By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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FORKS –– The National Geographic Channel's new show “The Legend of Mick Dodge” depicts a man who checked out of the world 25 years ago to live wild in the Hoh Rain Forest.
“It's a show. It's a TV show,” Dodge told the Peninsula Daily News on Thursday.
“If you think anything that's on TV is real, then welcome to America.”
In an interview with the Forks Forum weekly newspaper, he euphemistically labeled the show “scripted reality,” with the filmmakers calling the shots.
But some of it is not all that far off, he said.
As shown in the series, which airs Tuesdays and Saturdays until Feb. 11, Dodge spends time bartering and working out in the woods.
“I'm no survivalist.” Dodge said.
“I'm just a guy who loves this mountain and feels passionately about physical fitness and the connection between the two.”
But he lives in a house, although he has no permanent residence. He works for a living, although he doesn't like to use currency.
He doesn't even have his own cellphone.
But he does have a home he loves to play in.
“To me, the 6,500 square miles of the Olympic Mountains are the perfect home,” he said. “And I have terrific roommates.”
He provides training on a “Flintstones”-styled gym he has scattered in the mountains and on beaches throughout the Northwest.
Those looking for his rugged training regimen turn to the Olympic Mountain EarthWisdom Circle, which offers the workout sessions, held in Forks and elsewhere.
A weeklong training session in New York is $650. A two-week “shamanic retreat” in Guatemala is $3,450.
The group in return looks after Dodge's needs.
On Thursday, he spoke to a PDN reporter in a cabin near the Sol Duc River that the EarthWisdom Circle has put Dodge up in.
He's had the National Geographic Channel give his pay directly to the EarthWisdom Circle.
His Washington state driver's license is current, with the address 2374 Rain Forest Road in Forks, right in the heart of the Hoh River Valley.
Dodge inherited that ground from his father, and it has a cabin on it, but he said it is no longer inhabitable and that he plans to donate the ground to the EarthWisdom Circle.
Dodge, also known as the Barefoot Sensei, the Barefoot Nomad and Walking Mountain, runs what he calls an “Earth Gym.”
His gym has barbells stashed in tree stumps and in rock formations throughout the American West.
He is shown retrieving heavy clothes for a hike in the Upper Hoh Valley on the show. He said he actually keeps hidden supplies stashed along with his exercise equipment.
“I like it when they get rusty because then they get lighter and I can lift like I did when I was younger,” the 62-year-old Dodge said.
When not near his equipment, he picks up sticks and stones and twists bark into rope to sling over limbs for an improvised workout.
He believes spending time in the wild, climbing mountains and running barefoot through forests is the most natural — and cheapest — way to keep the human body in peak shape.
His hope for doing the TV show was to spread that message.
Doesn't watch the show
“They can show whatever story they want to show. It's their show now,” he said.
“I just wanted the chance to spread the word, to get people to tap back in to what the Earth has to say.”
But he isn't watching it.
“I would love to see my friends and what they did with us,” Dodge said.
“So I sat and tried to watch it, but then when I saw my face or heard my voice, it just kind of twisted my guts.”
He has run through the mountains barefoot.
Roots run up his feet in a tattoo he got from a friend in Chelan several years ago.
“Dammit, those hurt,” he said. “There's all sorts of little bones and nerve endings in your feet.”
Running barefoot taps into those nerves, he said, and raises awareness of being in the wild.
“That's where it all comes in: the feet,” he said. “Beware the shoe salesman.”
His shoeless wanderings are played up in the first few episodes of “The Legend,” but Dodge said he constantly warns those he trains to shoe up when they get too wild.
“Out here, you really learn the value of rubber boots,” he said. “I almost lost my damn toes in the mountains one time when I got too cocky about it. Never make that mistake again.”
In an episode of “The Legend,” Dodge finds a fir tree burl he tries to trade his friend Karl Holmquist, who really does run Mountain Man Leather Works outside Forks, for a pair of leather pants to get a new bow.
When Holmquist deems the pants more expensive than the burl, Dodge and his “apprentice” — a trainee from Portland, Ore. — set out to pick berries.
They smash the wild huckleberries and blackberries with their feet into “jelly juice” that covers the rest of the pants bill.
Yes, the berries were real, and yes, he crushed them with his feet, but the scene was Dodge playing with the camera crew, he said.
“I had to give them something fun to show,” he said.
The National Geographic Channel found Dodge through Seattle's Screaming Flea Productions studio.
They started working on a television project with Dodge after getting videos from a group of young women who had trained with him on Whidbey Island.
Camera crews followed Dodge from April through October.
“They had it rough, climbing uphill with those cameras,” Dodge said. “But they were lucky enough that we dodged the rain for most of the time.”
Marine Corps roots
A Marine Corps veteran, Dodge once worked as a military mechanic.
Living without a car at Fort Lewis in the 1970s, Dodge camped out on the base's outer edges to avoid cold journeys to his house 5 miles away.
“I used to run to work every day,” he said. “Then I started camping out at Fort Lewis, and the Earth just kind of tapped on my shoulder, reminding me to come back.
In 1981, Dodge set out to take a run from his home north of Olympia to Seattle.
And then kept going.
He ran north to Snohomish before deciding to tackle Stevens Pass and moving on to Chelan.
“And that's when I just plugged into this whole network of mountain people,” he said.
He grew up a military brat, following his father, Ronald L. Dodge, around the world and graduating from high school in Okinawa, Japan.
Dodge's great-grandfather settled in the Hoh Rain Forest, and young Mick would spend his summers adventuring in the mountains.
Back to the future
While television shows Dodge as a Luddite who has spurned the modern world for primitive life, he does enjoy retreating back into the creature comforts of home.
“I'm not big on crowds, and I do prefer to be out in the gated wild,” Dodge said.
“But I can carry on a conversation — on a phone, if I can get reception. A guy that's been in the woods for 25 years is just going to flinch when you try to talk to him — or just run away.”
As for fame, he deflects it by grabbing onto a limb and reciting poetry as he does a few pull-ups.
“That's just one more thing I've got to dodge,” he said. “That's why they gave me this name.”
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.