Selecting a Retreat, by M.D.L.

The last time I sent an article to SurvivalBlog [The Secret Prepper, in May, 2013], I told of how I was secretly preparing for the possibility of the “S” hitting the “F”.  Well, I’m proud to say that I’ve finally come out of the shadows and into the light.  The lesson I’ve learned is to quit worrying about how much the Band Aid is going to hurt and just rip it off.  It wasn’t all that hard and my life is better for it, even if my family has taken several opportunities to fashion me an aluminum foil hat.

That said, I have just completed the long and drawn out process of closing on my new “summer home”.  I put that in quotations because my true intent was to have a retreat location.  “Summer Home” was simply what the realtor assumed, and I told him no different.  Truth be told, this will in fact be my vacation spot until I can build a business that allows me to work from home.  Then it will be my full time residence.

I thought long and hard about where I should purchase my home.  My biggest problem is that I live in New York.  I’ll pause while you sneer in derision and send raspberries my way…

Okay.  Now that that’s over:

Why move?

We each need to take a look at our living situations.  Bugging, whether it be out or in, is a decision based upon so much more than having a place to go.  Will you need access to medical care?  Can you feed your family once you get there?  Can you protect yourself better there or at home?

I currently live a couple of hours from the northernmost border of New York City.  While my area has everything I could possibly need: A good amount of rainfall, fertile soil, privacy enough for me to have a few animals and keep my weapons zeroed; it is also likely to be ravaged by the Golden Horde as it’s simply too close to a major metropolitan area.  If I want to keep my family safe, I need to get them further away.

My family and I have spent the last twenty-two years vacationing in the mountains of Upstate New York.  There isn’t a major city for hours; though there are a few smaller ones they are mostly populated by college students whom would likely start leaving as their trust funds and bank accounts dwindle.  Either way I won’t be within a hundred miles of one of these smaller cities, as the crow flies.

In the name of operational security, I had to put some thought into seemingly benign decisions:

Choosing a realtor

Maybe I’m a bit more paranoid than I’d like to admit, but I chose a realtor who was only marginally familiar with the area and who wouldn’t be able to find his way to the listings without use of a map.  Cell and GPS do not work reliably in the mountains of Upstate NY and so my potential location couldn’t be saved to GPS for future reference. 

When he asked how I came to get his number I explained that a friend had used him several years back and I supplied him with a fairly generic name for reference.  Being a salesman, he politely claimed to remember my “friend” and sent his regards.  I’ll be sure to thank Mike Richards for the referral if ever I meet him.

Choosing a location

I needed to find a balance between being remote and being close enough to other people that I wouldn’t completely lose my mind.  Human beings are inherently social animals, and I’m no different.  The need for news and barter should not be underestimated, not to mention the fact that if my family and I are to eventually move to our retreat location there needs to be something for them to do when we get there.

Medical assistance is also something I needed to consider.  What good does it serve to go through all of the trouble of creating a safe haven for my family if I sustain an injury in the process that kills me due to the absence of reasonable care?

I believe that I achieved that balance: 15 minutes to an urgent care center, 30 minutes to a mall, ½ mile to the nearest neighbor… all in an area with a population density of <70 per square mile.  For New York this is pretty empty, and these are people who know how to live independently.

I feel I must add that most of the state of New York is like this, and that it’s the over 60% of the people living in the bottom 15% of the state that ruin things for the rest of us.

Needs versus wants

What I wanted and what I needed were both short lists.  I did not compromise when it came to my needs list:
– Brick or stone
– Gravity fed well
– Stream deep enough to sustain year-round fish and fast enough to limit freezing
– A metal roof
– Reasonably remote location with enough land to maintain privacy and hunt safely

What I wanted was:
– Multiple ways of getting water
– Multiple ways to heat the home
– Enough sunlight throughout the day for solar power and farming
– A root cellar

I ended up having to compromise on the brick or stone, as there were no homes on the market that fit the bill.  I can always harden the home as I repair it, and have taken steps to do so.

