Bugging out of SoCal via the Mojave Desert
Continuing with our series of area specific bug out planning, we focus on Southern California (SoCal) where a host of unique challenges will face anyone attempting to bug out. First of all, Los Angeles (LA) and the surrounding region of SoCal contains over 22 million people densely packed at a density of over 5,000 people per square mile in many areas. This makes it one of the most populous regions of the United States. If you have to bug out of LA and its surrounding areas, you better be one step ahead of everyone else. Second, the most densely populated areas of SoCal are locked between the Pacific Ocean to the west and the towering Sierra Nevada mountains to the east creating a serious geographical bottleneck. To the north are more mountains, the Great Valley, and more densely populated areas. To the south is Mexico. If you choose to go east and got across the mountains, then you are faced with surviving in one of the hottest and driest locations in the US, Death Valley and the surrounding desert. If you go west, you need a boat fully sea worthy and supplied with everything you will need for a long duration voyage. Going north or south just runs you into more people fleeing disaster and won’t help your situation. Third, SoCal plays host to regular earthquakes and at any given time the “Big One” could hit. Further, being coastal, much of the SoCal coastline is vulnerable to the effects of a major tsunami. Finally, but by no means all inclusive, SoCal also has some very precarious infrastructure such as the leaking San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station that may be permanently shut down and Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, which straddles two active faults. Without doubt, the challenges of ‘getting out of town’ are mile high in this part of California, but with simple planning, you and your loved can safely and effectively bug and stay alive.
Optimally, you are using all of your resources to remain situational aware and bug out before the mob. However, events like major earthquakes, tsunamis, and grid collapses happen with little or no warning. As a typical SoCal citizen you drive 20+ miles per workday and use multiple high volume interstates and or state highways. As such, there is a high likelihood of being put into a position where your bug out begins during a commute. Do to this likely event; we begin our bug out discussion in rush hour traffic and discuss one of the more likely bug out scenarios, a major quake.
Your day begins as most in SoCal. It is sunny and warm and you are looking forward to getting home from work. You begin your commute as any other day and are quickly weaving through traffic when disaster strikes. A major earthquake strikes SoCal damaging nuclear reactors, severing communications, destroying infrastructure, and sparking massive fires as gas pipe lines are ruptured. You pull over and get out of your car until the major shaking has ceased. At this point, you know there has been a major quake, but you don’t know the extent. You get back into your car and try to continue to your home as the radio begins to broadcast a steady stream of damage reports. As you continue, traffic grinds to a halt on the major highways, which have sustained massive damage. You attempt to call your wife on your cell phone, but the few operable towers are overwhelmed and you have no service. Nonetheless, you immediately type out a text message with critical information and hit send hoping to slip the message out across some free bandwidth.
Now, having previously memorized alternative routes through various neighborhoods, you opt for the side streets as your only available option. These roads maze you through inner city neighborhoods, downtown areas, and residential zones. These locations can pose a threat just as dangerous as getting stuck on the 101. Specifically, you may come across many individuals on foot. The random man or woman crossing a street ahead of you may not be an issue, but that mob of 15+ men at an ad hoc roadblock with bats can certainly be a serious threat if you are forced from your vehicle. Keep the LA riots of the past in mind.
As you slowly make your way toward your home, it is clear the damage is getting more serious. Buildings have been turned to rubble, the road is impassible, fires are burning out of control, and people are in the streets. As you try to progress, your drivable routes are closed off. Now with no chance to back out of the gridlock and no way to go forward, you notice tempers flaring and panic setting into the public. Someone passes your vehicle and starts demanding a ride, you hear glass break to your rear, then suddenly you hear unnerving pops some distance ahead of you. You have no choice but to abandon your vehicle and continue on foot. Thankfully, even though your car’s GPS is no longer useful and can’t go with you, it isn’t a problem because you kept a good map in your vehicle bug out kit.
Grabbing your vehicle bug out kit, you make your way to your rendezvous point with your family, resupply, and assess your situation. The area is utterly destroyed, looting is already rampant, fires are raging unchecked, thousands are dead or injured, there is word one of the nuclear reactors may be leaking radiation, phones are not working, and all utilities are down. Seeing no good options for bugging in, you make the decision to bug out. Now let’s look at the challenges you will face and the preps you will need to make in order to be a Last Minute Survivor.
