Long Distance Bug Out Planning, by J.B. in Georgia

There is a plethora of good, sound information and articles on SurvivalBlog.com that I have researched, absorbed, and adapted into much of what we have done to prepare.  I would like to personally extend my gratitude to all the contributors of this subject and let them know that the information they have freely shared has been very helpful.  In addition, there are countless other informative sites, books, and organizations gained from this web site that has also been very useful.  This article describes our particular situation, the challenges, and planning to make our escape from the crowded suburbs of Atlanta to the sanctuary of the American Redoubt.  It is not a perfect plan and there are many risks involved, but in the end, one must do what they must with what they have and be prepared for the worst.

Finding adequate long-term retreat locations in the southeast United States is proving expensive and leaves one to doubt its protection near so many people.  As with many beginning prepper’s, we started over a year ago with the basic focus to improve our food & water situation at home along with basic gear needed for an extended bug-in situation.  In the midst of this, we realized we were not in an ideal location and would not be able to bug-in forever if things got really bad.  We decided to start looking for recreational acreage in the southeast to provide a retreat and develop into a new homestead over the long term.  The problem has been finding the right place, in the right location, for an affordable price.

Having grown up in the California, Colorado, and Idaho areas, I’m very familiar with the region’s resources, geography, political climate, and culture.  Overwhelmingly it appeals as the better place to be when SHTF and we have changed our focus to purchase property and move to the Redoubt region to establish our retreat/homestead for retirement.  The goal is to purchase ample acreage to build a self-sufficient, off the grid home and make the move.  My troubles began when I questioned what we would do if the excrement hits the rotator before that plan is finalized.  What do we do, where do we go, and how do we get there?

It comes down to a choice of hunkering down in the suburbs, bugging out to nearby forest or wilderness, or high-tailing it west where we want to be.  Believe it or not, we decided that if it comes down to it, we’re making a bee line for the northwest.  Since that decision, our prepping has focused on that being the primary plan until we are able to relocate.  Once we move, the prepping focus will change accordingly.

Since I have traveled the road between Atlanta and Twin Falls several times, planning a 2200 mile bug out seemed simple enough but quickly became a monumental task.  The more I got into it, the more challenges I uncovered.  This undertaking is much more involved than a simple road trip and the necessary planning becomes complicated and risky – almost to the point of scrapping the idea entirely as hopelessly impossible or insane.  I’m not here to profess one thing over another, but to pass on what I’ve found to be noteworthy getting from point A to point B, 2000 miles away, within my comfort zone.  None of this is a guarantee of mission success.

Living east of the Mississippi one quickly learns there are a number of circumstances and factors to consider in developing a workable escape plan.  The most troublesome element is that 58% of the country’s population resides east of the Mississippi river in roughly 1/3 of the total land mass.  This is a huge impediment in reaching and crossing the Mississippi river, a formidable natural barrier.  It will be a continuous challenge avoiding the mass of people, possible road blocks, checkpoints, and other hazards on the first third of the journey.  Another issue is multiple large rivers to cross with limited bridges away from populated areas.

My current location requires 7 hours of driving to reach the Mississippi river – by interstate.  For me, this is my first tactical objective.  It’s not west enough, but it’s a line that once I’m on the west side, the bulk of the population is behind me, my odds of success are improved, and I can breathe a little easier.  The goal is to get across it as soon as possible, before the bridges become impassible in a worst case scenario.  Naturally, this all depends on the nature and scale of the event and in some scenario’s, this trek would not be possible and we’d have to find refuge elsewhere.

Planning a route to carry you a thousand miles or more during a crisis is challenging.  In this case, to go from Georgia to Idaho requires some 230 gallons of gasoline (my vehicle only) and 46 hours driving time – under normal circumstances.  In this plan, I have added an additional 400 miles to the route by avoiding the larger cities and denser counties.  I cannot carry enough fuel for that entire distance so I must rely on the availability of gasoline along the way.  It is the single most critical item in the plan and without it we are dead in the water.  This is certainly not the ideal solution and the only way it can be successful is to get going before the fuel runs out – before the panic.  This is easier said than done.

Two days before hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast, word was spread over the Atlanta news that the Colonial pipeline, which supplies Georgia and parts of the eastern seaboard with gasoline from the gulf coast, would be temporarily shut down.  It was also mentioned that there was at least a 10 day supply of gasoline in the Atlanta area for normal consumption and the supply line was expected to be back online before any shortages occurred.  It didn’t take long for a needless panic to ensue.  A gas buying frenzy started and prices jumped to $6/gal in 4 hours.  Within 3 days, most urban stations were as dry as the sand in the Mojave.  That’s how quick a situation can change and any plans will be bust if you wait too late.  It was weeks before supplies and costs returned to normal so fuel will be a constant critical item in the route plan.

