Getting from Point A to Point B, by E.I.D.

Tuesday, Apr 15, 2008

You’ve got your Bug Out Bags (BOBs) all packed. You’ve prepped your house for whatever reason you’re leaving. You’ve made contact with what family you could, and you trust the rest to meet you at your designated meeting place, whether it’s your retreat or just a spot along the way where your two paths converge. Everything is set. Or is it? Points A and B are ready, but how do you plan to make the trek between them?
Walking is always an option, but probably a last resort. Most people aren’t in good enough shape to walk ten miles, let alone 100 and over the course of a few days. Cramps and blisters become unbearable, and joints seize up. Adverse weather, whether hot or cold, can become lethal. Other humans (travelers, police, military) can be dangers, and so can feral and wild animals. Not to mention, you can only bring what you can carry. Walk if you must, but don’t let it be plan A. In fact, keep it at plan D or further.

A bike is a good option, but again, requires some level of fitness. Bikes can be fitted with cargo containers on the front and back (as well as new packs that strap to the frame), and thus allow you to carry more than you could on foot. However, a bike presents a new group of possible problems that must be addressed, and therefore you should always attach the following to your bike frame or in an attached pack or basket: a tire pump (foot pumps are best as they are smaller), a tire patch-kit, a small can of leak-stop, and tools to reset the chain should it pop loose. Reflectors and a headlight for your bike is a must for night-riding, and some are available that are powered by your pedaling, much like a hand-cranked flashlight. Otherwise, pack extra batteries. There are solid foam rubber inner tubes that will eliminate your need for a patch kit, but there are many mixed reviews on these tubes, because they tend to also decrease energy efficiency. A mountain bike will allow you to ride off-road should the need arise, but again, you lose energy efficiency over a road bike. If you’re in excellent shape, efficiency might not be as big an issue for you – likewise if you’re not too far from your retreat. Take all this into consideration. A bike with multiple gears is better for energy efficiency, but it also presents more moving parts which can break along the way. To maximize your chances of making it on a bike, fitting your bike with a small gasoline powered engine is best.

These small gasoline engines turn your bike into a virtual moped. You get up to speed by pedaling and then engage the engine. These engines can get up to 250 miles per gallon going 25 mph on flat road. Unfortunately, they may only hold a gallon of gas. However, you can easily fit a 2 gallon jerry can (or jug, if you’re in a hurry) of gasoline in the back basket of your bike, and refill along the way, if your destination is further than 250 miles. You might say “motorcycles get good miles per gallon too” and you would be right, but they also require a lot more investment and maintenance than a bike, and aren’t as easily strapped to the back of a larger vehicle. If you’re considering buying one, ask yourself “Do I want a motorcycle because it’s a practical form of transportation, or because I think its cool?” I would ask you to reconsider and look into a newer-model moped. They can go fast enough for practical purposes, get great miles per gallon, and if they break down, they simply turn into a bicycle! I call that insurance. Unlike a motorcycle, you can carry a moped across otherwise impassable obstacles (such as streams or deep mud), and if you crash, you don’t have to worry about it crushing you. Mopeds get 100-150 miles per gallon, and most only hold a gallon of gas. Is your bug-out site 100 to 150 miles away? If not, can you easily and safely carry enough gas to make up the difference? If not, how far will you be pedaling the moped after it runs out, and on what kind of terrain? You can always pedal in the straight-aways and down-hills, saving your gas for the difficult stretches, but this is still not your best option, obviously. Ideally, you want an automobile.

An automobile is something you don’t want to be without in a bug-out scenario, if you can help it. Most of us have vehicles, but not every vehicle is created equal. However, I’m not going to discuss what vehicles are the best, because not many of you are going to go out and buy a new vehicle to prepare for an arguably improbable contingency, and anyway, plenty of good articles already exist on the subject of bug-out vehicles. Any vehicle is better than no vehicle, but there are things you can do to your existing vehicle to make it not only better prepared for bugging out, but also better prepared for everyday life.

