Lessons from Life on The Edge: The Evolution of My Go Bag, by Tim K.

I was stranded on the streets of Los Angeles because my so called “friend” stole my rent money.  Down and out, with no one to help, in a state where I knew nobody, I started out with nothing but the clothes on my back. 

I started out grabbing odds and ends in an attempt to get by and make do.  I got some give-away matches from a corner convenience store and used a coffee can to cook whatever I could find.  After some finagling, I came up with a thick black garbage bag which held my supplies:

  • Rain poncho I bought at the dollar store
  • Bandana
  • Roll of duct tape
  • Coffee can and matches
  • Slingshot
  • Notebook and pencil
  • Hacksaw blade with a handle I fashioned
  • Food: Typically a few oranges, a can of sardines, and two cans of beans

Finally, I got a part-time job at the convenience store, but I knew that I could be fired at any time, so I decided to upgrade my Go Bag.  I folded up my black garbage bag and put it inside a used knapsack I bought for $4 at a second-hand store.  Along with my other items, minus the perishable foods, I included:

  • Leatherman multitool
  • Flint and steel fire maker
  • Whistle
  • Headlamp (which is good for dumpster diving)
  • Folding knife
  • Compass
  • Knife sharpener

Deciding I knew where I was, I got rid of the compass and whistle.  Since I know how to sharpen my knife with a rock, I got rid of the sharpener–traded it for something, I forget what.  But I decided I needed:

  • 100 yards of paracord
  • Jar of peanut butter and jelly
  • Bag of rice and
  • Bag of black beans
  • Vaseline (somebody had recommended Bag Balm, which is similar)
  • Safety pins
  • Lighter

Then a guy told me that electrical tape is good.  I already had duct tape, but I figured this was good advice.  The same guy traded me some fishing hooks and 8 pound test fishing line for my jar of peanut butter.

As I walked about town I grabbed small odds and ends that I either was given or found on the ground, including:

  • Two hose clamps
  • Some moist towelettes
  • Pair of pliers
  • Deck of playing cards
  • Some small nails

Eventually I did get fired from my job, because I showed up to work too early.  They got suspicious and figured out that I was still homeless.  So I grabbed my knapsack and left, headed east.

With my last paycheck I bought a water filter that you can drink through.
I also somehow ended up with a box of baking soda, good for many things.
I am keeping my eye out for an itty-bitty chess set to bring along.

Sometimes I throw some bouillon cubes in there, but they get used up quickly when we make soup on the run.  I always have some extra socks, so I let my other ones dry when I wash them in filling station bathrooms.

As I traveled from state to state, walking and hitchhiking, I added some items:

  • Small flashlight
  • Magnifying glass (for reading and could use to make fire)
  • Aluminum foil to bake in
  • Small mirror
  • Salt and pepper packets
  • Candle

I formerly had a sleeping bag, but all I carry with me now is a military poncho and a wool blanket.  My goal was to get back to my home state.  I found a lake, caught some fish, and fried them up!

I jotted down some notes in a journal as I traveled.  Some of the following is from that.

Candy bars make good trading stock out on the road.

Met a guy who had a wind-up flashlight that doesn’t need batteries.  Need one of those.
Somebody traded me a box of .22 rimfire cartridges for a roll of Tums.  I don’t have a gun, but they make good trading stock.

I don’t need an axe, but it might be good to get one of those little tiny wire saws that weigh next to nothing.

As I traveled further east I ended up with:

  • Military can opener
  • Insect repellant
  • Sun block

… all in trade for half of my roll of paracord.  That was a pretty good deal.

Oh yes, I always carry some Kleenex or a roll of toilet paper.

And I’ve got my sunglasses, but they are always on me, so not really a part of the Go Bag.

Usually wrap stuff in those little grocery store plastic bags.

Got a little jar filled with Band-Aid, rubber bands, zip-lock ties, AAA and AA batteries, etc.

No canteen, instead I’ve use one of those foldable water bottles.

Usually carry some beef jerky, ramen noodles, and a little portable stove that I made out of a tin can.

Recently added some Lifesavers candy and some cough drops.

Had a portable chair, but got rid of it, along with my portable stove.