To aid this situation, I have designed and in the process of building a 50 gallon rectangular stainless steel fuel tank that can be quickly installed in the bed of my truck.  Basically it’s a simple transfer tank to be used to refill the truck’s main tank via a hose and hand-crank pump. Combined I now have approximately 75 gallons of fuel capacity giving me a 900 mile range.  This should easily get me across the Mississippi river as my cross country route is only 600 miles.  The idea is to have sufficient fuel to cross the river and the plan calls for refueling at any opportunity along the way.

The questionable availability of gas requires specific gear and consideration.  Two critical pieces are the siphon hose and a 12 volt dc pump to reach the gasoline in the underground tanks.  It’s the only way to get fuel if power is down.  Underground tanks can be accessed through the lids found on the lot surface and the tank cap can be removed to allow a suction hose to be dropped inside.  Most underground tank bottoms are around 15 feet below the pavement surface.  (I reckon it should be mentioned that this is extremely hazardous.  One good spark and everyone around will know where you are and what you just attempted to do).  The pump needs to be self-priming, explosion proof or hermetically sealed, powerful enough to lift fuel at least 20 feet, and provide a minimum of 5 gallons per minute flow using at least a 1/2” outlet.  (Plans for a suitable pump setup are available at SurvivalBlog.com using a spare automotive fuel pump).

Many variables can adversely or favorably affect the route plan.  A road or bridge being open or closed is a simple example.  Fuel being available here or there is another.  Since it would be nearly impossible to know before getting within sight of a bridge, etc., I decided to plan for both possible situations, one being primary and the other secondary, and in some cases, a third alternative.  Every critical part of the bug out route is thought through for possible problems and solutions.  If we get to the primary bridge over the Mississippi River and find it impassible, we divert to bridge B.  Rather than stand around and scratch our heads figuring out where to go, we keep moving toward a new target.  If that one can’t be used, plan C is implemented and so on.  The plan has to be flexible and if all else fails, we bug in somewhere and wait.

We found one of the most critical components of our planning was the preparations needed just to get us on the road.  Unless the event is an instantaneous major tectonic malfunction of cosmic proportions, events should unfold and develop such that we have time load and go.  Two things become vital in the beginning stage; vehicle readiness and the loading process.  Naturally, any bug out vehicle must be maintained, fueled, and ready to go at a moment’s notice, but we are not always that disciplined.  This requires that we have the means to do it very quickly and carry spares.  The plan requires us to leave town in a moment’s notice so all our ducks need to be in a row.

A whole article can be written on the proper condition to maintain a bug out vehicle.  I simply treat it as I do any other vehicle and keep it maintained such that I have no worries to jump in it right now and head for the west coast.  I know it will make it, but there are always those rare times when something takes the opportunity to unexpectedly fail.  To counter this, I keep an assortment of spare parts stashed under the rear seat.  Accessory drive belt, ignition coil, spark plugs, and tire plugs just to name a few.  The key is to keep it in good running order; oil changed regularly, good tires, healthy battery, etc.  If you are concerned about it making a 2000 mile trip, then it isn’t ready or reliable.

Unless one has a dedicated bug out vehicle that stays locked and loaded, we must factor vehicle loading into the equation.  What can be thrown into a particular vehicle in the least amount of time and how does it all fit?  The clock is ticking and the window is rapidly closing so there isn’t a whole lot of time to waste figuring out what to take, where it all is, and how to pack it all.  To simplify and minimize loading we pre-packaged everything and keep it stored in 2 places that can be reached easily and quickly.  Normally, most of this gear and supplies would be stored at a hideaway location, but in this case, we are creating a mobile retreat of sorts.  God help us.

We pre-packed our food supplies in identical boxes that can be easily stacked and transported.  Each sealed box contains 4 to 5 days of food and supplies for two adults.  Like a deluxe family size MRE, each box contains a variety of canned & dry goods, stove fuel, water purification, can opener, personal hygiene, meds, and other items needed for living and surviving comfortably in the boonies.  Except for the canned items, everything else is vacuum sealed to protect against moisture.  We store the boxed food supplies in a cool, dry place along with the backpacks and med kit to maximize shelf life.  Our plan is to carry a minimum of two month’s supply of food in the event we have to hold up somewhere and wait out a situation, recover from an injury, etc.

