“What Do You Think Of All This?”

A Prepper’s Wife’s Point of View

I’m Sarah, Trace’s wife. We have been together almost three years and married for a year and a half. The year I met and moved in with Trace life completely changed. However, it wasn’t until shortly after we got married (a year after we started dating) that Trace discovered The Survival Podcast and our prepping life began.

Prepping, in our house, began in the “normal” way – with 72-hour kits. Since we live in Western Washington – prime earthquake territory – I’d always thought an emergency kit was a good idea. Although I would never have actually created one, I was quietly supportive when Trace started putting them together. Slowly, however, the “kits” began taking on a life of their own. They went from manageable backpacks to a backpack plus extra bags, totaling close to 60 pounds. At some point the bags went from being called 72-hour kits to Bug Out Bags, and the rest is history…

I didn’t totally “get” it, but I went along with his prepping. I love my husband and it seemed very important to him that we do this. It wasn’t until several friends – and then my mom – asked me, “What do you think of all this?” that I was forced to actually articulate my thinking. Trace does this, all of this, because he loves us and wants to protect us. If he were single he would not be prepping this way. He does this to give us the best chance in a worst case scenario.

There are parts of prepping I enjoy more than others. I like contemplating “what if?” scenarios. “What if” Mount Rainier (which is within 20 miles of our backyard) erupts and we’re trapped because of landslides? How would I get home from work? “What if” a pandemic breaks out? How do we help the kids when they’ve been at their mom’s for over a week and possibly exposed? “What if” the kids are with us when disaster strikes? They want their mom, Trace wants the kids with him…so we plan for me and Trace, the kids, and Trace’s ex-wife.

The  more tedious logistical aspects, i.e. calculating how much of each item we need, rotating food, etc. are less interesting to me. I help out as needed and appreciate our preps and all their redundancies, but – if it were just me – I wouldn’t be doing all this.

Being the wife of a prepper has had its eyebrow-raising moments, but when I remember that Trace does this because he wants us to be safe and happy no matter what life brings, I can’t help but smile. What girl doesn’t want to help her man be her knight in shining armor?

(Friday (back to Trace with): What I Did This Week To Prep)

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Walk A Mile In Your Shoes, Part 1

The Importance of Conditioning Yourself To Walk

Walking. Our ancestors have been doing it since, well, a long time ago. We tend to underestimate the amount of energy and muscle exertion that goes into walking; especially when carrying a pack. We take walking for granted, heck we do it every day what’s the big deal? But do you walk any distance on a regular basis? When was the last time you took a good long walk? How did your body feel after that walk? How did your body feel the next day? Do you believe you’re in good walking condition?

To train yourself to walk any significant distance, you must condition yourself – by walking. Without proper conditioning you’ll feel it–after a long walk–in your feet, legs, and lower back; if you were carrying a pack, in your neck and shoulders also.

Keep in mind that walking, whether you work it into your plans or not, is your backup mode of transportation. We don’t carry a backup transportation system other than our feet. If a vehicle can’t get you there, for whatever reason – then you’re walking.

I work 45 miles from home. If disaster strikes when I’m there, my ultimate plan is to get to my family. Assuming there is no other transportation available, I’ll grab my BOB*, put on my good boots, insure I have plenty of water and WALK home. I’ll plan to stop and spend the night along the way. Can I do it? I believe I can…I know I could 15 years ago.

Am I in the same condition for walking as I was, 15 years ago, when I was going through Army Special Forces training? No, I’m not. So recently I’ve started a walking regime; it coincided well with getting a new dog who needs and loves to walk daily (dogs are great motivators). Kate, our four-month old Border Collie, and I have begun walking regularly about two miles. Soon I’m going to incorporate a pack, weighing about 30 pounds, and increase our walks to three miles and more.

In Part 2, I’ll cover choosing good footwear, the muscles involved in walking, and how to avoid and treat injuries. But for now, just get out and walk. Walking will help you get in better condition, burn calories, help clear your head, and your dog will love you for it.

(Friday: What I Did This YEAR To Prep)

*For my list of abbreviations and other information, open the above ‘Check Here…’ page tab.

But I’m Working Now

Creating Your Work Evacuation Plan

As much as we’d like to, we don’t get to choose our disaster or where we will be when it strikes. Best case: entire family home together with all our ‘stuff’ available; worst case: stuck in an airport, alone, with none of your preps. How about something in between, what if you’re at work?

