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Having A 'Retreat' Property Comes With Real Challenges

About that bug-out plan...
Friday, March 31, 2017, 1:07 PM

A flurry of recent headlines has highlighted the financial elites’ interest in secure retreats (a.k.a. bug-out locations) should the trucks stop rolling. That those with the most money and access to expertise are preparing safe havens has moved the conversation about bug-out plans from the alt-media to the mainstream, however briefly.

The basic idea is to develop some measure of security in an increasingly insecure world, and pursue some measure of independence in an increasingly fragile system of global supply chains.

The intuitive solution to many, from the super-wealthy on down, is some version of a hideaway in the woods: a remote locale known only to the owner, where the owner can burrow safely away until the storm passes.

It turns out security and independence are tricky qualities, and surprising reversals are not just possible but likely: what appears to be secure at first glance might be highly insecure, and independence turns out to be highly relative.

The Remote Cabin in the Woods: The Perfect Target for Theft

The first problem with the remote cabin in the woods (RCITW) bug-out plan is that “remote” and “secret” are two different things. As I explained in my 2008 essay The Art of Survival, Taoism and the Warring States, the local residents have a much different view of what’s remote and secret than outsiders.

Simply put, if humans are settled anywhere nearby, nothing is remote or secret. I have come across guys on foot in extremely remote logging roads miles from any paved road, much less a settlement. I’ve been startled by hunters on family-owned wooded acreage far from neighbors or towns.

Throw in drones, Internet access to terrain photography that was once the domain of spy satellites, and humans’ healthy curiosity, and “remote” and “secret” just got even scarcer.

A local news story some years ago illustrated the point: some luckless outsider’s entire bug-out cabin was stolen: not the contents, the entire cabin.  The “owner” returned to a bare concrete slab.

“Remote and secret” means “easy to steal”: nobody around, plenty of time to take the whole darn thing.

I put quotation marks around “owner” because “owner,” “possessor” and “occupant” are different things.

Consider the broken window problem.  A kid tosses a rock through the window of an unoccupied house, and people notice the window doesn’t get fixed. So somebody has the bright idea of breaking in and looking around. Next, some unsavory characters discover the back door is open, and they start using the place as a crash pad and drug haven.  Now the property is occupied—by squatters.

“Squatter’s rights” have a long history, and the rights of possession could once be transformed into outright ownership back in the day. Evicting squatters can require quite a bit of legal work and money, and of course squatters being evicted tend not to be overly respectful of the house or its contents.

Lest you reckon this possibility is out of the question: a surprising number of abandoned homes in middle-class neighborhoods slide into becoming squatters’ druggie havens.

It turns out security is less a function of “remote and secret” and more a function of eyes on the street community and full-time occupancy.

About That “Rugged Individualism”…

There’s a whole other set of problems with the remote cabin in the woods (RCITW) bug-out plan: the owner of the RCITW is typically as dependent on the fragile supply chain as any urban dweller.

The proud “rugged individual” on the remote homestead may have his own well, a solar panel and a garden, but if we observe him closely we find he drives his hugely inefficient vehicle into town weekly to fuel up at the gas station, fill his propane tank, pick up his medications, cash his government/ institutional check (Social Security, SSI, pension, etc.), buy 98% of his food calories, get spare parts for his water pump, and so on.

This “rugged individual” is as dependent on the trucks rolling as any city dweller. He is dead in the water without abundant cheap fossil fuels, functioning supply chains for industrial-manufactured parts, constant delivery of cheap food calories, and money from the state or some financial institution.

If the homestead is remote, he’s actually more dependent than the city dweller, because he absolutely needs abundant, affordable, consistently available fuel for his private vehicle to get the essentials of life. The town dweller is just as dependent on the global supply chain, but at least he can walk to the store.

Does a remote rural location add to one’s independence from the global supply chain? Not necessarily. It can actually increase dependency and fragility by increasing consumption of fossil fuels (both to drive into town and also to transport goods to distant rural stores) and by positioning oneself at the most costly and least profitable end of already long supply chains.

The idea that Nature is bountiful is largely illusory. Most woods and untilled fields are food deserts to humans. A normal person can walk all day and find nothing remotely edible—and even foragers would be hard-pressed to locate 2,000 calories a day, day after day, week and after week, month after month.

As for growing one’s own food: it’s remarkably difficult to raise tons of calorie-dense food on a small plot of land.  The ground water might be deep, or taste bad; the soil might be depleted or rocky, and the weather might not cooperate at all times. One storm at the wrong moment can decimate a crop that’s been carefully tended for months.

