Letter: Remote Versus Truly Remote Rural Retreats

Dear Editor:
I’ve been reading SurvivalBlog for a few weeks now, and while I admit that isn’t remotely enough time to wade through all the data present, I’m an old school (former) U.S. Marine that has long had a survialist mindset; I see one particular issue that jumps out at me.

The standard advice, for looking for a bugout location or retreat, whether inside or outside of the ‘Redoubt’ seems to be this…

1) Find a plot of 20 acres or more that is, (2) off the beaten path BUT (3) has a well established road access, (4) with a good southern exposure for solar power and growing food and (5) a small stream that either originates on the property or flows from adjacent federal land, but (6) is NOT navigable nor should the property be adjacent to a navigable river. The logic here appears to be that, since just anybody can float down the river in a canoe, they can scope out your property. I think that this logic is backwards, and this is why…

Any crisis that would result in the majority of redoubters heading for their property in the redoubt would have the effect of severely limiting modern transportation methods. We know this is true regardless of whether the trigger is a collapse due to peak oil effects, an X-class solar flare, or an EMP attack by a foreign power. Because modern transportation is dependent upon fuel, and availability of fuel is dependent upon a vast number of variables directly or indirectly affected by any number of different styles of crisis, any Redoubter who is caught more than three days walking distance from his retreat is then subject to the same forces that would create the rest of the zombies, and he is, therefore, a zombie himself. Furthermore, even if he could manage to walk to his retreat, by way of the road network without being waylaid, what should he expect to find when he arrives? Odds are as likely as not that he will arrive to find that closer zombies found his retreat just fine, and won’t care much that he holds the deed. While buying a retreat that is near a cluster of like-minded folks is certainly wise advice, it would still be wise advice if the access to that clustered community was only via the traditional waterways. While it is true that any man with a working boat can scope your retreat from your own dock, far fewer people have boats than cars, bikes or good pair of walking shoes. Therefore, choosing a retreat that is only accessible via a boat or a hard walk through wilderness improves your OPSEC by limiting the absolute number of people who have the ability to approach your retreat at all. Furthermore, the majority of available pleasure boats are power boats; and if there isn’t enough gas for a car, there won’t be enough for a boat trip against the flow of the river either.

Yet, the immediate aftermath of a crisis event is a fleeting problem; so that isn’t even the most important reason why redoubters should favor waterfront property. Owning a fertile patch of land and living completely off the land does sound romantic, and a minority of people have the skillset necessary, but the majority of us still need and will crave both community interactions as well as the ability to trade with others, in order to obtain resources not available on their own property. If all your neighbors own parcels of 20 acres or more, maintaining such social interactions and trading opportunities will require quite a bit of walking even with the best of roads. But let’s take a lesson from history here. Most of the towns in the redoubt founded prior to the invention of the automobile were settled by way of the rivers, and they engaged in local & regional trade via boat traffic on those same rivers. The ‘mackinaw’ boat was developed in this area of the country, as an oversized canoe with a flat bottom; which allowed people to transport large amounts of goods up and down the Missouri River and simply drag the boat up onto the river’s bank. In the absence of hard, paved roads; travel overland by way of either wheels or pack animal has always been difficult and fraught with risks throughout human history; while the whole of the world was explored and colonized using fragile wooden sailboats. So for the majority of human history, trade, travel, and cargo transport was over water, not land. I am of the opinion that, should we need our retreats due to a long term crisis, travel over natural bodies of water will once again become the least risky method available to the majority of mankind. We would be wise to expect this to be true again in the future.

As a reference, the following link is to a particular type of boat being designed by a person with similar views regarding the future, but a different solution. I offer it up as another viewpoint worthy of consideration. – C.

JWR Replies: Your point is valid but not particularly applicable in the Intermountain West, where most rivers are NOT navigable by anything more than kayaks or canoes for more that short distances. This is because of the mountainous terrain of the American Redoubt region. Here, most of the slow-moving navigable rivers are now closely paralleled by roads or highways. And even most of the larger rivers are interspersed by rapids that are worthy of mention in Kayaker magazine.

There are a few exceptions, most notably the vast River of No Return Wilderness of Idaho, which has just a few “inholding” (landlocked) properties that are only accessible via jet boat or via trails. This is where Sylvan Hart (aka Buckskin Bill) chose his retreat during the Great Depression. (See the book The Last Of The Mountain Men, for his fascinating story.)

There are also a handful of lakeshore properties that fit your “boat-in and trail-in only” criteria. One example is a remote house in the “boat-in-only” hamlet of Stehekin, on Lake Chelan, presently listed at our SurvivalRealty.com spinoff web site.

When traveling with (or on behalf of) consulting clients, I have also visited a few properties with dwellings that are on the far side of rivers and only accessible via boat or via cableway “travelers.” But here too, there are just a handful.

There are some ranches and even a few small towns that are easily accessible only via ONE bridge, that could conceivably be, ahem, “blocked” and well-guarded.

Lastly, there are a few inholdings that are accessible via foot trails or jeep trails only. Most of these are patented mining claims that pre-dated the establishment of the now-surrounding National Forests and hence were grandfathered. I heard from one consulting client that he made the narrow road to his micro-hydro powered inholding disappear with a bit of bulldozer work and extensive intentional tree plantings, reducing it to a foot trail only. But this was done AFTER he had modernized, remodeled, and fully stocked its cabin.

Choose your locale and neighbors wisely. – JWR