It’s fun to talk about getting ready for a zombie apocalypse–or imagine what kind of spiked muscle-car you’d fill with guzzeline if we were living in a Mad Max wasteland.
Yet if we’re going to be brutally practical, and that’s what this series of posts is all about, we need to focus on two key things:
(1) What ideas, fitness regimens and gear would actually work to prepare you for a disaster or apocalypse of any sort, whether it’s a 9.0 earthquake or a super-volcano going off at Yellowstone?
(2) Whatever we come up with must fit the budgets and lifestyles of everyday people. As in nothing on this silly blog can include things like (a) borrowing $400,000 to build an underground bunker next to your house, (b) spending $$$$ on a tricked-out AR-15 and a fancy $2,000 katana for yourself when you could spend a tiny faction of that for an arsenal of cheap, tough machetes ($15 apiece) along with bows and arrows for all your neighbors and friends, or (c) quitting your job and moving your entire family to a log cabin in Nome, Alaska.
To boil that down: what are the cheapest, smartest things you can do to prepare for the most likely craziness?
That means no, don’t prep for zombies, because they don’t exist. And it means yes, think about evil robot soldiers and artificial intelligence gone wrong, because that is not science fiction anymore.
The most likely apocalypse may already be happening, because all the ice in Antarctica (and Greenland, and the north pole) is melting. Insanely fast.
Which means the biggest box-office bombs of apocalyptic movies, WATERWORLD, may be a prophecy.
For those who didn’t watch the whole story, or read about this in the papers of news, plain old global warming would raise sea levels enough to turn coastal cities into water parks. Not good.
Antarctica holds about 90 percent of the world’s freshwater in its ice sheet.
If all the ice in Antarctica melts, you’re looking at a sea level rise of 230 feet.
Yeah. Not two feet, or 23 feet. Two hundred and thirty.
I already did an entire post on what makes sense to prepare for a global warming or WATERWORLD scenario, and that post still holds true.
What’s important here is to recognize the news happening. Because honestly, if CBS reported a small horde of zombies taking over Nome, Alaska, people would lose their minds, even if scientists said it would take 50 years for those zombies to march through the snow and get to Anchorage to start causing real trouble.
Listen: I love cheesy action films and B movies of all types, as long as they don’t take themselves too seriously. Feed me summer popcorn flicks, meant to entertain, instead of pretentious nonsense.
ROBIN HOOD is meant to entertain.
It’s got a good lead actor (Taron Egerton, famous for THE KINGSMEN films), a solid sidekick (Jamie Foxx) and a great villain (Ben Mendelsohn from THE DARK KNIGHT RISES and ROGUE ONE)–plus a big budget ($100 million).
Add to that a built-in audience who loves the story and character of Robin Hood.
This is like chocolate chip cookies, right? Hard to go wrong with those ingredients. Everybody will like it.
Except this movie bombed at the box office. A dumpster fire.
Why did this film go so wrong, so fast?
Act 1 is a good start
There’s a lot to like in the first act. see Robin’s ordinary life and get a good introduction to Marian when she tries to steal Robin’s horse…and he lets her.
His life gets upended when he goes to war during the Crusades and comes back to find his estate confiscated by the Sheriff of Nottingham, who’s taxing everybody to death.
It’s an effective start, and the training sequences with John and Robin are great.
So how does the movie go sideways? I mean, this film makes Kevin Costner’s terrible British accent look like a minor problem in an epic masterpiece.
Why the middle turns meh
Act 2 gets confused. The scenes with the Sheriff of Nottingham are decent, letting him chew up some scenery.
Yet the middle gives us a Robin Hood movie that seems to switch time periods, as if the director wants to mash up medieval Crusades action with huddled masses working in Victorian factories and mines along with 21st century antifa protests.
There’s a big dinner where all the wealthy people show up, with women dressed in furs and high heels (I kid you not), and a giant CGI action sequence set up with horses and carriages that feels more Ben Hur than Robin Hood.
You CAN mix things up like this–A KNIGHT’S TALE with Heath Ledger threw in modern rock songs and other craziness, and it worked. The degree of difficulty is simply really, really high.
Basically, Act 2 is a hot mess.
How the climax isn’t climactic
And then we get to Act 3, where things truly go south.
