Scouting the Elwha River Road

Scouting the Elwha River Road

For this mission I scouted a closed section of road along the Elwha river and visited the Glines Canyon Overlook, site of a former dam. The dam was removed by 2014 to allow salmon to return to their spawning grounds and to restore an ancient ecosystem—the largest dam removal project in history. The road going to the dam has been closed to vehicles since early 2015, when the waters released by the dam removal washed out a section of the road, forcing the closure of campgrounds, a ranger station and other facilities.

From the trailhead it was a short ride to the road washout, where the awesome power of nature compared to the works of man is on full display:

The river washout that destroyed the road and closed this area to vehicles.

To get around the washout, there is a rough bypass trail which I was able to walk and ride my bike on without problems, passing a few of the massive old growth trees that the Olympic National Park is famous for along the way. Back on the road, I passed a few hikers and a guy with two pack llamas before arriving at the abandoned Elwha Ranger Station. The station and several other large buildings were all well-preserved but empty; there were even two trucks in a garage, stranded on this side of the washout with no way to get back to civilization. There was a young family of three there, including a little girl who had a magical presence. The whole scene was a little eerie, like something out of a post-Apocalyptic film where almost everyone has vanished and the survivors are wandering around on foot.

One of many unusual sights on the closed Hot Springs Road.

When the family left I decided to symbolically claim the site for the Shadow Empire by rolling out my “shadow sun” banner and briefly meditating on the transience of all human constructs before the power of the Shadow World:

Meditating at the closed Elwha ranger station.

I continued up the road, crossing a bridge over the Elwha river and admiring the crystal clear, turquoise water. An easy climb brought me to the Glines Canyon Spillway Overlook, site of the former dam. This was a spectacular place. From the top of what is left of the dam I could look straight down into the canyon at the blue-green river, now rushing freely through the chasm where the dam previously stood. On the other side there was a wide view of the former lake bed, now a rocky river plain where vegetation is growing back and bears are known to roam.

The remains of the Glines Canyon Dam.

I walked over to the edge of the dam, hoping to climb down onto the huge metal spillway and get a better view of the canyon. But the rock face above it was too high and vertical, so I settled for looking down from the top of the canyon wall. I unfurled the shadow sun banner at this spot and again meditated on the impermanence of all forms. Then I walked back to the top of the dam and carved my Scout Sign on a light post to mark my visit.

The view of the old lake bed from the Glines Canyon overlook.

The ride back was an easy cruise, mostly downhill and uneventful. I took a dip in the river to cool off, then had another encounter with the little girl and her family at the road washout. She had an interesting presence; I included our conversation at the end of this video I made about the trip, so you can hear for yourself:

Chant

Chant

In the 1980s, Asian martial arts and mysticism were a very popular motif in men’s adventure books and movies. I have entire shelves of novels from that era about lethal ninja assassins, sinister Eastern mystics and Western martial arts masters trained in the East, usually combined with a larger geopolitical narrative involving payback from World War II, the Vietnam War, or the ambitions of  modern-day Japan or China. I am a big fan of this sub-genre, so when I learned about an obscure three-book series about a Western martial arts master and shadow warrior called Chant, I decided to give the first book a read.

“Chant” is the alias of John Sinclair, an almost superhuman character who is like an ultimate 1980s action hero cross between Jason Bourne, Joe Armstrong (American Ninja) and Rambo. His backstory is a familiar one in ninja fiction: a Westerner raised in post-World War II Japan, trained in the most lethal martial arts by Japan’s greatest masters, a man so gifted that he is taken as an apprentice by Master Bai, the sinister Sensei of a sect of ninjas who harness the power of the Black Flame—the inner darkness and passion that breaks the bonds of traditional martial arts honor to produce the ultimate human killing machines. Later, Sinclair enlists in the U.S. military, where he becomes an elite commando who puts his skills to work killing Communists behind enemy lines in Southeast Asia. In the process he becomes a revered hero of the Hmong people of Laos, who are fiercely resisting the brutal Pathet Lao guerrillas. For reasons that are unclear, Sinclair is betrayed by his own commanders and attacked by CIA assassins, but he manages to kill them and escape. From that point on, Sinclair is a Jason Bourne-like fugitive from shadowy elements of the US government—a master assassin who has become expendable.

A decade and a half later, Sinclair learns that some of his beloved Hmong have immigrated to the USA, where they are being enslaved and terribly abused by a very nasty family of rich industrialists called the Baldaufs. With his strong sense of honor and loyalty to the Hmong, who saved his life during the war, Sinclair goes on the warpath to destroy the Baldaufs and free the Hmong from their tyranny. Sinclair begins hunting down and killing off the industrialists and their henchmen using his superhuman martial arts skills. He employs the clever stratagem of approaching the head of the Baldauf family in the guise of an operative of a secret US agency that wants Sinclair dead, and is willing to help Baldauf for a fee. Sinclair essentially hunts himself with Baldauf’s cooperation, while in the process gaining inside knowledge of the industrialists’ operations so he can more effectively sabotage them.

As all this is going on, Master Bai arrives on the scene, having also been hired by Baldauf to find and eliminate John Sinclair. Bai brings with him three gigantic henchmen and his beautiful granddaughter Soussan, who is as lethal as she is seductive. Chant finds himself irresistibly attracted to Soussan, despite knowing that she is probably Bai’s ultimate weapon to destroy him. Because Bai is not simply out to kill Sinclair for rejecting the Black Flame cult, but to prove its superiority by defeating Chant in an elaborate mental and martial arts contest. The whole thing gets a little ridiculous at this point, as Chant is challenged to defeat Bai’s henchmen, Soussan, and Bai himself, on the threat of his Hmong friends being killed. What follows is a series of staged combats with each henchman, interspersed with Chant’s inner confusion about whether Soussan is a sinister seductress or a sincerely changed woman who wants only to be with Chant and leave the Black Flame behind. The twist ending is violent, melodramatic, ridiculous and mystical, much like this book.

