My experience this past weekend camping with two of my friends and all of our children reminded me of the difficulties that one would have in a TEOTWAWKI situation. To begin with I have two friends that I have known since jr high or longer. We have, since that time spent lots of time together camping, hiking, biking, canoeing and any of a number of other outdoor adventures. We have climbed over 12,000 foot passes while backpacking and ridden our bikes for hundreds of miles, camping along the way. When we began having children we decided that we would do an annual camping trip to push the limits of what they and we could physically handle. The ultimate goal, to build a life time love of the outdoors for our children and also to prepare them for the really fun trips we can do when they are finally big enough to carry their own weight. For this article I will talk mostly of our most recent trip but may throw in lessons learned from the past.
This years trip was by bike. We rode 25 miles from one of our houses to a campground on the outskirts of our city. In our party are three 38 year old men who are in decent shape but not the shape we were before fatherhood. We had 3 girls 9,7 and 5 and 4 boys 5 ,5, 3 and 3. The 9 year old rode her own bike but carried no equipment. We then had the other two girls and oldest two boy riding trail behind bike. We had three Burley bike trailers carrying the youngest two boys and all of our equipment.
We actually had room to carry more stuff but for the ease of transport we elected to only bring food for dinner and breakfast with the plan to resupply during the following day. We ate our meals on the road at restaurants. We cooked by fire to avoid a stove. We had clean water available to us so we brought no water purification equipment. The forecast was for temps from 60-80 so we could skimp on cold weather clothes and sleeping equipment. All of these are thing I would be reluctant to leave behind were it not for the the fact that we were only gone three days and a rescue was only a phone call away. We had the usual other camping and first aid equipment, as well as bike tools and tubes. We did not have any tactical equipment or firearms with the exception of my carry gun and 2 extra magazines. I state all of this to make it known that we would have wanted to bring a lot more with us or have it cached if this was a true bug out situation.
The ride out there went pretty well. We covered about 8 miles before we had our first break. All the kids were hungry and thirsty and tired, though with in a few minutes most of them had begun playing red light green light and were clearly not that tired. We had another 9 miles to go to our planned lunch stop. My son who is very diligent about staying hydrated had to stop three times to use the bathroom in that next 9 miles. It is good that I do not have to worry about him not drinking enough but it really slows momentum when the whole group has to stop so often. About two miles from our planned lunch the nine year old was losing steam. Even though we were only 20 minutes away at most from lunch we had to stop and let her eat a snack. It was a good lesson for the rest of the kids when they did not also receive one as well(rationing) but it is once again a momentum stopper. The truth though is that you can not make kids at this age wait to eat. If they crash their energy reserve they will not recover for some time and that will slow the rest of the trip down. This is true for adults as well. I have certainly pushed myself to the point where with out food I was slowed to barely a walking pace while biking. It can takes several hours to get your system up and running again and that is not a position you want to be in under any circumstance. We made it to lunch and spent a good hour eating and resting before finishing our trip. I believe we made it without any stops from lunch to the campground about another 7-8 miles. I should add that we were riding mostly on a trail that was built on a rail road track so there was very minimal grade to contend with. Whenever we met hills the weight of our combined rigs was a lot to deal with. The whole trip took us about 5 hours with about 3 hours of riding time.
Some word on bike choice would be appropriate here. I have a lot of bikes to choose from in my garage. In order to pull a trail behind bike you can not have a rear rack because the trail behind mounts to the the seat post. For this reason I did not ride my commuter bike which I am the most comfortable on and has the widest range of gears. I picked an older bike that was a top of the line racing bike 20 years ago. It is geared to go fast and it does, but I found that I was riding in the bottom 2-3 gears most of the time and was not able to maintain the cadence I would like unless we were going about 12-13 miles an hour. If I were going up any kind of incline I had no choice but to fight down the pedal in way too tall of a gear. I have ridden a lot and given our situation I could handle it but I would have been much happier with a bike geared for a lower speed range. The truth is that even 12-13 miles an hour was never maintained for more then a few minutes and so I found myself always pedaling slower then I would like. I will say though that when we faced one of those up-hill climbs and I yelled back to my son to pedal hard–he was helping me get up the hills. It is important to take advantage of their energy when you can but also be mindful of preserving it on the level. I suppose a mountain bike would be the best choice in a bug out situation but if you are comfortable on a commuter style bike the skinnier wheels will save you a lot of energy. Half of our ride was on crushed lime stone which those bike handle well. I have ridden them on true country gravel roads though and found them to be difficult to keep upright when loaded down. I have also ridden a mountain bike with smooth but still fat tires on long trips and found them to be more able but about 1-2 miles an hour slower, there is always a compromise.
I will also comment on bike maintenance and equipment. It is wise to have a tool kit with wrenches etc that will fit most if not all the components on your bike(s). They do not generally have that many different sizes so the kit is not that big. Spare tubes, tube repair kits, spoke wrench, chain breaker and tool, as well as a spare chain and chain oil would all be good things to have as well. Remember tubes for all the different wheels you have. [Albeit a rare occurrence,] a broken chain can be a real problem. I was stranded once and had to have my sister come get me because I could not fix the chain and I was too far away to walk. Chains breaking can be a very dangerous thing as well. Many of the injuries I know of with bicyclists have happened while going hard up hill or sprinting and having their chain brake. The rider almost always suffers a bad crash in this situation. In some instance I know of broken bones and concussions.