What I ended up with was a home with a metal roof, propane heating as well as two wood burning stoves (with cook tops), an electric well as well as a hand pumped well and a stream that fed into a hand dug basin.  It also has a cement garage, a barn and a root cellar big enough to house a small family.  All of this located on several dozen acres at the dead-end of a tertiary road and abutting federally protected land.

Paying for it all

I am a big proponent of living well within your means.  For years my family and I have watched others as they spent large amounts of money on material goods, then listened to them complain about financial problems when the next big thing turned out to be just another monthly bill. 

Don’t get me wrong… Be good to yourself, but remember that you have a responsibility to your family.  Being prepared after all, means being financially prepared as well.

That said; we have been saving up for a summer home for several years and after saving every penny we could, we had managed to collect what we felt was a sizable down payment.  Imagine our surprise when we found that the market in the area we focused on had homes on acreage that we could pay for outright. 

We are now the owners of our second home and have somehow (my wife’s amazing management skills) managed to remain debt free.  I understand that this is likely not possible for most people, but I must say that the positive psychological effect of not being beholden to anyone is amazing.

Pre-positioning and security

I am now in the process of updating my retreat home.  While doing so, we are using it as a base of operations for hiking, fishing, camping, boating, hunting and anything else we can do.  It is only a matter of time before it is ready for full time occupation. 

With every trip I make I bring some of my stored goods.  Buckets of Mylar sealed food have been additionally fortified against moisture and are being positioned in the root cellar.  Health and hygiene items like toilet paper, toothpaste and the like are being stored in quantity not just for TEOTWAWKI but because snow is measured in feet versus inches.  As repairs are being conducted extra items, such as plywood, are being stored in the garage for the proverbial rainy days.

But what good is it all if, while I’m absent, a drifter comes along and “digs in”, or there’s some form of natural disaster that renders my retreat un-livable?

As far as natural disasters go, well, there isn’t likely much I can do about it.  With regards to random persons attempting to occupy there are a few things I am doing.  I need to mention first that in the trips I have made so far, I have yet to see anyone with fewer than 4 legs anywhere near my property.  But you can’t be too careful so:

First, I have plenty of “No Trespassing” signs posted around my perimeter.  They let people know that someone has a vested interest in the land they’re about to cross, and most times will serve to dissuade a person intent on simply going from point A to point B.

In addition to that, I have a fair quantity of “Beware of Dog” signs.  Little yellow electric fence flags are located closer to the house to accompany these signs, and with luck this will prevent someone who has disregarded the no trespassing signs.  Also, at the driveway and along the immediate perimeter of the house I have signs from an alarm company, and have conspicuously placed surveillance cameras in several locations.  The security system and cameras are currently not operational, but they are real and will be used in the future.

Lastly, I have a P.O. box in town at the post office so that there won’t be a stack of mail overflowing from my mailbox down at the road.  One thing I have learned simply by observation is that you can always tell when nobody is home by the number of newspapers in the driveway and the presence or absence of mail in the box.

All of these measures are simply visual deterrents and if tested by a determined intruder will fail if I am not there to provide the final measure of security.  There is only so much I can do until I manage to build my home-based business to the capacity that it can provide for my family as my only business.

In conclusion

I think that there are a number of constants to choosing a retreat home, such as features that are low maintenance like a metal roof and brick construction.  Duplication of necessities, such as water access, I believe to be crucial.  The difficulty lies in balancing safety and security with distance and privacy. 

We each have our own issues, mine being asthma, that force us to select a location which will best serve our day-to-day needs.  I sacrificed additional distance for access to medical care.  I figure it’s worth it given all of the other bonuses.  In the end, you have to find what fits into your everyday life.  

Much like stored food, if it’s not something you’d use there isn’t a point to having it. For a closing thought, consider 2 Chronicles 15:7: “Be ye strong therefore, and let not your hands be weak: for your work shall be rewarded.”