The Stranger In the Woods

hike_march_bug_outHave you ever wondered what it would be like if you had to bug out by yourself and live alone? Or what it would be like after TEOTWAWKI living by yourself? I approached Michael Finkel’s book, “The Stranger In The Woods,” with curiosity on several levels.  First, the events described take place less than forty-five minutes from where I live, and second, I’ve often wondered what it would be like to just walk away from it all and go live in the woods.

By Jarhead Survivor, a Contributing Author of SurvivalCache and SHTFBlog

Have you ever gone for a hike or an extended camping trip and wondered to yourself, “What would happen if I just kept going? What if I didn’t go back?”  I read the book hoping for some insight and think I found an answer, or at least a partial answer.

In case you haven’t heard the curious tale of the “The North Pond Hermit“, in 1986 Christopher Knight drove his car into the Maine woods as far as he could, threw the keys on the dash, and walked away.  Over the course of several months he worked his way through the forest staying in one place or another, until he found a good sport for his camp near North Pond in Rome, Maine.  He didn’t want to be a part of society and distanced himself from human contact, but a hermit’s gotta eat, so he started breaking into places to get food.

For the next twenty-six years he lived in his little camp, near people, but never communicating with them.  Anything he needed he stole; food, clothes, a small radio, battery operated tv, sleeping bags, tent, etc.  He wasn’t proud of this and when he was finally caught he readily admitted to stealing and said how sorry he was that he had to do it.  He never lit a fire and was careful never to travel after the snow fell so that he would never leave tracks by which he might be discovered.

Finkel has done an impressive amount of research on being alone and looks at both voluntary isolation (monks, hermits, etc,) and involuntary isolation (prisoners, prisoner of war, castaways, and the like).  It was found that after ten days being alone was enough to cause nearly physical suffering in people who aren’t voluntary hermits.  Prisoners said that being alone was enough to cause great suffering and they’d rather have been with someone they didn’t like than be alone.

As to Chris Knight, legends grew up around him.  His image was caught once or twice on trail cams and he actually ran into a hiker once by accident.  This was the only time he spoke to another human being in 26 years.  He said, “Hi,” avoided contact and kept walking.  The guy barely paid him any attention and kept going.


Regardless of whether you think he’s a thief and it’s about time he got caught, or a legend who lived off what society had to offer without being a part of it, the fact remains that he spent a bunch of time by himself.

cabin_aspens_bug_outI like to get away sometimes and spend a little time to myself; who doesn’t?  But Christopher took that feeling to a whole new level.  Most “normal” people need social interaction, which is why solitary confinement is such a powerful form of torture for most people.  But Chris didn’t.  Indeed, he thrived on being alone and when he was in jail suffered greatly because he didn’t like being around other people.

Over the years, I think about the longest stretch I ever did by myself was around a week.  That’s quite a long time to go without human interaction and I admit I was ready for some company at the end of that camping trip.  It’s nice to be alone, but if you’re wired the way most people are (I hesitate to use the word “normal” here,) then after a few days you’re looking for human interaction.

People are different depending on their genetics and upbringing.  I’ve known people who couldn’t stand being alone for more than an hour at a time.  Literally!  I’ve also known people who could disappear from society and probably would be fine only talking to other humans once a month.

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But twenty-six years?  That’s a new record and an astonishingly long time to be by yourself.  Finkel explores the fact that Knight might have a form of Asperger’s disease, or maybe a form of schizophrenia.  Regardless, Knight showed an extreme resilience to being on his own for a long time.

In the end you’ll get caught if you’re breaking the law and that’s what happened to Chris Knight.  A game warden set up one of Chris’ favorite spots with some new high-tech surveillance equipment and caught him red handed.  Knight was taken to jail and shortly after that the story broke about the “North Pond Hermit” and he rose to fame, although he didn’t want anything to do with it.

He did answer Finkel’s letter however, which is how the story came to be written.  Finkel strives to keep the story straight and without sensation, which I welcomed instead of the typical story that could have really gone wild about Chris’ exploits.

Chris showed himself to be an intelligent guy with little or no patience for societal niceties.  Over the years I’ve known a couple of guys like this; those who don’t care about how you feel, or maybe they do, but don’t know how to “be nice” when talking to someone.   He told Finkel straight up he didn’t want to be visited and that he was being a pain, but Michael – in the true sense of the press – didn’t give up.  Eventually Chris talked with him and shared his story.