First, how many miles per gallon does your car/truck get? What size is the fuel tank? Multiply your MPG by the size of your tank, and that’s how far you’re going to get before your car becomes nothing more than a metal tent. For example, my car gets 24 MPG on average, and I have a 15 gallon tank. That means I can probably drive about 360 miles, but that’s going to vary depending on weather, wind, temperature, terrain and even how much I’ve packed. I recently spent a minor amount of money on a tune-up, lube, tire-rotation, and a few small items that improve my vehicle’s MPG. These included a fuel magnetizer, a performance chip, and an air-intake insert. Each item is supposed to improve MPG by about 2, but in reality, they might raise my MPG to 25 or 26. Still that would extend my viable mileage to roughly 390 miles. That’s an extra 30 miles on the same tank of gas, and that’s nothing to scoff at! Don’t you think that’s worth it? [JWR Adds: Magnetic "fuel economy" devices have been tested extensively by Popular Science magazine (and others), and have been proven to have no effectiveness. Don't bother.] In the meantime, with rising fuel prices, you’ll be saving gas and money… so why wouldn’t you invest in these things? There is more I can do, as well, including getting a better air filter, keeping my tires at the correct pressure, using a fuel-additive, keeping my tires aligned, and practicing my “light-foot” driving, meaning attempting to keep my RPMs at a low constant while driving. There are probably body modifications that will improve airflow, and replacement parts that will perform more efficiently than the stock parts currently under my hood. All of these are sound investments during the current fuel crisis, even if you never have to bug out. Perhaps a more automotively informed reader can compile a list of these parts and modifications – I, on the other hand, will merely encourage you to seek them out and invest in them.

However, we are assuming that gas stations will either sell-out, close, or be so inundated with customers after a crisis that you’ll have to rely on a single tank of gas. If you don’t think this is realistic, just look back at what happened on 9-11. People sprinted to the pumps so fast that many stations ran out, had lines around the block, or, in the case of a certain establishment in my home town, raised prices 300% and illegally reaped the benefits of the panic. If that happens, and you’ve only got a quarter tank, it doesn’t matter what your MPG is, as you’re only going to be able to go 1/2 of your total distance. You can avoid this by filling up your tank more often. You’ll pay the same amount, but in smaller portions and more often. Try filling up every time you get to half a tank, and then eventually every time you get down to 3/4 of a tank. You may find that you prefer it, as it doesn’t feel like you’re just dropping fifty bucks into your fuel-tank. You’ll also rest easy knowing you can easily drive nearly your vehicle's full range at a moment’s notice.

If you have a gas can at home for fueling the mower, keep it full as well. Fill it every time you see gas prices drop, and tell yourself you’re just saving money by stocking up while the prices are low. If you suddenly have to leave, you can use rope or bungee cables to strap the gas can to the luggage rack atop your car, or throw it in the bed of your truck. Try to avoid putting it inside the car with you, as this is very dangerous on many levels, but if you have to, you can put it in the trunk as a last resort. Be sure to open the trunk every so often to allow any possible fumes to dissipate (or open the windows if you keep it inside the cab), and pour it into the main tank as soon as the tank will take it, rather than waiting until you run out.

What about the other problems that are possible with an automobile? In order to build a list of priorities, first ask yourself “What could happen to my car that would make it impossible for me to drive it?” Then, go down the list and say “Which of these things has ever happened to me? Which have happened to people I know? Which are probable? Which can I possibly prepare for and fix on the road?” For example, you simply can’t prepare for total engine failure, brake failure, transmission failure, a broken axel, etc… unless you perceive these as likely problems with your specific automobile, in which case you should get them fixed before an emergency occurs, because problems like this are next to impossible to fix in the field (for an average Joe like me, anyway).

What common problems can you prepare for? Easy ones include: flat tires, blown fuses, low fluids, dead battery, burned out lights, leaky hoses and low fuel (which we’ve already discussed).
Preparing for these problems will allow you to save yourself from the hassle and cost of towing your vehicle, and possibly even the cost of taking it to a mechanic, depending on the severity of the problem and the quality of your repair. Obviously, some problems will have to be addressed by a mechanic, but a quick fix on your part can get you out of a sticky situation. For example, if you break down on a small highway outside a small town and there aren’t any mechanics open on Sunday, then you’re faced with either paying a huge towing fee, or spending the night in said small town until the next day, at which time the mechanic will surely overcharge you because you’re a know-nothing townie who’ll never be back that way again. It’s not like you’ll have many options at that point.

