Letter Re: Escape From (Fill in Your City Here), 2009

Mr. Rawles,
Concerning the article: Escape From (Fill in Your City Here), 2009, by Bill in Chicagoland, I would like to add to these comments. My 20 years experience driving the county roads and the farmer ranch roads with the Soil Conservation Service have given me a perspective of the potential for choice this road system presents.

I have a considerable amount of experience driving cross country.

I have driven from the Northern Texas panhandle across the Oklahoma Panhandle into southeastern Colorado and north to the Colorado Springs area on mostly gravel and dirt roads.

Several times I have driven the 250+ miles from Denver Colorado to Salina Kansas mainly on dirt/gravel roads or county blacktop roads. This particular trip is paralleling the major river valleys throughout this area. The interstate roads basically follow the uplands/highlands avoiding the river/creek valley bottoms. That portion of the drainage system between rivers called the upland or divide area. Up on these area you have minimum drainage systems to cross. Only when the rivers and major creeks make a jog south or southeast do you find a major drainage system to cross.

Why are drainage systems death to bugging out? You can cross them only on bridges, and bridges are [logical ambush sites and hence potentially] death traps.

Here is an example: West of Oklahoma City, you’ll see that I-40 strikes out to the west.

Now, let’s clarify something. [Even in most plains states,] there are no paralleling roads to interstates that extend for extensive distances. Yes, there are some that may parallel for 20 to 30 miles. But as soon as the interstate jogs you get the paralleling road intersecting the interstate or its diverting away in a direction you may not want.

If you do not know your area well, you can get boxed in quickly.

West of Oklahoma City striking in a southeasterly direction is the Canadian River. The interstate crosses the Canadian river in the Hinton/Geary area. That is some 35 miles west of Oklahoma City. The next Canadian river crossing on the north side of the interstate is just northeast of Thomas. That is 23 miles west and 13 miles north of the interstate.

So…you come barreling out of Oklahoma City and find the interstate clogged. Look again at the map. The city of Oklahoma City has a major river running through it. The North Canadian River. You cannot get on the Interstate. The bridges going over the North Canadian River south are filled with traffic. You opt to set out west through Oklahoma City on a street that will take you west to El Reno and then on to points west following the Interstate. But you cannot do this on the north side of the interstate.

And the south side of the Interstate is closed off because of the bridges across the North Canadian River are jammed full.

The road system on the north side is a maze of closed roads, dead end roads that all end up down in the Canadian River valley. And in the 60 miles west of Oklahoma City only one bridge crosses the Canadian River on the north that can keep you on any kind of westerly tract. That’s at Thomas. The closer bridge only gets you down to the interstate and it will be clogged full at that point.

So you make it to Thomas overland on the secondary roads.

What now?

You now have a dozen or more large creeks all running southerly into the Washita River. You have to cross them if you continue cross country.

Yes, you can get on Highway 33 west but I would guess that many others will have the same idea.

You also have Foss Lake complex and its National Wildlife Refuge area to get around.

Another major obstruction.

Going west now on secondary roads you will notice the interstate drifting in a SW direction. You are getting further away all the time.

Backtrack: What did you miss on the map? By the way, what map am I now looking at?

A copy of a DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer [Get one for your state, and contiguous states].

You missed the railroad bridge. Where?

Find Bridgeport between Hinton and Geary. See the railroad track symbol where it crosses the river.

Now, the following separates the men from the boys. When I was 16 my buddy’s father was the Missouri Pacific’s depot agent in Larned, Kansas. We knew the train schedules. We conquered our fears and put my 1948 Dodge car on the rails. Yes you can drive down the rails. You do not have to let the air out of the tires. Just slow down when you go over road crossings and switches. We rode the rails for miles. We even crossed over the Arkansas River railroad bridge. That was scary to think about the wheels coming off the rails way out over that 150 yard long bridge. But we drove this way, and so can you.

You will need to be very cautious doing this. Sending people ahead with radios to the top of a close high point so they can see the tracks some miles away. Giving you time to cross. What speed can you expect to make? We used to cruise 10 to 15 miles per hour. My 1948 Dodge had a traditional hand throttle that you could set.

[JWR Adds This Proviso: Hy-rail pickups and dedicated speeder vehicles have been previously discussed in SurvivalBlog here and here. Please read those article and heed the safety and liability warnings. Riding rails on car tires without supplementary alignment aids is foolhardy. There is a lot that can go wrong in a hurry! Don’t attempt improvised rail travel this unless it is an total SHTF disaster situation and there is absolutely no alternative, and only then with someone playing “ground guide”, and with certain knowledge of the train schedule (or by doing so only on a rail line that is known with certainty to be inactive.)]

This is dangerous. Be careful. It is also illegal.

The thesis of this presentation is several fold:

1. There are no extensive long parallel roads along most interstates.

2. You must have a set of the DeLorme atlases or similar detailed maps for where you are going. Better to have a set for every state that surrounds you. If you live in the prairie states get a set for every state within two states in every direction.

3. You also need to have a map showing just the counties and the river systems.

4. You must drive you routes in advance on both sides of the interstate.

Note that Item #3 above is necessary to have a map of the rivers. You can plot a general route that will keep you on the uplands/divide between the river/creek systems when you cross country.

The system described here is good only for the plains states between the Rockies and the Mississippi River. It will work in the area between the Missouri and Mississippi further north in most of those areas. But once you get into the Ozark highlands, the southern deserts off the Rocky Mountains and in the swampy country next to seashores and the Southern States it does not work.
Nor in the Appalachian mountains. The west coast is another whole problem.

The central portion of the US, the prairie states have a grid road system laid out in township and sections. This allows a great amount of choice for travel. Areas that do not have this system are much more constrained as to overland travel.

