The morning after I arrived, I was picked up at my hotel by Graham Wall, a cheerful real-estate agent who specializes in what his profession describes as high-net-worth individuals, “H.N.W.I.” Wall, whose clients include Peter Thiel, the billionaire venture capitalist, was surprised when Americans told him they were coming precisely because of the country’s remoteness. “Kiwis used to talk about the ‘tyranny of distance,’ ” Wall said, as we crossed town in his Mercedes convertible. “Now the tyranny of distance is our greatest asset.”
Though its light weight and long shelf life are ideal for navigating harsh conditions, freeze-dried food is probably most famous as a cultural curiosity: Like many Americans, I discovered it in a museum gift shop, gawking at the styrofoam-like ice cream that astronauts used to have for dessert. More recently, I encountered it at a disaster preparedness convention in Raleigh, North Carolina, where smiling, gray-haired preppers manned tables piled with plastic bags full of vegetables, meats, and stews.
Historically, our fascination with the End has flourished at moments of political insecurity and rapid technological change. “In the late nineteenth century, there were all sorts of utopian novels, and each was coupled with a dystopian novel,” Richard White, a historian at Stanford University, told me. Edward Bellamy’s “Looking Backward,” published in 1888, depicted a socialist paradise in the year 2000, and became a sensation, inspiring “Bellamy Clubs” around the country. Conversely, Jack London, in 1908, published “The Iron Heel,” imagining an America under a fascist oligarchy in which “nine-tenths of one per cent” hold “seventy per cent of the total wealth.”
During the Cold War, Armageddon became a matter for government policymakers. The Federal Civil Defense Administration, created by Harry Truman, issued crisp instructions for surviving a nuclear strike, including “Jump in any handy ditch or gutter” and “Never lose your head.” In 1958, Dwight Eisenhower broke ground on Project Greek Island, a secret shelter, in the mountains of West Virginia, large enough for every member of Congress. Hidden beneath the Greenbrier Resort, in White Sulphur Springs, for more than thirty years, it maintained separate chambers-in-waiting for the House and the Senate. (Congress now plans to shelter at undisclosed locations.) There was also a secret plan to whisk away the Gettysburg Address, from the Library of Congress, and the Declaration of Independence, from the National Archives.
From the SpeedSafe, one hand assisted opening to the 4 position pocket clip to the uber-secure liner lock that prevents the blade from closing on your fingers the Brawler from Kershaw is the kind of safe, effective survival gear you want at your disposal when things get gnarly. The modified Tanto blade has a pointed tip for precision work, spearing or piercing and the high carbon holds an edge longer than standard carbon steel blades. An invaluable addition to your emergency supplies when the weather closes in and you’re miles from nowhere.
A commercial option for people who choose to take the minimalist route is the Pocket Survival Pak from Survive Outdoors Longer (SOL). This wallet-size packet of miniature multi-use survival items includes duct tape, a pencil, safety pins, seweing needle, nylon thread, aluminum foil, compass, fish hooks and sinkers, magnifying lens, braided nylon cord, stainless steel wire, scalpel blade, signal mirror, fire starter, tinder, waterproof paper, whistle, and a waterproof instructional sheet on the items.
The C.E.O. of another large tech company told me, “It’s still not at the point where industry insiders would turn to each other with a straight face and ask what their plans are for some apocalyptic event.” He went on, “But, having said that, I actually think it’s logically rational and appropriately conservative.” He noted the vulnerabilities exposed by the Russian cyberattack on the Democratic National Committee, and also by a large-scale hack on October 21st, which disrupted the Internet in North America and Western Europe. “Our food supply is dependent on G.P.S., logistics, and weather forecasting,” he said, “and those systems are generally dependent on the Internet, and the Internet is dependent on D.N.S.”—the system that manages domain names. “Go risk factor by risk factor by risk factor, acknowledging that there are many you don’t even know about, and you ask, ‘What’s the chance of this breaking in the next decade?’ Or invert it: ‘What’s the chance that nothing breaks in fifty years?’ ”
Opinel knives are a classic in bushcraft circles and they have huge following in Europe. Like Mora knives, they are typically very affordable and very effective cutting tools. The most commonly seen Opinel is the #8, which hasn’t changed a bit in almost 130 years. But that doesn’t mean that this French company isn’t paying attention to today’s outdoorspeople. The Opinel #12 Explore is a folding knife designed for hunting and survival. The convex grind stainless steel blade locks into an open or closed position with Opinel’s patented twisting collar lock. The knife also has a retractable gut hook and a shrill 110 decibel whistle integrated into the handle.
Survivalism is a primarily American movement of individuals or groups (called survivalists or preppers) who actively prepare for emergencies, including possible disruptions in social or political order, on scales from local to international. Survivalism also encompasses preparation for personal emergencies, such as job loss or being stranded in the wild or under adverse weather conditions. The emphasis is on self-reliance, stockpiling supplies, and gaining survival knowledge and skills. Survivalists often acquire emergency medical and self-defense training, stockpile food and water, prepare to become self-sufficient, and build structures such as survival retreats or underground shelters that may help them survive a catastrophe.