To begin, any plan to bug out of SoCal has to take into account your ever present enemy… CARRMAGEDON! Imagine the vehicle madness of the I-405 and US-101 intersection at a standstill. Then apply the same sea of gridlocked cars and trucks to all the major roadways between Santa Monica and Redlands. The end result is a highway system that is overloaded and frozen. In the panic following the event that initiated your bug out, there will be countless auto accidents, gridlock, and cars abandoned after running out of gas while idling in stalled traffic. These events will combine to turn SoCal into one giant multilane roadblock. If your plan includes the need to drive anywhere, be it home from work or to the marina, you must plan to be stuck in this sea of angry, afraid, and possibly violent drivers. So what’s the solution? It’s actually basic. You need to know of another way home and drive it enough to commit the route and neighborhoods to memory because you may need to hike it by foot. Keep in mind that your daytime commute will look drastically different if you travel it at night or vice versa. Further, make sure you have a good map of the area in the event GPS is not working. You may also opt for adding a mountain bike to your vehicle bug out bag, which would allow you to continue quickly along jammed highways. It is nice to have a small, fuel efficient car to zip around the city, but the ability of your vehicle to get over typical obstacles will be critical during a disaster. In the event of an earthquake, obstacles can range from fallen telephone poles and debris like bricks to buckled streets to curbs, medians, and other vehicles. Would your car be able to drive down the side slope of an intestate or highway or jump the median to do a U-turn? You might have to. A basic Jeep Wrangler can do this and get over the said obstacles, but your sedan with its low clearance and two wheel drive will get stuck. Getting stuck brings us to the next problem…If you have to abandon your vehicle, pull it well off the road and try to park it in a secure location that is less visible from the main road. Make sure nothing is visible that would draw the attention of a thief. Further, disable your car by disconnecting your battery cables at minimum. Critical to your vehicle bug out kit will be appropriate seasonal attire to include good shoes, water, a water purifier, and something to carry a minimum of two quarts of water per person in your car. For SoCal, in addition to our standard items we recommend in your bug out kit (See: http://www.lastminutesurvival.com/2014/10/13/location-specific-bug-out-bags-part-i/), you should also include the following items:
- Potassium Iodide tablets (http://www.bt.cdc.gov/radiation/ki.asp)
- Additional means of carrying water on the go such as a backpack with an integral hydration bladder
- Fire extinguisher (capable of extinguishing chemical fires)
- Climbing rope, harness/seat, carabiners, leather gloves, Figure 8 or other descender device
- Low profile body armor capable of stopping handgun rounds
- Fishing tackle
- Addition of anti-nausea medication to your first aid kit if you plan to escape via the Pacific Ocean
As you progress with your bug out, you will likely have to ditch your car and make your way by foot or other means, you may well be confronted by and angry mob. So, what to do about a violent mob ahead of you? Go the opposite way quickly and avoid them if at all possible. It is better to add time and distance to your route than to be beaten and robbed by a mob or gang. I caution against a gun fight unless it is a last resort. Mobs carry guns, maybe even many guns, so even with your superior shooting skills, you could be outgunned in a close gunfight. If you have to shoot it out, get as much distance as you can from your threat to maximize your marksmanship, get behind cover that will stop a bullet, and return well aimed fire at the most pressing threats first. Further, if you face multiple threats, try to maneuver them so they are “stacked” in a line, which allows you to take them on one at a time versus all at once. If you can’t carry or are unwilling to arm yourself then your best bet is a heavy duty can of pepper spray for bears, a good pair of running shoes, and a walking stick that doubles as a club.
If you can effectively avoid the mob, your next big challenge will not be what is missing from your bug out bag, but your physical condition. The military wouldn’t waste time to conduct daily physical training if it wasn’t essential, yet all too many preppers forego this most basic and essential of preps. Are you in decent enough shape to walk home with a moderate load on your back? Most Americans are not. That 20 mile/40 minute commute that you have to walk might as well be Mount Everest if you get tired after one block of walking. Stack the odds in your favor. Go for more walks, try short hikes with friends or family, and consider a lighter “Get Home Bag” for this situation. One thing I’ve taken from my hiking experience is an admiration for ‘ultra-light’ hikers. They buy lighter gear, carry less gear, and therefore have the option of covering more terrain with greater ease. You don’t have to be an ultra-marathon champion, but you should be able to cover at least 20 miles on foot with your gear and not die of a heart attack. Mentally and physically preparing yourself for this will put you one step ahead, no pun intended.
What is likely to go wrong after setting off on your long walk home? Although we have discussed this issue previously, it is worth repeating because it is so important. Don’t be in a position where you look down at your penny loafers or two inch heels and saying ‘oh crap.’ The solution is again simple. At minimum, put some running shoes or lightweight hiking boots in your car and leave them there. Beware of buying expensive combat boots or stiff hiking boots for this purpose. If you haven’t broken them in before that long walk it will cause painful blisters that could get infected and slow or stop your movement. Further, you will need boots that can handle steep mountains, keep out sand, protect your feet from thorns, and still let your feet breath. There are a variety of shoes and boots that can meet these requirements so find a pair that works for you and make sure you are wearing them or have them with you.
