a meaty protein fix.
It’s not all just about nutrition, though. In the summer Mick enjoys “jam juice,” a fermented drink of his own invention made from a variety of berries including blackberries, huckleberries, and blueberries mixed with spring water and Oxalis leaves.
The winter comes with unique challenges, especially with Mick usually being barefoot. In fact, he almost lost his toes one year from freezing! Luckily, he’s found ways to protect himself with things like buckskin boots.
Mick may live off the grid, but he’s hardly a hermit. He enjoys instructing groups of ordinary people in physical fitness through his EarthGym program. Participants enjoy his unique mix of exercises and endearing personality, including his catchphrase, “yoish!”
He also hasn’t cut himself off from his friends or family. In fact, he once attended the wedding of his best friend’s daughter by spending nearly a month hiking and camping all the way to northern California!
Yet throughout the remainder of the year, he survives on his own terms, catching fish with his bare hands and even eating roadkill. He wouldn’t have it any other way, dubbing himself a “thrillvivalist.”
Part of that “thrill” is still getting just about everything he needs from the nature surrounding him. He’ll often use a pine cone on a stick as a toothbrush, fern leaves in place of toilet paper, and take showers beneath waterfalls.
Living in the wild has built up Mick’s immune system, but when he does get sick he uses natural remedies as much as possible. If things get really bad, he has a friend in Doc Gair, a “forest healer”, who also lives in the woods.
Mick has a few other friends in his natural “neighborhood,” such as Huckleberry Leonard, a singer, Will of Stone, one of Mick’s old students, Ben Sanford, the owner of an outdoor center, and Pat Neal, a master fisherman.
Mick even has a “man’s best friend” of his own: Gabu the dog! They help keep each other safe, and he even trusts her to go off on her own adventures for hours on end before finding her way back to him.
Mick would probably agree that “the best things in life are free,” because he doesn’t have any form of currency! He was paid for The Legend of Mick Dodge, but he donated all his earnings to the Olympic Mountain Earth Wisdom Circle community, which he’s a member of.
When Mick can’t find what he needs on his own, he gets it from bartering, often by visiting thrift shops. He once traded a pair of leather pants for a strong bow and arrow!
Weapons like that can literally be a lifesaver for a hunter like Mick, although it’s not just animals that pose a threat. “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 claimed, citing an incident in which he was almost run over by a driver distracted by his cellphone.
Even with all the time Mick spends just trying to survive on his own, his life isn’t without certain luxuries. Just check out this makeshift hot tub that helps him relax and recover from the physical pains of the day.
Since Mick did have a TV show for two seasons, it’s been easy for people to question the authenticity of his lifestyle. He’s admitted to sometimes venturing back to civilization for modern comforts like chocolate chip cookies and even making Skype calls to help promote the show, but otherwise his life is still in the woods.
Mick did watch TV in his youth, but even when it comes to his own show, he’s only watched bits of it. He enjoyed seeing clips of his friends and the mountains, but he tends to avoid the episodes themselves. “…I cannot stand to see myself on television or hear my voice, and I am not a legend,” he said. “The land is the legend.”