Despite years of reading valid arguments for moving to the American Redoubt or other remote area, of the hundreds of preppers I’ve met I can count on one hand those who made the move and most of those were retired. I meet relatively few preppers living at a secluded retreat, a few with secondary retreats, many planning to bug out to property they do not own (hopefully by agreement), and the majority still living in and around cities with no alternative plan to shelter in place. Only one of those four types I just described is unlikely to be on the road at some time after a trigger event. According to NOAA, 39% of Americans live in counties directly on the shoreline. It is for those who are not already where they intend to weather the long emergency that is to come that I share my experience.
I am blessed to live in what has been described by many publications as one of the best small cities in the U.S. Not only are we hours from cities with populations over 30,000, but our infrastructure is designed to withstand the occasional two-week power outage which happens every few years. When our local grid goes down water still flows from large tanks perched high on the surrounding peaks. We are close enough to the natural gas wells that even the elderly do not remember a time when gas stopped flowing to our homes. We are surrounded by rivers and lakes with standing dead timber and wild game so prolific they are both considered nuisances. While this is great for localized disasters it is still too population dense for comfort during a long-term world-changing event at 274 people per square mile, I purchased acreage in a secluded and gated community about an hour away via the highway, a couple hours via secondary roads, and a few days walk via mostly rail trail with caches buried along the route. Deep in a holler on a dead end gated road off a dead end paved road off a township road I built a wood-heated, solar-powered cabin with hot and cold running water which my neighbor looks after in my absence. Outbuildings and other infrastructure scatter the hillside.
Just when I thought I had everything squared away, my wife came home excited about an opportunity for professional advancement. This new position would be closer to her parents which had become important because we recently had our first child. My concern was the location. It was in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia which sits on a Peninsula between Naval Station Norfolk (the world’s largest naval base) and Surry Nuclear Power Plant. Traffic on I-68 is a bear in both directions on an average day and horrendous around the holidays. Remote controlled gates shut down Eastbound on ramps so all lanes serve westbound traffic in the event of a hurricane or other evacuation. State studies show that it would take 36 hours to evacuate South Hampton Roads in the event of a hurricane and that is less than half the 1.7 Million residents of the metropolitan area. Rob Case, principal transportation engineer for the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization stated “that means you’d be sitting in your car for up to 30 hours, then you’d probably run out of gas.” If we didn’t leave early we would have to bug in until the crowds thinned. This close to such an attractive military target that meant nothing less than a hardened bomb shelter would suffice.
Fortunately my wife did not get the job so it cost me nothing to be a supportive husband to someone who, although she is not at all interested in preparedness, is supportive of my spending tens of thousands of dollars and much of my spare time pursuing it. Although I did not have to implement the plan, the thought process I went through in developing a way to get back to my mountain retreat from such a desperate locale helped me to improve my existing plan for the much shorter distance from this small city. I share it here in hopes that those who cannot relocate pre-incident will find it helpful in making an assessment and developing an evacuation plan.
SWOT Analysis – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats
This term I learned pursuing my MBA in the nineties is an appropriate way to consider the strengths and weaknesses of both the location and the person in that location.
S = Strengths: As it is on a peninsula, the only good thing I could find about Hampton Roads is that it borders the James River on one side. There are probably more, but since I never had to actually move there I did not discover them. In the interests of humility I will limit the explanation of my personal strengths to those relevant to that fact. Part of my job when I worked for the Boy Scouts of America was to pilot a boat ferrying scouts from typical camps to my high adventure outpost.
Weaknesses: Hampton Roads is an overcrowded peninsula and even during “normal” times traffic is often at a standstill on I-64 in various spots between Hampton and Richmond. As I explained earlier, even if all lanes are going NorthWest experts believe it could take days to cover that 75 mile stretch. My relevant personal weakness is that I absolutely hate traffic! I somehow managed a commute of six lanes each way when I was a graduate student in Atlanta, Georgia. As I’ve grown older, however, I’m on edge the entire time I’m in traffic.
Opportunities: I could buy a boat which is not only enjoyable during good times. Since as you say, two is one and one is none I would get both a cruiser and a dingy. Although much farther away moving close to my wife’s family would provide the opportunity for more time at the retreat since I’m the primary care giver of our toddler.
Threats: Greater cultural diversity in the Hampton area has resulted unprovoked attacks. A newspaper reporter was recently dragged from his car and beaten by a mob merely because of the color of his skin. This friction could escalate following a trigger event because people need someone to blame and these differences are the most apparent.