Chant is well-written pulp fiction that reminds me of an Eric van Lustbader novel of that era, at a fraction of the length and with the unnecessary subplots and pretentious writing stripped out. Which should make for a good read. And Chant is a pretty good read, if you don’t mind characters who are too over the top, too skilled, too good and too evil to take seriously. Sinclair is very impressive, but he lacks charisma and never really makes you care about him—he’s like a colder, more brutal and inhuman Mack Bolan. I mean, Mack has no compunctions about blowing away bad guys Dirty Harry-style, but Sinclair takes it to another level, gruesomely murdering people (even puppies!) in a manner usually reserved for villains. He may have a sense of honor, but he also has a streak of Master Bai’s Black Flame still burning in his soul that allows him to kill without mercy.

Anyway, if you’re a sucker for this genre like me you’ll probably enjoy this book despite its flaws. Get a copy of Chant here.

Meditations on the Shadow World to Come

Meditations on the Shadow World to Come

{ This post is a bit of a philosophical diversion from my normal content. Don’t worry, I will be back to book reviews and scouting reports soon. }

In addition to scouting the physical world around him to see what resources, routes and forces it holds, the Shadow Scout reconnoiters in a more metaphysical senseinto the future, the past and the darker places of his imagination to see what scenarios he may need to prepare for.

With the apparent recent uptick of pandemics, forest fires, extreme weather, infrastructure collapse, social unrest, political conflict, etc., there are many potential dark scenarios taking shape on the horizon. We are entering an age, it seems, where many forms of chaos threaten to disrupt settled life, and the powers that be face an increasingly desperate struggle to maintain order.

These are not abstract, remote concerns. I recently experienced a freakish heat wave in Washington state that brought power outages and deaths; highways and regions of the state are experiencing unprecedented closures due to existing or potential forest fires; as I write this, the air is hazy with smoke from some of these fires; there have even been protests around social issues and covid measures in my normally quiet community. As the hobbits of the Shire discovered in The Lord of the Rings, no place is safe from the chaos when the Shadow begins to fall.

The Shadow Scout, who strives to keep his mind unclouded by hysteria and see the world clearlyespecially when it is growing dark, dangerous and disturbingfaces these prospects with equanimity. He prepares himself mentally, physically and spiritually for the dark times, knowing that they always come eventually, that no order is eternal and that nothing gets better forever. Most indications are that darker times are directly ahead, which is one of the reasons I began calling myself “Shadow Scout” and writing these posts. It’s why I started scouting the resources, routes and conditions in my area, travelling long distances on foot and bicycle, exploring, stealth camping, caching and leaving signs for others—to see what’s actually going on in the world outside the Matrix, and to develop some agency over it. It’s also why I like to scout ruins, wastelands and sites of natural and human catastrophes: to remind myself of the impermanence of all things and the futility of all forms in this doomed world. Scoutings can be like pilgrimages to the power of chaos and destructionto the shadow world behind this world of illusions that will ultimately engulf all.

Meditating in the White Sands National Park, once the site of lakes, streams, grasslands, and large mammals. A preview of the desert world to come?
Meditating by a ruined bridge during my Spada Lake scouting.

In a society such as this one, dominated by Protestant, Freemasonic and Progressive ideals, which believes itself a shining city on the hill with a destiny to bring light to a benighted world, such ideas are anathema. There is something un-American, even evil, about a fascination with collapse, decay and darkness. This despite the fact that the establishment of America brought incredibly dark times for many, such as the natives who faced the eradication of their ancient ways of life, the animal species who were hunted to near extinction, and the great trees that were razed to make way for the new nation. I personally feel no particular allegiance to this entity called the U.S.A., though I was raised on its propaganda and taught to be loyal to it from birth. Nor do I look to any other government, political movement or religion for hope. I am like a stranger passing through an increasingly strange world, seeking my own path in the shadows.

I use symbols to externalize this mentality, such as the banner in the picture below, which I like both for its Japanese aesthetics and its image of a black sun casting its shadow across the world. The juxtaposition of the beautiful creek and green forest next to myself in black attire, calmly meditating by the black solar banner, somehow captures my spirit. I also wear a mask to symbolize my stranger status, and to prepare for a dystopian world where one is always needed to protect from viruses, intense sun, smoke particles, Orwellian surveillance, and the Tao knows what else.

Meditating by a creek near my home with my “shadow sun” banner.

In this way I set myself apart from the present world and its delusions, while communing with the deeper realities of nature and the shadow world behind it. This way of thinking is unlikely to make me popular with my neighbors, but it’s essential to the mindset of the Shadow Scout, who gives his allegiance only to the eternal natural and metaphysical realities behind all fleeting human constructs. I suspect there are many like me, and there will soon be many morewho feel a profound alienation from the Matrix of illusions that has been built around them like an invisible prison, who are ready to go out and find the others, experience freedom and see the world as it truly is, in all its doomed and fading glory.

The Invisible Assassins

The Invisible Assassins

As I said in a previous review, Mack Bolan vs. ninjas is a matchup I can’t resist, so when I learned that Mack has tangled with the legendary shadow warriors on several other occasions I decided to track them down. The Executioner #53: The Invisible Assassins was Bolan’s first run-in with ninjas, published in 1983 just as the “ninja boom” was exploding.

The first thing I noticed about the book is the striking cover art by iconic Bolan artist Gil Cohenclick here for the full painting. Take a moment to savor the scene: Bolan in his trademark “blacksuit”, with throwing stars on his belt, his silenced pistol raised to blow someone away, in an elegant Japanese bathhouse with a dead ninja sprawled by the pool in the background. If that doesn’t make you want to read this book, you obviously aren’t my kind of shadow warrior!

The story opens with Bolan witnessing the murder of a Japanese-American computer wizard named Shinoda on the streets of L.A. during some kind of transaction. The killing is carried out almost instantaneously, by a shadowy figure who leaves the body without a mark on it and disappears into the night. When Bolan’s partner is then run over and killed by a cold-eyed Asian driver, Bolan vows to bring this “invisible assassin” to justice. Bolan is soon assaulted by the same figure and barely survivesshaken by the assailant’s ability to get to him without triggering his near-infallible danger instincts. But the attack does trigger Bolan’s eidetic memory, and he recognizes the attacker as Zeko Tanaga, a notorious Red Army Faction terrorist who was thought to have been killed in a terrorist training camp in Yemen. Clearly Shinoda was involved in something very big and bad if he was meeting with Tanaga, and Bolan needs to find out what it was.