Some guy was locked out of his car.  I used a wire coat hanger to open it and he gave me $20.

With the $20 I bought a pair of gloves and a bottle of aspirin.  I decided to carry with me a small bottle of water for cooking for when I get stranded at road stops.

Got stuck at one road stop for three days, and fortunately I found a bestseller someone left there.  Now I always carry this small Trucker’s Bible someone gave me.

If I had a driver’s license I’d carry it, but I do always have my birth certificate, and some family photos.

Found some nail clippers in a purse that someone dropped.  Would have turned it in, but there was no name and I was miles from anywhere. There was bag of weed inside. I guess somebody ditched it, throwing it out of their car window when the cops were after them.

Always carry some spare change in the bottom of my bag, just in case.

Got a little bar of soap one night when I stayed at a motel.

Met a guy who carries tampons, thinks they are good to start fires. 

One thing that I wished I had was some mosquito netting.  And another is a hammock.

Got a sponge to take sponge baths when I get the chance.

Bought a little lightweight frying pan, but still use my old coffee can, along with a wire handle I attached.

Decided I did need a small sleeping bag, and got a plastic liner to lay it on.

Found a cool sun hat at a Salvation Army store, so got rid of my boonie hat.

Attach stuff to my bag with bungee cords

Threw away a screwdriver that somebody gave me, because I already had the multitool.

Met this gal on the road who carries pepper spray. I found that out the hard way.

Don’t think I need one of those little emergency space blankets, but you might.

Ripped my jeans crawling through a barbed wire fence.  For sewing I use a three-sided leather needle and dental floss.

Always carry a small tube of Super Glue.

Toothpaste and shampoo (go without saying)

About three weeks into the trip, I was out on the road and two guys mugged me and beat me up.  They stole my knapsack, and left me to bleed.  All I had was a twenty dollar bill in my shoe and a pack of matches in my pocket.

I was determined to get back home.  I had traveled from California and was now in Oklahoma, headed further east.

There was a motel, and I went and knocked on the door, but the guy wouldn’t let me in because I didn’t have enough money.  But by this time I knew the drill.  I knew that in order to survive I had to start gathering useful things.  When the sun came up I went over to McDonalds and bought a tray of hash browns and scrambled eggs.  I put some salt and pepper and ketchup and napkins in my paper bag and got a big cup of water. 

I went out and sat on the curb and ate.  I saw a dumpster and went over and looked inside.  There was a bicycle inner tube that I grabbed, figuring it might be good for something, like making slingshot bands.  There was also a shower curtain that I took to use to make a shelter.

I went over to this gas station and a gal gave me a garbage bag. I looked across the street, and I saw the two guys who had mugged me and stole my Go Bag.  They got out of their car and went into McDonalds.  I went over and looked in their car, and sure enough, there was my Go Bag.  I was so happy. 

The car was locked, so I took a rock and busted open the side window.  I reached through the glass and opened the door and grabbed my Go Bag.  I felt like urinating in their car or something, but I was too worried about getting out of there, so I just left.

After a couple of hard weeks on the road, I finally I did make it home, and now I think of that horrible trip as a life’s lesson.  My Go Bag now has two components, the heavy weight items that I can do without if I need to, and the essential core that I keep on my person so they will stay with me even if I get mugged.

If I need to I can do without:

  • Machete
  • Foot powder
  • Liquid soap
  • Bottle of honey
  • Powdered milk
  • Dehydrated fruits and vegetables
  • Spices
  • Energy bars
  • Towels
  • Small bottle of chlorine bleach
  • Citizens Band radio

I have found my small pair of Vise Grip pliers to be invaluable on the road.

I did run into a situation (forest fire) where I wished I had some goggles or a dust mask.

Nowadays I go out on the road once in a while, just for old times sake, and to practice my survival skills.  Sometimes I hop a train and wind across the plains and up into the hardwood forests.  But now I usually have a credit card somewhere safely tucked away.  And a tube of Chapstick in my front pocket.

And I have found it handy when hitchhiking to carry a length of siphon hose, because motorists who run out of gas are usually willing to give you a ride anywhere if you can get a car to stop and give them some gasoline.

And when out on the road, a jar of Tabasco sauce makes everything taste better.