Here’s the thing about Survival Lilly–she gets right to it, unlike other YouTubers who seem to think they’re required by law to stand in front of the camera and yak for 10 minutes before they do a SINGLE THING, then chat you up for another five minutes about that solitary thing they did, whereas Lilly just goes bam and starts building a survival shelter.
Lilly doesn’t waste your time. She shows you smart, practical things that don’t require a ton of time, gear or expertise.
Her entire YouTube channel is an apocalyptic gold mine. If you’re into prepping a little or a lot, or simply enjoy zombie movies and dystopian goodness, check her out.
Except there’s more to it than a joke. These folks really are brave, and no, those windbreakers do not make them invincible.
As a former journalist, I get what they’re doing. We used to have the police scanner on all day and night in the newsroom, and if you heard about a flood, fire, car crash, murder or other bit of mayhem, it was a race to see who could grab their camera and notebook to get out the door first.
When everybody else heads away from danger, reporters walk right up and say hi.
Weather reporters don’t get much respect. It’s seen as an entry-level job, with veterans and hotshots doing “real news.”
So noobs at a TV station are usually the ones who have to get up at oh-dark-thirty to drive into the mountains and do a live shot at 6 a.m. that yes, it’s snowing, as you can see. Then another live shot at 6:30, 7:30, noon, and so forth. The same shot. The same news.
TV weather reporters wade into the floodwaters and storm surges.
And yes, they hit the beaches and try to remain upright when hurricanes roll in with 100+ mph winds.
It’s a tough job.
We should appreciate them more. These folks literally risk their lives trying to educate us and hopefully save some lives. Because if they’re showing up with a brave camera crew, it’s a clear sign that we really should get out of town.
Let’s talk about WATERWORLD: KEVIN COSTNER WAS RIGHT, PEOPLE–because rising seas due to climate change isn’t really a dystopian fantasy.
Climate change is happening. The world’s getting hotter, which means extreme weather, drought, melting ice caps and yes, Kevin Costner having gills and a sweet sailboat doesn’t seem so silly anymore.
So whether you’re writing dystopian fiction or prepping for the worst, a WATERWORLD scenario is worth talking about.
1) Head for the Great White North
If you live in the northern hemisphere, as most of the world does, a WATERWORLD dystopia means heading north.
Even if your home doesn’t disappear under the waves, like a big chunk of low states like Florida could, changing weather and failed crops will mean a big shift in the population to the north.
Places like Canada and Siberia will go from frigid vistas full of moose and whatnot into much warmer and hospitable places with fertile farmland and long growing seasons.
If you’re in South America or Africa, you’d head south.
Australians? Sorry, I don’t know. Hard to figure.
2) Yes, hoard those seeds
We may think it’s cute that plants and seeds are the MacGuffins in so many dystopian movies, from WATERWORLD to WALL-E to MAD MAX: FURY ROAD.
In this case, collecting seeds makes total sense. Give me a choice between teaming up with a farmer with a seed collection and a platoon of Army Rangers equipped and ready for war, I’m picking the farmer. Because the soldiers will run out of gas and you can’t eat bullets.
Seeds will be priceless. Rising seas, droughts and a hotter planet will mean massive crop failures and starvation unless adjustments are made. Whether you want to be near other people or hiding out in a small group, you’ll want seeds for crops.
Why? Because (a) it’s incredibly hard to transport herds of cows, goats or other animals thousands of miles in good times and impossible when desperate people will happily kill them (and maybe you) to eat those animals, (b) seeds are small, light and easy to transport and (c) anybody who’s studied history knows humans were hunter-gatherers who had to live as nomads until they domesticated the right plants and animals.
Plants are easiest and first. Try for animals second.
3) Figure out the where before the what and the how
Where you want to end up determines what you should gather and how you should plan.
Settling with a bigger population with advantages, like the possibility of specialists you’ll want, like doctors, carpenters, dentists, nurses and other things that can save time and lives.
Since we’re talking about the collapse of civilization, any sort of city will probably have a rough form of government. The biggest, baddest people will probably be in charge and it won’t be pretty, with power struggles if not civil war. Think Bartertown.
And any real city will be a tempting target for raiders.
Hiding out in the mountains and such protects you from living in a snowy version of Bartertown and from roving bands of cutthroats. But you won’t have access to the gear, food and medicines of bigger settlements, and that’s a huge problem when a simple infection can lead to gangrene and death.
A medium approach could work: a village instead of a big city, tucked away far off the beaten path.
