A Haphazard Approach to Vehicle Outfitting and Risk Mitigation, by W.A.

My new Nissan 4WD Frontier is pretty well equipped…and conspicuous. Maybe it’s the 102” steel CB radio antenna whip that tipped the balance. Yeah, they make smaller ones, but for my first foray into CB, I wanted the best money could buy…my money anyway. And it turns out that you spend more money to go smaller and the reduction in size can challenge the optimized reception with respect to the wavelength of the transmission signal(i.e. in many respects, bigger is still better). Were it not for that tall waving wand in the sky, perhaps the addition of the two sets of off-road lights, contractor tool boxes, bull bar, roof rack, and headache rack might have gone largely unnoticed in my suburban enclave. I was actually able to conceal the Public Address (PA) speakers (front and rear) fairly well. In my first drafting of this article, I actually left them off of the rundown. They were hidden even from my recollection. I do have a winch mount on order, but my plan is to have that dismountable and store the body of the winch in one of the toolboxes to protect it from the elements or potential theft. Although a GPS is no replacement for superbly honed map skills, I once read that in the wake of tornados or hurricanes when all street signs have been obliterated, it might be helpful to have some knowledgeable, turn-by-turn guidance. So I got one. There is a map of my immediate area in the rear seat pouch, and I know I should ideally have more than one map. “Haphazard”, remember? It took the loss of cell phone service following the east coast earthquake of 2011 to encourage me to enlist other modes of communication. CB radio seemed to be the next most ubiquitous which did not require any special licensing. Each of these acquisitions was spurred out of some sudden realization of a latent ‘need’ which was more likely just a ‘want’ which I could justify in the name of preparedness. I will admit, the excitement of opening and installing the contents of each of those parcels over the past few months made what is often portrayed as a doom and gloom exercise into almost a hobby of sorts which I immensely enjoyed.

The concept of preparedness started for me just two years ago. While shopping in Barnes & Noble, I happened upon a copy of The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks, a satirical, how-to guide for surviving the onslaught of the undead. It was a fairly entertaining read, made all the more enjoyable by the infusion of very practical considerations applicable to nearly any challenging situation. One piece of advice was to review existing survival and wilderness guides for general guidelines, as tactics specifically employed for the “killing” (if you can kill something that is neither living or dead is possible) or otherwise dispatching zombies would be the primary focus of this text. So I did. I picked up two more guides. Fast forward to last year’s “Snowmageddon” which was the ill-fated evening where a fast-moving and productive snowstorm enveloped the DC metro area just at the start of rush hour and gridlocked and stranded thousands of motorists. I was one of them in my trusty 4-door Honda Civic. On uncongested, snow covered roads, it responded rather nimbly in snow and I generally could count on enough room to maneuver should I get into trouble. But generally the idea was to always be a body in perpetual motion. This was simply not possible in stop-and-go traffic. I got stuck and with no provisions in the vehicle, was fortunate to get a quick push in the direction of a nearby shopping mall where hundreds of us wayward travelers had managed to scamper to and take up refuge in the food court.  I had always wanted a 4 wheel drive truck. This encounter solidified the need in my mind.

Fast forward again to this region’s significant earthquake in 2011. I was not the least bit fazed by the occurrence in and of itself. It felt like little more than the weekly trash collection in my office building where occasionally a new driver to the route roughly handles the receptacles down in the loading dock. What was more troubling is what I encountered when trying to contact my wife just to ensure that the house had survived in tact. Phones were down. I’m not sure about land lines. We do not maintain one at home. Cell phones were most assuredly down for about 10-15 minutes. Again, not an excessive lapse of service, but one which few of us anticipated. The cell phone is regarded by many of us “Sheeple” (I was one and still exhibit tendencies at times)  to borrow the phrase, as the be all end all of emergency preparedness and communication. We are lulled into complacency by believing that any service or need can be fulfilled by a timely call placed to the appropriate party or entity. So now, without any sort of coherent plan, I’ve got all these words of wisdom swirling in my head. And both the Civic, and the old beater truck (rear wheel drive only) are at just about the end of their useful service lives. I traded them in and began the journey of outfitting a new vehicle.

But first there was my own personality and ego which had to be overcome. I maintain a significant physical regimen and regard myself as possessing impressive intellect and ingenuity. So my approach to life was “Well, I’ll know how to respond if something happens and will have the physical conditioning to do whatever is necessary to endure any hardship.” And maybe  that can be justified for a single person, but now I’m a husband and will likely someday be a father. To pass on that legacy and demonstrate such dereliction of duty as the head of a household is entirely inexcusable.

