(Continued from Part 1.)
Using Google or Bing maps provides you with an initial idea of what the route and terrain for a journey home might look like, but it’s far from the end of your planning. While these maps provide information on roads and walking paths, they don’t include details on possible alternatives like railroad tracks and waterways.
There has been a lot of discussion regarding the use of railroad tracks for travel in a post-SHTF world. On the plus side railways tend to be more isolated from built-up areas, so you may stand a better chance of avoiding people, and they tend avoid steep climbs and drops, which should make traveling somewhat easier. On the other hand, if you’ve ever tried walking a railroad track you know how difficult it can be to comfortably match your stride to the spacing of the ties, and if you need to run you’ll probably end up tripping. It’s also virtually impossible to ride a bike on railroad tracks without rattling your teeth out. Some railroad tracks have a right-of-way dirt road that parallels it that allows for maintenance access, so that may simplify using them for RTB travel.
Another potential advantage of knowing the railways along your route is that railroad bridges can provide an alternative for crossing rivers and other terrain obstacles that may help you avoid trouble on road bridges. Regardless of your view of railroad tracks as a possible route, I’d recommend being aware of where the tracks are along your intended route in case you need to use them. The Open Railway Map Project provides detailed maps of railroad tracks all over the world (both in-use and abandoned), and I include snapshots of the lines along my RTB route as part of my planning documents. Note that the web site is pretty slow to load, so be patient if you use it. If you find it useful for planning, please consider making a donation to help keep it running (I’m not affiliated with it in any way – I just find it to be a useful resource).
You can also evaluate designated hiking trails as potential routes. There are numerous maintained long distance hiking trails across the US, such as the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, the Eastern Continental Trail and many others. The advantages to these trails are that they tend to avoid more heavily populated areas, they’re marked and maintained, and you can usually buy dedicated hard copy trail maps that include things like topographical detail.
Another potentially useful route is water. There are thousands of lakes and rivers around, and they may help cut days of hard travel off of your journey. Say for example you live in western Tennessee and you’re on a business trip to St. Louis when an event occurs. That’s around 200 miles straight-line distance, probably 15-30 days of hard walking if you’re in reasonably good shape, or 5-10 days of bicycling (assuming no major problems along the way). Alternatively, you could obtain a small boat and travel down the Mississippi River, which could cut days off of your journey. If you’re in a city that is on a large body of water you could also potentially use a small boat to help you escape the initial insanity that would most likely follow a SHTF event and get clear of the crowds, then come ashore in a more isolated area and continue your journey. Note that paddling and controlling a small boat isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially on rapidly moving or rough water, so if you want to include water travel in your route planning I highly recommend that you get some experience before you have to try it for real.
You’ll also need to consider obstacles such as locks, rapids, waterfalls and dams as well as surface conditions in your planning. You can usually spot potential obstacles using Google/Bing maps by zooming in on the satellite view and ‘flying over’ the route you plan on taking, or you can use inland waterway navigation charts. For understanding conditions such as currents and tides, the USGS provides a lot of information on surface water conditions in the US on their web site. One item I include in my travel kit if I’m considering water routes for RTB travel is a Klymit LiteWater Dinghy Packraf which works well for one person with gear and packs down to a 5” x 9” package. It’s pretty easy to fashion a paddle out of a branch with a ‘Y’ on the end and some plastic and Gorilla tape, or you could pack a small telescoping paddle if you wanted to reduce your time to get in the water. It’s bright orange color isn’t the most subtle, but I’ve found that I can drape my poncho over the raft with me inside to hide the color.
Irrespective of your mode of transport, one of the most critical items to consider when planning out your route is access to drinking water. It weighs around 8lbs per gallon so you generally can’t carry a lot of it, but it’s also one of the most essential items for survival, especially when you’re exerting yourself. The general rules of thumb are that an adult should consume at least 1 gallon of water per day and that you can survive for around 3 days without it, but you’ll probably start slowing down in less than a day if you’re not drinking regularly. You should plan your route so that you’re passing close to a water source at least once a day. That’s easy to do if you’re in some parts of the country like the Northeast US – there are ponds, lakes, stream and rivers all over the place, and you’ll probably have to spend a lot of time just trying to get over or around them.
On the other hand, if you live in Idaho and you need to get home from Las Vegas, you’ll have to cross several hundred miles of desert terrain so your route will need to zig-zag between water sources. You’d probably want to consider heading northeast out of Las Vegas towards Utah, then follow the base of the mountains northward so you stay near water supplies. It’ll add time to your trip, but your chances of surviving will increase. You’ll obviously need some method of purifying any water you find, which I’ll discuss later.