The first rule of storytelling: save your best scenes for last.
There were great scenes in Act 1–the battles from the Crusades, the training montages with John–that simply eclipse anything offered in Act 3.
The Sheriff of Nottingham meets his end, and not at the hands of Robin, but John.
Taking his place as Sheriff is the romantic rival, the lover Marian took while Robin was believed to be dead. And hovering over everything as the Biggest Bad Guy of Them All is the cardinal, or the pope–I forget. Plus there’s a bad guy soldier, the same man who clashed with Robin during the Crusades, brought in as a mercenary to catch the Hood.
Confused? Yeah. Let’s count the bad guys: (1) O.G. Sheriff, (2) Hired Mercenary, (3) Corrupt Cardinal/Pope and (4) New Sheriff.
Here’s the deal. That’s four separate villains, and I can’t remember their actual names.
Fixing this movie
Hey, you don’t need Michael Bay explosions to have a tense, exciting movie. The ending of Michael Clayton is one of the best Act 3 climaxes in history, and there isn’t a gun, knife or explosion in sight. Just two people talking. No amount of CGI could improve this scene.
HOWEVER: If you’re making an action movie, you need action in the climax, and what we get in Act 3 is a let-down from what showed up on the screen in Act 1.
A bow and arrow is a great tool for Robin Hood, and fun when he uses it for heists and hijinks. Yet it’s a terrible weapon, as a storytelling device, for confronting the villain. Which should be singular. Give us one main villain.
Which leads me to the two simplest fixes for this movie: (1) combine the four villains into one capable, scary, tough Sheriff of Nottingham and (2) end with Robin fighting the Sheriff of Nottingham, one-on-one.
There’s a reason why the best movie fights tend to be bare-handed brawls or swordfights.
Swordfights are just great cinema, and that’s what I expected for the climax of ROBIN HOOD.
Think about THE PRINCESS BRIDE and every STAR WARS movie ever made: the duels with swords or lightsabers are beautiful and essential to the stories. Edit those out and they’d really hurt.
So I’ll leave you with the kind of thing ROBIN HOOD should have put into Act 3: a long, evenly matched duel.
If the zombies rise up, the aliens come down or Mad Max turns into non-fiction, what could truly keep you safe at long range?
Clearly, guns are far more advanced than crossbows, bows, slingshots and other weapons.
HOWEVER: Just as clearly, once a real apocalypse hits, ammunition will go buh-bye, because factories will stop making bullets right when everybody in the world is using them all up in a desperate battle against the undead, the Borg or whatever fashion of apocalypse you favor.
Right off, you have to see firearms as a transitional weapon and a last resort, with precious bullets saved for critical situations while you use sustainable options—bows and arrows, crossbows and slingshots.
So what makes sense?
Option Number 1: A trusty handgun
Hollywood loves pistols, and I’m not against them. Have one myself. Yet there are good reasons why, in a long term SHTF scenario, you wouldn’t pick a pistol as your long-range weapon.
First off, it’s not long range. At all. Handguns are only accurate and effective at close range.
Secondly, you might think the power and capacity of modern handguns balances out the short range. Except shotguns have as much capacity as revolvers are are much more powerful, while many rifles have 30-round magazines with far greater range, accuracy and power.
Arguing for handguns is (a) the fact there are bazillions of them, making it more likely you’ll find one and the ammo for them, (b) the great reliability of modern pistols and revolvers and (c) the intimidation factor, with even an unloaded gun giving you stand-off power against a group armed with melee weapons and (d) the fact that handguns are small and light.
Verdict: A pistol a decent backup weapon, but it shouldn’t be anyone’s primary choice.
Option Number 2: AR-15s and AK-47s
Both have their pluses and minuses, along with passionate defenders. The bottom line is AK’s are brutal, simple beasts and more durable. They’re designed to get muddy and dirty but still fire, and the round they use (7.62 mm) is a lot bigger than the 5.56 mm shot by AR’s, which are more advanced and accurate, but more delicate.
You’d think these would be the king of guns, and they’re great, modern weapons … if you have easy access to more ammo. That’s the trouble. AR’s and AK’s make it easy to crank through magazine after magazine of ammunition, and they won’t be making them anymore.
