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

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.

The Scout Vest

The Scout Vest

Here’s an interesting alternative to the everyday carry or bug-out bag that I’ve been experimenting with recently: the scout vest!

The scout vest contains everything I need for my everyday scouting activities.
Note the large zip pocket in the back and the thread where I removed the reflective strip.

It’s just a slightly modified, dark-colored fishing vest with its pockets loaded with my everyday scouting and survival gear. There are many fishing/travel vests available that would work for this purpose; here’s the one I’m using:

I chose the variant labelled “Cmov060-khaki” because I liked its natural green and black colors, the large zip front pockets and the mesh torso for warmer conditions. My modification was to remove the reflective strip across the lower back for greater stealth. I might also pick up the variant “Cmov050-black” for night/cold/urban scouting.

Here are two more vest options that look good:

I like the scout vest system for several reasons:

  • My scouting gear is always ready; I just put on the vest and go.
  • It has much more carrying capacity than the pockets of my normal clothes.
  • I don’t have a pack hanging off my shoulders, which can restrict movement, be uncomfortable or get lost in the field.
  • I can quickly access my gear in any situation—walking, climbing, crawling, concealed location, etc.
  • It’s more discreet than a tactical backpack; carry a rod and reel and I have a ready-made cover as a fisherman!

This vest has a lot of storage space: many large and small zipper and velcro pockets in the front, inside, and a huge zip pocket down the back. I have put most of the items in my bug-out bag (as described in this post) in the vest, including:

  • folding knife
  • 25 feet of paracord
  • pen flashlight
  • lighter and firestarter material
  • compass
  • carabiner
  • medical pack: bandages, tape, antiseptic wipes, aspirin, diarrhea pills, water purification tablets
  • compact rain/wind jacket
  • neck gaiter
  • gloves
  • baby wipes
  • lockpick set
  • smartphone
  • cash
  • energy bars
  • Sawyer Squeeze mini water filter

Other items I might include for some missions are my handgun with ammo clips, compact binoculars, puffy jacket, maps, notebook and pencil, rope and grappling hook, and mosquito netting. I could even put my hammock and straps in the back pocket if I wanted to be able to sleep out. Another option is to have a pack with my hammock, sleeping bag, extra food, clothing and other items I need for multi-day missions ready to go that I can slip on over the vest if I need it.

I haven’t fully field-tested this setup yet, but so far I like it. My only concern is that it might not hold up to heavy scouting use such as bushwhacking, rock scrambling or crawling in rough terrain. It’s not military-grade, just a cheap Korean fishing vest, so I don’t expect it to be too durable. But it’s a fun item to have in your scout arsenal, and worth considering.

Shadow Scouting Tips

Shadow Scouting Tips

What I call “shadow scouting” is the practice of exploring areas, locating resources, reconnoitering forces, finding routes, infiltrating territories, crossing borders, travelling stealthily and surviving in any environment. It can be a hobby, a profession, a way of life or even a spiritual path. The following are some tips for those who wish to engage in this activity.

Scout Your Home Area

Begin where you are right now. Scout every road and path within a few miles of your home. Learn all the routes into and out of the area. Take note of anything of interest, such as potential threats, security forces, places to hide, observation sites, cache sites, and useful resources. Do this regularly, noting anything new or different.

Travel Shadow Routes

Scout the “shadow routes” in your area. These are routes not frequented by vehicles, police, security or the general public. They include:

  • Forest roads: These are excellent alternative routes in many rural areas. Some are restricted to private industrial use, but this is not a problem if you travel at night or are stealthy.
  • Foot and bicycle trails: There are thousands of miles of hiking and biking trails in North America where you can travel long distances as a hiker or cyclist. Some trails close at night, but these are easily travelled in darkness if desired.
  • Power lines: These can be good routes, but they often pass through private property and sometimes cross swamps or rivers so they can be difficult.
  • Railroad tracks: These can take you almost anywhere, and they have the added benefit that you may be able to hop on a passing train. Keep in mind that rails are private property and walk them mostly at night. And always keep an ear and eye out for oncoming trains!
  • Rivers and waterways: These can be very useful routes in some areas if you have a packraft, kayak, canoe or can acquire a boat.
  • Tunnels: Subway tunnels, storm drains, sewers and utility tunnels allow the scout to move unseen underground.
  • Rooftops: In urban areas the scout may be able to move across city blocks via rooftops and walkways. This is obviously best done at night.

If no shadow routes will take you all the way to your destination, be willing and equipped to travel cross-country between existing routes—bushwhacking, crossing deserts, cutting across private property, etc. It is possible to travel long distances in this way with little or no use of main roads.

Forest roads can take you over hills, through forests and between highways and towns very discreetly.
Be prepared to bushwhack where no shadow routes are available. It’s easier than you may think!