Driving cross country you will find [some straight] dirt and gravel roads that can be negotiated at 45 to 60 miles an hour. Be cautious and slow down at every road junction and at the crest of all hills that you cannot see over. Some where out there you will crest a hill and find a slow tractor pulling a swather or a large combine with a 20 foot wide head on it suddenly in your way. You must use caution on these back roads. Do not assume that all dangers are marked. You may find dead end roads just over a crest with a 4 foot tall wall of dirt and a deep ditch in front of you at 55 mph. Crash, end of journey. Be careful of bridges. There are still may bridges out there with wood decking. It can be weak, have nails sticking up and or tire wide gaps in them. I have also seen concrete bridges built by the WPA in the 1930s with holes in the deck more than two feet across and not marked with any warning signs.

Vital equipment for cross country driving:

1. Binoculars or spotting scope

2. Weather scanner

3. Maps

4. Jacks with wooden blocks to put under them for support.

5. Shovels

6. Tow chains

7. Tire chains.

8. Bolt cutters and wire cutters

Beware of sudden rain showers on dirt roads. Soils high in clay particles will shed rain and appear to be shiny. They are called ‘slick spot’ soils. You will not sink into them. But rather your vehicle will just want to slide over into the ditch if the road is not flat. These roads are slick! It is possible to put a vehicle into a low gear; get out and walk along the side steering and pushing or pulling sideways to keep it in the center as you walk along. Better when there are several people to help. I have accomplished this for stretches of road further than one quarter of a mile when I worked as a District Conservationist with the Soil Conservation Service.

Avoid showers in the distance. Drive out of their way if possible. Stop on a stable section of road and wait for the sun to come out. Slick spot roads can dry out in one hour or less and be drivable as if no rain fell there for days.

Genuine cross country driving:.
If you find roads blocked with wreckage, power poles, washed out bridges, trees and or a group of freebooters who demand tribute, then you need to have thought of an alternative.

There is an alternative to simply turning around and being chased.

Cut the wire on the fence and drive away out across the land. Best done out of site of the freebooters. Wire the fence back up so it is not too obvious that someone has exited the road at that point. You will need bolt cutters. A 24 inch pair will suffice. For chains at gates or locks you need a 36 inch-long set and a hacksaw blade with extra blades. Carry along several locks. If you cut off a lock replace it. If you have to come back you can open it quickly and lock it putting a good barrier between you and any belligerents that want to discuss the situation with you.

If you lack a lock that looks like the one you have cut. Super glue it shut. You can always re-cut it a second time if necessary.

Carry with you two 2x4s that are 10 feet long, each pierced with 20 penny nails arrayed close together. Drill holes that are just small enough to provide the friction to seat the nails so they will not come out easily. Drill two 5/8 inch holes in each end. Cut half inch rebar stakes 12 to 16 inches long and sharpen then to a decent cone shape on one end. You will need a 4 pound hammer to seat them into a roadbed.

So, say that you approach a hill crest slowly and glassing the road ahead, you see a group of freebooters down the road. They see your heads and cab of a pickup sticking up over the crest. Whooom, here they come. Get out the spiked 2×4 and nail it down across the road with the rebar. Leave and when they come roaring up over the crest their tires will have lunch with the spikes. Flat tires have a way of ending pursuit.

If you encounter groups of people who are belligerent but appear not to be shooters. Place a spiked 2×4 across the front of your steel safety grill and make a run for them. They will not want to get spiked as you go by. It will keep them away from the windows and doors.

[JWR Adds This Proviso: Caltrops have been used as a defensive measure for centuries. I have my doubts about their utility in daylight, but they might prove useful at night. To be useful in daylight for defense against vehicle-borne looters approaching a retreat slowly, caltrops or tire spikes would have to be concealed, which is a huge legal liability. Because we live in very litigious times, I DO NOT recommend using caltrops or tire spike strips in in anything but an absolute worst-case TEOTWAWKI situation, where you are completely on your own to defend your retreat, and there is no longer a functioning law enforcement or court system. Using them in any lesser situation is an invitation to a hugely expensive civil lawsuit and possible criminal sanctions. An ambulance-chasing attorney would have a field day, and the likely result would be that you would lose everything that you own in settling a lawsuit. Ironically, this is an example of where using deadly force against an intruder (namely, a firearm) is less likely to result in a lawsuit than a non-lethal weapon. Civil court juries tend to be very sympathetic to “maimed” plaintiffs, and are prone to award disproportionately huge “pain and suffering” damages. Caltrops and tire spikes are banned in some states in the US, and Australia. With all that said, commercially made caltrops are available, as are tire spike strips, although most manufacturers will only sell them to law enforcement agencies ordering on department letterhead. The best of these use hollow spikes, so they can defeat even self-sealing tires. And example of this type is the HOllow-Spike TYre Deflation System (HOSTYDS), manufactured in the UK.]

Crossing Interstate Highways
All interstate roads will have at some point a significant water gap.

It will be big enough for you to drive through. Be very careful. These can have plunge basins formed on the down stream side that are many feet deep. Can be clogged with old fence wire and tree limbs. They can be swampy and full of washed in silt that is solid on the top and unstable to support weight underneath. You can get stuck and never get out.

Scout these places carefully.

Remember you may be driving under the interstate that is packed above with people who have gotten desperate.

And you may be able to just drive up to the interstate, cut a fence on one side and drive across weaving through parked cars, perhaps, if you are lucky.

Get the maps. Study them. Drive the [primary, secondary, and tertiary] routes. Anything less is a modified death wish.

Rule #1: Leave early.

Rule #2: Remember, you can never schedule an emergency.

– JC in Oklahoma