Sunday, December 21, 2008

SHTF: The Road

Unless you have been under a rock or in your bunker for the past two years, you have heard of The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Forget that it is an Oprah book club book, whatever, rather that it is a masterpiece of literature.

The Road describes a world where everything, all life, people, animals, plants, are dying off after a cataclysmic event. (Although the book does not say, to me it is obvious an extinction event, such as a massive meteorite storm or comet strike has taken place. Other reviewers love to pontificate, incorrectly, that the the story describes "nuclear winter" after a man-made nuclear war).

Amongst this ruin, we have a man and his son, both unnamed, traveling across this blasted and cold land moving south where they hope there is warmer temperatures and food.

The story is about survival, but it is more about love and keeping hope in the darkest of times. Something we here understand and appreciate all too well.

Heavy handedness aside, let's get down to practicality. If you have read The Road, you probably thought what I did - "How could I have survived in that situation?"

As I read The Road, I figured out these few lessons:
- Be prepared - duh. But really prepared with food for several years, ways to grow more and preserve it in adverse conditions, to have a retreat well off the beaten path and obscure from passers by and have plenty of ammo for your weapon.

With that in mind, is there anyway anyone could survive that cold desolate world described in The Road? I'd like to think there is, after all, there were communes and survivors who had not yet degenerated into cannibalism and despicable acts.

To get started..

Don't be a refugee - Lesson one. The Man and Boy are wandering with all their worldly possessions. Around every corner is death and destruction waiting for them. Rather than walking to death, we know to have a retreat ready before the day happens.

Retreat location is everything - we don't know how the disaster took place, but we do know from The Road that pretty much everything above ground was affected. So having an underground shelter would be advantageous. Further, the shelter should not be too far north (colder), near an earthquake zone (falling asteroids could trigger a quake) or near the sea (flooding). So somewhere in the southwest or lower Plain states would be nice.

Our shelter must be over a deep aquifer for our well to go. Something with water for years and unaffected by the elements. So a well is mandatory and having the pump run on wind or another renewable power source is mandatory

Next, our shelter must be large, very large to house what we are going to stock it with.

Food,food,food - the characters in The Road are starving most of the book. We will need to stock our shelter not for a few months, but for years. That means the some sort of list of foods and schedule of consumption:

Year one, two - canned and packaged food.
Year three - long term storage food such as grain, rice, beans, powdered milk, honey, cooking oil.
Year four through seven - more long term grain, powdered milk, honey and oil. Retort foods such as Emergency Essentials, Meals-Ready-To-Eat for variety and as a treat.
Year eight and on - Underground food production garden with grow lights and hydroponics. Continued use of grains. Small scale animal production such as pygmy goats and chickens.

That was my estimate, so I went to the food calculator and entered in my data. Here is what I got..

First, I figured in seven years worth of food with four big people and one little person consuming - so that (7 x 4) + (7 x 1) x the estimated annual amounts.

That would mean
Grains - 9436lbs
Fats (oils, etc) - 413lbs
Beans - 1848lbs
Sugars - 1883lbs
Milk - 2359lbs
Plus a bunch of cooking essentials like baking powder, yeast, salt, etc.

Using this same calculator, I would increase the number of years I plan to stay in the shelter and stock accordingly.

It is a lot to consider, but think about the core food, grain. Only 10K lbs would feed five people for 7 years.

So the shelter has to be huge. I figure that I would have to buy a truckload of grain at a time, although I think a grain truck carries about 20,000 lbs so one would be enough. Just having a place to store it would be a chore.

With food and water covered for our post-The Road world, we need a few other essentials.

Power - Solar is out and the electric grid is down. The wind still blows and wind power may be are only option. We have to keep the wind mills running in all the dust and ash, and discovery will always be a problem. But if the windmills are running outside and our shelter is underground hidden from view, other refugees and bandits will pass them by hopefully and move on.

The windmills would store their power in deep cycle batteries and would power cooking, heating and lights.

The other option would be to have several thousand gallons of propane stored underground around my bunker. It could be used for cooking, heating and powering a generator.

Wood and coal fire would be out as the smoke would have to be expelled and that would attract others.

Washing, toilets and personal hygiene - all I wanted to do when I was reading The Road was the desire to take a shower. Having wash facilities would be crucial as would be toilets. The waste would have to be used for fertilizer in the growth rooms for vegetables and fruit productions.

Water from the bath/shower would be reused for watering the plants. Waste from the animals would be used for earthworm production and fertilizer.

What else would we need? Clothing, including changing sizes for children as they grow. Shoes too.

Vitamins as our diet becomes progressively more limited. Medicine as the chance of minor infections spreading becomes a real issue in our closed bunker environment. Having a sun lamp or tanning bed for artificial sunlight and vitamin D production would help too.

I would want to have at least four or five families in the shelter. We would probably be down there, with very limited exposure to the outside world for 7-10 years judging from the book. At that time, most of the die off would have unfortunately happened and then we could wait for the world to hopefully heal itself.

Could you survive the world of The Road? Most likely not based upon what I read. But thinking about solutions to problems is what we should do and do often. However, some survival situations are simply too big to grasp and plan for.

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