To begin, ascertain the current qualities of your car regarding its current equipment and space for additional storage of emergency supplies. Does your car have a spare tire? Is it a full size tire or a donut? If at all possible, you should have a full size spare. Next time you get your tires replaced, have the one in best condition placed in your trunk as your spare, or purchase a cheap refurbished tire for the same purpose. Give the donut to the mechanic for a discount. A full sized spare will allow you to carry on as before after changing a flat, unlike a donut which will require you to drive slowly and avoid adverse terrain. If you can’t fit a full sized spare in your car, then consider repairing the flat with a patch kit. A patch/plug kit is cheap, easy to use, but will also require the purchase of a tire pump. Small electric pumps can be purchased that will plug into your cigarette lighter and take up very little space. If you don’t like to rely on your car battery, you can get chargeable emergency-starter/air-compressor combo units that work great, or you can simply pack a bicycle foot pump (yes, it will take a while to fill a car tire with it, but that’s what they did in the old days, and you’ll do what you have to do when the need arises). “Where should I keep all this stuff!?” you ask.

Does your car have extra cargo storage in the spare tire compartment, in or around the spare? Are there other side compartments in the trunk? Drivers of trucks won’t need to worry about this, and should merely get a metal truck-toolbox, plastic toolbox, or cargo box to store their supplies in. If you don’t have storage space, a smaller cargo box can also be purchased (or built) to fit in your trunk. I would suggest including the following in that box:
1. Non-electronic tire gauge
2. Extra fuses
3. Roll of duct tape for securing a cracked window or fixing a leaky hose (or a million other things)
4. Hand crank LED flashlight (or standard bright light and extra lithium batteries)
5. Jumper cables
6. Tire plug/patch kit
7. Small electric air compressor, or a foot-pump, if you’re a hoss
8. A couple extra head/tail light bulbs
9. Small bottles of replacement fluids (oil, coolant, power-steering fluid with leak-stop, transmission fluid)
10. A couple of rags
11. Lock de-icer (which does you no good if you leave it in the car during a freeze. If you suspect cold weather and a possible freeze, keep it outside the car.
12. Some strong rope. How much? Enough to tie your trunk down, tie something to the luggage rack, or tie to the car to pull and dislodge it if stuck.
13. A fuel siphon hose and pump (inertial pumps are cheap and work well)
14. Bungee cords

If there’s room, you could also put your car-BOB in this box. You should also keep the following in the glove box: an electronic tire gauge, a small flashlight, an ice scraper, and a solid multi-tool with a knife blade. The pliers-style multi-tools are best, as they can be used to break out the car windows in an emergency. Just grip the pliers’ handles together, holding them upside down, and smash the nose end of the pliers against the window with a hammer-fist motion. The localized force should make short work of the window, though repeated blows in the same spot might be necessary.
Everyone should also keep wet-naps and napkins in their glove-box, as they’re not only useful for everyday cleaning, but also for limited first aid applications: clean the wound with a wet-nap, cover it with a few tightly folded napkins, and hold this down with some duct tape from the trunk. I also suggest that everyone put a magnetic key-box under their car with a spare key in it, because your fancy keyless entry is worthless when its attached to your keychain…and you lose your keys or lock them in your car. Don’t put the magnetic key-box in an easily visible and accessible spot where any Joe can look under your car and see it, but in a safe, inconspicuous spot such as on the top surface of an exposed portion of the frame or any metal component, between the gas tank and gas tank shield (if your car has one), or under/behind a bumper. If Joe is looking for a key-stash, he’s likely moving quickly. He’s going to look under many cars, quickly, until he finds an easy target, or a car with an easily seen and easily accessible key-box.

There are a few optional tools you might consider to further your preparedness, the most logical and pragmatic of which is the battery jump-starter. They aren’t cheap, but they aren’t expensive either, and depending on the environment and circumstances in which your battery dies, you may either not see another passerby or you may not want to see another passerby. A dead battery is one of those problems that require a second, working battery in order to give it life. In place of a second, running vehicle driven by a stranger, you can purchase a battery jump-starter. Most will simply plug into your cigarette lighter or home wall socket until charged, and in the event of a dead battery, will jumpstart the car. Most also have sockets to run electrical appliances for a short time, such as your electric tire compressor, if your car’s electrical systems fail. In older cars, this is no big deal, as the car will still run with a dead battery or bad wiring (as long as you can jump-start it). I once had a car in which the electrical systems fried while I was driving. Everything electrical shut off, and smoke poured out of the dash and from under the hood. However, the car was already running, and I easily drove it across town to the mechanic (with the windows down). In newer cars, where the engine and electrical systems are interdependent, an electrical failure could mean that your car isn’t going anywhere. Many of the higher-end battery jump-starters actually have air-compressors, lanterns, and even radios built right in. That way, you can save money and cargo space by consolidating.