Pense invites me to imagine a world turned lawless when the ninth transformer blows. Fifteen percent of the New Orleans Police Department deserted during Hurricane Katrina—imagine if the entire force lived where the levees broke. Big box stores killed off regional food distribution centers years ago; all we’ve got is what’s inside Walmart and Sam’s Club, and if you thought Black Friday was bad, imagine the crowds when it’s life or death. Drivers fleeing Springfield will hit roadblocks, where mobs will pull people from their vehicles like the LA rioters did to Reginald Denny. You might commit vehicular manslaughter, the preppers tell me, just to get out alive.
"I had a dream not long ago that was sort of like God said, ‘I will show you these things,’ and that we’d lost both grids on the East and West Coasts, and I saw trains coming in, packed, standing-room only, from both coasts, and they were just releasing them into Mark Twain and everywhere. Those people were then forming little camps—15, 20 people per camp. And I saw a colored boy and a white boy, youngsters, and they were talking. And the white boy is talking, and he says if you steal wood from any of those people, only take one piece, because if you take more than that they’ll miss it.
Doug owns a rock hauling business in Tennessee and plans to bug-in with his family in his underground bunker. Doug, whose line of work has earned him the nickname "Rockman", also plans to use a hillside full of boulders as a defense to ward off potential threats. He is also stockpiling coins minted before the 1970s because of their higher silver content, which makes them useful for bartering. Jeff Flaningham is a single, Wisconsin native, who is looking for woman who will live with him in his decommissioned SM-65 Atlas missile silo located in rural central Kansas in the event of a catastrophic event. During the program, Jeff goes on dates with three women he has met through an online dating service. He then arranges a second date with one of them, Stephanie, to go visit his missile silo.
And now, there are Democrats. Fear of the Trump administration is largely responsible for an urban and liberal renaissance within prepping; left-leaning Facebook groups and urban survivalism YouTube channels brim with freshly paranoid Americans who attend the same expos, talk the same shop and wipe with the same bulk supply of toilet paper as the conservatives who voted the other way. That said, I met no openly liberal preppers in Springfield.
And, of course, people aren't going to stop wanting to get drunk just because they can't pop over to the corner bodega for a six pack whenever the urge strikes. Portability and long shelf-life make liquor of all types a valuable trade good -- people will kill to get a taste of the delicious bottom-shelf leftovers from your local dive bar when their only other option is the equivalent of prison wine.
One of that era's icons remains — a massive underground bunker designed to protect all 535 members of Congress and their aides against nuclear war. Dug into the Allegheny Mountains at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., it once had 75,000 gallons of water, a power system, medical and food services, 30-ton blast doors, art of the last days of Pompeii and a mural of Washington scenery that was capable of changing leaves on the trees, depending on the season.
On the opposite side of the country, similar awkward conversations have been unfolding in some financial circles. Robert H. Dugger worked as a lobbyist for the financial industry before he became a partner at the global hedge fund Tudor Investment Corporation, in 1993. After seventeen years, he retired to focus on philanthropy and his investments. “Anyone who’s in this community knows people who are worried that America is heading toward something like the Russian Revolution,” he told me recently.
While survivalists accept the long-term viability of Western civilization, they learn principles and techniques needed for surviving life-threatening situations that can occur at any time and place. They prepare for such calamities that could result in physical harm or requiring immediate attention or defense from threats. These disasters could be biotic or abiotic. Survivalists combat disasters by attempting to prevent and mitigate damage caused by these factors.
He ushered me through, and, in the darkness, I could see the outline of a vast concrete dome, with a metal blast door partly ajar. I was greeted by Larry Hall, the C.E.O. of the Survival Condo Project, a fifteen-story luxury apartment complex built in an underground Atlas missile silo. The facility housed a nuclear warhead from 1961 to 1965, when it was decommissioned. At a site conceived for the Soviet nuclear threat, Hall has erected a defense against the fears of a new era. “It’s true relaxation for the ultra-wealthy,” he said. “They can come out here, they know there are armed guards outside. The kids can run around.”
I'm not quite crazy enough to say that epinephrine will help you survive the inevitable zombie apocalypse (you can go here for that). I'm just suggesting in a roundabout way that if you happened to be in a situation where something was trying to eat you, the increased heart rate and blood flow to your muscles brought on by a well-timed dose might just save your life.
Followers of James Wesley Rawles often prepare for multiple scenarios with fortified and well-equipped rural survival retreats. This group anticipates a near-term crisis and seek to be well-armed as well as ready to dispense charity in the event of a disaster. Most take a "deep larder" approach and store food to last years, and a central tenet is geographic seclusion in the northern US intermountain region. They emphasize practical self-sufficiency and homesteading skills.
Car electricity runs on direct current, but almost everything else is alternating current. What you need: an inverter. Some cars have them built in, but you can get one at a store for less than $40. Use the clamps to attach the inverter directly to the terminals on your car battery. Let the car run at idle and you have 110-volt AC power for as long as you have gas. With a 300-watt inverter, you'll have enough amps to run a laptop or even a television.