Escape from LA

Sometimes in order to survive LA you’ve gotta escape it, which is why we are headed to Santa Rosa Island, part of the Channel Islands National Park, tomorrow for a weekend of backpacking and general self-sufficiency. We’re going in part to experience what the landscape of Southern California would have been like had it not been fucked up by freeways, strip malls and Spearmint Rhino billboards to name just a few of the many indignities we face each day.

We’re also going to Santa Rosa to experience a place which was home to the Chumash Indians who lived for 13,000 years off the bounty of the land and the sea without needing to load up the kids in the mini-van and head to the 99 cent store.

Santa Rosa Island is also a land of mystery that once was home to the paradoxical combination of pygmy mammoths and giant prehistoric rats.

Sadly, in order to commence this journey we will be commemorating World Carfree Day by . . . driving, as we have to get to the Ventura pier early in the morning to catch the boat. We suggest that those of you who are stuck in LA this Friday to consider not driving if you can, and attending the vigil for Ilia Pankin, a cyclist who was killed earlier this week by a hit-and-run driver.

Essential System #4 – Illumination

It’s all about LEDs my friends. LEDs are the way to go, lasting nearly forever and using very little battery power (make sure, of course, that you have batteries on hand). We have LED headlamps in our grab and go bags, but we also are looking into a new generation of LED bulbs for our Urban Homestead’s interior lighting.

As far as house lighting goes, while LED efficiency is rapidly advancing, compact fluorescents are still better from an economic perspective even though there are concerns about the trace amounts of mercury that compact fluorescents contain contaminating landfills. Still, compact fluorescents are far better than incandescents since they consume less power and hence create less greenhouse gas. Remember that power plants are America’s single greatest producer of greenhouse gases. And as far as conservation goes, it’s estimated that if every American replaced one bulb with a compact fluorescent it would be the energy equivalent of taking 1.3 million cars off the road.

But back to LEDs. For emergency purposes it might be wise to have a Forever Flashlight that requires no batteries. You shake the thing back and forth to run the light, with no batteries ever needed – the device’s only real disadvantage in fact is that the charging gesture, which uses Faraday’s principle of electromagnetic energy, is really lewd and may lead to crass comments from bystanders.

Essential System #5 – First Aid Kit

The assumption we make around the SurviveLA compound is that in a large scale emergency, such as an earthquake, we’ll be on our own for a while. Anyone who has been unlucky enough to visit the hospital emergency rooms of Los Angeles or any big city, even during non-peak hours, knows that your sorry ass often ends up on a stretcher parked in a forlorn hallway waiting for hours for a distracted and overworked doctor. Which is why, once again, we’ve relied on the world of mountaineering to inform our choice of first aid supplies. The assumption with a first aid kit in the wilderness is that it will be quite a while before you can be reached by a paramedic.

But first some disclaimers – we are not medical experts here, and this first aid kit is in a “first draft” status. We welcome any suggestions for items that should be included. We have copied this list (and added a few things) from the book Mountaineering The Freedom of the Hills.

Adhesive bandages – six 1-inch

Butterfly bandages – three, in various sizes

Sterile gauze pads – four 4-inch b 4-inch

Carlisle dressing or sanitary napkin – one 4-inch (note sanitary napkins are much cheaper and make excellent bandages and provide some low-brow humor potential to cheer up the patient who may find themselves with a sanitary napkin duct-taped to their forehead)

Nonadherent dressings – two 4-inch by 4-inch

Self-adhering roller bandages – two rolls 2-inch width by 5 yards

SAM splint – one

Athletic tape – one roll, 2-inch wide

Triangular bandages – two 36 inch by 36 inch by 52 inch for slings (large bandanas will do)

Moleskin or Molefoam – 4-inch to 6-inch square for blisters

Tincture of benzoin – One 0.5 ounce bottle – to keep tape sticking and to protect skin

Providine iodine swabs – two packages

Alcohol or soap pads – three packages

Themometer

Sugar packets – to treat diabetes or hypoglycemia intervention

Aspirin

anaplasmosis (epinephrine) kit (EpiPen) – for people with severe allergies

Elastic bandage – one 2-inch width to wrap sprains or compress injured area

Latex gloves

Safety pins

Tweezers

Plastic bag – for contaminated items

Breathing bearier – for administering CPR – we have one on our key chain that the Red Cross sells, but note that you will need to take a CPR class in order to know how to administer CPR

Duct tape – a wonder product, cheaper than medical tape – use it to adhere bandages, deal with blisters and a host of other things