Containers of gear are pre-packed in a similar manner – tent, stove, first aid, fishing and hunting gear, radios, spare batteries and the like.  These are loaded along with a shovel, dry wood, axe, tool bag, extra fuel, water drum, camo netting, and the ice chest full of what refrigerated and frozen food will fit in it.  In addition, the backpacks (BOB’s) are tossed in full of clothing, MREs, water, sleeping bags, maps, and other survival gear.  Included in this is our financial pouch of documents, currency, and coinage.  All the gear is stored together in the garage where it is easily accessible and can be quickly loaded.  Lastly, the firearms and ammunition will be retrieved and loaded in the cab.

We found it was highly beneficial to practice loading as we learned several things; order and method of loading, where to store things, waterproofing the load, and the physical aspects of gathering everything.  It took several attempts to fit everything in the truck and find the right places for some of the gear.  The loading process was too time consuming and required too much physical effort.  We also had items stored in several different places which required more time to collect.

To improve these issues we moved the gear to a special storage area built above the garage door to put it closer to the truck.  Originally it was scattered between the garage, utility room, and in the basement with the food supplies and significantly increased the number of trips up the stairs.  Another solution was to improve the loading of the food supplies stored in the basement.  Rather than haul the boxes up the stairs and through the house to the garage to load, we moved the truck to the back yard and passed the basement supplies through a window.  The house is a tri-level and the basement is actually concreted crawl space with about 4 ½ feet of head space.  By removing the widow sash from the utility room (where the crawl space access is), we could easily pass the boxes through to just above ground level in the backyard.  With the truck right there the loading was much simplified, saving a substantial amount of time and labor.  An added benefit was that we were concealed from the street in doing this.

Once we got the loading figured out, in 30 minutes we can be on the road heading due south to our primary rally point located about 80 miles away.  We picked a location that will allow us to stay if needed and have an alternate site picked out in case the primary is compromised.  The rally point allows us the opportunity to re-assess and monitor the situation, take stock, meet-up with others, prepare for the longer march, and if necessary, bug in for the duration.  At this point, we have escaped the Atlanta area and are in a relative safe zone.

Masses of people trying to escape the urban areas will have, for the most part, a predictable flow.  Like water, they will follow the path of least resistance.  They will generally follow the interstates until they clog up and then to the nearby smaller highways, and so on.  Authorities could be implementing evacuation plans and I found it useful to read those I could find for major cities along our path.  One thing I learned is that they provide evacuation routes out of the city but indicate no defined shelter or specific location to go to.  People will be ushered out of the cities and the surrounding outskirts will be highly congested with lost, stranded, and confused people.  This situation also introduces a big uncertainty of where the government will set up refugee camps.  So far I have found nothing defining where those may be and it would be a bad thing to unexpectedly come upon one in the middle of bugging out.  With all this in mind, our route will stay at least 80 to 100 miles from all large metropolitan areas and avoid interstate corridors exiting those areas.

A valuable source of useful information in planning our route is the U.S. census bureau.  On their web site one can find state population density maps that show you by state, what the population density is for any given county.  These maps were used to define a primary corridor through each state to avoid more populated areas.  Even when using this method to define a path, the routes still funnel to the few river crossings available so we still have to navigate a few populated areas.

Each city or town along the route can be a potential problem or benefit.  A handy web site to use is www.city-data.com to find the population, number of gas stations, grocery stores, demographics, crime statistics, and other useful information.  The local crime statistics revealed an unknown (but not unexpected) vulnerability in our initial route planning.  Many of the counties along the shore of the Mississippi River have above average crime rates of robbery and assault.  In addition, these are some of the least densely populated counties and are some of the most depressed in the country.  Just because the density is low doesn’t mean it’s without other hazards.  In addition, the web site provides the past voting history of the town as well as the county.  We used that information in defining routes by traveling through areas that are more conservative than liberal – for obvious reasons.

Discovering all the crime statistics along the river didn’t create a warm fuzzy feeling about getting across without issues.  The possibility of the highway robbery or the bridge being blocked by a band of thieves is increased and one might have to fight their way across.  That’s not something to look forward to and in this case, it makes the interstate crossing worth a second look.  Each has risks involved that have to be mitigated in order to reach the goal of getting across.

Since we were unfamiliar with the area, we diverted a recent trip out west to follow our initial route through the countryside of Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas.  We learned several things both good and bad.  The population along this route is low as we traveled mostly through agricultural lands and the bridge across the Mississippi is a few miles outside of the nearest town and can be reached without having to travel through it.  The down side was the fact that the area of the crossing is economically depressed, had higher than average crime, and we stood out like sore thumbs.  On the west side, we were dumped into a light suburban area that will require navigating through to reach the more rural farmland.  Along this entire route we passed through several small towns, some of which could be a problem in a bug out and will need to be approached cautiously.  Overall I give the route a plus and will have to have a defensive posture during the approach, river crossing, and beyond for 10 or so miles.  We have worked out an alternate route and will recon that one as well to see if it is any better.

