The tale of the modern American hermit

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Sometimes it just seems as if this world is getting to be too much. Too much traffic, war, heat, and disease. Too many smart phones, computers, interconnectivity. There are even refrigerators connected to the internet at this point.

On top of this, there are the everyday hustles and stresses of life. There is work and bosses who scream, family, kids, and just an ever growing list of commitments and responsibilities. And bills, who can forget about those? As we know, the only thing that is constant in life are death and taxes.


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Wouldn’t it be nice to just tap out for a bit? To throw up your hands and say “time out” and have everything stop for a little while? Just throw up your hands and say “no more world, I’m finished.”

Well, there are in fact these kinds of people who actually go through with this in their lives. They take themselves completely off of the grid and just go into nature. Yes, they have to worry about hunting and eating and making their own supplies, but the stresses of modern life are not there. And to top it all of, it turns out they are a lot happier than the vast majority of people living in civilization.

These people who completely withdraw from society into complete natural seclusion are usually called hermits. They have been characterized as wise, crazy, and everything in between throughout history.
In 1985, a man decided, like so many of us, that he was sick of the world and sick of being tired. But unlike many of us, he decided to do something about it. He actually went out into the woods of central Maine and lived completely alone and on his own for nearly three decades.

He found solace, comfort, and introspection while he was alone, and was forced back into civilization only when confronted with police. His name is Christopher Knight, and this is his story.

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How it all began

Christopher Knight was a small kid growing up, and with self confidence issues, he would always try to make himself appear even smarter. He was not the most outgoing of people, preferring to stay indoors as opposed to going outside and playing. This was because he just did not like people. They would talk about things he had nor interest in or just could not relate to. Perhaps that is the reason he became a hermit.

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What is a hermit?

People think about hermits in many different ways. They may think of a hermit crab, or they may think about a person who lives alone in the woods or on the coast who is full of wisdom. The bible was full of hermits who wanted to just be left alone and to their own devices out in the middle of the desert. Many hermits seclude themselves for various religious or spiritual reasons. However, for Christopher, it just kind of happened.

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The simple life

By the time he was 20 years old, Christopher was living in Boston, Massachusetts and working for a security company. His company helped to instal security systems and alarms on all manner of doors, windows, cars, and garage doors. He knew what set them off, how they worked, and the logic behind placing each security measure where. All of this knowledge would come to greatly benefit him in the future.

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Debt doesn’t leave

As with anyone who just wants to be, Knight knew that he needed to buy a car in order to get where he wanted. He saved up a lot of his money and made a down payment. He needed to secure an auto loan, so he asked his brother for help. His brother did indeed help him for what he thought was a short period of time. Unfortunately for him, Chris had other, more adventurous plans.

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Just left

Nobody was more shocked than Christopher himself when he decided to become a hermit and live out his days in solitude. In fact, he had hardly ever been camping before he decided to strike out and go completely off the grid. But he left in a very abrupt and sudden way. He gave no two weeks notice, he had no plans, he told no family about what he was going to do, he simply went out and did it.

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Finding his way

At first, he did not want to go too far away from home. Just a couple hours drive away. But then, he began just going. He took left turns, right turns, never really know where he was going until he eventually took so many back roads that he ended up in rural Maine. It was there that for perhaps one of the first times in his life he felt true, complete peace.

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The roads less taken

He did not settle on Maine the first time he saw it. He drove around a lot looking for a good spot that would be comfortable for him, a place where he would feel at home and at ease. He decided to just drive. He made it all the way south to Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas. He saw the entire east coast of the United States, but still he had one place on his mind – that spot in rural Maine.

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Leaving the car

Coming back into that spot in Maine, Knight knew that he really wanted to do one thing and one thing only – get lost. He had no compass, no map, and not much in the way of provisions. He was sick of the world and wanted to just get lost in the middle of the Maine wooded wilderness. So he parked his car, put the keys on the dashboard, and walked into the treeline. He had no idea when he would be back.

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Moosehead Lake

His journey began in Maine’s largest freshwater lake, Moosehead Lake. Nestled deep in the Longfellow Mountains, the lake is the main source of water for the Kennebec River. The lake has 80 islands to explore, including one so big that it has a summer camp on it. This lake also has private cabins used by people who also want to escape from it all, but with more elegance and style. This is where Knight chose to live.

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Growing up there

Growing up in Albion, Maine, Christopher knew what it was like to be in nature. He grew up in the small town of 2,000 people with his family. The town was a typical, idyllic New England burgh located close enough to the ocean that it was quite easy to get to in the winter time and close enough to the woods to be able to feel their enchanting beauty. However, it seemed that despite this tiny setting, there were still too many people for Christopher to handle.