It turns out “independence” is relative, and may well decrease the farther one gets from agriculture, energy sources and communities.

Dependence and independence are not just measured by reliance on global supply chains of food, energy and manufactured goods. Consider the “rugged individual” who keeps himself to himself, holed up in his hideaway. How likely are you to ask him for help? How likely are you to offer him some share of your bounty?

Or would you rather ask the friendly fellow who is out in his garden, who drops by to share some fresh produce or baked goods, a person you see at church or in town chatting with friends?

The productive relationship is the one with a productive person. Not only is the remote “rugged individual” unlikely to offer anyone help, he may have little in the way of resources to offer.

“Independence” of the completely self-sufficient sort is relative: most homesteaders still depend on the global supply chain for fossil fuels, manufactured parts, bulk food calories, and so on. Independence may be more properly defined as inter-dependence: the greater the reliance on local interdependent productive networks of makers/growers/doers, the greater the independence.

It isn’t just where the goods and services come from, and from how far away; the level of consumption is the critical factor. The lower the consumption of fossil fuels, manufactured goods and bulk food calories shipped from far away, the greater the relative independence. The household that only consumes a gallon of fuel a week (i.e. 35 miles driven in a compact car) is considerably less dependent than the household that consumes 30 gallons of fuel a week.

About Those Wealthy Islands Of Security…

The financial elites who reckon they can buy everything they want, including security and independence, might be in for some surprises.  Those private security details might be fine for dodging kidnappers, but how about dealing with dozens of hungry squatters?  How long will the jet fuel last if you’re flying in literally everything?  An island built on the promise of unlimited supply of distant goodies is actually an island of fragile dependence, an artificial construct built on shifting sand.

Also take into account that if things are so bad to merit escaping to a private retreat location, conditions may also be stressed there, too. Locals there may well view a rich outsider suddenly showing up as an interloper, one who's hoarding valuable local resources (food, water, tools, money, etc).

If times get even tougher, what's to prevent folks from deciding to target the only person in the area whom no one has any relationship with? Very little. 

Doing 'Retreat' Right

But all the above warnings notwithstanding, it is possible to develop a retreat that's far more sustainable (and likely more enjoyable) than the costly islands of financial elites.

In Part 2: Doing 'Retreat' Right, we lay out the core strategies of developing a retreat that takes into consideration the realities of security, fragility and dependence.

Community and regional resources are key to the selection process of a workable retreat location. Learning what to look for in each is essential to making the right decision for your needs.

Click here to read the report (free executive summary, enrollment required for full access)

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13 Comments

Uncletommy's picture
Uncletommy
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: May 4 2014
Posts: 366
Surviving a bevy of Black Swans.

Don't hold on to anything too tightly. It will hurt when it's pried out of your hands. FOOD for thought:

/http://permaculturenews.org/2017/03/31/land-insurance-part-3-role-farms/

Olduvai's picture
Olduvai
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 8 2014
Posts: 6
Dilemmas, dilemmas...

Charles raises some fundamental conundrums I have been grappling with for the several years I have been 'prepping', especially finding a community with like-minded individuals (to say little of the 'challenge' of living with a partner who is extremely reluctant to accept the possibility of the breakdown of the various complex systems we depend upon and 'prepping' for such).

My family lives in a region of the Greater Toronto Area that is pursuing the infinite growth model at great speed (especially as it pertains to paving over limited arable soil to construct ever-expanding suburban homes) and have been contemplating the move to a more remote area of Ontario, or at least far less populated--not keen on being on the outskirts of millions of sub/urban families when breakdown occurs. 

We are now looking at selling our GTA home, taking advantage of the over-priced housing market, and locating a 'hobby farm' close to some of our family and some distance from the larger urban centres of Ontario--a great compromise with my wife who doesn't wish to be too far from our 'roots' and relatives. Just wish I was younger and had begun this journey much earlier...

LogansRun's picture
LogansRun
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 18 2009
Posts: 1433
Yep

We tried the island thing...it didn't work.  Locals became hostile and wanted in on the goods.  Spent almost $1m and ended up giving it to the locals in the end.

Now our retreat in Idaho is another story.  Working out very well.

