Walking Home after the SHTF

A man alone in the forest

If we look back at last week, you’ll see the post I wrote on packing my truck to survive a short-term disaster or to equip e with sufficient supplies to walk home. Today I’m going to explore what might happen if I have to walk the 90 miles home.

For the sake of this exercise, let’s assume I am in Books-a-Million when the lights and every other electronic thing go out. The store clerks herd us outside and lock the store. I notice people look at the phones and realize they are not working. I pull mine out and confirm mine is bricked. I try the unlock function on my truck and it doesn’t unlock. The key opens the driver’s door, but the truck won’t turn over. I look around and realize none of the traffic in the parking lot or the roads is moving.

I immediately conclude that it is an EMP or some kind of Carrington Event caused by a CME. I hope it is the latter because I believe an EMP attack on the U.S. would result in a nuclear war.

Immediate Action

I realize I won’t be driving anywhere, so I will have to walk the 90 miles. Actually, I can go North on one interstate, then West on another before I take state highways and back roads south about 40 miles to my house. This would be a 110 mile trip, but most of it on wide highways.

I decide I am better off heading South about 30 miles and then West on state, local and back roads about 60 miles for a total of 90 miles. Not only is the distance shorter, but I don’t want to spend the first week or more on the Interstate, where there are guaranteed to be people getting increasingly hungry, frustrated and possibly violent. If I had a bicycle and could cover 40 miles in a day, the Interstate would be ideal, but not on foot.

Here’s what I do:

Step 1: Food

I go to the store personnel and ask if I can buy some of the food in their coffee shop before it goes bad because of a lack of refrigeration. I tell them I am willing to pay cash. If they let me in to buy food, I skip the fancy coffees and buy cookies, brownies, muffins and other solid foods they have.

Step 2: Optimizing my Load Out

I grab my backpack from the backseat and toss it and my big plastic bin of survival gear into the truck bed. I go through the pack purging anything I won’t need, like the charging cables for my phone, business cards, my checkbook, and other vestiges of modern life. Then I go through the tub and sort it into things I need and things I don’t. Things I don’t need include four AR15 magazines and my combat goggles. But that reminds me, and I grab both my sunglasses and my reading glasses from the cab. While I am up there, I grab my spare ammo and a map. There’s nothing else in the glove compartment I need.

I also open the contractor box on the back of my truck and remove the top level of items like tow straps, ratchets, bungee cords, and the 2” ball for my hitch. Under it is the important stuff. I bring out my big, old, heavy FAL, a double mag pouch, and an old surplus shoulder bag that holds another three magazines and another three boxes of ammo. I grab the mess kit and my water filter. In the interests of weight, I have to decide between the hatchet and the folding shovel. I opt for the hatchet. There is a two-quart military canteen that is like a square bladder. I fill it up with water from three of my water bottles. The other three bottles go in my pack.

By the time I am ready to abandon my truck, I am carrying my Glock and 2 magazines on my belt. I have four more magazines in my pack. I have two FAL magazines on my belt and two more in my pack, along with one box of ammo. I also have a Cold Steel SRK on my belt. The weight of everything is enough to make me wish I had suspenders.

My pack is crammed with food, a bit of clothing, first aid supplies, spare ammunition, and the mess kit and fire starting kit. I have folded and then rolled up two wool blankets and a tarp which I bungee onto the bottom of my pack. I stuff my parka in there as well.

Step 3: Start Walking

I walk about half a mile to get to the Interstate. The main roads are crowded with cars and they are fairly close together. Many cars were at red lights when they lost power. Some people drifted to the edge of the road as they lost power. This is more pronounced on the Interstate, but the cars are further apart. It makes walking on the shoulder difficult, so I opt to walk in the fast lane. I’d like to walk beside the road, but won’t be able to do that until I get outside of the city. Besides, there are bridges and overpasses every half mile, so I need to stay on or close to the road.

Most of the people look at me and then look away. A few people shout questions. I tell them I’m walking home and they should do the same or find a hotel. I realize a hotel won’t help them, but neither will sitting in their car.

My goal is to get outside the city by dark. It’s 1 p.m., so I have about six hours. That should be more than enough

Step 4: A Small Town and the State Highway

On the second night, I put together a cold camp in the woods about half a mile before the exit I want to take. I know I won’t be able to get through the town in the dark and I could use the sleep. Walking isn’t bad, but carrying that weight has made every bone in my body sore. I should have done more rucking. As I eat my food, the pack is getting lighter. I’ve been limiting myself to an MRE per day, plus the cookies and brownies.