Any prescription medications that you take

Syringe – for cleaning out wounds – you can also improvise this with a water bottle

Antibiotic cream

If you already have a first aid kit you can pimp it out with a few of these items. We can’t emphasize enough the importance of large bandage material such as the sanitary napkins. One acquaintance of ours who was unlucky enough to have been severely cut by falling glass in the Northridge quake stumbled around bleeding for hours while her friends could only find small band-aids. Also, just because you have these items does not mean that you know how to use them. The Red Cross offers low-cost first aid and CPR classes but one thing to remember about Red Cross classes is that they assume that you have access to the emergency medical system and that the first aid you deliver is to stabilize the patient before the paramedics arrive. The Wilderness First Aid Course Inc. offers a more comprehensive first aid class that assumes that it will be awhile before your ass is swooped up in the little red paramedic wagon.

We keep these items in our grab and go bags and once again, this is a first stab at a kit. An anesthesiologist we have hiked with in the past carries a larger first aid kit full of potentially recreational prescription drugs and she’s more than prepared to do some fairly gruesome field surgery and appetite-suppressing improvised dentistry. They’ll be much more on the first aid topic in future post and until that time we welcome comments and suggestions.

SurviveLA Scoops Field and Stream

Looks like Field and Stream Magazine, the Robb Report of the guns and pickup crowd, has their own survival system in a Altoid can. We don’t like to brag too much here but in an earlier post, thanks to the folks at Illuminate LA, we featured a similar system with more items that is half the size.

Speaking of Illuminate LA make sure to check out the handy preparedness info they have posted on the right side of the page as well as all the fun destinations and bike rides they have planned.

Essential System #6 – Fire

On the crazy path of life you may someday find yourself needing to build a fire. When it’s wet and when kindling wood is lacking this can be a challenge. Which is why we always have fire starting implements on hand including a butane lighter and waterproof matches. Most importantly we carry something to really get the fire going – our homemade wax and dryer lint fire starters.

To make a wax and lint fire starter, save up the ends of a few candles and a bunch of lint from the dryer. Take a paper egg carton and put a big wad of dryer lint into each cup of the carton. Melt the candle wax in a double boiler. The easiest way to do this is to put the stubs in a clean tin can, and put that can in a saucepan about halfway full of water.  When the wax is melted, fill each cup of the carton up to the top with wax, soaking the lint. When the wax solidifies tear the carton apart, but keep the wax and lint in the individual paper carton sections. Light the torn edges of the cup to start the firestarter burning. The paper of the carton helps to get the wax and dryer lint burning. And burn it does! You will quickly learn why it’s a good idea to clean out the lint in the dryer vent – lint is seriously flammable.

With your dryer lint fire starters and some waterproof matches, you’ll be ready for any situation.

See this 2011 post for a picture.

Essential System #7 – Repair Kit and Tools

We were going to use this category to wax poetic about the early 90s Leatherman multi-tool that we wear on our belts at all times but, hold the blog press here, self-sufficiency geniuses Stephen Box and Enci gifted us with a category-busting set of tools that, get this, fit within a tiny 30g (1.5 oz) Altoid tin!

Believe it or not this pocket size Altoid tin contains the following items:

1 inner tube piece – a section of a bicycle tire that can be used as a tourniquet, bandage, or slingshot

1 boot lace – always handy to have a section of string

1 saw wire – you can cut wood with this sharp wire

2 finger rings

1 can opener

1 duct tape (40cm) on straw

2 saw blades – these attach to two screws on the bottom of the altoid can so that the can functions as a saw handle

2 fasteners (#6-32 x 3/8″)

2 Exacto blades #11

1 needle/thread

1 upholstery needle

2 needles

1 red LED bulb – the bulb and the small hearing aid batteries fit in a tiny hole in the side of the Altoid can, thus turning the can into a flashlight – the red bulb is so that you can read in the dark without ruining your night vision

2 batteries for LED

6 match heads (sealed in wax)

1 striker for match heads

6 fire-starters made out of lint and wax (we’ll describe how to make these in a future post)

1 tin foil

1 rubber glove – for gathering or distilling water or for one-handed first aid

8 water purification tables (in straw) – see our earlier post on water

6 safety pins – for, among other uses, creating a sling with a shirt for a broken arm

2 medicated Bandaid strips

1 package first aid cream

6 aspirin

1 baling wire

4 fish hooks (snelled #2/#8) – for fishing!

4 split shot sinkers – also for fishing

1 snap swivel (#10)

1 filament (10 meters)

Beyond having enough items to repair virtually anything, this tiny kit can be used for signaling, trapping, fishing, filleting small animals and first aid.