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Laying low

He grew up in a family which viewed privacy as being of the utmost importance. He grew up with four brothers, but they were all very artistic, with Christopher’s parents forcing them to discuss poetry and art. They were also very exposed to science and especially physics. The four brothers, chief amongst them Christopher, loved taking different items apart and putting them back together again.

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Self sufficient family

Knight was a quick learner and was able to understand how things worked as well as any engineer. He was able to tell what type of engine problem a car was having solely based upon the noise that it was making. The family was also a model in self sufficiency, living quite well nearly off the grid. They made their own electricity, grew their own food in a greenhouse, and had a well which supplied them with water.

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The first hermit home

When Knight would first venture out into the woods of Maine, he did not realize exactly what he was in for nor how long he would be there. He went into the woods with little more than a backpack full of rations along with a collapsable tent. He was able to set up the pup tent with no difficulty. He saw that his spot and his campsite were up and running, and he felt ready to live there a while.

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Hunger sets in

However, Knight began to get so hungry that he felt as if his stomach was eating itself from the inside. He realized that he had not packed nearly enough food to survive for an extended period of time. As he was walking through the woods and contemplating what he should do, he came across a dead bird lying in the path. He decided to eat the bird raw in order to survive.

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Picking from gardens

Luckily for Knight there were tons of people who lived around the enormous lake, and many of them had gardens of fresh fruits and vegetables. Therefore, Knight would go to these bountiful gardens and proceed to pick and eat the produce which was growing freely in the garden. He did not take too much from any one place, and it just looked like a rabbit had eaten the food.

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Breaking and entering

As the summer months began drawing to a close, the weather started to become colder and colder. Not knowing what to do, he abandoned his tent and went to find himself an empty vacation cabin. He found one which he liked, pried the door open, and went inside. There, he found a nice, warm, and most importantly empty bed which seemed to fit him just right.

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A stressful night

Despite staking out the cabin in advance, Christopher was not completely comfortable with his new surroundings. He had a constant, sneaking suspicion that the actual inhabitants and owners of the cabin would come in at any moment and find him sleeping in their bed, and who knows what they would do to him. He slept a very restless night that night, and in the morning, he promised himself never to sleep indoors again.

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Finding his dream home

Christopher Knight woke up the next morning looking for a place that he could stay long term. A place that would be cool in the summer but warm in the winter. He looked into caves, dens, hollows, and all manner of clearings. He looked into settling down by riverbanks and on the shores of the lake itself. However, nothing sat right with him. But then, one day, he found where his home would be.

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Following the last trail

He happened to simply stumble upon his new home. He was walking up a secluded and unused path when the path simply ended. However, he decided to keep going and try to see where it would end up. The place he found was hidden, filled with boulders, and closed in. It was perfect. And even better, it was located only 300 feet away from a summer cabin, so he could go there for supplies if he needed to.

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A beautiful location

Coming in the summer makes camping for long periods of time idyllic and almost easy. The weather is warm, there is a lot of plant life, and there are enough people and animals that food is bountiful. And if you are living on a lake, then water is not really a problem. The issues however came in winter. With no foliage, it is possible to see miles into the forest, thus threatening to expose Knight.

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The greatest spot

Despite the fact that his new home was a marginal clearing smack dab in the middle of nowhere, Knight fell in love with his new abode. He was able to survive well off the the land there, drinking snowmelt and catching and eating that which walked by his home. He never really needed to want or need for anything, including contact with other humans.

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Magazines everywhere

The floor of his makeshift shelter was covered in the magazines that he had taken from other people’s’ cabins. While the surface was sometimes a bit slick, it provided a nice, dry floor for him to walk around on. But to get at all of the magazines – primarily National Geographic magazines – required some ingenuity, stealth, as well as a healthy amount of moral pliability on his part.

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Staying hidden

Knight said that he was nervous about making even the tiniest bit of noise. He said that he was afraid of even sneezing, as on a silent winter day, you could hear a man sneeze from nearly the other side of the lake. He also had to hide his footprints so as not to alert others to his presence. But winter was when there was the least amount of food available. However, he developed techniques to get into kitchens and take food undetected.

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Hunger causes insanity

Christopher Knight says that had anyone offered him help, he most likely would not have taken it, preferring to survive on his with and his outdoorsman skills as opposed to the kindness of strangers. However, when you are hungry you are not yourself. He thought nothing of going into a cabin in the middle of winter to help himself to some vittles. However, he made sure never to take too much.

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The perfect robbery

Because Knight knew the ins and outs of nearly every security system on the market at that time, he was able to easily get around them and enter nearly any building he came across in the woods. He would stake out a cabin to find out about the comings and goings of the inhabitants. Who were there for the weekend and who were there for the entire season? When did they go shopping or sleep? That way, he would know when best to go into a house.