Camp trailerI said earlier that I think the author found a partial answer to how I would feel in the wilderness for long stretches by myself.  Having spent a little time alone I think I’d be ok for  a month or two, but to go twenty-six years is beyond comprehension.  Unless I was stranded on an island somewhere by myself I think I’d want some company.  Tom Hanks character in Castaway needed companionship even if it was in the form of an imaginary friend, “Wilson.”  (Remember Wilson?)

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I think it’s safe to say that to voluntarily be alone for twenty-six years is an extraordinary feat probably brought on by some personality trait 99.9% of the population doesn’t have.  Like me, I’m sure many of you day-dream about the idea of walking off the grid and living “out there” by yourself for long periods of time, but the reality is that you need money to survive, even if just a little, otherwise you’ll be doing the same thing Chris did and stealing in order to survive.

In my opinion Chris isn’t someone to be emulated because even though he appears to be reasonably intelligent, he couldn’t seem to come up with a way to live off the grid without breaking the law.  His ability to be alone is admirable to those who find that a positive trait, but in the end he should have approached the whole thing keeping in mind that just because you don’t like society doesn’t mean you can break the law and get away with it forever.

Has anybody else out there read the book?  If so, I’d love to hear your views! Questions?  Comments? Sound off below!

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10 comments… add one
  • JAS March 30, 2017, 10:13 am

    We are a social animal, but I used to go hiking in the Bob Marshal Wilderness in Montana for 30 days at a time. I wasn’t totally isolated, since I would run into people at times along the trail and sometimes would even have people camping nearby. I also always had a dog with me. I found have my dog was comforting, even if I didn’t run into anyone for awhile. I also always knew that in the end, I would be walking out and going back to civilization. I’m not sure how much different it would have felt if I knew I could never go back.

  • Ray March 30, 2017, 2:32 pm

    I met a guy once when I was out hiking in a small country with a jungle. He was grey and old. I asked him how long he had been in his little hut with his little garden. He asked me what year it was (it was 1980) He said he “left the world” in 1944. He had a hut, a home made bow, some clay pots and home made clout and sandals and little else. His arrows all had stone points. He cooked me some food and sent me on my way. He was the most unpretentious man I have ever met.

  • Roger March 30, 2017, 9:10 pm

    I have spent almost three months alone in the Rockies, deliberately. Partly fed up with the ‘civilized’ world and partly because I enjoy being alone! I didn’t steal from anyone, I didn’t need to between fishing, foraging, and the 100+ pounds of canned and dry foods I packed in when I started. I could have stayed longer (it was wintertime) but I ran out of coffee, OK, actually I got bored, I had read the same five books more times than I cared to remember and I wanted some mental stimulation so I hiked into town going to a book store. Long story short, I stopped for a drink (or two), ran into an old friend who offered me a job, so I took it! Will I do it again? Absolutely, as soon as I retire, I plan to spend most of my time almost alone in the mountains with only the company of my Husky (and maybe a mate for him), going into town maybe twice a year to draw most of the fund out of my bank account, buy more food, and return back to my mountain home, which is also my BOL! GLAHP!

  • irishdutchuncle March 31, 2017, 4:01 am

    except that he was a thief, it would seem that nobody had any interest in finding him.

    that’s a bit sad, if there is nobody to miss you.

    • irishdutchuncle April 2, 2017, 3:44 am

      if I was a tent or sleeping bag manufacturer, I’d want to have a guy like that endorsing my product. (I’d like to know what specifically he did use)

      I guess you could survive ok with a blue tarp bivvy and a bunch of wool blankets, instead of a fancy tent…

  • kevin May 3, 2017, 10:11 pm

    I could last as long as my dog lived.

  • Traveler May 11, 2017, 12:43 pm

    “I could last as long as my dog lived.”
    I couldn’t agree more !

  • Mark July 13, 2017, 5:18 pm

    I read the book. Enjoyed it, BUT, think the “hermit” may have had some outside support. I have solo backpacked extensively in all seasons. Surviving Maine winters outside for 26 years with out steady warmth and a abundance of calories, I’m skeptical.

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  • Snrky January 11, 2019, 4:09 am

    I laughed my ass off at the authors pushy determination to monetize his quarry and the wall of denial from the family. The hermit’s sad tale of surviving by resorting to violating other people’s property rights was secondary.
    It would be a good Woody Allen or Larry David movie.


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