Getting Ready to go off the Grid? Better Read this First.

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At one time or another all of us dream of getting away, just turning off the path and heading into the woods with nothing but what we are carrying. Or maybe you haven’t. In any case, this essay is to make you think about it one more time before you do it.

Whatever your reason: Mayan calendar apocalypse, urban revolt, invasion by foreign powers or, worse, space aliens, Revelations (the Jesus stuff), runaway biological killer virus, pissed off at current political powers. Even Zombies. It all ends up with you wanting to get away, take your stuff with you and go somewhere They can’t get you.

And you do need stuff, you know that by now. You have seen and imagined enough of these scenarios to realize that just turning off into the wilderness with nothing will soon end up with you badly dead. There are four basic essentials:

  • Water

  • Food

  • Shelter

  • Tools

(You need air as well, but if you go to a place that doesn’t have air, you are far too dumb to live through this apocalypse anyway.)

We can take these needs apart and analyze them.

Water. You need a constant supply of fresh water. Many quarts a day. For drinking, cooking, cleaning. But presumably you locate your hide near fresh water, a creek or river. You might still need to work on it to remove pollutants and parasites and stuff. But sources of water are available.

Food. Well, most of you bring it with you to some degree. Canned, freeze-dried, smoked: there are various ways to store food that do not require refrigeration. Because, remember, you won’t have electricity unless you generate it yourself. And that would come under “tools”. Of course, you will want to catch some of your own food from the wilderness. Fish and such from your fresh water, small and large game you trap or kill, perhaps even a garden, depending on where your cabin is.

Shelter. Your trusty crazy-man cabin or something similar. Probably not a frame house, too much trouble getting materials into the backwoods. And a portable shelter, like a tent, would be unsuitable for long-term use. So you will probably want a log cabin of some type. That means your site needs to have plenty of suitable trees. Hardwoods, because part of having shelter is fire. You need it to warm you, cook food, keep the beasts away, and provide light (remember, no electricity). You will be splitting a lot of wood and of course, you need it to build your cabin. You could no doubt use pine or some other softwood for you cabin, but you need hardwood for fire. So a mixed forest site is best.

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Tools. This is where I want to concentrate today. I am not dismissing or trying to reduce the importance of the other elements, but tools are what separate us from the Monkey. I think you can safely say that your survival during this apocalyptic event depends on tools as much as it does water. It is just that a lack of water will kill you faster. You will have to bring these tools with you. Hand-created stone tools are fun to think about but are both beyond the scope of most peoples skills and inefficient. A stone ax will take a long time to split a log that a modern steel maul will handle quickly.

That means getting these heavy tools to your hideout far back in the woods. A number of trips both to your local hardware store and to your cabin to get the axes, saws, hammers, nails, hand tools, forges, garden tools, skinning gear and all the other things you will need.

And weapons. Don’t forget the most important tools of all. You have ravening hordes of hungry people or zombies or whatever and they want you or your stuff. You have to keep them away and you also have to obtain food. So: weapons. Long guns, handguns, longbow/crossbow, cutting weapons. You will need ammunition, maintenance, bow strings, arrow/bolt making materials, and repair gear.

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I bet now you are getting the idea. You are not really dropping off the grid, you are simply taking it with you. Can you make a rifle? Not a chance. But you say, I can reload and make my own ammunition. Yes, there is a whole sub-industry to provide you will reloading tools and the components of ammunition. But what happens when you use the last primer? Your rifle becomes a club, and not a very good one. Don’t consider using your crossbow against hungry zombies. First of all, zombies only respond to traumatic tissue damage: a chopped off head or arms, or a whack from a sledgehammer. A crossbow bolt would just zip right through their rotting flesh and hardly slow the hungry paranormal.

There are four elements to modern ammunition: the brass case, the primer, the powder, and the projectile (bullet). You can buy all of these things in bilk and make your own ammunition. Until you run out of one of them. It is slightly possible that you could make the bullets, if soft lead will do. And if you have sited your cabin near a lead supply. Probably galena, the most common ore of lead. Then you have to extract the lead. Lead is poisonous to humans, so be careful.

You might, if you are very fortunate, obtain lead. But there is no way on Earth you can make the other components of ammunition. The brass shell casing is beyond any shade tree production. Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. Hope you have some nearby. Then they must be mixed in the correct proportions and made into brass, which has to be formed to a precise shape and dimension, and to complicate it further, the shell casing in not a uniform thickness. It is thicker at the bottom, near the primer, then tapers smoothly up to the rim where the bullet is inserted.

Then the powder. You probably think you can make powder, and you are probably thinking of black powder. Black powder is easy to make if you have a source of sulfur, saltpeter, and charcoal. But black powder is not used in modern firearms. Smokeless powder is a far different and more complex thing than just mixing the three elements of black powder.

Then there is the primer. Way beyond your backwoods manufacturing ability. You need an explosive compound, something that will create sparks when struck by the firing pin. Can you make such a compound? I think not. Then the primer housing has a tiny anvil inside that the firing pin strikes. And there are small holes on the inboard side of the primer to allow the sparks to reach the main powder. And all this has to be precisely formed to fit the hole you left in the base of the shell casing you made.

Conclusion. I could go one about the other things you would be giving up that you take for granted now. But you can see that there is no way you can “leave it all behind”. Everything we do, everything we use, is the end of a complicated chain that stretches from the extraction and production of the raw materials to the manufacturing process, and involves outside elements that all must work together. When you buy a gun and ammunition, you are buying the work of many industries and many specialty processes and skills that you are not going to have.

You are better off just letting that zombie eat you.

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What’s More Boring than a NASCAR Race? A Human Road Race

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I accidentally woke up early today and watched the start of the local Road Race held every July 4th. It only takes a couple of minutes to get tired of watching people you don’t know run along a street, accompanied by the constant chatter of TV personalities.

I understand if you have a person in this race, or like to watch Ethiopians win trophies, you might want to sit through this. But for the rest of us, say 99% of the population, it is like watching paint dry but without the smell.

With NASCAR, you can at least record the race and fast forward through it, watching for the smoke that indicates a spinout. Notice I don’t say crash: those are things of the past. Yeah, cars run into each other sometimes and get bent, but the wrecks are essentially cars spinning and tires smoking, held to the ground by flaps.

But even that is enthralling compared to watching thousands of strangers run and walk along a street. This is my opinion. Your mileage may differ.