So for me, the transitions have been from “nonchalant”, to “haphazard”, to hopefully “better planning” and orchestrations with my preparations than I exhibited on this fitout. My truck now is kind of funny (though survival is no laughing matter). I’ve made it into a kind of Swiss Army Knife of bug out vehicles (BOVs), including a chain saw in the back. Quick story on that is that my job told us prior to Hurricane Irene making landfall that we might be requested to come to the aid of some of our project sites. I work in construction management. I wasn’t worried about high winds (I’ve made this girl pretty heavy now) or high water; it was fallen trees that concerned me. I couldn’t very well drive over them, not without larger profile tires and a lift kit perhaps. But that will never be practical for me because I still make my living as a part time office-worker and office garages in the city do not afford that sort of roof clearance. Sigh. Getting back to my point, I figured I might need to cut any fallen trees up to clear a roadway. My ego liked that. “I could be a rush hour hero…” And now I could justify buying a chain saw. There has to be a practical limit at some point to curtail this form of vehicular hoarding that I was engaged in. As I went along, I did try to balance some of the tradeoffs in terms of weight, fuel economy, etc. I’ve also experienced some missed opportunities in terms of the locations of where some components I’ve mounted which were more cosmetic than utilitarian now occupying the ideal mounting locations of more practical additions. I’m now retroactively trying to improve my fabrication skills with a welder (another survival inspired purchase not specifically outfitted for the truck…yet)  to accommodate a front trailer hitch and the bull bar which is presently installed that I cannot exactly afford to simply throw away. Practicality will ultimately win out, but it is a tough pill to swallow at this juncture.

I’ve started focusing on some of the less sexy aspects of preparedness as they pertain to travel as well. It seems everyone focuses on food and ammo. One article on this blog dealt with the very real issue of water. I was embarrassed that I had three separate vessels for transporting and storing fuel and not even a Dasani water bottle in the truck. Terrible. That’s been corrected. I’ve got a 7 gallon jug now from Bass Pro Shops. I wanted bigger, but I reminded myself of the consideration that  each gallon is 8 pounds of cargo, and with a 50 lb pack and weapons, I’m personally well over100 lbs of carrying weight if I have to go over land. So I’m continuing to read and research in an effort to smooth out the ebbs and flows in my preparedness tide. I’d likely sacrifice the large portable in a fight-or-flight scenario in favor of the Nalgenes I’ve tucked into BOBs for my wife and me. I’ll have to become familiar with water bodies along our escape route such that we can employ the portable water purifier on the go. This brings me to my next point.

What I’m ultimately coming to terms with is that this vehicle (as sexy as it looks), with all that I’ve invested into it, is meant to be a means to an end. I’m merely supposed to travel from one destination to another. It should not represent my entire lifeline or the culmination of my preparation efforts. Should it become disabled, or no other passable routes exist, my very survival might dictate that I abandon it after salvaging whatever resources I can reasonably transport on foot. My efforts of late are actually aimed at reducing my dependence on the vehicle altogether. Communication was the biggest hurdle, as I set up the truck with the PA amplifier and CB radio as my communication hub. It was easy enough in response to this realization to acquire a hand-held CB. I still need to test out the comparative range. (Anecdotally, I read that it is less range, but some range is better than no means of remote communication).  The biggest practical drawback for me is that it is not a diesel engine. All of the posts tout diesel for its versatility of fuel options and that one could even endeavor to generate their own bio-diesel. Yes, I missed that on the dealer invoice. On the same token though, articles that advocate that our ideal bug out vehicle should be a pre-1980 Diesel Ford 4×4 miss the mark (in my humble opinion) in the sense that when the time to bug out comes, we might very well be at a dinner party, or commuting to work or in some other respect sharply jolted out of our daily lives and need to respond. And if this truly is the end of civilization for the foreseeable future, it’s not like I’ll have a regular need to travel down the road to the shopping mall even if I had extensive fuel stores. I’d likely be looking to power a generator or would have hopefully succeeded in setting up my BOL to be self-sustaining off of the grid. I just need this rig to get me there on whatever fuel I have on hand when it’s time to roll out.

Many of the articles talk about how the signs and the advance warning will be apparent leading up to a societal meltdown or destabilization. I may need to depart from the masses in the prep community in that regard. A rather insightful article I found here actually warns against being the lone, bunker dweller who alienates all friends and loved ones with eerie doomsday proclamations. That type of prepper is not beneficial to the cause according to the author. Their stance is that our mindset and practical considerations, when conveyed by a competent person who is an authority or subject matter expert may serve to encourage other loved ones to make their own personal preparations in advance of what is perhaps a more likely occurrence of a natural disaster or prolonged service outage of some sort which challenges conventional modern day life. So it might not be the end of the world as we know it, but more like the ‘end of my typical Tuesday’ which may evoke the need to enact some of the principles and strategies for which this community is renowned. The prospect has become a lot more palatable for my wife as I’ve framed some of these acquisitions in the context of us being able to embark on camping trips and enjoy the outdoors more together. I am not leading her under false pretenses. I am very up front with what my primary inclination and motivation is derived from. But in the end if ‘The End’ never happens, I wouldn’t want to have spent the sums of money and time and not ever had a use for my portable water purification system.

My parting advice is that I recommend self-performing any such improvements on your vehicle. I think the owner should be well acquainted with the intricacies of the outfit such that they are aware of any vulnerabilities and the various service points afforded to the user to ensure continued operation. I also found, in working through and planning the installations (this is the one area where I did employ planning), I considered pathways and approaches which afforded me the best chance of transferability or reusability of components. My CB radio could be hardwired directly to the battery. I instead opted to power it from a cigarette lighter so I could transfer it for use in another vehicle or just quickly extract it and salvage it for parts to be able to service the handheld CB radio I picked up. All in all, any effort that moves one from a state of dependency to self-sufficiency is effort well spent, even if the progression was a bit haphazard. I’ve definitely learned a lot through the various successes and missteps.