Remember school fire drills? We’d all neatly file from our classrooms with the teacher leading us, like a mommy duck, to our designated spot in the playground. They’d take roll to account for everyone; that’d be reported to the principal, then we’d all file back inside.

Fast forward to today where you’re sitting at work. Something is wrong and you have to evacuate. It’s not a drill, there’s no teacher to lead you, or principal to account for you. Hopefully you know how to safely evacuate your own building, but what next? We’re all grown up now; we must have our own plan of what to do if an emergency occurs when we’re at work.

This is another one of those things where I can’t tell you what to do; you’ll have to develop your own plan. But I can tell you what Sarah and I have planned, and our contingencies.

Sarah and I both work in Seattle (about 45 miles from our home). Ironically we only work about a mile apart. Sarah commutes on the train working traditional hours. I drive to work and have a ‘non-traditional’ schedule. Each week there are three days we both work there (but only in the afternoons), two days she’s in Seattle alone, and one day only I’m there. We’ve had to come up with multiple plans that vary based on the day of the week.

So if we’re both there, she would come up the hill to where I work. My workplace is more secure, further from the water, and away from the downtown congested high-rise area. In case I have to leave work also, we’ve discussed what street she would walk up and what side of the street she would be on. We have contingency plans of where to meet if we both had to leave and we didn’t (or couldn’t) meet up on that street. If it’s only me, since I drive I have my car and BOB; I also have friends I could stay with in the area if necessary. If only she is there, she’ll make the decision if it’s okay to take the train home, or if it’d be better to stay at a predetermined friend’s home in the area. She also has a family member who works near her (and who drives to work) and has made plans of where to meet and try to get somewhere safer together.

Also since Sarah rides to work on public transportation, everything she has for the day is in her backpack. In addition to her normal work stuff, she has a miniature version of her BOB; she also wears good walking shoes back and forth to work. At work she keeps extra water, food, and a change of clothes.

We’ve also discussed communication:

  • if cell phones aren’t getting through, we’ll try a landline
  • if “all circuits are busy”, we’ll try a predetermined long-distance relative
  • if landlines don’t work, we’ll try texting (texts frequently go through even when voice calls don’t)
  • if texting doesn’t work, we’ll try email (if necessary, moving to a wireless area to email on the phone)
  • if none of those options are available, we have a predetermined place to leave a written note

Of course all the “what ifs” can’t be covered. The important thing is to take the time to think about what you’d do if an emergency happened when you were at work. Then develop and discuss your plan with family members. It costs nothing and, in this crazy world we live in today, it’s one less thing to worry about.

(Wednesday: Never Buy A Replacement Blade)

What I Did This Week To Prep

Chanse, Ryan, Sarah, & Emily with green tomato salsa

We got our green tomato salsa made and canned this week. From our garden we added tomatoes (some red, mostly green), two onions, and three jalapenos. We combined them with additional peppers (red, yellow, more jalapeno, and Hatch chili), garlic, lime juice, cilantro and other spices (here is the green tomato salsa recipe – next time I’ll leave out the sugar). We ended up with six quart jars (including two hotter ones with habaneros added). We waited several days and opened a jar (allowing for the flavors to blend), and it was really good – and gone in no time. It was interesting how you could taste so many different flavors in each bite. This will definitely be an annual tradition.

As described last week (What I Did This Week to Prep-11/4/11), I determined that the circuit breaker between the inverter and battery bank had failed and the batteries had not recharged before the last test. So I removed it, connected the wires, and it was time to test the battery bank again. This time I ensured that the batteries were fully charged (12.70 volts).

Goals (take 2): Power two lamps to light the living room / kitchen area (each with two CFL bulbs), power a 29 inch TV, DVD player, and use the microwave for limited cooking.

Outcome (better than expected): No issues or problems at all! We powered the lamps, TV and DVD player for six hours, ran the microwave for 10 minutes – and the batteries only went down to 12.35 volts. Based on this test, I believe that if we conservatively used power for about four to six hours a night we could run the battery bank, roughly, for a full week before it had to be recharged. Then (and this is the next thing that needs tested), I believe I can use the generator (with one tank of gas) to recharge the battery bank, and then run the batteries for another week. I think this test has tentatively shown that with our gasoline stored we could maintain a usable amount of power for over six weeks. Also since Sarah and Ryan helped me with both tests, they know what needs to be done and can do it if I’m not here.