Once we reached our camp ground we put up our tent and set up our camp. We rode back to buy firewood, much easier then foraging and set out to explore the campground. We had drank all of our water plus three Gatorades, a chocolate milk for all the kids and drinks from water fountains along the way. I would estimate that was at least 4 gallons of water but probably more. That takes along time to pump through a purifier or boil and cool were that necessary. Plus we had all begun the trip well hydrated. We went to get more water and found that it tasted pretty awful. A lot of the kids seemed like they would not drink it. I am sure in time they would have but not before risking dehydration. Luckily we had powder mix and found that it could be mixed pretty lean to take away the bad taste and still last.
Here is the hard part about camping with kids. The dads are tired and the kids are ready to play. They are old enough to do so with out us but they like it better when we participate and after all we are there to have fun. This gives our group a good chance to gain some unit cohesion where one father will entertain the kids while the other two get some work done. By the end of the weekend the kids rarely care which dad is lifting them up, applying sunscreen to them or cutting their food. It also give us the chance to discipline them all as necessary so that we can effectively operate in the absence of one parent such as when one of us had to go to the grocery store the next day. If nothing else comes from these trips the chance to have a close relationship with your best friends children is worth it. We never know when one of us may be gone and it is easier to rest knowing that there are at least two good men in their lives. This is especially close to my heart as my father died when I was 19 and I would have liked to have had that relationship with some of his friends.
After dinner, Smores for dessert, and another walk it was time for bed. It is hard to get kids to go to sleep in a tent when it is still light out. Expect it to take a while. Even though they are tired, it is not dark enough and they are out of their element. You will spend a good while going back to assure them that you are just sitting by the fire. We stayed up until about 12:00 or so as adults then slept poorly until about 6:00 in the morning when the first kids started to wake up. One thing that you get a lot practice with as parents in general and especially while camping is sleep deprivation. I am sure in a bug out situation it would be worse but we would also be more careful about staying up so late and better about napping during the day.
We made breakfast and then two of us took the kids to the playground while the other went to the store to get food for the rest of our stay. This turned out to be a good opportunity for me to try my Mainstay Emergency rations on the kids. When we returned from the playground to get our swimming suits for the beach the kids were all hungry again. We had some food left but I told them we did not and offered them each one of the lemon flavored emergency bars. To my surprise all but one of the kids liked them. They did have a hard time eating the whole thing but it carried them over well, until lunch time. I ate one as well and found it to be a little dry but filling. At lunch we ate a loaf of bread, chips, grapes and a few other snacks. However much you think that you will eat get about 20-30 % more. Kids eat a lot when they are outside all day playing. The rest of the evening went well with the usual filling of all the water bottles every couple of hours. The only new lesson learned was that my younger son who never has nightmares woke up in the middle of the night screaming about a bad dream. That could be a big problem if you were dealing with a security situation but I am not sure how it can be avoided. I think that if you went to bed with them it would help but it is only a theory.
The next morning we were up again by 6, had oatmeal, packed up camp and were on the road by 9:30. We could probably shave some time off of this but we did not have to pump water or do many of the other tasks that would have been necessary camping in the wild. We made good time back going almost 12 miles before our first stop. Another 5 miles brought us to lunch. The last stretch we also made with out a major stop. I find that the kids start to travel better the longer that you are out.
We could probably have made it another 10 miles that first day but that would have been about the limit I think. If we had traveled the next day I think that it would have had to be a pretty easy day but we could have probably made 20 miles. After that I think that we could settle into a 30 mile a day routine. I say this from past experience on longer trips. The 2nd day is usually the hard one and after that you can usual get into a rhythm that works for awhile. I think that it would be awhile before you could go much more then 35 miles a day and expect to keep doing it day after day.
Another consideration is in a real situation we would have our wives with us. That would increase our cargo capacity but also increase our cargo. The other problem is that in our situation we are three friends that have done this kind of thing for over 20 years together. We know our groups strengths and weaknesses and for the most part deal well with them. Having spent the weekend at a cabin with the same group plus wives I know that our group does not operate as well. I am sure it is something that would work itself out, as we are all married to very capable and intelligent women, but it still could make for some difficult moments.
I have also given consideration to pulling larger trailers with multiple bikes. We have done this once before when we built chariot type rigs to be pulled during our High school homecoming parade. They were not of the highest quality construction so I am sure I could improve upon the design but they were manageable. With two bikes attached as horses would be it did not take to long to coordinate with the other rider starts, turns and stops. Hills were very difficult and some provision would need to be made for assisting the trailer up the hills possibly by less encumbered riders. More likely by walking up the hills. The other problem and the main reason that I would see this as last resort is that they were very difficult to stop or turn quickly. In this way you would expend a lot of energy going up hill and not getting the advantage on the coast down as you would be trying to keep from turning into a runaway train. Another idea I have for moving more stuff is to shuttle half the group forward with half the equipment and then send the strongest riders back to pick up the rest of the stuff and the other half of the group. This is also an idea I do not like but the truth it that we may be forced to make decisions we would rather not have to make and it is good to think about it ahead of time.
In closing if biking is part of your strategy please ride as much as you can. Ride to church, ride to the store, ride whenever you can. You body will remember those miles when the times comes. Practice pulling additional weight up a hill, you will be surprised how much you can feel that 20 pounds. The eye opener to me in all of this is that I need to consider more seriously caching food and equipment. The cabin that I thought was one hard day of cycling away, is probably more realistically 3 to 4 days away. All the extra space I had intended for more tactical equipment would be taken up by the additional food requirement.
Keep your lamps trimmed and burning.