Published on The Doomstead Diner on October 30, 2016
Discuss this story at the Collapse Narratives Table inside the Diner
I was both excited and nervous as I made the final drive of 2017 to my doomstead property outside of Lolo. My 15' enclosed trailer was packed to the roof with additional prep foods, plenty for the winter even without digging up any of my storage caches or any success hunting, fishing or gathering wild plants, roots and nuts. How much of it would I need? How much would I be able to feed myself from the land?
For Hunting, I brought a full variety of both firearms and more primitive weapons. I had along a couple of rifles, a shotgun and 2 pistols, a .45 caliber revolver for Bear Protection and a Glock 9mm semi-automatic for Zombie protection. However, I was determined not to use the firearms unless absolutely necessary, to conserve ammunition and to practice with the more primitive weapons, which all weren't so primitive since they had been produced in industrial factories. I had two crossbows, one a full size model and then a smaller pistol size model good for small game. I also had a compound bow and a good old fashioned Long Bow. I made a slingbow as well, which is a cross between a slingshot and crossbow. I had with me an extra 100' of surgical tubing in case of breakage. Elastic tubing is one thing you cannot find a replacement for in the wilderness! I also had a conventional sling I made as well as an atl-atl to pratice with, although I wasn't going to try hunting anything with it until I got a lot better and more accurate. I brought about a dozen traps of different types to experiment with as well.
I also brought along a lot of backups and spares for my electronics, laptops, smart phones, shortwave radios, GPS units and so forth. At least 2 of everything, in some cases 3. My backups were mostly older models that still worked, but I had upgraded a few times since I got my own first laptop when I was 12. Same with the smart phones, an old Iphone 4, then a couple of slightly newer Samsung Galaxies.
Clothing was one of the things which worried me the most, Montana winters in the mountains can be very harsh. I had a full system of layers to drop on, different weights of gloves and mittens, balaclava face protection and hats of a whole variety of types, from those best used in the rain to others for snow and cold. Goggles as well for eye protection while out hunting or in blizzard conditions.
Similar to the clothing, I brought along a large variety of bedding materials, sleeping bags of different weights, and different types of air mattresses and closed cell and open cell foam pads as well. I figured to use these at the beginning until I could make my own mattress out of grasses, leaves and feathers. I also brought along a variety of tarps to use as necessary, although again my hope was to wean myself off depending on these industrially produced goods as quickly as possible.
Besides all the preps, I also had built up a long list of projects to undertake over the winter while mostly trapped at my campsite. Basket weaving and fiber making were high on my list, along with preparing and tanning any skins or furs I got. I had never tried this before, although I had read up on it and watched numerous videos on YouTube on how to do it, but it definitely looked challenging to get any kind of workable hide out of the process.
The main thing I was concerned with was keeping myself busy through the whole winter, so I wouldn't lose my marbles and go nuts from Cabin Fever. Although I was pretty much a loner, I had never spent such an extended period devoid of human contact. My expectation at the time was that I would be alone out there for around 5 months, from mid October to around mid March, but possibly even to April. The only way to find out how I could handle such isolation for so long was just to do it though, and this was the moment of truth.
I took a final stop at the last convenience store around 30 miles from the doomstead and topped off my gas tank. My two 10 gallon gas jerry cans were also topped off when I left. So I had plenty of gas for the return trip to "civilization" in 2018, if of course that civilization still existed. There were no guarantees of that in the winter of 2017, Hillary Clinton had been elected POTUS and there was a lot of saber-rattling going on between her and Vlad the Impaler, leader of Mother Russia. In early October just before I left a Cat 5 Hurricane named Cassandra made a direct hit on the Houston Ship channel and power was out throughout southern Texas. The Japanese Yen and the Euro were both tanking, and Gold was being smacked down to $900/oz. Deutchebank declared bankruptcy and Credit Suisse shortly followed. Things were not looking too good out there as I arrived at my road and carefully negotiated the narrow passage between the trees I had cut out to park the van and trailer on the clearing I had made and leveled for them.
Although there was little chance anyone would find my road and drive in, my first project was to close off the road with a large downed tree. I used my winch and a block and tackle to position the tree across the road, so the only way anyone was getting in was with a 4 wheeler or on foot. Once the access was blocked off, I set about the task of getting my shelter system set up, which besides the van and trailer included a large 3 room 20X14' tent, 2 folding gazebos and the grandaddy of them all, my 20' diameter geodesic F-dome.
The F-Dome was the first priority, and it took me the first 5 days to get that set up, well moored for windstorms on concrete pilings I had dropped in post holes and get the vinyl cover on top of it. Working alone this was not easy and was the reason it took so long to get up. If I had just one other person to work with, I could have had the whole thing done in a day or two at the most.
Once the dome was up, I was able to unload the trailer contents into it, including a couple of large folding tables and my tools. The dome was set up to be my workshop through the winter when it was too cold or otherwise inclement to work outdoors. It also provided more room to stretch and exercise than possible in either the van or trailer.