A tip of the SurviveLA hat to Box and Enci for producing an innovative response to the problem of how to lug around basic essentials!

Essential System #8 – Nutrition (Extra Food)

Continuing our countdown of the ten essential systems we get to the food category. In our grab and go bags we have a few Clif Bars – they taste alright, don’t require cooking, and have a relatively long shelf life.

The problem with Cliff Bars is that they prove tempting when we have the occasional sweet tooth attack. This is why some people keep MREs (meals, ready to eat) on hand, because they taste so foul you won’t be tempted to bust them open. They also don’t require cooking and some even come with a chemical heating packet. As for the taste of M.R.E.s, SurviveLA correspondent Corey Travis reports on a recent attack of the munches while at the office. All he had was an MRE in the hot trunk of his car. Scared by the main entrée he just ate the cracker and chocolate. Here is what he had to say, “The cracker was what you’d expect – a cross between balsa wood and salt. The chocolate energy bar was much more substantial with a thick, waxy chocolate-like-ness, almost completely masking a surprisingly malty undertone. I’d use the word cloying, but I hate that word.”

Should you require another opinion on MREs, someone calling themselves “Badtux the Snarky Penguin” has a review of the chicken tetrazini MRE.

We prefer the more upscale freeze dried backpacking food to MREs. They taste better and have an astonishing shelf life. You will, however, need to heat them up with something and they are also expensive. Our favorite brand is Mary Jane’s Farm, though someone should tell her about the implications of her name (read our review of Mary Jane’s Organic Buttery Herb Pasta).

We also keep the SurviveLA pantry well stocked with canned items and we always maintain a vegetable garden, so that we’ll have fresh stuff when the shit comes down.

Essential System #9 – Hydration

As we’ve noted before you can go about three days without water, but you’ll be feeling mighty crabby after just a few hours without it. We’ve got a number of water sources around the homestead, with a few more back-ups in the works.

First off it pays to have some plastic water jugs around – figure two liters a day per person minimum. There are stricter standards for tap water in this banana republic we call the USA than for bottled water so don’t go wasting any money on boxes of Evian. The Red Cross recommends changing out the water every six months. While there are health concerns about plastic bottles, this water is for emergency situations and the synthetic female hormones that plastic bottles leach out should be the least of your concerns if the shit comes down.

In addition to stored water, your house or apartment contains three other sources of water – the pipes, the water heater and the tank of the toilet (not the bowl). To use the water in the water heater turn off the gas or electricity that heats the water. Shut off the main water supply and open a hot water faucet somewhere in the house. You should be able to drain the water out of the heater using the heater’s drain faucet. You can also get some water out of the pipes by closing the incoming water valve and opening the highest faucet in the house while draining the water out of the lowest faucet.

To purify suspicious water we, once again, rely on the world of backpacking. Our grab and go bag contains a Katadyn micro-filter which will remove microorganisms such as Giardia, Cryptosporidium and bacteria. These microorganisms have the nasty habit of giving you very bad diarrhea which leads to . . . dehydration! The Katadyn filter has a tube which you stick in the suspicious water and a hand pump which directs the water through a filter and out through another tube which you stick in a bottle that you supply. You can also kill Giardia and Cryptosporidium by boiling water for at least one minute – perhaps with your handy Pepsi can stove. Instructions for purifying water with iodine or chlorine can be found on this page.

Filters, however, do not kill viruses which include hepatitis A., Norwalk virus, and rotavirus and are present when water becomes contaminated by the feces of affected individuals. In other words, bad dookie in the water. To kill viruses you need to use either iodine, bleach or expensive filters which also use iodine or electrostatic charges. Boiling water for at least five minutes will kill all viruses. Right now viruses in water are more of a concern in the “developing” world, but the Republicans are busy taking our municipal water supplies back to the Middle Ages.

Remember that none of these methods will purify water that is contaminated with chemicals such as arsenic and other bad things lurking in our sad, concrete-channelized Los Angeles River. In a worst case scenario you will need to head up to the hills to get water or invest in an expensive and heavy reverse-osmosis system like boats have to turn seawater into drinkable water.

Lastly we must put in a plug for the geniuses behind the artistic collective Simparch who are experimenting with solar stills to distill water as a method of purification. Distillation takes care of 99.9% of the bad stuff and the Simparch folks have created a solar still as a part of the border art shindig InSite. Solar stills can also be improvised.