I fill the sports bottle with a purifying straw and the big canteen in a creek. I drop water purification tablets into the canteen. In the morning, I will mix in a drink mix packet from an MRE, which will cover up the taste of the iodine tablet, and then pour the water in the big canteen into my empty plastic bottles and then refill it and add another two tablets.

I pass through the town as the sun rises. There are a bunch of people sprawled in the open outside the gas station and convenience store that’s right off the exit. I hope they are just sleeping, but I steer clear just to be safe.

I walk through the back roads and alleys that parallel the main road until I reach the state highway intersection where I strike out West. The buildings quickly grow further and further apart. I know the longest part of the trip lies ahead of me, including climbing the mountain pass. It seems to take forever in a car. I can only imagine how long it will take on foot. The good news is that there will be water close at hand because a small river follows the road almost the whole way.

Step 5: Foraging

On the state highway, there are long stretches of woods and then you come to a cluster of three to five houses surrounded by fields. It’s hard to tell if they are occupied because there are no lights, but quite a few of them have no cars in front. Since the CME hit around noon, many people were at work and haven’t made it home yet.

At one house, a dozen chickens made a huge ruckus when they saw me. I head over there and see they are out of food and water. I give them both and consider it fair pay for the pile of eggs in their nesting boxes. Clearly, no one has been here to care for these birds. I am hungry enough that I start a fire and scramble up four eggs right there.

I decide to spend the night in the shed. After dark, I pop the lock and break into the house. It feels stale and my confidence that it is empty grows. I raid the kitchen cabinets, thrilled to a variety of canned goods, crackers, peanut butter, a box of instant rice, and a full container of Chips Ahoy cookies. That night, I spread peanut butter on the cookies for dinner.

The next day, I eat another four eggs for breakfast and pack a carton of 18 to take with me. After some thought, I cut open a bag of feed and leave it in the chicken coop. Then I prop open the door to the chicken run. This way, the chickens can free range and visit the stream when they run out of water. Sure, a predator might eat them, but I expect some will survive. Their odds are better than dying of thirst.

I continue towards the mountain, stopping to forage or glean from empty homes when the opportunity presents itself and I am low on food.

Step 6: Climbing the Mountain

The road through the mountain is long and arduous, plus there are no houses for much of the way. I have to do my gleaning before I get there. On the other side, it’s more populated. I walk up and down the mountains every day, but not that far. To make matters worse, it rains for 16 hours the day before I reach the peak. I had walked during the rain earlier in my trek, but this is a heavy storm with high winds. There are no structures in which to take shelter, but I find an overhang and between it and my tarp, I protect myself from the worst of the rain. When the storm  finally breaks, I use one of my Esbit cubes to make some hot chocolate I had taken from a lady’s cupboard and then two more to make a small pot of minute rice into which I dump half a can of baked beans. That warms me up. I eat the rest of the beans for breakfast.

Step 7: Home

After I cross the peak, it isn’t all downhill, but it feels like it. There are houses along the way where I hope to be welcomed by people I know. I hope to arrive before the Golden Horde, who I expect will be seriously slowed by the lack of transportation, much as I was.

I finally get home on Day 14. After hugging me, my wife asks, “what took you so long?”

Further Thoughts

As much as I would like to hike 10 or 12 miles a day and make it home in a little more than a week, I don’t think that’s likely. While I might be able to push myself and do it on day one, I doubt I could repeat that day after day when loaded down with all that equipment. Between the terrain, the pack, the need to forage, adverse weather, the ability to only hike during daylight, and my level of physical fitness, I think an average of 6 miles a day may be more realistic.

You will note that I didn’t have to use any of my guns, meaning I carried 20 pounds of guns and ammo for nothing. Then again, this is a made up scenario. I could have made up carloads of angry people, roadblocks in small towns, and a bear snuffling around outside my tent. I hope we can expect at least a few days of nonviolence once I get out of the city. I just don’t see the average homeowner in rural America shooting a random guy who is walking by n the highway. (Gleaning may be another story)

We also don’t know the extent of failures an EMP attack or a CME might cause. Will my flashlight work? (It has a chip in it.) My watch?  Will generators that are not attached the grid be knocked out?

Transportation is also a question mark. Would I come across an old farmer driving a 1977 Ford and pay him to give me a lift home? Or would that be too easy?

Of course, the thing about the future is it is unknown. We can make predictions, and we can make guesses, but even educated guesses can be and often are wrong.

Walking Home after the SHTF