Bolan follows his only leads to Tokyo, hoping to identify some faces in photos found in Shinoda’s apartment and track down Tanaga. Posing as an American security consultant, he is soon attacked by thugs with shortened little fingersyakuza. Soon after that, Bolan notices a blonde woman following two of the yakuza goons on the streets, whom he promptly saves by smashing the gangsters’ faces. The blonde turns out to be a graduate student named Sandra who is researching the secret power structures of Japan that led to their involvement in World War II. She has uncovered evidence of a conspiracy of the “Eight Jonin”a cabal of eight powerful warlords who have run Japan from the shadows for centuries and lead a fanatical organization called the “Circle of the Red Sun.”

Bolan’s own research suggests that Shinoda was involved in the development of a revolutionary bio-computing technology, which is somehow connected to notorious war-time Japanese biowarfare research and the Eight Jonin. All signs point to Red Sun Chemicals corporation, which owns a castle overlooking the sea, as the nexus of the conspiracy that killed Shinoda and involves Tanaga, the Circle and the Eighth Jonin. As he is uncovering this information, Bolan is also killing yakuza thugs, narrowly escaping underwater death, being rescued by naked pearl divers and fighting ninjas on top of a bullet train. This guy is a men’s adventure machine!

The story races to a classic Bond-style climax, as Mack and Sandra infiltrate the Big Bad’s castle grounds, which have been maintained as a kind of medieval Japanese theme park, complete with authentically garbed samurai and ninja guards ready to put real arrows, swords and lances into intruders’ vital body parts. There they encounter both the terrorist Tanaga and the Eighth Jonin himselfwho, unsurprisingly, is quite mad, bent on revenge for crimes against his ancestors, and determined to use Mack and Sandra as test subjects for his latest weapons of mass destruction. You can probably guess the rest.

This wasn’t a great read, but I found it entertaining. As a student of ninjas in popular culture, I liked how it’s like a mash-up of many popular ninja books and movies: the title and depiction of ninjutsu were clearly influenced by the first book on the subject in the West, Ninja: The Invisible Assassins by Andrew Adams; the dramatic opening murder using a mysterious killing technique and the conspiracy of powerful Japanese industrialists brings to mind Eric Van Lustbader’s seminal 1980 novel The Ninja; the pursuit of ninjas on the bullet train foreshadowed a scene in the excellent 1995 film The Hunted; the castle by the sea, the pearl divers and the mad Samurai overlord brought to mind the classic 1964 James Bond novel You Only Live Twice (and 1967 film) that introduced ninjas to the Western world. Add Mack “The Executioner” Bolan into the mix, and how can it be bad?

Get a copy of The Invisible Assassins here.

Scouting WW II Coastal Defense Bunkers

Scouting WW II Coastal Defense Bunkers

Mission Summary

For this mission I decided to scout some abandoned northern Olympic Peninsula coastal defenses that were built during World War II. These are a series of artillery emplacements, bunkers and lookouts set on hills overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca west of Port Angeles, Washington.

From my online research I determined the approximate location of several of the bunkers. The most interesting resource was this page, which contained the original secret military maps and schematics of the facilities made in the early 1940s. Several of the bunkers are located in Salt Creek Recreation Area, part of the Camp Hayden artillery fortress:

The original map of the Camp Hayden harbor defenses from 1944 (click to enlarge).

A few miles west down the coast are the more obscure Agate Point and Agate Rock bunkers:

Map of the Agate Point bunkers (click to enlarge).

My plan was to scout these in stealth mode using my bike and see how many I could locate in an overnight trip.

Camp Hayden Recon

Starting from Port Angeles, I rode the Olympic Discovery Trail for about six miles until it joined highway 112, a dangerous road with little shoulder and giant trucks whizzing by. I turned onto a side road toward the Salt Creek Recreation Area to get off the highway and make a stealthier approach to the area. The road into the facility had a sign saying it was closed, which I was happy to see because it meant I was unlikely to encounter anyone else:

Closed roads are good news; it means you will probably have them all to yourself!

Sure enough, the road was empty, but it was also steep and rough and I ending up mostly walking my bike up to the top of Striped Peak. There were some fun trails and gravel roads to ride down, spectacular views of the Strait, and before long I found myself in the vicinity of the first bunker on my list. Looking off to my right, I caught a glimpse of it through the lush foliage, looking like a ruined Mayan temple in the jungle. This was Battery 249, which once contained two six inch anti-ship guns but now apparently houses a bat colony.

“You will all parish in flame” — spooky graffiti outside the Battery 249 bunker.

There were two chambers, both barred and covered in graffiti. There was also a hole in the ground with a ladder leading down to a rather spooky chamber that I explored. On top of the complex there was a pillbox structure and a nice flat area; as it was getting late, I decided to set up my stealth camp there, get up early and look for other bunkers nearby.

The only problem was that I didn’t have a lot of water and there were no streams around. My only choice was to ride down to the nearby campground and get some water from the bathroom. I bombed down the gravel road, which unfortunately came out right next to the home of the resident park ranger.  I casually pedaled past it into the campground, hoping that no one saw me and there was nothing overly suspicious about a mountain biker coming down this road from the direction of a closed road. I rolled my bike into the bathroom and filled up my water bottles using the tortuously slow timed water faucet, during which time three other people decided to use the facilities, which was less than ideal. Then I rolled out out of there and casually headed back up the road toward the bunker. The recreation area closed at dusk, so it was a bit suspicious to be heading up there with dusk approaching, but I didn’t have much choice. I got back to camp without event and made the report about my mission shown in this video:

Early the next morning I studied the Hayden Camp map and realized that a bunker labelled “BC12” should be only about a hundred yards east of my campsite. I packed up, left my bike hidden on top of Battery 249 and bushwhacked in the direction I thought it should be. Sure enough, there it was, naturally camouflaged and with a tree growing on top of it:

Bunker BC12 was well-camouflaged from the “bushwhack side”.