If things really go sour you will have less than a day to get home before we all start turning into metaphorical zombies and chasing you down the street. You don’t want to be the person caught on the street that starts attracting unwanted attention. Get to where you are going before people start to realize you have gear they need. The scenarios are endless and point to one main point. Get up, get moving, and don’t stop. Here’s why, American grocery stores operate on a system long ago borrowed from Japan called “Just in time.” This eliminates a grocer’s need to store large amounts of perishables that will expire and cause a financial loss if not sold. As such, stores don’t stock more than three days’ worth of food at any time. The semi-trucks we see are critical to that logistics supply chain. In the event of a crisis, we have witnessed over and over that once the trucks stop rolling, the three days of supplies disappear within about one to two hours. If the crisis persists and is wide spread, unprepared people we will grow hungry. That’s when mom says to dad, “little Joe is hungry and so am I.” Mom and pop will hold back from theft and other crimes for a while, but will eventually do what they must to stay alive. Situations like this happened when Katrina hit New Orleans, and it can happen anywhere. Your job is to get out before this happens.
As discussed, getting out of the SoCal area won’t be a walk in the park but can be done. From the beginning though, you need to have identified and prepped for where you will go. If you don’t have a destination then you are wandering and likely to become another statistic. Having a PRE-planned destination is vital, see the bug out of DC article for more details (http://www.lastminutesurvival.com/2014/10/17/bug-out-bags-part-ii-washington-dc/). The most difficult area to bug out of is the concrete and asphalt triangle covering all of the area within Santa Monica to Pasadena to Anaheim. Options out to the North are US-101 aka the “101” and I-5. Everyone and their brother will likely be on those roads so expect pain and misery. These two roads are literally the main entrances to the LA area and will be no easy task to navigate. Another option out towards the North is Highway-1 along the Malibu coast where your ocean views will be great, but the narrow road could easily become jammed, cutoff, or destroyed by rock/mudslides in the event of a quake. It would also be vulnerable to a tsunami and radiation from a damaged coastal reactor. Remember that bugging out doesn’t require a paved road. If you can make it to Burbank you can drive along the rail road at Burbank Town Center and follow it to Chatsworth, but don’t be stupid and get smacked by a train. From there you have easier access to Highway 118 and can easily reach Simi Valley, Moorpark, Santa Paula, and Ventura via back roads (if you have a map). Note, the railroad that gets you to Burbank also connects to Union Station in LA.
Getting out of town to the Northeast is similarly challenging. They are Highway-14 towards Palmdale, I-15 towards Barstow, and the “2” through Angeles National Forest if you are alright with ultra-winding roads and contending with Bigfoot and his keepers. Keep in mind that the ‘High Desert’ between the “14” and I-15 is not a friendly environment. It’s a desert…therefore, it is hot, it is dry, it gets cold at night, the plants stick you and the animals bite you. It is unforgiving and if you are not prepared for it, it is best to be avoided if you are on foot or could end up on foot. It’s also home to a relatively conservative population, an armed population. Criminals beware. Those of us amongst the liberal crowd would likely be better suited taking the 101 towards lovely Santa Barbara and San Francisco.
Other options to the Northeast and East can be considered but have many cons. The “18” towards Big Bear takes you into gorgeous countryside, but rumors indicate local residents plan on blockading inbound roads to keep the rest of us out. I don’t blame them. The same can be assumed of isolated communities throughout the region. The “38”east of Redlands is a good option into the San Bernardino National Forest if you need to go that way. I’ve personally hiked this area and know it contains various creeks to keep your water topped off. Interstate-10 is the main way out eastbound. Its extra lanes East of Banning would facilitate your exit, but take you into miserable terrain as does the I-15 into the Mojave Desert. Again, if you aren’t familiar with the desert, stay far away from the Mojave. If you must go into the desert, have plenty of water and make sure you have marked all the natural springs on your map and checked them out ahead of time. Some of them are hot springs, some are seasonal, and some have water not safe to drink due to mining contaminants like mercury. Further, if you are on foot, travel between the hours just before sunset to just after sun rise when temperatures are the coolest. During the day you should seek shade and shelter from the sun. Rock outcroppings are good for this, but also play host to a lot of venomous snakes so be cautious. Keep as cool as you can and never waste water or energy during the heat of the day. Getting above or below the ground will be where it stays the coolest. Wear loose fitting, light colored clothes, a wide brim hat, and sunglasses. Sunscreen is good for your face, neck, and ears, but covering up with clothing is far better. Remember, distances in the desert are very deceiving. What looks like only a short walk could be 20 or more miles.