The last thing, though it wasn’t an emergency by any means, was that I used my Bug Out Bag (BOB). Chanse (Ryan’s best friend) invited us to his football game. Sarah got there at the beginning of the game and I met her, just after half-time, when I got off work. Driving to the game, as I went by the time/temperature clock (41 degrees), I realized I hadn’t thought to pack any warm clothes and all I had was my light jacket. Then I remembered the BOB I have in my car (we keep one in each of our vehicles) and the problem was solved. I had a warm fleece, Gor-Tex jacket, stocking cap, warm gloves, and a wool blanket (I could have even put on my insulated boots and thermal underwear if I had chosen). Needless to say, I was warm and comfortable (and prepared) for the game.

What did you do?

(Monday: ‘Course It’ll Always Be There)

(10/5/11)

One Man’s Tool

…could be another man’s weapon, or different kind of tool.

I was recently reading over a BOB list put together by a co-worker of Sarah’s (it was distributed for September National Preparedness Month). We preppers frequently look at others’ lists and compare them to what we have ourselves. As I read it through, I mentally checked off each item he listed thinking of the equivalent I had in my bag. At the end he mentioned that he keep all his stuff in a pack near his garage door, except his crowbar which he kept under the bed. Crowbar? I don’t have a crowbar. And under the bed? Oh, he’s keeping it there as a weapon…

The crowbar, in it’s current form, has been documented since the 1400s. Also known as a wrecking bar, pry bar, or by the British as a prisebar.

I decided a crowbar would be a good idea. So a trip to the hardware store and $15 later I had a 30 inch iron crowbar for my BOB.

Since we have to be prepared to carry our BOBs, it is helpful if the items we bring along have multiple uses. A crowbar can be used:

  • as a lever to move heavy items
  • to pry things apart
  • to open a damaged car door
  • to open a house door or window
  • to safely break glass
  • as a support anchor
  • as a leg splint
  • as a cane
  • to remove nails
  • as a hammer
  • as a pick axe
  • to break the hasp on a padlock
  • for smashing things

Or as a weapon. I’m not wanting to advocate or predict violence, but desperate times frequently bring out the very best or the very worst in people. I see the crowbar as a defensive weapon, holding it in two hands across your body with the curved portion on top in your dominate hand. It can be used to defend against other blunt weapons, punches, or to create a physical barrier. Offensively, if necessary, holding it the same way and striking with the curved portion using the straight end for a follow-up strike. I would avoid using it like a baseball bat because it’s heavy to swing around, and the momentum could throw you off-balance and out of position. Likely it’s just going to be a psychological weapon. If you’re standing there empty-handed, you look vulnerable; if you’re holding a relatively large crowbar, not so much.

Weight is it’s biggest disadvantage. Five pounds may not seem like much, until you have to carry it in hand for any distance. Strapping it to a pack is an option, but it’s not as accessible. I’d happily deal with the extra weight in an urban setting where I felt defenseless, but in a rural area–especially if I needed to walk for long–I’d likely leave it behind.

The humble crowbar, a tool of many uses – something I hadn’t thought to add to my kit, and now wouldn’t want to do without.

(Wednesday: Soap and Water)

Product Review: Emberlit Stove

In an emergency situation where hypothermia is a risk, my plan–using our BOB–is to quickly make a small fire, heat water, and get warm beverages into people. In our BOBs we have a good fire starting kit, containing: multiple ignition sources, multiple forms of fire starters, and dry kindling. We have a small cook kit, and carry instant coffee and hot chocolate. Having an efficient way to make a fire on a cold night can mean the difference between life and death – hypothermia can set in within a few hours at 40 degrees in a damp climate (i.e. most nights here in Western Washington). I didn’t have a camp stove in our kit, mostly to avoid the extra weight and bulk, and not wanting to carry extra fuel; I felt that our fire starting kit would be good enough to do the job. When I saw the Emberlit Stove it made me reconsider my feeling of ‘good enough’. I realized if being able to quickly and easily make a fire was one of my top survival priorities (and it is) that I needed a stove.

I looked at the Emberlit Stove some more and watched their video. I liked the apparent quality and strength, while balancing a relatively lightweight (11.3 oz) and very compact size. I ordered two from TSP Gear Shop, one for each of our primary BOBs.

our 2 stoves - left: assembled, right: unassembled

When the stove arrived I was immediately impressed by how small and simplistic it is. Unassembled it measures about four inches by five inches and stacks up less than a quarter-inch tall. It felt heavier than I had expected, but I think that’s because it’s so densely packed. It’s made of stamped, stainless steel sheet metal. It consists of three identical sides, a bottom, and a front piece; a total of five separate tabbed and slotted pieces.

