After all, I had stacks and stacks of information at my disposal, an endless collection of obsessively highlighted materials about "bugging out," wilderness survival, and emergency evacuation protocols. I knew all about natural disaster preparedness. I was confident that I had amassed enough knowledge to create just the right formula for an engaging conflict in my story. When I sat down to write it, I hit a wall. My characters thumbed their noses at me, refusing to cooperate. For weeks, they gave me the silent treatment and no matter how hard I tried, they wouldn't tell me their story. I sat there, day after day, staring at a blank screen and wishing I could simply put myself in their shoes. *FACE PALM* Duh. The solution was right there in front of me.
Two weeks later, my husband, our two oldest boys, and I set off on what will forever be referred to as the epic SURVIVOR-CATION of 2014. The Bug Out rules were simple, but far more difficult than anticipated.
If the SHTF (sh*t hit the fan) tomorrow and you had to get out, would you know where to go? Maybe...but what if motorized transportation was no longer a possibility? What if the grid went down and communication was out. If you had no GPS, would you know the easiest and safest way to get there? For most of us, this is likely a resounding NO. If I am being honest, I would be out of luck. I have zero sense of direction. None. We ended up choosing a national park in Wisconsin- one that would be about a 3-4 day walk from us (I can't lie, we drove there...shhh). It had a lake stocked with fish, lots and lots of trees, and large animal population. It was a bit stereotypical, sure, but since this was only a simulation, it would serve our purposes.
Downsides to this location- LOTS of hills, bugs the size of your hand, poison ivy and all kinds of other itch-inducing plants, hills, muddy grounds, minimal sun exposure to the camp, wet brush (which made finding firewood difficult), and did I mention the HILLS? I like to think I am in pretty good shape, but I swear it felt as though everywhere we went was uphill. My calves still burn when I think about it. Note to self: MORE CARDIO.
Those massive hiking packs served as our "Bug-out" bags. In a real SHTF scenario, you would want to travel light so you can travel farther, faster, with less exertion. You know, bring only the necessities. As it turns out, pairing down is much harder than you would think. Nowadays, we are so spoiled by our modern conveniences that EVERYTHING feels like a necessity. Each of us were allowed one "luxury item," but for the rest of our bag's contents was limited to only what was needed.
The packs, themselves, were sturdy and really light-weight but the crap we crammed into them was not. As is my way (I'm a chronic over-thinker), I tried to anticipate EVERY possible scenario we'd encounter on our travels and ended up packing waaaaaaay too much. By the end of the trip, I had mentally eliminated over 60% of the things I had brought in my pack. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to do so in real life. I felt like I was carrying a seven-year-old on my back for 48 hours. The survivors in my story were being forced to do that for much longer. I think I heard one of them laugh.
3. Don't depend on manufactured food products or standard cooking elements in order to eat-
Yeah, this one sucked. I did bring a small amount of food with us, since my characters did manage to raid a vending machine and snake a few MRE's from a garage before they were forced to bug-out. Aside from a handful of granola bars, a couple dehydrated meals, and a few bottles of water, we were on our own food-wise.
We made simple pocket-sized fishing poles out of sticks, fishing line, hooks, and weights. The boys dug for nearly an hour trying to find earth worms and grubs to use as bait. It was fun for them for the first couple minutes, but they quickly grew bored. When it became obvious that the success or failure of this one, simple task could mean the difference between eating and going hungry, I took pause. That's scary.
I could have sworn I just heard one of my characters clear their throat...I must have imagined it.
4. You can only use what you have-
This statement just screams "Master of the Obvious," I know, but have you ever really thought about what that would mean in a SHTF scenario? Probably not. This picture is my oldest trying desperately to cook a package of Ramen noodles (his chosen luxury item) on a tiny cook-stove; the kind that run on those little white cubes of fuel. Sadly, that old "watched pot never boils" adage held true. Between the serious lack of juice in those fuel cubes and the insanely windy day, his noodles were a flop. Truth be told, they were pretty disgusting, but in a real survival scenario, you eat the food you have and prepare it in a way within your means. In a life/death situation, Ramen--cooked or half-raw and rubbery--would likely be a excess that most could not afford.
5. Do what you can to stay sane-
It's true, our survivor-cation only lasted for two days, but it didn't take long for me to realize that this would prove challenging for anyone forced to survive out here for a longer period of time. I didn't realize how much of my life I had spent surrounded by non-stop sound, buzzing and binging electronics, and constant motion. When all that noise was stripped away, I started getting anxious. I was surprised how dependent I had become on that auditory pollution or how much of my time I spent "plugged in."
Eventually, when the withdrawals wore off, I found it to be a blessing in disguise. My children and I spent time together, talking to each other rather than staring at our screens. We played cards and truth or dare. We went on hikes and tried to catch frogs. My husband and I talked for hours (and it was just me doing the talking, lol). We told scary stories by the fire and went fishing at midnight with the boys. Turns out, my boys are actually pretty cool people. Who knew?
Killshot has been on the shelf for just over a year now and has been met with rave reviews. My absolute favorite things to hear from readers is this:
"When I read Killshot, I felt like I was one of the survivors. I shared their struggles and celebrated their victories. It felt like I was right there with them."
Me too, reader. Me too.
(Note: Every one of these pictures was taken by yours truly during our adventure. Yes, I had my phone with me in case of emergencies, but I turned off my wifi, put it on silent, and only used it to take pictures. A special thank you goes out to my boys, Alex and Jacob, and my husband Mark, for humoring this crazy author and subjecting themselves to another one of my insane ideas. We are considering another Survivor-cation...I suggested Hawaii)