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Quick in and out

Most people were either way too trusting or they just did not think that there would be anyone in the Maine woods who would be interested in robbing them, and boy were they wrong. These were Christopher’s favorite cabins to burgle as they had literally not traps or tricks. All he had to do was walk on into the cabin, take what he needed from inside, and walk out as if nothing happened.

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Not breaking anything

As it turned out, most of the people with cabins in the Maine woods around Moosehead Lake only used their cabins on the weekends. Therefore, Christopher Knight would only go and snag supplies during the week, giving him enough time to calmly get what he needed and cover up his tracks. He would also look for spare keys to hold onto so that the cabin would be easier to get into the next time.

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Always put it back

When he needed to use something more substantial, Knight made sure to place the item he had taken back in its same exact spot. He wanted to keep from getting caught, and he rightfully believed that this was the best way to avoid that. He has a story of stealing a canoe in order to get to the cabins across the water, and when he returned the canoe, he just hid it under bushes as if the wind carried it away.

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He always stole certain things

While Christopher Knight would typically only take what he needed, he did have an issue in that he had a huge sweet tooth. Cabin owners would come back to their cabins after a stressful week in the city, only to find that all of their chocolate, snack cakes, and sodas would be missing. Knight even admitted that he would always take Mountain Dew, no matter if he needed it or not.

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Making his shelter

On top of making sure that he had enough to eat every day, Knight needed to make sure that the shelter he erected would not get destroyed by natural elements, or worse, other people. He ended up stealing a tarp and used that to enlarge his home. He also made sure to have some entertainment, particularly in the form of adult magazines and National Geographic.

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Working hard to do no damage

When Knight would go into a cabin in the woods, he made sure to never destroy anything. He never broke any windows nor kicked down any doors. He was in a secluded area and knew that there would be no one within a ten mile radius days. Therefore, he took the time to dismantle and reinstall doors and windows. He also only took things that seemed innocuous. However, after a while, people began noticing.

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Residents getting scared

Eventually, people began to take notice of all of the similar things that were getting taken out of their cabins, and they began to get nervous. Despite the fact that Knight was only taking small innocuous items, there was still the issue of someone coming onto your property and taking your possessions. And people even began to speculate that this depraved person may not only want to steal…

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What is he?

Completely unbeknownst to Knight, he had become an urban legend, with all types of theories as to how someone could be breaking into houses and leaving the doors completely locked. Someone, or something. There were people who were convinced he was a demon or a Bigfoot, and others even called him Moosehead Lake’s Loch Ness Monster. Regardless, Knight had turned into a media sensation, he just did not know it.

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Hermit Hermit

Due to the fact that Knight would steal when no one was around, nobody actually knew what he looked like. Since there was no face, there was no name. Police called the man who stole Mountain Dew and cookies all number of monikers, such as Mountain Man, Hungry Man, and Hermit Hermit. However, no one had any idea as to his real identity, and even fainter of an idea as to where he lived.

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Breaking and entering master

The police were equally impressed with his ability to break and enter without being detected as well as with his self control to only steal small morsels of food and not take anything of monetary value. Police Sergeant Terry Hughes was quoted as saying that Christopher’s level of discipline to not take valuables was just as incredible as his ability to go in and out of houses undetected.

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Over 1,000 burglaries

Throughout the nearly three decades that Christopher Knight lived out in the woods of main, it is estimated that he committed approximately 1,000 Mountain Dew fuelled burglaries. This ended up being known as one of the biggest cases of serial burglary in the entire history of the State of Maine. And yes, breaking into a person’s cabin for the sole purpose of stealing fruit leathers is considered burglary.

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Deadly frost

What strikes us as incredible is the fact that throughout his 27 year hike, Knight only chose to sleep in an unused cabin for one night. He actually managed to survive Maine’s brutal winters outside. He would typically go to bed at around 7:30pm and wake up at 2:00am in order to start his day. This was so that he could wake up, collect firewood, and make sure that he doesn’t freeze in the night.

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Frozen winters

Meanwhile, it turns out that Knight really loved the winter. He loved the feeling of being cold, even cold to the bone. He enjoyed the quiet and the peacefulness which came from a nearly empty lake and forest. However, for practical purposes, he also enjoyed the summer. While it may have been a bit annoying for him to have to deal with all the people, it did mean more food, and summer camp.

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Summer camp

While Christopher was living around the lake, someone opened up a summer camp on one of the lake’s biggest islands. For years he would sneak into the camp and take what he needed in such small amounts that no one really notices. However, Sergeant Terry Hughes was the one running the camp and he ran a tight ship. When he noticed his stuff going missing he decided to set up cameras to reveal who was sneaking midnight snacks.

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Always knows who’s watching

When Hughes does something, he does it all the way. He decided that his security system would be top of the line to catch whatever intruder was sneaking onto his and other people’s’ property and taking their Mountain Dew. The camp was riddled with flood lights hooked up to motion sensors which were sensitive enough to be tripped by a deer.