4) How will you get there?
This is the toughest bit. A global disaster like this means 7 billion-plus people fighting over the same resources and having the same idea: head to places like Canada, Siberia or Sweden.
It could be a disaster in slow motion, getting worse by the decade. Or the glaciers on Greenland could hit a tipping point and melt quickly.
Seems like there are two obvious options: (a) head north before everybody else even thinks about it or (b) if you wait and are competing with everybody else, travel in a completely different manner.
If it’s a sudden crisis, roads and highways will be clogged and impassable. Traveling thousands of miles on foot, mountain bike or horse isn’t really practical.
Flying could work, if you had enough fuel for a one-way trip. Tough to pull off, and difficult to have a safe landing spot. Say you’re in charge of a little airport in the Yukon and suddenly all these rich people want to land their Lear jeats packed with gold, guns and canned food. This is your chance. Block the runway unless they pay your fee, which you can make onerous. Tell them you want half of all they own. Or take all of it right when they land. People who run airports and marinas could be running things for miles.
Marinas lead to the second option: travel by boat.
Sailboats are incredibly smart for just about every apocalyptic scenario you can dream up. No need for fuel, which will run out quickly.
Hungry? Use a net or fishing pole.
Feeling unsafe? Pull up anchor and sail off.
You could sail up the west coast to Alaska, hanging out in the safety seas of the Inside Passage and towns like Juneau.
The trouble with staying in saltwater is you can’t drink it. There are methods to make saltwater palatable. I think my favorite strategy is sailing along the coast, then heading into a river to find safe harbor. There are plenty of rivers, and you’ll be able to fish for salmon and get fresh water.
5) What would you want to bring?
Aside from the standard considerations on gear covered in previous posts, a WATERWORLD scenario brings some different angles and needs.
Going to places like Canada, Siberia or Sweden mean trees. Big evergreens. That’s what you’d build things with, which means you want hand tools to work with wood. Axes and saws, hammers and chisels, hand drills and nails.
I’d also want tools for digging and farming. Shovels, rakes, hoes.
Because these tools will break, or need repair, it’d be smart to learn basic smithing and collect bellows, an anvil and tongs. Scrap metal will be easy to find in any sort of dystopian scenario, so it’s not like you need to mine your own iron.
Warm clothing will be essential during the winters, which will still be cold. You won’t be growing cotton. It’s far more likely that you’ll tan hides and use fur, so you’d want a book or cheat sheet on tanning hides along with big, strong needles and thread.
6) Is this dystopia preventable?
I have to end with this. There are all sorts of apocalyptic movies, books and possibilities, most of which are either improbable or difficult to stop. If a giant space rock really wants to hit Earth, or aliens with advanced tech decide to invade, well, Bruce Willis only saves us in the movies.
Nuclear war and rising seas / climate change are two dystopian scenarios that can be completely avoided. We might want to think about that. And I think that’s part of the message of every good apocalyptic story, which isn’t just about how that kind of desperate scenario would test and change normal people into heroes and villains. Dystopia stories are really telling us, “Come over here and listen, because this is how terrible things can really get if we act like complete idiots.”
This chapter is about traveling, which you’ll need to do since hunkering down, bunker or no bunker, is a terrible option.
Most apocalyptic and zombie movies feature some sort of vehicle—Mad Max is packed with them. Though it would look amazing to ride a Harley through the wastelands, you would only look amazing for a week or two before that bike ran out of gas or attracted dozens of enemies with its insanely loud exhaust, advertising your exact location to anyone within a half a mile.
There are serious problems with relying on any sort of vehicle, no matter how cool it looks when Tom Hardy is driving it.
Though you can count on having to walk, hike, trudge and climb, are there any decent alternatives? In the end, I found three good options.
To get there, let’s talk through the problems and solutions for getting around without zombies going nom-nom-nom as you’re trying to siphon gas from a wrecked Ford Expedition.
Problem #1: Running out of guzzleline
Any serious, long-term apocalypse would mean nobody’s filling up the local Chevron anymore. Fuel would run out within weeks.
There are complicated ways of getting around this, such as using diesel engine and making your own biodiesel. Except that’s pretty involved even today, when you can do it in the comfort of your garage and can get new parts from the local hardware store.
Making your own fuel isn’t practical when you’re trying to survive in a wasteland. Neither is setting up Bartertown just to gas up your rig. We all know how well that worked.
Solution: Whatever options we pick need to be sustainable, and preferably not rely on any sort of fuel.