Since this essay is about getting out of the city I will dispense with all the preparations I would need to make based upon identified strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats because these are going to change substantially. I will instead focus on the subject of this essay which is escaping from a crowded city to a preplanned safer location. Here in Appalachia I buried my first cache with essentials similar to a bug out bag within a day’s walk in case we have to leave with only the clothes on our back. In this hypothetical example, however, we will leave from home fully provisioned and experience several setbacks so as to explore the greatest number of possibilities:
I’m home with our daughter when normal programming is interrupted news of a trigger event. I immediately text COME HOME NOW SHTF to my wife at the nearby university. She heads for home before most people realize the intensity of the situation while I slide out Coleman Scanoe  onto its rack on the roof of our Jeep Liberty. After filling the back with our bug out bags, the electric trolling motor in its EMP resistant metal box, and the portion of my armory I keep at the house, I slide the motorcycle rack into the hitch receiver and roll my Suzuki DR350 into place. My wife makes it home in time to change change clothes and grab something for us to eat on the road before we head out the door.
Traffic in our residential neighborhood is not much different than during Trick-or-Treat, but once we get onto the main streets traffic is heavy and the radio reports it is already getting messy on the Interstate. We decide to take the two-lane secondary road which we are familiar with from trying to avoid stop-and-go traffic while visiting the in laws. I creeps along for a while until it stops completely. We hear on the CB that there has been an accident up ahead, but unlike before we do not hear the sounds of sirens converging on their location. They must be tied up elsewhere meaning the sea of vehicles isn’t going anywhere. People are still civil, but we do not want to be trapped her when darkness falls. Doing the math, we decide we have to leave the Jeep behind. We consider rolling the DR350 off it rack behind the Jeep and winding our way through the traffic, but we are still far down the peninsula and although I’ve seen families of five weaving through traffic on similar motorbikes in third-world countries, they weren’t trying to carry as much stuff as we do. Fortunately, the great majority of the traffic is trying to leave and while there are people waiting at intersections to enter this mess, no one is driving away from it on the streets perpendicular to the golden horde. There are several cars in the other lane prevent me from turning toward the James River so I make a deal with the neckless behemoth in the truck next to me to give him the motorcycle if he can clear a path. Under normal circumstances that would be a foolish trade, but I can’t take it with me. Within a few minutes we are at the James River and shortly thereafter the Scanoe is in the water with the trolling motor attach and the hull filled with the supplies from the Jeep.
It’s decision time again. Do we head twenty miles down river in hopes our cruiser does not pass us coming up river along the way? I know if I had no other options I would have stolen one myself. Maybe I should have headed there to begin with, but hindsight is 20/20. Since we want to get as far away as possible before dark and the nuclear power plant on the other side of the river is still stable, we opt to head upriver in the Scanoe to the first asset I pre-positioned in a more rural area on the other side of the river. We arrive just after sunset at the place I pay a monthly fee to store my farm truck. I could get by with driving a 1989 Ford F250 Diesel with rust holes and no exhaust muffler in the back woods of West Virginia, but when we moved to the big city I had to leave it behind. Instead of leaving it at the retreat I opted to strategically place it within walking distance and on the other side of the James River. One weekend a month on my way back and forth to my retreat I stop and maintain this and my other caches which I will describe later.
It doesn’t take long to get the truck loaded and on the way because I did not have to use the alternate starting procedure necessary in the event an EMP disables the ignition and glow plugs. Traffic is still heavy on this two-lane rural highway, but with very few people trying to enter the flow from side roads it moves along at a good pace, but it still takes three hours to get to our next asset, a small self-storage unit near the small town of Farmville, Virginia population 8,200. We arrive physically exhausted so instead of the two of us taking shifts sleeping we back the truck up as close to the roll-up door of the unit as possible, lock the doors, and set the portable motion alarms stored in the unit before locking the outside hasp open with the padlock, rolling down the door, and securing it with a chain. I would prefer a guard, but I’ll sleep in the bottom bunk with my battle rifle on my chest while my family rests up top because we want to get on the road before day break.
At 5:00 AM the battery powered alarm clock I’ve had since I lived in a tent for a living screams me awake. While my wife tends to the toddler and prepares a simple breakfast, I replenish our water supply from the 50 gallon food-grade plastic barrel and load the canned food (rotated monthly due to high heat) into the back of the Jeep. I empty the remaining contents of this 5′ x 10′ self-storage unit onto a large tarp which I wrap up like a burrito and place into the back of the truck. I also top off my tank with stored diesel and ratchet down the gasoline cans that I moved from the unit to the back of the truck when we arrived.
Except for some trepidation when we passed under I-64/81 in the middle of nowhere, the remaining 250 miles to our retreat is largely uneventful. I remembered how foolish I felt driving up and down the Interstate with my GPS mapping road that go under the Interstate, but without off ramps. We stopped at our buried cache in Mon National Forest and added those items to our load. More people seemed to be open carrying then usual, but it’s legal here and we may just be extra sensitive. It’s not unusual and according to at least one survey we have the highest rate of armed households East of the Mississippi. By keeping the truck registered in our retreat state, sticking to back roads, and crossing under Interstates where there are no exists, we were able to avoid road blocks. We arrived back at our retreat community with twenty-four hours of leaving Hampton, before the bridge to our community was closed, and within the nine meal buffer before anarchy.