This bunker wasn’t barred off so I was able to walk in and admire the view through the gun slot. When I went on top of it I was disappointed to see a driveway right next to the main gravel road and realized I hadn’t made much of a discovery; the bunker was clearly visible from the road and I could have ridden right to it. I scratched it off my list of potential Scout lookouts and road-walked back to my bike. As I rolled my bike back up toward BC 12 to take some more pics, I spotted a guy just ahead of me walking right toward the bunker. I waited a few minutes until I saw him continuing up the hill, unsure if he spotted me. I returned to the site, took some video footage and thought about what to do next. There were two other sites in Camp Hayden that I could’ve looked for, but I decided that since I’d violated park rules by stealth-camping and had just seen some guy walking in my direction, it was time to get out of Dodge.

On my way out of the area, I rode through the campground to scout it out for future reference. There was a dramatic viewpoint where I walked out onto rocks with waves crashing over tide pools. As I returned to my bike, I looked up and saw a third bunker staring me in the face, this one also barred off, labelled “Tongue Point” on the old maps.

Agate Rock Recon

My next target was a more obscure site called “Agate Rock” a few miles down the coast. After a scenic ride around Crescent Bay I came to an abandoned forest road with a gate and a no trespassing sign, which a Shadow Scout always considers an invitation:

A very inviting sight: a gated, overgrown forest road with a no trespassing sign.

The road was overgrown but rideable for about a half mile before it turned north and disappeared into the bush. Not discouraged, I stashed my bike, put on my long pants, jacket and gloves and bushwhacked north, where faint signs of the original access road were still visible. After a while of this I intersected a newer, easily walkable road which took me up the hill to the very edge of the Peninsula. There was a small clearing and a sheer cliff that dropped hundreds of feet to the ocean. The views across the strait and down the coast were spectacular. I saw large ships in the distance and could imagine being a soldier manning a lookout on this spot, watching for enemy battleships.

Commanding views of the Strait from the top of Agate Rock.

But where was the bunker that should be nearby? After admiring the view for a while, I turned around and again, what do I see but the slot of another overgrown bunker staring me in the face!

I was so distracted by the view that I almost missed this well-camouflaged bunker.

I crawled through the slot into the vault. There were two concrete pedestals that once held six-inch guns; from this high ground it was easy to imagine them raining deadly fire on enemy ships miles away down in the Strait. Walking to the back of the vault, I came out the front entrance, which was wide open. There was graffiti everywhere, so despite the difficult route I had taken it was apparently not a problem for others. And I soon discovered the reason why: there was a nice gravel road nearby that apparently offered easy access by a different route. I was a bit disappointed to see this, but still carved some scout sign on the bunker wall and put it on my list of potential Scout lookouts for the spectacular vista and obscure location.

My Scout sign marks this bunker as a place of interest.

I ate some food at the cliff’s edge and contemplated my next move. It was midday and I still had a hike and a sizeable bike ride to get back to Port Angeles. There is another bunker in the area that is supposedly on private property and well-secured, and others further down the coast that are even more difficult to find. I decided that I would save these for another scouting mission and headed back the way I had come. The ride back was uneventful other than some close truck passes on Highway 112 and a buck eating leaves in someone’s yard right off the trail in Port Angeles. I was tired but buzzed, both by the things I had discovered on this mission and the prospect of returning for more scouting in the near future. This definitely belongs at the top of my list as one of my favorite missions to date.

Bicycle Bug-Out

Bicycle Bug-Out

The Bug-Out Scenario

A little extreme, but maybe the right idea. Don’t expect gasoline or nice roads to be available in a real Mad Max scenario!

The survivalist or Scout who wants to be prepared for the possibility of serious civilizational disruption should consider building a bug-out bike. What is that? It’s a bicycle outfitted to get out of Dodge quickly, travel long distances via any road or trail, and be self-contained for extended periods of time. In light of recent events such as the covid-19 “pandemic”, disruptions in gasoline supplies, infrastructure collapses, riots, forest fires and heat waves; the prospect of escalating crises as the effects of climate change, peak oil, ecological disruption and social unrest hit home; the ever-present possibility of natural catastrophes such as pandemics, hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, floods, Carrington events and volcanic eruptions; and man-made catastrophes like nuclear, EMP, biological and terrorist attacks, it seems wise to be prepared for anything. That includes being ready to evacuate your home for several days in an emergency, but it doesn’t just mean having a bug-out bag ready to throw in a vehicle and hitting the road. What if gasoline becomes unavailable or unaffordable? What if supply chains are disrupted and you can’t get parts to repair your car? What if roads are clogged with traffic, damaged, blocked or overrun with bandits? How will you get to your bug-out cabin, bunker or hideout? How will you get to another town for needed supplies? How will you visit far away family or friends who need your help? How will you escape martial law crackdowns, avoid FEMA camps and evade hordes of marauding zombies? The answer in all cases could be a properly equipped bicycle—the most versatile and resilient form of transportation ever invented (with the possible exception of a horse). While nothing beats your own two feet and a backpack for flexible travel, the distances involved and loads you may need to carry could be too great to be practical. Enter the bug-out bike…

The Bug-Out Bike

There are many types of bicycles available today that are optimized for different purposes: road bikes, touring bikes, mountain bikes, gravel bikes, etc. The best configuration for a bug-out bike is probably a mountain bike for its ruggedness and versatility (actually, the best bug-out bike is the one you already have and can start outfitting today). Here’s the bike configuration I currently use for scouting and bug-outs:

My bug-out/scout bike rig with pistol and machete options.