Ibnot24get's picture
Ibnot24get
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 13 2016
Posts: 4
Islanders

We're fortunate to live on a small island close to a city of about 80,000 reachable by small boat, even kayak.  Island communities like this [not the hideouts for the wealthy] seem much more co-operative and integrated.  The community is constantly undertaking projects that benefit everyone, such as group orders for gardening supplies, water and energy efficiency projects, and more.  There's a chat room for sharing information, services, borrowing and giving away items, solving problems, as well as keeping tabs on interlopers.  The pace is slower, people walk, chat, wave to each other and offer help.  The strange thing is, that most folks didn't come here intentionally focused on resiliance, or preparing for when the poo hits the fan.  I'd wager in fact, that a lot of people here aren't too aware about anything impending, though some of us are very much so; and will be there to help when the wake up calls get stronger.  Most people have chosen this place for the lifestyle and community. I'm sure someone coming here to build their "bunker" would find themselves at odds with the spirit of the community and would either move on, or meld into a less isolated way of life.

Waterdog14's picture
Waterdog14
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 18 2014
Posts: 112
Find your tribe

LogansRun wrote:

We tried the island thing...it didn't work.  Locals became hostile and wanted in on the goods.  Spent almost $1m and ended up giving it to the locals in the end.

Now our retreat in Idaho is another story.  Working out very well.

I grew up in Idaho and still have several mining/consulting projects in SE Idaho (as I transition from my "real BAU job" to my post-industrial lifestyle).  I also went back to the northern part of the state to visit my dad last fall.  Although Idaho is beautiful, and the rainfall and climate are ideal for growing food (compared to other parts of the western US), it's no longer my tribe.  My dad is resilient.  He grows hundreds of pounds of tomatoes and grapes and gives them away.  He and his neighbors are tight-knit and (mostly) tolerant of each other.  They all have a lot of guns. And ammunition, lots of it.

Some folks in my small Colorado town have guns and ammunition, too.  But my cohort has more chickens than bullets, and more interest in cabbage than carnage.  Our local nonprofit, educational, and for-profit groups are collaborating to encourage each other to produce local food.  The synergies are astounding.  

I was on a panel last week at a Farm-to-Table conference and I included two slides about collapse.  Seriously!   I skipped all the details about the impending collapse of the financial system, etc, but briefly flashed a slide showing titles of books (End of Growth, Collapse Now and Avoid the Rush, Afterburn, When the Trucks Stop Running... ) followed by a slide on industrial farming (Food is Oil) and that 10 calories of fossil fuel = 1 calorie of food on your plate.  I may have lifted some of those graphics from Chris's work, but hoped he wouldn't mind.  At a social mixer after the event, several people thanked me for bringing up the topic.  These are people whom I knew previously but had never discussed collapse.  (Other than the phrase "when the trucks stop running" which I bring up in almost every meeting or conversation.)  

The conversation was lively and frank.  We discussed the impending bottleneck, and who will make it across the divide.  I mentioned that I might not make it across - none of us knows if we will or won't - but that I hoped my community would survive and be better off from my contributions.  Few of us in the conversation own guns, and all of us are committed to local food and resiliency.  We know that we've chose a location that is harsh and dangerously cold in the winter.  We've chosen this location with "eyes wide open".

My point is to "find your tribe".  The community capital and physical capital you build will help you and your loved ones (whether your "loved ones" are blood relatives or not) make it across the divide.   

agitating prop's picture
agitating prop
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: May 28 2009
Posts: 823
Olduvai wrote: Charles raises

Olduvai wrote:

Charles raises some fundamental conundrums I have been grappling with for the several years I have been 'prepping', especially finding a community with like-minded individuals (to say little of the 'challenge' of living with a partner who is extremely reluctant to accept the possibility of the breakdown of the various complex systems we depend upon and 'prepping' for such).

My family lives in a region of the Greater Toronto Area that is pursuing the infinite growth model at great speed (especially as it pertains to paving over limited arable soil to construct ever-expanding suburban homes) and have been contemplating the move to a more remote area of Ontario, or at least far less populated--not keen on being on the outskirts of millions of sub/urban families when breakdown occurs. 

We are now looking at selling our GTA home, taking advantage of the over-priced housing market, and locating a 'hobby farm' close to some of our family and some distance from the larger urban centres of Ontario--a great compromise with my wife who doesn't wish to be too far from our 'roots' and relatives. Just wish I was younger and had begun this journey much earlier...

Sounds like a good compromise. I moved last year to a larger island 5 minutes away from town.