If you plan to head east and tackle the mountains, you will also need to know what you are doing to survive. Any attempt to cross the Sierra’s will dictate a bug out plan by foot that has been well rehearsed. Just like the desert, the mountains are brutal and unforgiving. You must be prepared for extremely cold, wet, and windy weather if you plan on successfully crossing or holding out in the Sierras. Blizzard conditions even in the summer at altitude are not uncommon. Further, you have avalanches, rock slides, raging streams, cliffs, high altitude, lightening, ice fields and crevasses, cougars, and well-armed locals to contend with. If you are not in peak physical condition, properly trained, or in possession of the right equipment for the alpine environment, the mountains will prove insurmountable; especially, at high altitude. During the winter, crossing the mountains simply may not be an option due to the deep snow and brutal storms, even for experienced mountaineers. Winter storms above the treeline can drop temperatures below zero, pack hurricane force winds, and diminish visibility to zero. However, in the summer, the extremely rugged terrain gives the experienced climber and mountaineer the advantage of being able to go where the masses can’t or won’t. If you do select the mountains as your bug out location, you will have ample water, will not have to contend with as many people, and can find many hide spots suitable to overnight and longer term bugging out. Nonetheless, your kit will be heavier and must have the right equipment to include crampons, ice axe, climbing rope and gear, extreme cold weather gear, mountain rated sleeping bag and pad, mountaineering/4-season tent, tough hiking boots, backpacking stove (for areas of no vegetation above the treeline), maps and compass, and possibly snowshoes. If you read the specialized gear list and said, “What’s that?” and or haven’t been trained to use that gear, going into the alpine region could be lethal for you and should be avoided. In the interim, use your time to get familiar with the gear, take some classes, and become comfortable operating in the alpine region because you may just get forced into it.
I don’t recommend a southbound bug out because of the likely mass migration from Mexico during a grid-down all out national catastrophe. The current and common place violence just across the border is likely to spill over when the “troubles” begin. I wouldn’t expect our border guards to work for free and forsake their families at home; therefore, the border may end up “open” and precipitate a population surge along the border. Further, an area with a large population density isn’t in concert with my bug out philosophy. The saving grace for those of us in the San Diego and Oceanside is just East. The area between Palomar Mountain State Park and the Cleveland National Forest would make a great initial bug out retreat, which is in close proximity. Its various lakes, available game, and lower population density make it very bug out attractive. However, like the Poconos for New Yorkers, many people will also plan to head to this area so it is less attractive as a long term bug out site unless you have land and a developed, defendable retreat in that area.
Finally, there is the westerly option known as a boat. Certainly, this option isn’t available to many of us, but if your connections or finances allow for it, an escape by sea is one of your better options for SoCal. The Pacific Ocean can certainly become a refuge if you have a stocked boat that is accessible, sea worthy, and you are a capable captain. Even if you do not have a large ocean worthy boat, using a smaller boat and hugging the coastline will allow you to travel a significant distance from the immediate danger, insulate yourself from the chaos on land, and even bug out to another country if necessary. If the seas get to rough, you can bring your ship into a sheltered inlet or even dock it and continue by land from a preplanned rendezvous location. Make sure that you add anti-nausea medication to your kit if you plan to head out to sea. Even if you have never been motion sick before, presented with the right conditions, you could become incapacitated with nausea and vomiting during rough seas. The sea also provides you with ample food in the form of fish if you are prepared to catch them. Make sure you have fishing tackle to include nets if you head to sea and practice with it. A decent fisherman will be able to provide long term sustenance in a bug out by boat scenario. Also, with the right equipment, you can desalinate water to provide long term critical hydration. If your boat is capable of running under sail, you also have an indefinite range.
All considered SoCal doesn’t have a host of good options for bugging out. Your best bet is to be prepared and ready to act. This puts you ahead of the zombie masses and makes your chances of a successful bug out far higher. However, even if you are the first out of the immediate metropolitan areas, you still will be faced with some very technical survival environments that include rugged mountains, scorching hot deserts, or the vast ocean. As such, it is critical to plan, prepare, and rehearse your bug out ahead of time. For example, if you plan to head to the hills, spend your weekends hiking the trails, familiarizing yourself to the terrain, acquiring any necessary specialized gear, and learning the skills necessary to thrive in that environment. Success in SoCal demands you put in the time so start now and be a Last Minute Survivor.
By Guiles Hendrik and Sgt G.
December 1, 2014