It’s a Trek Marlin mountain bike, with rear panniers containing food on one side, clothing on the other, cookwear and electronics in the top, a 30 liter dry bag/backpack strapped to the handlebars that contains my tent, sleeping bag and pad, and a small saddlebag containing bike tools and spare tubes (the machete and glock pistol strapped to the frame are optional accessories that could come in handy). I removed reflectors and lights for maximum stealth and minimum weight. I don’t normally ride at night, but in a bug-out scenario I will avoid busy roads and use a headlamp when necessary. The tires are 700 x 40mm Schwalbes, which are narrow for a mountain bike but have worked well on the dirt roads and trails in my area.

Bug-Out Gear

Many cyclists are moving to bikepacking setups that emphasize light weight and minimal gear over the traditional bicycle touring configuration of panniers (large bags hung from racks over your wheels) that can hold more supplies. Either setup can work in a bug-out situation. In a long distance bug-out, where supplies may be few and far between or conditions in cities dangerous, panniers allow you to carry larger amounts of food and water and be self-sufficient for up to two weeks at a time. If you need to carry heavier gear, weapons, ammo, etc., panniers are also preferable. But in a more local, short-term bug-out, or in a region where you may have to ride on steep mountain roads, rough trails and bushwhacks, a lighter, more rugged bikepacking setup may be preferable. I use a hybrid of the two.

Here are a few essential items to include in your bug-out bike gear:

  • water: filter; bottles and bladders for carrying a gallon or more of water
  • offline navigation: detailed paper maps of your area (e.g. USFS maps), compass
  • food: three days to two weeks supply
  • repair kit: extra tubes, pump, patches, bike multitool (I use this one), spare chain links

Some optional but useful gear for a bug-out bike include:

  • weapons: handgun, knife/machete/hatchet
  • hammock (allows you to stealth camp almost anywhere)
  • dynamo hub for charging electronic devices
  • shortwave emergency radio

Keep things simple and low tech. Modern touring cyclists rely on sophisticated smartphones, GPS devices and apps for navigation, as well as social network apps like warmshowers.com for finding lodging, but in a SHTF situation you can’t assume that any of those will work. Be prepared to navigate the old school way, with maps, compass and local knowledge, and to find stealth camps wherever you go.

The Bug-Out Route

Having a well equipped bug-out bike is only the first step in bicycle emergency preparedness. You also need to figure out where to go and how to get there. That means scouting the bike paths, bikeable trails and dirt/gravel roads in your area, finding any routes that will allow you to bypass traffic jams, checkpoints, road closures and zombies in a SHTF situation. From this information, put together one or more bug-out routes that will allow you to get out of town safely and stealthily. Mapping sites and apps like gaiagps, google maps, komoot.com and gravelmap.com are very helpful for finding routes via gravel roads, back roads, bike paths and trails.  Pay close attention to elevation profiles; steep roads and trails are killers on a bike and should be avoided if possible. But there is no substitute for scouting on-the-ground conditions, and this should be done regularly as part of your emergency preparation. This will also help you stay fit, which could literally be a matter of life and death when you have to actually bug-out on a bike.

Once you’ve devised and scouted your bug-out routes, memorize them and sketch them on your maps if you wish. You can also save them as GPX routes, which you can then load into a GPS device or a smartphone app like gaiagps or ridewithgps and follow precisely as you ride. But again, don’t rely only on electronic methods, as they might not work after TSHTF and they’re also potential security risks.

The Bug-Out Mission

Two days after a heat wave that brought record temperatures to my area, along with blackouts, deaths and disruptions, I decided it was time to put the bug-out bike concept to the test. I equipped my mountain bike with the bikepacking gear and provisions described above. I had a route figured out from previous scouting and study of maps, and had it memorized and loaded into my gaiagps app. The scenario was that due to some catastrophe (earthquake, virus outbreak, etc.), the main highway out of my town is clogged or closed, and I’ve decided to bug-out to another town via backroads and trails and stealth camp somewhere.

I rode via side roads through town to the Olympic Discovery Trail, proceeded to the town of Blyn, then cut south up a forest road into the foothills of the Olympics. This was a nice route; I was on gravel roads most of the time and passed very few cars. There were many possible camp sites and connecting roads I could spend days exploring. After a long uphill slog, I coasted down toward the town of Quilcene, target of my previous bicycle scouting, after about 30 miles, only this time I had arrived entirely via backroads and avoided the highways.

After some refreshments in the town convenience store I continued north toward Port Townsend and other targets of interest, sticking to backroads as much as possible. By late afternoon I was feeling fatigued and started looking for a place to camp, but I was running low on water and the creeks shown on my map were either non-existent or too difficult to access. So I continued toward the nearest place where I could buy water, a little town about eight miles north, and got to the store just before they closed. En route I passed a wooded park that looked like it had once been a campground; I rode back there and decided to make stealth camp, despite the two kids I’d seen biking there and the houses not far away through the trees. I laid low until around sunset, saw no one, then set up my camp and made this video:

Secondary Scouting

The next morning I got up early, got out of the park and proceeded north to some destinations I planned to scout as part of this mission. After fueling up on espresso and a breakfast sandwich at a coffee shop, I rode a few miles west to a place called the Tamanowas Rock Sanctuary, which I’ve been wanting to investigate for some time as a possible Scout lookout site. I made this video from the sanctuary:

I then headed north toward a place called Indian Island, which is owned by the U.S. Navy and used as a munitions handling facility and a place to service missile submarines. After a fun ride over a bridge to the island, I parked in a nearby park and did some video surveillance of the entrance to the naval base with my handlebar-mounted phone. It was guarded by a checkpoint, a fence topped by coiled barbed wire, and some prowling security vehicles:

A still image from my surveillance video of the entrance to the Indian Island naval facility.

Realizing that I wouldn’t be seeing any more of Indian Island on this trip, I rode down a little trail along the coast then proceeded back to the mainland. From there I connected to a nice 7.5 mile gravel path called the Larry Scott Trail which I rode into downtown Port Townsend. A bus was leaving in 30 minutes back to my home town so I decided to get on it—I’d ridden about 73 miles in 24 hours and decided that was enough. I chatted on the bus with two locals—an old guy who was an avid cyclist and gave me some biking tips, and a guy from Kansas who appeared to be homeless and a bit mentally off but had some interesting observations—then got off in Sequim and rode the few miles to my home.