I remember many years ago when my husband and I were looking for property, being taken to this large parcel of land and not being able to see any signs of humanity for as far as the eye could see. It may have been partly the time of day and that specific location but it felt SO creepy to me. I felt that 'going alone into an old dank basement,' feeling you get as a child. Obviously, we didn't buy it.

But I think it's really important to pay attention to your gut and any feelings of archetypal fear or species memory that is aroused when looking for a safe place -- because they can be anything but. Same with relocating to a foreign land. If the citizens are poor and you are the 'wealthy' intruder, you are simply not safe.

Social capital, above all else, is THE most important aspect of life to work on, as Charles Hugh Smith emphasizes. Family and friends and loose networks of symbiotic relationships. Human mycelium.

charleshughsmith's picture
charleshughsmith
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 15 2010
Posts: 596
tribes and intuiting safety

Waterdog, you are so right about finding your "tribe". It might be based on faith, extended family, roots in the community, values, projects such as community gardens, or any number of other ties. It's much easier to join an existing tribe and contribute to it rather than start your own from scratch.

AP, I'm glad you added your commentary on our intuitive sense of safety and vulnerability. We can do all sorts of analysis of various risks, positives and negatives, etc., but ultimately it boils down to our intuitive sense of whether we can live in this place with some sense of security and some sense of joy.

agitating prop's picture
agitating prop
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: May 28 2009
Posts: 823
Ibnot24get wrote: We're

Ibnot24get wrote:

We're fortunate to live on a small island close to a city of about 80,000 reachable by small boat, even kayak.  Island communities like this [not the hideouts for the wealthy] seem much more co-operative and integrated.  The community is constantly undertaking projects that benefit everyone, such as group orders for gardening supplies, water and energy efficiency projects, and more.  There's a chat room for sharing information, services, borrowing and giving away items, solving problems, as well as keeping tabs on interlopers.  The pace is slower, people walk, chat, wave to each other and offer help.  The strange thing is, that most folks didn't come here intentionally focused on resiliance, or preparing for when the poo hits the fan.  I'd wager in fact, that a lot of people here aren't too aware about anything impending, though some of us are very much so; and will be there to help when the wake up calls get stronger.  Most people have chosen this place for the lifestyle and community. I'm sure someone coming here to build their "bunker" would find themselves at odds with the spirit of the community and would either move on, or meld into a less isolated way of life.

We might be neighbours!  The island where I am living is one of the liveliest arts communities in North America and has much more arable land than the former island I lived on.  A lot of commerce revolves around rural activities, organic farming, livestock. Everything you highlight about your island is what I experience on my island.

I feel safe here. Most of the systems required to survive dire scenarios are in place already and could be ramped up when needed.

agitating prop's picture
agitating prop
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: May 28 2009
Posts: 823
charleshughsmith

charleshughsmith wrote:

Waterdog, you are so right about finding your "tribe". It might be based on faith, extended family, roots in the community, values, projects such as community gardens, or any number of other ties. It's much easier to join an existing tribe and contribute to it rather than start your own from scratch.

AP, I'm glad you added your commentary on our intuitive sense of safety and vulnerability. We can do all sorts of analysis of various risks, positives and negatives, etc., but ultimately it boils down to our intuitive sense of whether we can live in this place with some sense of security and some sense of joy.

Water dog made some very astute observations. It's interesting to me that Utopian societies formed during the industrial revolution, partly as a reaction to dire poverty, have so much in common with modern intentional communities.   

And as Chris Martenson highlights, anxiety about energy and the environment are big motivators for identifying tribe and working collectively, too.  But the income disparity we are all experiencing, one way or the other, feels Dickensian -- and this time, seems inescapable under current economic conditions. 

The sense that, "something's gotta give," or that things are getting so bleak, we have to remove ourselves from it must be how the Shakers, Mormoms and going way back, the Puritans, too. 

agitating prop's picture
agitating prop
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: May 28 2009
Posts: 823
Google searching location

A few years ago I was thinking about getting a retreat, or second home or 'bug out spot' depending on circumstances. I did extensive google searches about Costa Rica for months and decided against it, for a number of reasons. Chief among them, as Charles has mentioned, was the prospect of having to rid the place of squatters who might take over the property, in my absence.

The legal systems of some countries make it impossible to 'evict.' And in Costa Rica, from what I read, it isn't unheard of that the person you end up trying to evict from your property is the local you hired to look after your property!

skipr's picture
skipr
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 9 2016
Posts: 58
SHTF homestead (NOT)

I should forward this article to a friend who lives on a remote 150 acre homestead site in northwest Montana.  Their 1 mile long driveway extends down to an unpaved national forest logging road, their closest neighbor is an Amish community 6 miles away, and the closest town of 3,000 is 30 miles away.  Her and her (ex?) boyfriend are totally off grid with a hydro system that generates all of their electricity.