The Van provided my main desk space for internet communications, as well as my main sleeping accomodation. In the trailer, I set up my main kitchen cooking equipment, and stored the food I would be using through the winter. This way I could close it up at night or while away from the main camp and it would be safe from bears. The gazebos and awnings provided extra outdoor space to sit with some rain or snow falling. All in all this provided a lot of living space, much more than the typical 1 bedroom apartment in Missoula anyhow.
Next on my list of projects was deploying my Solar PV panels and Wind Turbines. Because I was pretty much surrounded by trees, it was tough to position either of these so they would be very effective, although I did get some juice out of them on particularly sunny or windy days. Mostly though, I maintained my electricity through the winter by conservation and not using too much power each day, and then periodically recharging my deep cycle marine batteries about twice a week with the generator, running it for around 6 hours. I restricted myself to about 3 hours a night after sunset for using diode lights and my laptop. I only used my electric cooking equipment when there was a lot of surplus energy coming in on windy days, but it wasn't too often, so cooking was mostly done either with the wood stove or a kerosene or propane stove, or outside on an open fire. My solar oven was pretty good through November and in the spring on sunny days, but not very effective in December through February. All totalled though working my way though that first winter, I used less than half of the wood I had split, and only about a quarter of my supplies of fossil fuels, the propane, kerosene and gasoline.
Once my main camp was set up, I took a few days just to relax and enjoy the nice weather and fall colors, doing a little fishing in the stream and setting some traps for squirrels, rabbits and whatever other small mammals were wandering around. I didn't have a lot of luck with this, just a few fish and a couple of squirrels, but this was a nice change from the supply of dried jerky I had with me as my daily animal protein intake on the days I nailed them. I did some exploring looking for edible plants, carrying with me my smart phone with its library of over 1500 e-books I had downloaded onto the SD Card from Books Great Choice, including numerous survival manuals and botany textbooks. Here also I had just moderate success, since most of the time I didn't know what I was looking at until I drilled it down in one of the manuals, which took a lot longer than just walking around the neighborhood looking at plants. It took a few years before I knew what I was looking at well enough without consulting the manuals to be effective at gathering wild foods. But it was a beginning, and although it only made up a tiny part of my daily diet that year I was learning a lot, and it provided a nice variation from the daily diet which consisted mainly of dried foods (rice, beans & jerky mostly) and a good supply of industrial produced canned foods as well. I also brought along a year's supply of vitamins, and took them on days I felt like my vitamin intake from fresh foods I gathered up might be low.
Since I had only limited means for refrigeration at this point (ice maker and cooler, which required me to use my limited amount of electricity), any fresh meat or fish I did get that I didn't eat immeadiately after the kill had to be preserved in more traditional manners, basically stripping it and drying it with some salt, and/or smoking it. However, the few fish and squirrels I got in those first couple of weeks weren't big enough to make smoking worthwhile. That would have to wait until I got a big enough mammal I couldn't eat all at one sitting, like a deer, big horn sheep or a bear even!
I was all legal with a hunting license I bought in Missoula before leaving, and for big game hunting I was mostly legal through mid November, depending on the type of animal. I didn't want to take more than one big animal, because just one would be more meat than I would eat all winter and I hate to waste food. I also didn't want to salt, dry and smoke all of it, I hoped for a snowfall before I went out on a big hunt so I could pack it in ice and start building an icehouse at my doomstead camp. So I waited through October for such a snowfall, but busied myself finding paths that the larger animals were using, and also dropping some tasty treats for them along the way to encourage them to keep using those trails. I found a few good places to set up blinds from, and spent a few days & nights at those blinds to see what walked through. A few decent sized deer and a moose traipsed through, and I was sorely tempted to shoot my crossbow, but the weather still wasn't cooperating, no snow although getting a good deal colder with most nights dropping into the 20sF. So I waited some more on this. I remained patient on this, since I was in no danger of starvation at this point.
While the days of early October and early November were pretty peaceful and bucolic during the day IRL for me, the evenings when I would flip on the laptop were a good deal less so in cyberspace. RE on the Diner had his hair on fire most days, as the fallout from the Deutchebank bankruptcy and Cassandra hitting the Houston Ship channel played out. It was a major clusterfuck once again, but TPTB at the ECB and Da Fed once again found more Funny Money to bailout DoucheBank and Texas gradually repaired itself from the Cassandra hit. By the spring, the markets had calmed down some again, and there was only another $10T in debt on the books of the Federal Reserve. BAU would continue onward!
As early November rolled in, still no snow on the ground and hunting season was coming to a close, so whether or not I could store my meat on ice or not, I had to go out hunting to try and knock down my big kill for the winter months. I didn't absolutely need this by any means, I had plenty in the form of long lasting dried foods to carry me through not just that winter but at least two more, but still it was an important step to acquire food for this winter locally in this way. It was mostly a matter of pride, self-esteem and belief in myself to accomplish this.