Problem #2: Roads and highways will be dangerous messes
You won’t be cruising along I-5 at 70 miles an hour—wrecked and abandoned cars will clog up the roads. Smart scavengers will also use obstacles and roadblocks to ambush anyone who does drive through.
A related issue is the fact that highways generally mean civilization, which should be avoided. They’d be trouble in an apocalypse, with millions of people streaming out from big cities and crowded suburbs to look for food. Looting the Safeway is not an original idea. Everyone will head there first with a can opener in their pocket.
Solution: Good options need to travel off-road, and this includes water. WATERWORLD may have been terrible, but a sailboat isn’t a bad idea at all.
Problem #3: Insanely equipped and armored vehicles are also insanely expensive
We’re shooting for cheap and sustainable here. A real military Humvee, armored personnel carrier or RV decked out with steel plates and spikes would cost a lot of money to buy and modify.
It’s also not smart to invest everything into a single vehicle.
Economists have a concept called “opportunity cost” that’s useful here. A plain vanilla RV can easily cost you more than $100,000. Armored cars will cost a lot more. If you can buy a good hiking backpack for $80 and fill it with the essentials for $300, you can equip all your friends, neighbors, coworkers and those college kids down the street with what they need to survive for the same price as that one vehicle.
Solution: Anything that makes our final list has to be cheap, or readily available as you wander around.
Problem #4: Breakdowns would be fatal
Say you have a great vehicle, and it goes off-road just fine. All your food and gear is happily stowed inside.
Any sort of mechanical breakdown would put you back on foot. And there would be breakdowns, since oil changes and mechanics would no longer exist. Even if you’re a trained mechanic, finding parts and tools would be tough.
Solution: This means adding “easy to fix” to our list.
Problem #5: Going to the air is completely nuts
A helicopter could get you in and out of trouble and a dirigible could stay safely above the fray for weeks or months.
And yes, a gyrocopter looks amazing. Combine a Carver trike with a gyrocopter and even James Bond would get jealous.
Fuel isn’t your real problem here, though. You won’t have to come down to the ground just for gas. You’ll need food and supplies, too. And that means landing. A lot.
Every time you land, that beautiful flying machine is sitting there, completely vulnerable. Zombies will swarm it, aliens authorities will confiscate it or scavengers will steal it.
Solution: We’re sticking to ground and water options.
Our three best options
Motorcycles would seem like a much better option than heavy, gas-guzzling RVs, Humvees and M-1 tanks stolen from the National Guard depot.
They’re nimble and could get around wrecks. Even better: dirt bikes, to easily cruise through logging roads, mountain trails and deserts.
Though this is appealing, fuel is still the sticking point. However: dirt bikes do lead us to the first smart, sustainable option.
Great option #1: Mountain bikes
Cheap to buy and equip.
Easy to fix.
Never need fuel.
If your mountain bike gets mangled, you can scavenge another. They’re everywhere.
There are even fat-tire mountain bikes, overbuilt for sturdiness rather than speed, with giant tires meant to go through mud, sand and snow.
Great option #2: Sailboats
A sailboat is a great idea. You can actually pick up small, used sailboats for pretty cheap.
They’re sustainable and have a built-in shelter, letting you snooze out of the elements. A sailboat also means an easy supply of fish.
You can anchor the boat far from shore to stay safe, or use it to set up a series of island bases as you follow the seasons and migrating animals. A sailboat also gives you the ability to carry a lot of friends, food and gear with zero penalty in terms of fuel, since all you need is wind.
A decent sailboat gives you all the benefits of a bunker with none of the drawbacks.
There will be other people with the same idea, and therefore avoiding other boats is smart. But if you know how to work sailboats, and teach your friends to sail, you can liberate marinas along the way and get an entire fleet of boats.
Calling yourself the Dread Pirate Robers is optional.
Great option #3: Horses
If you know how to deal with them, though, this is a smart, sustainable way of getting around. Horses can travel over tough terrain and make it easy to escape trouble.
Since you’ll be traveling in a group as a Nimble Nomad with Friends instead of a Lone Wolf in a Bunker, a group of horses is even smarter because they can feed themselves and reproduce, two tricks that mountain bikes and sailboats still haven’t mastered.
Once again, Kevin Costner has a great idea in a terrible movie.
Despite the fact that Kevin Costner should never again star in an apocalyptic movie, he nailed two out of three best options: sailboats and horses. Well done, Costner.
Next week: Chapter 4—One Backpack and a Pair of Hiking Boots