We know the quickest and most direct route is by way of the interstate highways.  My assumption is that they will be mostly useless, especially in the east.  They all pass through highly populated urban areas and the likelihood of impenetrable gridlock and possible closure is too great a risk.  One would certainly become trapped in the city they are trying to pass through and for this reason, our primary route was planned to use only federal & state highways and back roads.

With that in mind, we have specifically addressed the points where our route crosses interstates as all of these highways have interchanges connecting them.  Most of them are packed with hotels, restaurants, and gas stations.  We want to avoid these interchanges as they will most likely be blocked with traffic.  People on the interstate needing fuel, food, or shelter will exit at these locations causing major gridlock and the filling stations there will be dried up.  We plan to use less traveled points around these interchanges to cross that will require slight detours from the main track.  Many nearby roads cross interstates without access and are the ones to use – preferably those that cross over the interstates than pass under.  I used Google maps to zoom in to these interchanges and then scan up and down the interstate for overpasses without an interchange.  Then I printed out that segment and added it to the route plan.

In rural areas, federal and state highways will have less congestion than the interstates.  In addition, there are countless county roads crisscrossing the countryside.  Detailed county maps will be needed to navigate and use these roads.  These can be downloaded and printed from the web or printed directly from Google maps.  They are used for the necessary bypasses and detours around specific points and are stored in a binder in the vehicle.  For state maps I prefer the large fold out maps over the ‘vacation map’ books for the greater detail they provide.  These can be ordered through the web or obtained at state welcome centers.

Along the way it is highly important to listen to all radio news reports and gather any information concerning the route.  This, of course, depends on somebody still broadcasting.  We must constantly keep up on what’s going on locally and soak up every scrap of information available.  This data is used to update the maps, note the areas to avoid, and make navigation decisions.  It will be important to constantly gather intelligence, adjust plans accordingly, and to be acutely aware of where you are.

With regard to crossing major rivers, there are a limited number of bridges available to use.  Interstate, federal, and state highways generally have bridges across the major rivers that you will have to use.  In some cases, a secondary road or an old highway roadbed may cross a river by way of an older bridge, sometimes right next to the newer bridges that’s still used for local traffic.  These are the gems to look for because they are off the beaten path and less traveled.  Find all of them and list as alternates, they may very well become the primary.

The census maps and city-data information was used to determine likely fuel locations in the sparsely populated rural areas.  The idea is that the fuel stations there will not have been drained dry by the evacuating masses because the rural folks may choose to stay where they are.  In addition, our route keeps us away from the evacuating mass where fuel will still be available.  There are numerous little towns dotted along the state and federal highways that will have fuel longer than the urban areas or along the interstates.  If the grid is down, we’ll rely on our 12 volt pump.

We also considered small aircraft as an alternative means of transport.  Taking to the sky is not a bad consideration since I have the skills to fly, but cargo capacity would be limited with my rating.  In pursuing this train of thinking, I realized that most small airports and airfields have a modest supply of aviation fuel.  As a refueling alternative, general aviation 100LL (low lead, also known as 100 octane Avgas) fuel will burn in an unleaded gasoline engine.  It will eventually play havoc with your emissions (catalytic converters & sensors) but will not harm the engine.  With this in mind, we located and noted all small airports along our route as possible refueling points.  There are airport/facility directories available in the aviation market that publishes airport information regarding available services and fuel availability.

The whole point of this essay is to stress the importance of deep thought and planning of the possibilities and factors involved in a long distance bug out.  Having the gear, supplies, and knowing how to make cornbread from tree bark are the easy parts.  The further I dig into the details, the more I discover I’m not as prepared as thought.  Just writing this article has revealed several deficiencies in my preparations and adjustments are warranted, the plan is refined, and I learn more.  No plan will ever be perfect and hopefully I get moved before this one is ever needed.

Go over your plans inside and out, determine the variables, and look at the risks involved.  Work on mitigating the risks so that the impact does not negatively affect your goal.  Practice your plan, take a vacation and drive your route and see what you may be up against.  Adjust your preparations accordingly and carry the necessary items to deal with the potential problems and provide options.  Be ready for the unexpected but more importantly, think of the unexpected and plan for it.

Regardless of the situation, we have to do what we can with what we have and if the world goes to hell in a hand basket tomorrow morning, we execute our current plan.  I urge everyone to stay informed, refine and practice your plan, and learn new skills.  The goal is to get to a safe zone and survive.  The future depends on it.