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Complex Caravan: Plausible or Prone to Failure?

Bike trail as a bugout bug out plan caravan moving around shtf
Have you considered using a bike trail as a bug out option?  They go long distances in a fairly straight line, you're not fighting the forest, and some of them seem pretty abandoned.  It appears like a good way to travel.

Not so fast.

We recently conducted an exercise dubbed "Complex Caravan" and, as usual, many insights were revealed by getting out into the field to put your money where your brain is.  Read on for the details.

Scenario:  Vehicular travel is restricted or unavailable, but movement is necessary.  (You can fill in your own favorite reasons.)

Objective:  Discover how a large, diversely aged and skilled group moves along an isolated section of recreational bike trail.

Of our twenty-five participants, the ages ranged from a young two-year old to a couple of fifty to sixty-year old folks.  Physical fitness levels also varied.  Packs ranged in weight from ten to fifty pounds.  Every attempt was made to have our caravan mimic a real life, pre-planned but unexpectedly timed (due to disaster) group movement from point A to point B using a designated section of trail -- grab your "go bag" and move on foot.

We placed two forward scouts 10 minutes ahead of the main pod and one rear guard 10 minutes behind us, giving the caravan a footprint of approximately one full mile.  The main pod, consisting of the vast majority of participants also had a lead, middle, and rear leader.  All scouts/guards/leaders were in communication via radio.

The pace started off brisk.  The leader of the main pod sets the pace for the entire caravan, including for the scouts.  We put our official Omega "shop mom" in front of the main pod to set the pace.  No surprise, she is a task master on the trail and we actually had to slow the pace.  The children were getting distracted by things on the trail.  Flowers, puff balls, dead possums.  You know, the usual.

Lesson one:  Expect a 2-3 mile an hour pace.

To populate the exercise, we invited thirty-five trusted clients from Omega.  In this way, we could guarantee similar preparedness mindsets and stable personalities.  Keep in mind, this might not always be the case.  You may end up in an unplanned group of refugees who are not acquainted.  People may not like children (go figure) or they may have strong ideas about what the group should be doing.

If you are "bugging out" people will already be stressed.  Our exercise was, for all intents and purposes, a recreational activity.  Practice.  It was not an issue with our group, but you can pretty much count on stressors like children and opinionated personalities being a factor in such a large group.

Lesson two:  Unless your group are soul mates, expect stress.

The first clue that bike trail movement might not be a good idea wasn't physical or mental stressors.  It was potential trail danger.

In the photo below, you can see a section of the actual trail we used.  It's quite rural, which is good, but that farm is a problem.

Most bike paths are built on or right next to former railroad tracks.  It's the reason they're so straight and why they traverse great swaths of rural areas.  It's also the reason there are many towns and structures intermittently and regularly placed along such routes.

Lesson three:  You're not safe on a bike trail.

Although the bike path may be fairly abandoned of travelers, you will be forced to pass very close by to houses, businesses and structures either currently inhabited or inhabited in the past.  These areas present perfect conditions for ambush.

Just to the north (top) of the path in the above photo, while it looks like the middle of nowhere, there is a small group of about seven houses.  You can clearly see the farm to the south.  So while the countryside provides many options for concealment off the path, following the path will take you right by structures over and over again.  If you were to have your scouts tactically clear these areas ahead of the main pod's approach, group movement would slow to a snail's pace and the chance of confrontation for the scouts would be high.

We can end the experiment and render judgement on bike trails at this point.

That said, the caravan itself worked quite well as a concept.  The children were able to be cared for and they kept pace.  Equipment adjustments were discovered and noted.  No physical ailments presented.  Personalities worked well and the scout/guard model was effective.

Other notes include:

  1. Concrete is unforgiving on the feet when under load.  Walking on the berm (in the grass or dirt) is advised if you have to go a long distance.
  2. Calorie intake for this type of travel should be scheduled as a large breakfast, a very quick no-preparation lunch, and a large camp dinner.
  3. Scouts and rear guard should be pushed to one mile instead of 1/2 mile from the main pod (which controls the pace).
  4. Many edible plants were found along the way which could supplement calories/nutrition and lift the spirit.  We found:  plantain, cow weed, wild strawberries, mulberries, and medicinal burdock.

The verdict is thus:

During the "honeymoon period" following a serious collapse/disaster, bike trails may present an easy and effective route to move a long distance away from prying eyes of the general public.  Rule of thumb would be 1-2 weeks of relatively safe movement on bike trails after, say, an EMP takes the grid.

After the honeymoon period, however, it is my assessment that bike trails would become a "highwayman" death trap.  Every structure is a potential ambush and there are far too many towns and hamlets through which the trails pass.

You'll be better off as a large group, unless travel is absolutely necessary, to stay in place whether it's at a traditional structure/home or concealed in the wild.

Once resources become scarce, sure the cities will be a deathtrap, but the desperation will translate to rural areas as well.  Concealment is the only safe bet and bike trails offer only a modicum more safety than a main route once SHTF and we are WROL.