Additional Route Planning Considerations
Outside of overall mapping there are a couple of other things you need to consider when planning your RTB route. The first is the time of year and how the weather may impact how you get home. Say, for example, you were visiting Denver when an event occurs and you had to get back home to central Wyoming. If it’s summer time you could probably follow the roads through a mountain pass west of the city and head up towards Lake Granby, then follow Route 125 toward home. However, if it’s the middle of the winter there most likely won’t be any snow clearing services and many of those mountain passes will become impassable, so you would probably be better off heading north towards Fort Collins, then heading northwest on Rt. 287. There’s still a chance you’ll run into heavy snow, but the terrain is a lot more open and you’d have a better chance of finding shelter in the event of a storm.
Another example would be if you’re planning on using waterways for your route – a river might be just a few inches deep at places in the late summer, but it can turn into dangerous raging rapids with the spring runoff. You also need to keep in mind how weather can impact your health when you’re traveling outdoors – an average person can get hypothermia (cold) in temperatures as high a 60°F, or hyperthermia (heat) in temperatures as low as 80°F, so make sure you plan for appropriate clothing and shelter. You can find out the typical weather patterns for your destination by searching for ‘average monthly weather conditions for [destination]’ with your favorite search engine. You should also have some basic skills in predicting weather so you can be better prepared while you’re traveling.
Some specific types of events may also mandate certain routing considerations. For example, a limited nuclear strike on the US may target certain facilities near your planned route, necessitating a long detour around them to avoid radiation, massive flooding from destroyed dams or dikes may block your route, or mudslides or avalanches may make a planned trail impassable. While you probably can’t plan for every possible contingency you should at least consider how possible events might impact your travel and develop alternate route for the most likely ones.
Planning your initial egress from your destination location is critical when starting your journey. If you’re traveling to a location with any significant population density you should be aware of the ‘social geography’ at your destination. That means knowing what neighborhoods are most likely to erupt into rioting and looting soon after a major event and making sure your egress route avoids them. You can usually find current information on which neighborhoods should be avoided by searching for ‘most dangerous neighborhoods in [your destination]’ with your favorite search engine. In an event of something like an EMP the bad guys will probably quickly realize the cops won’t be showing up anytime soon and will likely head to the more upscale shopping areas for a little ‘window shopping’, so plan an egress route that focuses on middle-class neighborhoods, office districts and warehouse/industrial areas.
Your route planning might also need to take into account intermediate stops. You may need to stop by a friend’s or family member’s house to connect up with them, or stop along the way to pick up some equipment or supplies. For example, I live in the north-central New England area and I occasionally have to (against my will) travel to the greater New York City area for business. I like to have firearms with me when I travel and I’m licensed to carry in every New England state except Rhode Island, but since I’m not a rich, a politician or a police officer I obviously can’t possess a firearm anywhere within New York state.
My approach for this scenario is to drive my vehicle with my get home bag (GHB) and firearms (locked in bolted-down locked steel containers) and park it in a secure parking garage in Greenwich, Connecticut, then take the train from there into New York City. That way I’m only 20 miles or so from my critical RTB travel gear, which I can walk in a day or two, or, if necessary, obtain a boat and follow the shore up to Greenwich. If you travel to one or more locations frequently you may want to consider setting up a cache with critical items either at your destination or somewhere along your planned RTB route. There have been numerous articles on SurvivalBlog about caching, so do some searching to read more about that.
Modes of Travel
While it may not be a viable transport option after an event, how you get to your destination can have an impact on what supplies and equipment you have with you. Flying is the best method for covering long distances in the least amount of time, but it can be expensive and intrusive and you’re extremely limited in what you can carry and check in your luggage. In my previous article I discussed at length my recommendations for a travel kit, so I won’t repeat most of that here. The one critical point is that I always check a bag for any trip that’s more than a day. A lot of my RTB gear and supplies are in the checked bag, which allows me to quickly egress an area after an event without having to look for supplies.
Trains can be almost as fast as air travel for shorter trips and you can carry a lot more stuff in your bags, but these days it’s almost as expensive as air travel. Buses also allow for more options in terms of what RTB travel gear you can bring, and it’s inexpensive but relatively slow.
The final option is driving, which gives you the most flexibility for what you can bring with you, but can also take the longest. You can bring pretty much everything you might need for an RTB trip, including alternate transportation like bicycles, carts and snowshoes.
Regardless of your mode of travel you should always be aware of the laws governing things like firearms and knives at your destination. My recommendation is to have as much defensive capability with you as you legally can when traveling.
(To be continued tomorrow, as part of a five-part series.)