This was another interesting bug-out and scouting mission by bike—which has become my preferred way to scout my region, get out of Dodge and have a little adventure.

More Information

For more information about bug-out bikes, see these links:
Bug Out Bike: What You Need To Know To Survive
Bugout Bikes and Trikes
Apocalypse Bicycle Instructable

Bicycle Scouting the ODT

Bicycle Scouting the ODT

I’ve recently started doing some scouting of my region by bicycle. While foot scouting is still my go-to method, bicycle scouting has a few advantages:

  • You don’t have to carry a pack on your shoulders.
  • You can cover much more ground in a given amount of time.
  • Cyclists aren’t as threatening as walkers; people tend to ignore you.
  • You can discreetly film places of interest with a handlebar-mounted phone.

A bicycle is a versatile form of transportation: you can ride it on regular roads, dirt/gravel roads, sidewalks, bike paths, some foot trails and short bushwhacks, take it on cars, buses, trains, planes and even packrafts. You can carry as much gear as you would backpacking, allowing you to take extended “bikepacking” excursions. You can also easily stash a bike in places where you could never park a car discreetly when you need to proceed on foot. To efficiently get an on-the-ground feel for the shadow routes and resources in your area, cycling may be the best option.

My latest bicycle scouting was an overnight trip to the town of Quilcene about 35 miles away. I am fortunate to live near the Olympic Discovery Trail, a popular paved bike trail/highway route which goes from Port Townsend at the north end of the Olympic Peninsula all the way to the Pacific Ocean, a distance of about 130 miles. I was able to take the paved trail or side roads for the majority of the trip, riding along two bays, through the Skallam reservation and along a lake.

A typical section of the ODT. Note how easy it is to discreetly film items of interest from a bike.

There were surprisingly few people on the trail for a sunny weekend, which was good. There was one 24 hour gas station/deli en route and a couple of creeks where I could filter water. I took some video of sections of interest with my handlebar-mounted phone, and left some Scout sign to mark my range:

Leaving Scout sign on the ODT

On a side road near Discovery Bay I passed a sign where the Pacific Northwest Trail used to head into the Olympic mountains before it was re-routed. The sign was at the end of a driveway; I started riding up it, saw a group of people, called out to ask if the trail was still in use, but when they didn’t answer I got spooked and rode away. On further research it looks like this is now an alternate PNT route that’s still used, so apparently they’re OK with people walking through here. I will be returning to scout this section at a later date.

A PNT sign marks a route into the Olympics that goes through someone’s driveway.

From there I headed south toward Quilcene, using the highway and a side road along Leland Lake. As it was getting late I started looking for a place to stealth camp. I considered camping at a turn-out near the highway where a boat had been left full of trash, but when I walked down a trail I encountered all kinds of old tents, clothes and junk everywhere. Not wanting to camp next to what looked like a homeless encampment, I got out of there and kept riding south.

When I arrived at Quilcene the sun was setting and I needed to quickly find a place to camp. Looking at my gaiagps maps, I noticed a power line corridor near town that was crossed by a road near a river, so I biked the half mile to check it out. The road ended before the corridor but there was an overgrown trail that led to it which I was able to push my bike through. This led to a clearing under the power lines, surrounded by tall grass with views of the nearby mountains. After clearing some rocks I was able to make a decent spot for my tent and set up my stealth camp. I was also able to find a game trail to the river where I could get water.

My stealth camp in a power line corridor near Quilcene.

I got up early the next morning and headed back the same way, scouting a few side roads as I went. On Highway 101 near Discovery Bay, I noticed that just below the highway was an abandoned road which had a “keep out” sign on it. Curious, I bushwhacked down to the road and rode on it for about a mile until it rejoined an active side road. This road doesn’t show up in any gaiagps map except the historic 1930 topo map; it looks like it was a section of a road that once ran along the railroad that used to go around Discovery Bay on its way from Port Townsend to Port Angeles. This is exactly the kind of shadow route that I look for when I’m out scouting; if I’m ever stealth travelling through this area I can avoid the busy highway and move quickly on foot or bicycle. I will definitely be back to explore this road further.

Riding an unmapped, abandoned road near Highway 101.

The rest of the ride home to Sequim was uneventful. Overall, this was an interesting if somewhat grueling trip of about 70 miles that gave me a better feel for the area and opened my eyes to the potential of scouting by bicycle. Stay tuned for more!

Becoming a Ninja Warrior

Becoming a Ninja Warrior

I’ve long been obsessed with ninjas, the legendary shadow warriors of feudal Japan. I love their dark mystique and their mindset of endurance, discipline, stoicism, survivalism, stealth and mysticism—the polar opposite of the modern mentality of instant gratification, egotism, fragility, fear of darkness, transparency, moralism and materialism. I’ve read dozens of books about them, from the historically accurate to modern interpretations to the wildly fictional, and enjoyed most of them. They are a primary influence on my own path of the Shadow Scout.

One of the more interesting takes on the ninja that I’ve come across is contained in the book Becoming a Ninja Warrior by Martin Faulks. Faulks is an English esoteric writer and teacher with a background in Hermeticism and Freemasonry. He’s also highly adept at meditation and martial arts, which he demonstrates in older videos at his youtube channel. According to the account in Ninja Warrior, in the early 2000s Faulks did what many Westerners have only fantasized about: sought out real ninjas in the modern world and trained with them in their ancient martial and mystical arts in an effort to became a more powerful, shadow-aware person. He trained with thieves, mystics, mountain monks and martial arts warriors around the world, rather like a real-life Bruce Wayne in the film Batman Begins.

Faulks describes the ninja as part thief, part mystic and part warrior. This is reflected in his training under various masters: first with the “Norfolk Ninjas”—two amoral working-class British rogues who teach him the dark arts of stealth, lockpicking, and infiltration; then with Stephen Hayes, the famous American ninjutsu guru who takes a more spiritual approach to training; then in Japan under Bujinkan Grand Master Hatsumi and other Japanese masters who focus on martial arts; and finally with the ancient brotherhood of Yamabushi mountain monks of Japan, who seek spiritual strength by enduring austerities in nature.

All of these stories were interesting, but I found the first and last groups particularly so. The Norfolk Ninjas have their own “Bat Cave” in the basement of their mother’s house, stocked with a huge collection of ninja books, movies, weapons and tools. In addition to rigorous combat and lockpicking, their training includes a lot of prowling around in black ninja suits at night,  playing pranks on policemen by sneaking into their cars and stealing their radios to test their stealth skills. At the other end of the spectrum, the Yamabushi training consisted of hiking for several days in the mountains while fasting, getting little or no sleep, chanting, praying at shrines, hanging off cliffs and participating in a fire-walking ritual. It’s fascinating that their Shugendō (“Way of trial and practice”) tradition, which is over a thousand years old and is said to have influenced the ninja, still exists long after the historical ninja lineages have been broken.

Personally, I suspect Faulks made up some of the stories in this book. The Norfolk Ninjas in particular sound too perfect; they remind me of the kind of characters esoteric teachers invent to illustrate their ideas. I could be wrong, and I hope I am. It’s an inspiring story, regardless. But it should be noted that even if everything Faulks described in this book really happened, he’s still not a ninja. To experience the full reality of ninjutsu, he would need to do more than train in dojos and run around at night in the English countryside. He would need go into a warzone, train with special forces, infiltrate forbidden places, escape captivity, spy for MI6, execute a heist, commit arson, and the like. Enduring life-threatening danger in war-time conditions, and using stealth, deception and skill to survive, is the essence of the ninjutsu art. With those caveats, Warrior is an enjoyable and inspiring read for anyone interested in this topic.

Get a copy of Becoming a Ninja Warrior here (or a new version called The Path of the Ninja here).

Ways of the Shadow Scouts

Ways of the Shadow Scouts

Introduction

The brotherhood of Shadow Scouts that I envision is a secretive society of free spirits who think outside the boxes of current ways of life and structures of power. Here are some more details about the ways of this brotherhood, as practiced by myself and as I foresee them developing.

Ranges

Shadow Scouts reject existing national and territorial boundaries and reserve the right to roam anywhere we please. Each Scout will usually have a home “range” that he frequently scouts, which won’t overlap with the ranges of other Scouts because we do respect each other’s territory. Within his range, each Scout will be responsible for scouting shadow routes, establishing lookouts, gathering intelligence, leaving Scout sign and recruiting others. Collectively, Shadow Scouts are the rangers of our own shadowy nation—one with its own ideals, codes of conduct, communications, security, intelligence service and language.

Shadow Routes

As previously discussed here, “shadow routes” are routes that offer stealth travel and are not frequented by vehicles, police, security or the general public. They include:

  • Forest roads
  • Foot and bicycle trails
  • Power line corridors
  • Railroad tracks
  • Rivers and waterways
  • Tunnels and storm drains
  • Rooftops and walkways

The first task of the Scout is to explore all shadow routes in his range, establishing stealthy routes for bugging out, gathering intelligence, getting to lookouts and general travel. He should also scout pathless sections between shadow routes—bushwhacking, crossing deserts, cutting across private property, crossing borders, etc.—so as to be able to travel long distances with maximum stealth and freedom.

Power line corridors can be good shadow routes.

Lookouts

Shadow Scouts should establish lookouts in areas where they are active. These are places where Scouts can observe an area, take shelter, meet other Scouts, leave messages and cache supplies. They will be established not only in wilderness areas, but in rural, suburban and urban locations. In our secret tongue, lookouts are called tyârzunz (“lookplaces”).

Locations

Some elements of a good wilderness lookout include:

  • near existing shadow routes
  • good views of the surrounding area
  • discreet location away from established camps, trails and roads
  • near natural shelters and camping areas
  • near water sources
  • places to discreetly cache supplies and leave messages

With well-stocked lookouts located along shadow routes, you can use them as re-supply points to travel long distances and extend your stays in the field. The best lookouts should be difficult to get to. They should require scouting skills to reach so they are unlikely to be visited by non-Scouts. This adds to their mystique as special places for a special breed of individual.

A lookout location overlooking my home range and the U.S.-Canada border.
Caches

A weather- and animal-proof container, such as an ammo can, bear can, PVC pipe or wide-mouthed plastic bottle, should be hidden at the lookout site for caching supplies. A notebook and pen should be included in the cache for Scouts to log their visits and leave messages, if desired. Possible items to put in caches include:

  • food
  • maps of the area
  • emergency shelter (poncho, tarp, space blanket, etc.)
  • clothing
  • firestarters (lighter, matches, flammable material)
  • cookware (pot, stove, fuel, silverware)
  • water purification (filter, tablets)
  • medical supplies
  • lights and batteries
  • duct tape, thread, needle
  • notebook and pen/pencil
  • cash
A plastic container cache at one of my lookouts, marked with Scout sign.
Using Lookouts
  • When travelling, the Scout should visit lookouts as needed to obtain supplies and send or receive messages. The Scout should leave supplies in the caches for future use by himself and other Scouts whenever possible. Ideally, in a bug-out situation a Scout should be able to walk from his location with just the clothes on his back to nearby lookouts to obtain emergency supplies so he can stay in the field for days.
  • The Scout should leave no trace of his visits to lookouts by carefully re-burying caches, packing out trash and covering his tracks.
  • Lookout locations should be memorized. Part of the Scout’s training is learning the locations of lookouts in areas where he travels. Locations might also be sketched on paper, but avoid storing them in GPS devices as this makes it easier for the lookout network to be compromised.
  • The seal of the Shadow Scouts should be placed somewhere at the lookout to identify it to others of our kind.

Communications

Scouts have their own secret ways of communicating with each other, including:

Language

Shadow Scouts have their own spoken and written language, which they use to identify each other, leave messages, and reinforce their status as members of a separate, secret society. Understand that this language actually exists; it is not some figment of my imagination. To learn more about it, you will need to be admitted into the Scout society by following clues that will be provided at this blog.

Scout Sign

“Scout sign” are symbols of the Shadow Scouts placed in strategic locations to mark ranges, shadow routes, lookouts and other points of interest. These symbols can be engraved in wood or stone, drawn, painted, made with rock or wood arrangements, etc. The primary symbol used for signing is the “Scout seal” shown below, which is shorthand for “Scout” in our secret tongue:

The seal of the Shadow Scouts.

Individual Scouts should also develop their own seals, to mark their ranges and identify themselves to other Scouts. When I’m out scouting I carve the Shadow Scout seal on trees, bridges, kiosks and other structures I find with my knife; here is a sign carved on a bridge on a shadow route in my range:

The Shadow Scout seal carved on a bridge marks it as part of a shadow route.
Recognition Sign

Scouts may also use a special hand sign to identify themselves to other members of the Brotherhood. This is the gesture in the photo below: hand held sideways, with fingers split and thumb out, representing the Scout seal. Make this casually to someone you suspect of being a fellow Scout, and if they return the gesture you will know they are one of our kind.

If you see someone walking on a lonely road making this sign, he’s probably a Shadow Scout!

Recruiting

For the moment Shadow Scouting is a solitary vision, but one of my goals is to find others who share this vision and recruit them to the brotherhood. Here are a few communities I am eyeing for recruitment, both as Shadow Scouts and as allies and informants:

  • Thru-Hikers: “Thru-hikers” have their own society, with trail names, lingo, volunteer supporters, shelters, hostels, trail towns and donation boxes. They also have a sense of adventure, independence and ability to roam long distances, all of which makes them good potential Shadow Scouts. I have begun scouting sections of the major hiking trails in my area, the Pacific Northwest Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, in hopes of encountering a thru-hiker who may be interested in being part of this brotherhood. It is common for thru-hikers to take hiking partners on long hikes, so I may be able to discreetly introduce Shadow Scouting to one in this way.
  • Geocachers: Geocaching is a type of treasure-hunting game that involves placing containers with small items and notebooks in obscure places for other geocachers to find. There are thousands of geocaches around the world, in every kind of environment, often in interesting and scenic locations. Geocachers have their own lingo and community; for example, non-geocachers are known as “muggles”. I have recently begun vising the geocaches in my area and placing my sign in them. I may start placing my own geocaches in difficult locations with messages for potential Scouts about becoming part of the brotherhood.

    Scout sign left in a geocache in my range.
  • Hoboes: The modern community of “hoboes” or “freight-hoppers” is small compared to its golden age in the early 20th century, when they had their own hobo signs, road names, lingo and community, but there are still a few around. Their “tags” (signs) can be found under bridges, in abandoned houses, on rail cars and other places hoboes frequent. I have researched this lifestyle a bit and intend to ride the rails in the near future, not only to gain familiarity with these shadow routes, but to see what kind of people I may be able to recruit.
I keep an eye out for other shadowy characters on the trails to recruit to the Brotherhood.

Return to Burnt Hill

Return to Burnt Hill

Today I returned to Burnt Hill, a place I’ve hiked several times before and reported on previously here. This mission had three primary objectives:

  1. Get a good workout and enjoy a nice Spring day outside.
  2. Scout new shadow routes down the mountain and other points of interest.
  3. Give my new scout vest system a good field test.

The hike goes up a steep forest road to the top of the hill. After about a mile it comes to a rock quarry with a peculiar piece of artwork made out of someone’s trash. I thought this was an interesting way to turn litter into something strangely magical, so I took a picture:

Appreciating the weird magic of trash art.

At about 1.75 miles the trail levels out at a clear-cut and a nice vista of the northeastern Olympic mountains. At this point objective #1 was completed.

Performing Kuji-Kiri cuts at the clear-cut near top of the hill.

From the clear-cut I continued west down a forest road I hadn’t travelled before. I wanted to see if it could connect me to trails I had previously scouted at the base of the hill, giving me a complete shadow route from the hill to my house. The road went on for a mile, bringing more spectacular views of the Olympics to the south and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north. At road’s end, a dirtbike/foot trail continued down the hill in the direction I wanted to go. I was hoping it would take me all the way down, but it soon started curving back up so I had no choice but to bushwhack downhill toward my destination.

Bushwhacking down the steep hillside.

After some hill scrambling I came to a stream cutting down the hillside in the direction I wanted to go and started following it. This was a mistake, as the stream soon went over a cliff and the whole area cliffed out. This reinforced two points about mountain navigation: one, water takes the fastest route downhill, not the route easiest for humans to walk; and two, when contour lines on a topographical map are closest together, travelling perpendicular to them is probably going to be difficult. In this case it was nearly impossible, so I had to skirt around the steep area and take an indirect course at an angle to the contour lines.

Streams on hillsides are good for getting a cool drink, but bad for finding a safe route down the hill!

I finally got down the hill and connected to an unmapped trail I had previously scouted. This connected to a forest service road that isn’t technically open to the public, but the Shadow Scout philosophy is that this only matters if you’re caught, which is unlikely! I avoided problems by following a path along an irrigation canal above the road that I already knew about:

Irrigation canals often have trails that make good shadow routes.

The road also went by a facility with padlocked doors that could be considered a challenge, if you’re so inclined.

Secure facilities in obscure locations are excellent places to practice lockpicking skills.

Finally the private road came to a gate that connected to a road leading back to my house, which successfully completed objective #2 for this mission. Note the striking sign on the gate; are they planning a Jurassic Park-type facility here? I will keep an eye on it.

Don’t trespass. Especially if there are dinosaurs around. Unless you’re a Shadow Scout.

As for mission objective #3: the scout vest performed very well. It sustained no damage from over a mile of sliding down steep slopes, scrambling over logs and light bushwhacking. I was able to quickly access my water pouch, filter, phone, sunglasses, snacks, gloves, map and other items without having to stop and rummage around in a pack.

All in all, a very good day of shadow scouting.