One homestead project that is in the planning stages, pending our long wait for the corrupt Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety to approve our foundation repairs, is the construction of a rainwater storage system. We plan to feed one of our roof downspouts to several fifty gallon plastic drums that will be linked together. We will use this water for irrigating plants in the front yard. While, admittedly, we don’t have room for much rainwater storage to make a big difference, we plan on filling these drums with municipal water after the rainwater runs out. That way we will always have a few days worth of water for our vegetable garden should there be a service interruption in the warm summer months. The barrels will be hooked up to a drip irritation system designed for low-pressure gravity feed systems.

While we would love to go off grid and have our own well here, we’d be more likely to strike oil than water and, no doubt, the drilling costs would be prohibitively expensive.

Essential System #10 – Shelter


Counting down on the ten essential systems we keep in our grab and go bags at number ten we have shelter. Note that this list is not in order of importance, in fact if it were shelter would be number one. It’s possible to survive for at least three days without water and there are documented cases of people surviving for forty days without food. But your ass could be either fried or frozen damn quick without shelter even in temperate Los Angeles. The handy rule to remember is three hours without shelter, three days without water, and three weeks without food. In addition to having a place in our grab and go bag the concept of shelter figures into our policy of having a back-up system for every necessity at our urban homestead.

We like things lightweight for our grab and go bags, so we purchased a three pound backpacking tent, the two person MSR “Missing Link”. This tent is spacious for its low weight and uses either hiking polls or trees to stake it out. On the down side, we’re not sure how this thing would hold up in high winds and it requires a lot of room to stake out. The “Missing Link” was also very expensive and, as a cheap alternative, it’s possible to improvise shelter with a large garbage bag or the ubiquitous blue tarp material found at any hardware store. There are also commercially manufactured Bivvy Sacks and even cheaper thermal reflective survival bags which, combined with warm clothing, will function as shelter in a pinch.

Improvised shelters can also be constructed by gathering materials in whatever environment you happen to find yourself in. SurviveLA participated in a wilderness shelter workshop run by noted Los Angeles survivalist and wild food salad chef Christopher Nyerges a few years ago. While it’s possible to construct decent shelters out of sticks and branches you must act quickly especially if the weather is turning ugly. In places where it snows you can construct a snow cave.

Whatever you decide on it must shelter you from the wind and sun and keep you dry. Our tent is for backpacking, but it’s also in the grab and go bag in the event that an earthquake takes out the poorly constructed dump that we live in and we need to sleep out in the yard for a while. We also have an old shed in the backyard that we have turned into an art studio, but it could easily double as a comfortable bedroom.

We don’t know about you, but when that earthquake comes we’d rather not end up in the LA equivalent of the Louisiana Superdome.

Grab and Go

So it’s time to go over what’s in the SuriviveLA compound grab and go bags. These are the backpacks we have for each person here just in case we find ourselves surrounded by zombies and decide its time to run. Conveniently our grab and go bags are the same ones we use for hiking and backpacking. In fact the contents of the bags are based on what the Sierra Club used to call the “Ten Essentials“, which has now been expanded into the “Ten Essential Systems”. We’ll go into each of these systems in greater detail in the next ten posts. To start off here is the Sierra Club’s Ten Essential Systems list with our brief annotations:

1. Navigation
This includes a compass and a map of the area you are traveling to.

2. Sun Protection
It gets hot and sunny here in the Southwest so you’ll need sunglasses and sunscreen.

3. Insulation (extra clothing)
Even though it never gets that cold in Los Angeles it’s important to remember that hypothermia can occur when temperatures are above ten degrees Celsius, (that’s 50 degrees Fahrenheit for you backwards non-metric American types) especially if it’s windy or if your clothes get wet.

4. Illumination
We have multiple headlamps and flashlights with extra batteries.

5. First-aid supplies
We’ll give the full list of the contents of our first aid kit in a subsequent post.

6. Fire
Our fire making kit includes waterproof matches and kindling material made with dryer lint and candle wax

7. Repair kit and tools
We wear a Leatherman multi-tool at all times on our belt.

8. Nutrition
Our grab and go bags contain an array of Cliff bars and other items with a long shelf life.

9. Hydration
We have both extra water and a ceramic water filter.

10. Emergency shelter
We have a very lightweight backpacking tent.

This ain’t about paranoia – while our grab and go bags contain modern tools, we appreciate the ancient, and almost lost art of travel by foot. Remember kids, back in the days before SUVs people used to walk long distances without the benefit of convenience stores and fast food joints.

Stay tuned for a detailed explanation of each of the Ten Essential Systems and some adaptations for urban situations.