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Knight vs. tech

Despite this as well as the increased security at all of the cabins and the campsite, Christopher Knight still believed that he was skilled enough to evade even the most hi-tech of security systems. But living in the woods for three decades shuts you off from the outside world and technology. The security systems he was encountering were not more complex and intricate than he could even imagine. He had no idea that alarms could send messages to cell phones when someone breaks in, let alone what a cell phone was.

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Caught

It was a spring night when it happened. Sergeant Terry Hughes was actually able to see, with his own two eyes, the man who had been terrorizing the residents of Moosehead Lake for the past three decades. And he was shocked – Knight looked so overwhelmingly, well, normal. Hughes was expecting to see a crazy looking mountain man muttering to himself, not a well composed person who looked like they had just finished a weekend hike.

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Arrested

Christopher Knight was finally caught and turned over to the Maine State authorities in 2013, bringing his hermitude and 27 year long camping trip to a sudden and disappointing end. Police came and evicted him from his home in the middle of the woods and took him to civilization in order to stand trial for his burglaries. After being away for so long, America had certainly changed.

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Sentenced

Knight was sentenced to a seven month jail term in Maine, and was forced to pay a grand total of $1,500 for all the peanut butter, Mountain Dew, and other snacks that he stole from the camp and other peoples’ cabins. He was additionally put on three years probation, and mandated to go to a support group for people who have mental problems. It is interesting that the State of Maine views wanting solitude as a mental health issue.

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Bouncing back

Christopher Knight was finally caught and turned over to the Maine State authorities in 2013, bringing his hermitude and 27 year long camping trip to a sudden and disappointing end. Police came and evicted him from his home in the middle of the woods and took him to civilization in order to stand trial for his burglaries. After being away for so long, America had certainly changed.

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An easy judge

After being let out on bail, Christopher Knight needed to meet with a woman named Judge Nancy Mills who was to hear his case. Judge Mills listened to his story and set out certain conditions for him. He was not to imbibe in mind altering substances and he was to find himself a job. Luckily, his brother agreed to help him out and give him a job. Probably because Christopher still owed him money for the car.

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Family let him go

When Knight first set off on his cross country road trip, no one really thought much of it. Christopher had always been a loner, and they kind of expected that he would just show up out of the blue one day. However, when he did not show up for years and years at a time, theט became a little worried, but not overly so. They knew that he was probably fine and taking care of himself and that he would come back when he was ready.

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Learning to talk

Knight had only himself to rely on and only himself to talk to throughout his 27 years living in the forests of Maine. He got so used to silence and not speaking, that he now finds it hard to say anything, stuttering when he is forced to break any kind of silence. However, there was one time when he broke his silence. He happened across a hiker one day, and he managed a quick little “hi” before the two left off in different directions.

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Book written about him

However, since moving back to civilization, Knight has had to become more accustomed to noise and people. Having lived in silence for nearly 30 years, the constant noise of the prison has been a tough adjustment for him. However, the noise has helped him to start talking again, and he has been speaking to journalist Michael Finkel about his incredible saga. Finkel is writing a book about Knight called The Stranger in the Woods.

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Full of regrets

Knight says that he is not overly proud of what he did, and is especially remorseful at all the burgling he did. He is extremely sorry about all the people and families he hurt and frightened with his thefts, and seems actually repentant. However, he says that he enjoyed his lengthy period of time away from society, and that he misses the silence in which he was engulfed every day.

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He is not Thoreau

Many people have said that Christopher Knight is a modern day Henry David Thoreau, another man who decided that he would spend as much time alone and in solitude as he could. He is most famous for writing poetry at Walden Pond in a shack by the body of water. Knight says that he is in no way Thoreau, saying that he believes Thoreau was not interested in solitude, but in showing off his artistic side.

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The fame that comes

Knight says that he truly lost himself in the solitude, going back to his body and soul’s basic instincts. He said that while there were some tough times, the solitude increased the perception he had of both his surroundings as well as himself. He says that he increased his perception of the woods surrounding him, able to understand and take in the subtle cues nature threw at himself, but when he looked introspectively, he realized that he as a being he became irrelevant.

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I became irrelevant’

Knight said that he never felt lonely since he liked being alone. This way of thinking transferred over to what he had in his tent. One of the key things that investigators noticed was missing was a mirror. As he became more and more at peace with nature, he lost the need to look at himself. After all, who was he trying to impress? By going off the grid he essentially shed his identity, and he did not need to look at himself as his “self” had completely changed.

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Never alone’

In he lost his sense of self and gave up on his identity, he realized that his desires more or less dropped away. He had no urges or longings, and was completely content. This man of the Maine mountains was completely enmeshed with his surroundings and completely in his own world. In a very pronounced way, while he was living in the woods, Christopher Knight was totally free.

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