The directions to assemble it are simple. The pieces are precisely cut and have very little tolerance. This is very good in quality and stability, but it’s also the cause of my one complaint: it’s a hassle to easily put together. With cold, wet hands and/or in the dark assembly would be very difficult. On the positive side, because of the way it’s designed it would be impossible to put together incorrectly.

Alison with Emberlit Stove

I assembled it and, using a fire starter and small twigs, we easily got a fire going. The front feeder port made it simple to maintain the fire, and the water boiled quickly. The wood burned with almost no smoke and only ash was left behind.

Because I wanted everyone in the family to get familiar with assembling it, and knowing that everything gets easier with practice, we had a Emberlit assembly night. While playing a card game, between hands, we took turns passing it around and each person practiced with it until we all felt proficient at assembling the stove. Sarah, Ryan, and I even tried assembling it blindfolded – that was hard and took a long time, but we were all successful.

Then, to add some stress to the learning process, we had a contest to see who could put it together the fastest. Each person had to sit on the floor, could not set the stove down until it was completed, and was timed. To put times into perspective, when we first got it in the mail Sarah and I, following the directions, each took about three to four minutes to assemble it. When we began timing ourselves it wasn’t long before everyone was able to complete it in less than one minute. Final results at the end of the night: Alison 3rd place with 34.9 seconds, I was 2nd with 27.4 seconds, and Ryan was the hands down winner at 18.5 seconds.

Aside from being a hassle to assemble, which can be mitigated with practice, I love this product. At $37, it’s well made, functions efficiently, is simplistic and would be almost impossible to break. Lastly, I want to mention the stove is made by a member of the TSP community, “By TSP For TSP”. I highly recommend adding the Emberlit Stove to your BOB.

five basic needs: 1) food, 2) water, 3) shelter, 4) security, and 5) energy

(Disclaimer: I have no association with this product or any other dealer or manufacturer. I researched and bought the product to add to my preps and I just wanted to pass along the experience I have had with it.)

Where Do I Start? Get a Kit

Early last fall, as I drove to work I’d go past this FEMA sponsored billboard:

At that point I had already been thinking of getting my family more prepared. I had the motivation and the past interest. But I believe seeing this billboard each day was the true spark/guilt that got me started. Each time I saw it I would think: Our government is so screwed up and out of touch with peoples’ lives and I know this is just some feel good (at least they think they’re doing something) message – but it really struck a chord with me. If the government is saying be ready, maybe it is time to get ready.

Let’s talk about what FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), the CDC (Center for Disease Control), or the Red Cross means when they talk about having a kit and being prepared. The reason they specify a three day (or 72-hour) kit is because in a disaster they believe it is likely you will have to survive that long until help, in the form of a government agency, arrives. (FEMA explains this basic concept well at: http://www.ready.gov.) CDC also mentions, “Even though it is unlikely that an emergency would cut off your food supplies for two weeks, consider maintaining a supply that will last that long.” But mainly they also stress having at least a basic kit. While I believe we should have a lot more food and water stored (and we’ll discuss this in the future at length) I do believe that this is a good starting point.

The biggest problem in a disaster isn’t the disaster itself, it’s surviving the aftermath. People who are unprepared: hungry, scared, and have no plan – tend to panic. When people don’t know where their next meal is coming from they can think of little else. But when you’re prepared, and your basic needs are cared for, you can focus on other tasks and help others around you. Imagine if everyone took the CDC’s advice: had a kit, stored two weeks of food, had some water, and had a basic plan about what they needed to do – how much smoother could things go?

No, I don’t believe the government will save us. Yes, I do believe we are responsible for our own preparedness and survival. But I believe if each person, as soon as possible, would ensure they they have a basic recommended 72-hour kit, then begin working toward two weeks of food in the house, and a basic disaster plan it’d be a great start and we’d be much better off.

In the future I’ll talk more about 72-hour kits. I’ll list and discuss what I put in mine and why.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include CDC’s ‘other’ “Get a kit…” poster, because preparing for a zombie apocalypse is important too (and really not that much different than preparing for any other disaster…)