We Talked To A Student Living In A Hut That He Built In The Woods And His College Life Seems Way More Awesome Than Ours
Dylan Miller is spending his senior year at Juniata College living off campus. He’s way off campus, roughly thirty miles, subsisting in a hut tucked among the forest on a nature reserve in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania.
Miller constructed the domicile before the fall semester, spending the summer gathering materials, erecting the dwelling from scattered lumber, leaves and other piece of nature that might protect the 21-year-old from, ironically, elements of nature.
This winter was a bitch. On those intensely bitter evenings, with several feet of snow often surrounding his shack, Miller called on a propane heater and blistering fire not far from his residence to stay warm.
“Once or twice I considered sleeping inside,” Miller admitted during our phone call, “especially on those incredibly cold nights. But I’ve come to find out that I now have trouble sleeping inside.”
Even if he wanted to give two middle fingers to Mother Nature and spend the glacial evenings under the stars, his school has the final say in the matter. If the school deems the conditions too severe, they’ve got full authority to gather up Dylan and his gear and drop him into the warmth of an on-campus dorm.
Miller’s lifestyle choice is a part of his education. Before accepting his degree in literature and philosophical studies, Miller must complete a 20-page paper at the end of his experiment.
With graduation just weeks away, Miller talked to us about his year living recluse, what he’s learned from the months existing among the wildlife, his sudden celebrity and how he’s trying his hardest to just not be “the asshole living in the woods.”
How many of these interviews have you done?
I’ve actually lost count. It’s been all over the place.
Did you think any of this press was going to happen when you built your…what do you call it? Does your hut have a name or is it just “the hut.”
I’ve been calling it a hut just because everyone else has been calling it a hut.
Is the experience everything you thought it would be?
No. It’s not. I thought that I’d have plenty of time, leisure time, and the romanticized idea about living in the woods left only to contemplation. It hasn’t turned out that way. I’m actually busier than I would be living in a dorm or an apartment. When you give up modern conveniences you spend much more time doing the simplest of activities.
What’s been the hardest thing to do?
Probably dredging water or keeping the place heated in the winter. Those have been the hardest to do. Daily chores take up a ton of time.
How many times have you considered bailing on the whole project and moving into a dorm?
Honestly, I’ve never thought about quitting. Once or twice I considered sleeping inside on the incredibly cold nights but I’ve come to find out that I now have trouble sleeping inside. I can’t get a good night’s sleep inside. It’s just too hot. I got so accustom to sleeping out in the cold woods and among the sounds of nature that I now have issues sleeping indoors.
Were you an outdoor enthusiast before this experiment?
Yes, actually, the project I’m doing right now is actually more luxurious than my living arrangement last year. I spent my entire Junior year living in a cave. I slept in a cave and kept all my belongings in the trunk of my car.
When you’re not in school, do you work?
Yeah, I’m a barista at a local coffee shop.
Do you just pocket all that money since you really do have many living expenses?
I’ve learned to be comfortable with the bare minimums. The money will probably go towards all my student loans when I’m finished school.
After graduation, are you going to continue living in a hut?
I’m actually moving into a tiny apartment in town when school’s over. At this point that’s the next challenge. I’m completely comfortable with living outside. I don’t know how I’m going to do living in town, in a house again.
If anyone reading wanted to attempt this life, what are some quick tips you’d give from the lessons you’ve learned and the mistakes you’ve made along the way.
First, my advice would be not to quit. It’s like jumping into a freezing lake. At first, it’s going to be something, but you’ll be amazed how quickly how the body and mind adapt to the situation. You’ll also be amazed, after some time, the things that actually become normal. I’d also say to stay humble about it. Try to experience it and just not be like the “asshole who lives in the woods.”
Is that how people viewed you at first? You’re “the asshole who lives in the woods”?
Not until recently do I think people viewed me as the asshole in the woods. Now with all the publicity and exposure people assume I’m going to have a massive ego. I’m not doing all this for publicity and fame. I’m doing this to be an example to people. I hope this causes people to consider the way they live their lives. To consider what is actually necessity to survive and how to maintain a sense of happiness with what people have instead of being depressed about what they don’t have.
What was the initial reaction of everyone living on campus?
Juniata is a small school. There are only about 2,000 students. Word traveled pretty fast about my situation. Most students are interested in the situation and ask a ton of questions. I get visitors often and some have even crashed for the night.
Ever throw a rager out in the woods because you’re far from campus security?
At one point I had about ten people at my place. I don’t drink. I gave it up for this project. For the living simply part of this project I gave up any forms of intoxication. I told administration I wouldn’t let other people do it but if some people have a couple beers hanging out by the fire what am I going to do? Mostly people just hang out by the fire and enjoy each other’s company.
Ten people would be about the size of a party in a dorm. You just don’t have a dorm though you’ve got a hut.
My hut is actually bigger than the freshman dorms. The freshman dorms are only 17X17.
How long did it take to convince administration to let you live out in the woods?
Just under a year. There biggest concern is safety. I’m about thirty minutes off campus, in the woods, so they can’t see me unless they come looking for me. So if something happens and I don’t have my cell, it could be a big deal. The other major concerns were sanitation issues and fire safety. Luckily I had some help from some professors who assisted with a game plan. Eventually I was able to get permission and started building immediately.
Plus this is much safer than my project last year when I was squatting in a cave. This year I built a place to live with a floor, a desk, it’s got a rug, it’s actually pretty homey. It’s like a dorm in the woods. Last year, my living condition was way more “what the fuck?”
Explain your living situation last year.
I was living in a cave. It wasn’t too far from campus…or people’s houses.
Is there a realtor who specifically deals with caves or do you have to hunt on your own to find the right cave?
There was a turkey vulture that lived in the cave before me. We had our dealings with one another, especially after I decided to live inside it.
You had your ‘dealings’ with it? Did you throw hands, sorry, throw talons with a turkey vulture?
No, he just decided to leave after pestering him a couple times.
So were you roommates for a while?
For a little while. We were never there at the same time. I would go and he would just scramble out. Eventually he just never came back. It was very much like the typical college roommate situation. I’ve got plenty of friends who could call their roommates turkey vultures.
Is it a good pick-up line with women? “I’m the hut dude.”
Actually, yes, but I have a girlfriend. It’s been something else. I haven’t had girls say anything directly but I’ve heard second hand about certain things. You know…you knows it’s a…
Alright, I’ll stop you. I don’t want you getting shit from your girlfriend. Was she your girlfriend before all this?
Walk me through that exchange. You start kicking game, she likes you, you like her, exactly when do you drop the bomb that you live in a hut?
Well [laughs], it came up after hanging out together a couple times. She thought it was a cool thing but it wasn’t the reason she was interested in me. By the time we’d met, I’d already done some interviews and my name and story were out there, but she wasn’t interested in me just because I was the hut guy. It did take a while for me to get her back to the hut. We started dating in the winter.
Yeah, I’ve got to think a woman has to be completely trusting and comfortable with a guy to agree to go thirty minutes into the woods alone with him to his hut.
That’s one thing I always considered trying when I was single and hitting on girls. I wanted to, just once, say “do you want to come back to my place?” and once they agreed hand them a pair of snowshoes and a flashlight.
That’s got all the makings of a strong start to a slasher film.
I’m glad I always decided against it.