I came real close with a Moose along one of the trails I had been sprinkling with bait over the first couple of weeks, but I made too much noise knocking a dart into the crossbow, the moose got spooked and was out of range quite rapidly. I probably could have knocked it down if I had been using my rifle, but no way I would have nailed it with the crossbow, probably best just wounding it and then it would get away and die somewhere else too far away for me to pack the meat back, even if I tracked it down and got there first before other local meat eating animals got to it.
I was beginning to lose hope of knocking down a decent size mammal into the second week of November, as hunting season was coming to a close. However, on a Tuesday evening, instead of me finding such an animal, one found me. A very NOSY Black Bear, who made the BIG MISTAKE of exploring my Doomstead!
I was sitting at my computer under the awning of my Stealth Van reading the Doomstead Diner when I heard some scratching noises coming from around the back side of my trailer. Also some fairly large grunts and growls, and I was pretty sure there was a bear back there behind the trailer. I went in my van and got my rifle, and my .45 cal Smith & Wesson revolver as well as a can of pepper spray just in case. I walked quietly around the van, coming to the far side of the trailer, and indeed, poking at the trailer siding and scratching it up pretty nicely was a Black Bear, maybe 170 lbs in size. Not a real huge one, but quite a decent amount of meat there! I fired with the rifle and dropped him on the spot, bullet to the brain combination from less than 20 meters. He stood no chance, completely blew off the back of his skull with the first shot. I didn't even have to use the pistol at all. Bonus, said bear was right in my encampment, so I didn't have to pack out the meat or do my drying and smoking in a temporary camp.
I spent the whole next week both eating and preserving as much of that bear as I could. I ate the liver and tongue first, and ran my generator so I could make ice to keep the meat preserved as I went along carving and stripping the carcass. The nights were decently cold, so the meat got mostly frozen even without a snowfall. I smoked about half of it, but kept the other half in the coolers. Quite a bit did go to waste, although it did feed other scavengers in the neighborhood. Even with that though, through most of the winter I was BBQing up nice Bear Steaks and my stash of commercially purchased Jerky hardly was used at all after November.
The hide scraping and preparing, stretching, drying and tanning it was a much bigger and tougher project than just carving up Smokey the Bear for dinner. I wasn't real successful with this first attempt, and eventually all that hide went for was to cover over my pile of split wood, it wasn't good for much of anything else. I did better with the bones though,and made my first fishhooks from bone and eventually did some fishing with bone hooks and sinew line, snaring some trout that way. That was very satisfying.
While I was doing pretty well at the Doomstead, the Winter of 2017-18 was a pretty tough one as it further progressed back in the civilized world, but once again it didn't turn out to be TEOTWAWKI. Douchebank eventually got bailed out and so did Credit Suisse. Most of South TX was without power for almost 2 weeks, but they eventually got the lines restrung and back to BAU there also. While Killary and Vlad the Impaler insulted each other and accused each other of espionage and war mongering on practically a daily basis, they continued to fire only conventional weapons at people who couldn't fight back, or at best could only do so by strapping themselves with a C4 or dynamite encrusted vest and blowing up a bus or hotel lobby somewhere.
Midwinter in January was the toughest time that year, snow had piled up pretty good around my encampment and temperatures dropped into the single digits farenheit and even went negative a few times. I spent a lot of days inside the van, much of it sleeping and hibernating in my sleeping bag, or reading Gibbon's Rise & Fall of the Roman Empire on my smart phone. Most of the time though even when it was real cold as long as I had a couple of kerosene lamps burning that was enough to keep it warm without stoking the fire in the wood stove more than about twice a day, once when I woke up to make coffee and breakfast, and then again to cook dinner. Calling it cooking is something of a stretch though, since mostly I was just reheating a bowl of rice/beans/bear jerky which I would actually cook up in a big pot on Sunday and then keep in the cooler all week using snow to keep it refrigerated.
I got my exercise each day in some manner, sometimes just doing calithentics in the F-Dome, other times I would embark on some outdoor project. I built my first Igloo/Icehouse for use in the spring to keep any fish or small game cold and not have to do too much smoking and drying of meat. I spent the first week in December before the snow and cold got too bad building a small lean-to at upper elevation near one of my food caches, for use at a later date for hunting Big Horn sheep. I didn't do that hunting the first year though since I already had Smokey the Bear cut up into little EZ to eat pieces and did not need to send another large mammal to the Great Beyond so I could live. Besides, hunting season was over and it would have been illegal, not that there were any Park Rangers around to catch me if I did it.
Bulding the Lean-to was a difficult project, cutting down some decent size saplings at lower elevations and then hauling them up to near the tree line to build the Lean-to. I had decided to do the whole project only with stone tools I made myself and only materials I collected, not using any of my stash of industrially produced tools and fibers. By the time it was finished it looked to me to be sturdy enough to perhaps still be there and be usable the following winter, although it was still only roughly finished. I was concerned about the weather though, and did not want to be caught on the mountain in a major blizzard, so I headed back down to base camp where I remained until the spring thaw.