They are not totally isolated, even during these good times.  I was up there one winter helping them out when we heard a knock on the door late at night.  Some idiot made the wrong turn and got stuck in the snow at the end of the driveway.  My friends have to plow 5 miles of unpaved logging road by themselves, so they would be as stupid as this idiot to plow any further.  Then, a few days later, there was a mountain lion poacher up there at night with 3 dogs and a snow machine, again at the end of the driveway.

On national forest land they are allowed to collect dead trees for fuel.  After 20 years they have used up all of what's accessible.  A few years ago they had to buy bark beetle infested logs from the Forest Service.  That supply was burned up in a couple of years.  Fast forward to SHTF.  Their place will have been ravaged long before the forest is clearcut for fuel.  That area already looks like a checkerboard when viewed from Google Earth’s vantage point.

aggrivated's picture
aggrivated
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 22 2010
Posts: 499
City life in the breakdown

Years ago I lived for a month under martial law on the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Hurricane Camille wiped out much of that area. There were water trucks, Natl Guard with jeeps and guns (shoot to kill after sunset was the word on the street), and food lines. From what I remember as a kid was that very few misbehaved let alone commited crimes. The crimes committed were by the New Orleans organized crime guys ripping off distressed locals over prime land with offers they 'shouldn't' refuse. The water and electric were non functioning for that whole month. It was hot humid summer. I do remember showering naked in the yard when it rained. Food and water were supplied by the military at trailers.

What are the biggest differences between this scenario and what might happen in the future one PP members prep for? Back in the 1960's when this happened the following conditions existed:
1. The government and banks were functioning
2. The population of locals consisted of those who survived or returned to rebuild after a devastating natural storm.
3. There was a sense of hope among the population that the future was bright.

The following hardships would be similar:

1. Food supplies would be limited or non existent.
2. Even though there would be no natural destruction of infrastructure, the likelihood of destruction by an unruly mob would be high. BAU would be interrupted.
3. Opportunists like organized crime and scam artists would abound.
4. Locals who had skin in the game would organize to protect lives and property very quickly. The threat of a common 'enemy' unites disparate people until the threat passes.

What would be really different?
1. There would not be a sense of hope.
2. How people receive their news would be varied, not monolithic. Whatever legal authority that existed would struggle to even get a common message to the population.
3. Those with no skin in the game but their personal survival would likely outnumber those who want to preserve the community.
4. If digital currency function is down then the exchange of goods and services would be 'creative', to put it euphemistically.
5. There would not likely be a presence of functioning centrally coordinated law and order enforcement.

I know that to expect what is ahead to be anything like what I experienced in the 1960's is foolish. I also know from it that I would rather cast my lot with folks who have a committment to maintaing my community than to be isolated in a 'safe' place.

agitating prop's picture
agitating prop
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: May 28 2009
Posts: 823
skipr wrote: I should forward

skipr wrote:

I should forward this article to a friend who lives on a remote 150 acre homestead site in northwest Montana.  Their 1 mile long driveway extends down to an unpaved national forest logging road, their closest neighbor is an Amish community 6 miles away, and the closest town of 3,000 is 30 miles away.  Her and her (ex?) boyfriend are totally off grid with a hydro system that generates all of their electricity.

They are not totally isolated, even during these good times.  I was up there one winter helping them out when we heard a knock on the door late at night.  Some idiot made the wrong turn and got stuck in the snow at the end of the driveway.  My friends have to plow 5 miles of unpaved logging road by themselves, so they would be as stupid as this idiot to plow any further.  Then, a few days later, there was a mountain lion poacher up there at night with 3 dogs and a snow machine, again at the end of the driveway.

On national forest land they are allowed to collect dead trees for fuel.  After 20 years they have used up all of what's accessible.  A few years ago they had to buy bark beetle infested logs from the Forest Service.  That supply was burned up in a couple of years.  Fast forward to SHTF.  Their place will have been ravaged long before the forest is clearcut for fuel.  That area already looks like a checkerboard when viewed from Google Earth’s vantage point.

i

In a true tshtf scenario, do you think they would be vulnerable to desperate people seeking out those living 'safely' off grid so as to rip them off?

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