Another practical device to have on hand is a handheld CB radio. I have one that fits into a box about the size of a bible and plugs into the cigarette lighter. There’s a magnetic antenna that you put up on the roof, and then you’ve got instant communication. This is a good option for maintaining communication while traveling with other cars in case your cell phone either loses service or runs out of power. I’ve personally used it during a traffic jam to listen in on the truckers as they informed one another on the situation. It can also be used to ask other unknown drivers for directions, stop suggestions, and even to call for help in the event of an emergency. It’s also good, in addition to the poncho and cold weather gear undoubtedly already in your BOB, to keep a good pair of athletic shoes in the car. If you are forced out on your bike or on foot, you don’t want to be stuck wearing the dress shoes you had on at work when you were forced to flee.

So, what’s the best practical option for bugging out? Max out your vehicle’s MPG, equip it with a BOB and an emergency box, buy a bike rack for the back of your vehicle, buy a good bike and equip it with cargo baskets, an emergency repair pack and a small gasoline moped-motor, buy a large gas can and a small gas can and keep them full in your tool shed. Ride the bike when running short errands to stay in shape. Use the moped motor on your bike to run medium range errands, pedal when you can to stay in shape, and bring the groceries home in the cargo baskets. Drive your car on long errands and save money because you maxed out the MPG. Put your bike on your vehicle’s bike rack and take it with you on long trips; ride your bike around the downtown area of wherever you’re going, or perhaps just from the hotel to the nearby restaurant. Save Gas. Stay in shape. Have fun. Can you argue with any of that? Can you!?

Boom. The Schumer hits the fan. You’ve got to get outta town. No problem, your gas tank is 1/2 full. You top it off with your large gas can, and put the remainder in your bike’s moped-motor. You attach the bike to the bike-rack and bungee the small gas can into its cargo basket. You load up and you’re on your way. You have a flat outside of town. No problem, you change the tire and you’re on your way… or you would be, but the car won’t start. No problem, you use your battery jump-starter and you’re on your way. You have another flat. Son of a… no problem, you patch the hole with your patch kit, air up the tire with your small electric compressor, and you’re on your way. The car starts to overheat. No problem, you refill the coolant, turn on the heater, open the windows and you’re on your way. You stop make a quick stop the urinate by the roadside…oh wait, you locked your keys in your car. No problem, you’ve got a spare hidden under the back bumper, and you’re on your way. You’re getting pretty low on gas, so you go ahead and pour your small gas can into the car’s tank. A while later, you’re getting low again, but before you can do anything about it, you look up from the gas gauge in time to see a sedan stalled in the middle of the road. Too late.

You smash into it, totaling your car. You have a gash on your left arm from the window, but otherwise, you’re okay. The seatbelt won’t unbuckle, so you get your multi-tool from the glove box and cut it. You also bandage the gash on your arm with napkins and duct tape. You can do a better job later with the med-kit in your BOB. The car’s power is still on, so you plug in your CB and check all channels. Nothing. No problem, you top off the charge of your battery jump-starter using the car’s battery, and load it and your CB into the cargo basket of your bike. You use your hose and pump to siphon the fuel from your car into the small gas can. You try to do the same to the sedan, but it’s got a valve in the fuel intake preventing you from doing so. No problem, you check to make sure the sedan’s engine is cool, and then use your knife and cut the fuel line. Being careful to avoid the initial spray, you drain what you can into the small gas can, and bungee it into your bike’s other cargo basket. You plug your CB into the jump-starter and set it on scan. You strap your BOB onto your back [or mo-ped cargo rack] and your athletic shoes on your feet, and start pedaling down the road, saving the motor for when you get tired.

Eventually, you do get tired, and you ride a few hours on the motor. A day or so later, and you’re out of gas. Luckily, you can still siphon fuel from any abandoned vehicles you find, or walk the bike up the hills and then jump on and coast down the other side. Eventually, you make it to your destination.

No, obviously not all of these problems would occur in such rapid succession. Maybe none of them would, or perhaps one or two… or maybe more. This story illustrates, however, how a little planning can prepare you for any combination of likely problems that stand between you and your destination. You never know when a problem will occur or and what problem it will be, and spending a little money now on things that will benefit you regardless in the meantime will save you from uttering the following words in a real emergency: “Aw crud… if only I had…”


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