Navigation Notes

Off-road navigation has become rather trivial in an age of GPS devices and mapping software. Most shadow routes will show up on smartphone apps like google maps and gaigps and on handheld GPS devices. Here are some points to keep in mind:

  • Digital maps need to be pre-downloaded in areas outside cell phone coverage.
  • Using a smartphone for navigation is very convenient, but it is also a tracking device. For maximum anonymity use a handheld GPS unit.
  • Mapping apps eat up phone battery life. Bring a power bank for recharging.
  • Bring maps and a compass for backup navigation and know how to use them.
  • Develop an intuitive sense of direction and learn to navigate by the sun, stars and landmarks.

Locate Hideouts and Shelters

On scouting missions and travels, keep an eye out for abandoned houses, cabins, sheds, barns, offices, warehouses and other buildings where you can take shelter and hide in the event that you are being pursued. These could be ruins or places that aren’t currently in use. Look for secluded locations without nosy neighbors who might notice you, and for discreet places to park a car. Also look for good natural hiding places such as dense woods, ravines and caves.

Store these locations in your memory in case you need a hideout or shelter during a future mission or bug-out situation. Record them on a GPS device, map or data file if you must, but for maximum operational security I don’t advise it. I’ve found quite a few such places on my scouting missions; if I ever find myself on the run, I have a chain of potential hideouts in discreet locations where I can lay low before moving on.

Keep in mind that some of these facilities may be locked. This is where lock-picking and breaking and entering skills are very useful. I always carry some basic lockpicks and shims in my pockets for this purpose. This channel has some good information in this regard, and this site has some useful tools.

Have an Escape Plan

Have one or more escape routes planned in detail in case you ever need to make a quick exit from your home. Utilize shadow routes as much as possible, avoiding main roads. Ideally this should be a route out of the country that avoids official channels like airports and border checkpoints. I discussed training for this scenario in this post ; you should at least do the planning phase, and preferably the entire exercise.

Have a Bug-Out Bag

The Shadow Scout should always have a “bug-out bag” ready with essential gear, both for scouting missions and in case you have to make a quick exit for any reason (police, enemy action, fire, natural disaster, social unrest, etc.). It should contain enough gear to allow you to survive outdoors or on the run for a few days in any environment. Below is a list of recommended items to include in your bag.

Bug-Out Bag Contents:

  • pack (30-50 liter backpack or dry bag with straps)
  • hat (ball cap and/or beanie)
  • folding knife or leatherman
  • 25-50 feet of paracord
  • miniature flashlight or head lamp w/ extra batteries
  • firestarters (lighter, matches, flint striker)
  • compass
  • waterproof maps of your area
  • waterproof pencil & notebook (for notes & sketches)
  • medical pack: bandages, tape, antiseptic wipes, aspirin, diarrhea pills, water purification tablets
  • poncho (for rain, improvised shelters)
  • sleeping bag
  • hammock with straps and carabiners
  • bandana or neck gaiter
  • gloves
  • duct tape
  • toilet paper or baby wipes
  • lockpicks, shims and other bypass tools
  • cash
  • mobile phone (“black” or anonymous if possible)
  • energy bars and other ready to eat food
  • water bottle and filter

Test your bag from time to time by bugging out from your location for an overnight camping trip or scouting mission. See how well your equipment performs, modifying it as needed based on your experience.

Hammocks are excellent for camping discreetly almost anywhere.
Shadow Ops Exercise: Exfiltration

Shadow Ops Exercise: Exfiltration

The Scenario

Here is an interesting training exercise for Shadow Operatives to try. Imagine the following scenario: you have just completed a high-profile op—e.g. an assassination, heist, sabotage mission or prison break—and are now the highest priority target of local security forces. You must get safely away from the scene of the op and back to safe territory.

Imagine your scenario in detail and modify your exercise accordingly. For example, if your op was a prison break, you may have nothing but your prison clothes and some spare change with you; if it was a heist, you may have bags of loot to deal with; if it was an assassination, you may have weapons to dispose of and blood on your clothing; etc.

Exfiltration Plan

The first part of the exercise is devising a detailed exfiltration plan. Use maps to plan your route precisely, and scout out the route in advance. If you use online mapping sites or apps, do so anonymously. Acquire whatever supplies you may need: cash, clothing, food, shelter, phone, transportation, etc. Make sure these items are all untraceable to you, and cache them along your route if necessary. Note that in some scenarios, such as a prison break, you won’t have access to many of these resources, so you will have to improvise on the fly.

Rules of the Exercise

Define your exfiltration target: a designated safe house or rendezvous point in another city, region, state or country. Your goal is to get there with the resources you have, without making contact with any security forces, showing your ID to anyone or leaving a paper trail. If any policeman, security guard or soldier takes special notice of you, evade them or you’ve failed. If civilians accost you or dogs bark at you, evade them or you’ve failed. If you see anyone you know, evade them or you’ve failed. If anyone asks for your ID, evade them or you’ve failed. If you make contact with known family, friends or associates, you’ve failed. If you pay for anything with a debit card traceable to you, you’ve failed. If you make a phone call, use an app or a computer in a way that is traceable to you, you’ve failed.

Tactical Tips

Alter your appearance. