For most of human history, people have traveled by foot or by beast. People have walked great distances over trade routes, over Roman roads, caravan routes, the Appalachian Trail and the Bering Straits to name a few. Do not forget that your core bug out vehicle is your own two feet. So much emphasis in the prepper community is placed on fantasy vehicles, tricked out 4×4 SUVs, retrofitted military vehicles, campers, trailers, the list goes on. I call these fantasy vehicles not to insult those that have invested their future in them, but because for many people living paycheck to paycheck, a Winnebago, a 5th wheel or a conversion van is just not in the budget. If that 12 year old Subaru in the driveway is all paid off and it still runs fine, there is no reason to sell it, or go into crushing debt for that dream vehicle that will save you from Armageddon.
The one thing these bug out vehicles all have in common is that they must share the road with all of the other millions of wheeled vehicles in a SHTF scenario. Even the police in their slick new MRAPs won’t be able to move through traffic. Once you are on the road, you will have to contend with police roadblocks, crashes caused by panicked drivers, abandoned vehicles that have run out of fuel and smash and grab looters, all of which are not conducive for you getting to your bug out location safely. Of course timing is everything, and everyone I have talked to is absolutely certain that it is they and a few others that will get the heads up and be on the road one or two steps ahead of the masses. The unpleasant fact of the matter is that all urban dwellers are the masses, we are the Golden Horde. If your vehicle fails you in your bug out, or obstacles or threats arise where you must abandon your vehicle, you have now joined the ranks of the refugee. A refugee for the purposes of this piece is someone who is on foot and is fleeing a disaster, civil unrest or war and is completely desperate and unprepared for their journey.
A well planned non-mechanized bug out does not make you a refugee. If you have a plan, a route, provisions, equipment and training, your bug out can be more successful than those who try to drive their way out of the disaster. The clear advantages of traveling by foot are that you can truly go off road, you are silent, you present a small signature, you are always in a fighting position because both feet are always on the ground, and you can get to the ground quickly to find cover and concealment. Additionally, traveling by foot allows you to move in relative darkness at a pace as slow or as fast as you want without producing any light that might give away your position.
I strongly recommend that all preppers take a look at the map of their city with a new set of eyes. Imagine that all of the streets are clogged with traffic, so clogged that you can’t back out of your own driveway. This has happened to me on one occasion in midtown Phoenix during rush hour where a few accidents on major arterial streets and an interstate backed traffic right up into my relatively sleepy neighborhood. I ride a bicycle to the office, so this did not affect my commute very much because nobody was driving their cars on the sidewalks. Look at your maps and search for the unconventional passages out of town, like rivers, canals and their tow paths, bike paths, golf courses, city parks, railroad tracks. My plan involves a five mile walk on a canal tow path or taking a boat down the canal straight to train tracks that head northwest out of town through industrial areas. My exposure to arterial streets, highways and even collector streets will be minimal. I have walked this route many times, studied water levels, clearance under bridges, locations of boat slips, hazard features, and I take mental and actual notes about the terrain. I know exactly how long it will take me to get from one location to the next.
Walking great distances seems like an impossibility to many 21st Century Americans, but it is not. Almost anyone can cover three miles in one hour. I recently read a book “Long Distance Hiking, Lessons From the Appalachian Trail” by Roland Mueser. I highly recommend this book to everyone who believes that they may have to bug out at some point. You may begin your bug out in a loaded Hummer, but you could very well end your journey on your own two feet. Without giving a book review, will say that this book dispels a lot of myths people have regarding equipment and training. Many Appalachian Trail hikers are called “thru hikers”, meaning that they hike all the way from Georgia to Maine, roughly 2100 miles straight through. This usually takes six months, and requires immense endurance and commitment. It is not the world class athletes that dominate in this endeavor. Men do not outshine women, the young do not always leave the old folks in the dust. In fact, the surveys showed that after the first month, the most overweight and ill prepared at the start were now covering the same number of miles per day as the more experienced and fit hikers. If this book does nothing more than to inspire you to get out and take a few day hikes, it is worth the money. Even short hikes can be instructive to those who rarely get off the couch. The importance of well-designed and proper fitting shoes becomes painfully obvious after the first few miles. The prevention and treatment of blisters and the development of calluses are crucial to your success in a two footed bug out. You can conceptualize these types of aches and pains and maybe dismiss them, but if you experience blisters, shortness of breath, or a bum knee, you will not dismiss the need to address them and you won’t hold on to any unrealistic view of your abilities.
The obvious downside to bugging out on foot means that you must physically carry all of your food, water, clothes, gear and weapons. Any grunt like any hiker tries to lighten the load any way they can. Search the net for “ultra-light hiking” for ideas to shave pounds off of your gear, and to fashion some gear so it serves more than one purpose. I made an alcohol stove out of an aluminum Bud Light bottle and it weighs no more than an ounce or two. My cook pot is a modified Foster’s Lager can which weighs next to nothing. A proper fitting back pack, whether military or civilian can make all of the difference. I recommend having one of the experts at REI or their competitors fit you for a pack. The key to a good fit is that the pack weight must sit on your hips, not your shoulders or back.
I don’t like the idea of walking great distances loaded down with gear, and unlike the people that crossed this country over one hundred fifty years ago, I don’t have access to a mule. The Viet Cong used French bicycles in the war to transport hundreds of pounds of rice, supplies and ordnance per bike over very rough mountainous terrain for many miles. Dozens or hundreds of these bikes would snake through the mountainside quietly and effectively. Currently, DARPA is developing very disturbing looking robots designed to assist our soldiers in the field. These high tech mules will eventually carry equipment and supplies, so the soldiers won’t have to, but it won’t be long after that before they are deployed to fulfill a combat role.
I don’t have access to a robot, mule or a Sherpa, so I had to think of something. My solution to this problem was a modified B.O.B. brand baby stroller, the Sport Utility model to be exact. I own both a duallie and a single Sport Utility. The beefy tubular frame looks nearly indestructible, it has shock absorbers, three 16 inch durable plastic wheels and BMX style knobby tires. I removed all of the nylon fabric and installed a couple of 24 quart milk crates suspended by thin braided steel cables. A half inch section of steel electrical conduit held in place by cotter pins runs through the fulcrum and sticks way out to the side, making a nice platform for my gun rack. I used the single Sport Utility stroller to haul 100 pounds of gear almost effortlessly for ten miles, averaging a speed of 3 mph. The terrain was very flat well groomed dirt, so if I had to tackle more technical terrain or even moderate hills, I would cut the weight down to 60 pounds at the most. The duallie Sport Utility can certainly haul an even bigger load, and I estimate that my wife and I can easily move 150 pounds of gear with these strollers for a great distance. The BOB strollers are very pricey, but you don’t have to buy them brand new from REI, you can find used strollers on craigslist and www.backpage.com . Another great site I use to stock up on parts, should anything break while I am out trekking is BOB Parts. Spare tubes, tires, a patch kit, mini tire pump, machine screws, nuts and multitool with pliers make up my repair kit.
I see more and more homeless people around town every year, and occasionally I will chat them up on my bicycle commute or if I’m out walking the canals. If I see an interesting bicycle mod or trailer rig, I will stop and ask them about it. For many of these folks, the “S” has already hit the fan and I look at them as Beta testers. The wheel still is the greatest invention, just don’t get stuck in the automobile mindset.