From the sound of this man shooting an AR and an AK on the same course, you’d think these guns were fully auto. Nope. Same semi-autos that you and I can buy in ‘Murica, so yeah, conserving ammo is not something these weapons like to do.
Verdict: If you’re going to pick an assault rifle for a long-term apocalypse, you can’t use modern tactics like covering fire, because your ammo would be gone within the first couple of battles. Get one with a scope, keep it on semi-auto and treat the ammunition like precious gold.
Option Number 3: Submachine guns
Uzis, Mac-10s, Tommy Guns—the idea for all of these weapons is to use pistol ammo in a machine gun.
And yes, Chuck Norris looked cool with two Uzis.
But true submachine guns aren’t really available to folks without a special license to own automatic weapons. You can buy semi-automatic versions, but those are really just handguns with more capacity than normal.
Verdict: For a gangster in the ’20s smuggling moonshine, submachine guns are great. For our purposes, even if you can find a fully automatic submachine gun, they’re terrible, a handgun on steroids that wastes ammo by design.
Option Number 4: Sniper and hunting rifles
Now we’re talking. Most sniper and hunting rifles are bolt action, which is a lot simpler and easier to maintain than the complicated mechanics of a semi-automatic. Bolt-action is more accurate and makes you conserve ammo.
These guns also have the best scopes.
Armies use a variety of sniper rifles, from modified hunting guns to giant .50 caliber monsters. Those are crazy big and heavy, and those massive bullets are actually meant to be used against vehicles and such, not deer, zombies or aliens.
Verdict: Deer rifles are common and proven. You can’t go wrong with a bolt-action deer rifle.
Option Number 5: A slingshot
This seems like a silly pick, a child’s toy.
But think about it: you need meat on the campfire every night. There’s no way you’ll be lucky enough to bag a deer whenever you get hungry. The most common sources of meat every day will be things like birds and squirrels, which would disappear in a puff of fur if you shot them.
Slingshots are easy to buy, scavenge or craft. You’ll never run out of ammunition as long as the earth keeps making rocks. And this long-range weapon will probably keep your stomach full for years. They also silent, and a good ambush weapon.
Verdict: Everybody in your party should pack a slingshot.
Option Number 5: A crossbow
This is the best of both worlds and the worst of both worlds.
A crossbow is more powerful than a bow (see Option Number 7, below) but far less powerful than a rifle. On the plus sign, they’re silent, unlike guns, yet heavier than a bow.
Crossbows shoot bolts, which you can technically re-use, repair or replace. Yet bolts aren’t easy to craft out in the bush, while arrows are, and good luck repairing a broken crossbow.
Verdict: This one is tough. It sounds like a good choice at first, but the more you think about it, the more it seems meh. A deer rifle or bow seems smarter.
Option Number 6: Mall ninja nonsense
Yes, there are throwing knives, ninja shuriken, boomerangs and bolas. These things exist.
If you want to see what’s out there, go inside your local gas station. For some reason, most gas stations also double as ninja superstores, I kid you not.
Even the higher-quality versions are short-range weapons of dubious value, all of which require a lot of skill and practice to make them remotely effective.
Can you hunt with these things? Not really.
Do they make up for that defect by being amazing combat weapons? No.
Verdict: Come on. Honestly.
Option Number 7: Robin Hood FTW
In the movies, heroes like Robin Hood can lay waste to dozens of soldiers with their trusty bow.
Bows don’t have the range and power of modern guns. Hunters need a lot more skill and patience when they’re using bows instead of rifles, and you wouldn’t want to go after dangerous game like bears, mountain lions or zombies with just a bow. The margin of error is too tight.
Once again, Kevin Costner stinks it up in a big-budget movie yet somehow points us toward the truth. Bows and arrows are a beautiful option for the apocalypse. They’re easy to make and use, silent and versatile.
Bows and arrows are an especially good pick if you’re being smart, conserving ammo and traveling as a Nimble Nomad with Friends, since one of you can try taking down prey with the bow while the other three in your party are ready with hunting rifles or spears. If that arrow misses the mark and the beast charges, your friends are ready.
Arrows are also completely sustainable, while you can make bows out of scavenged material or out in the middle of the forest.
Verdict: Get a bow and learn to make arrows. DO IT NOW.
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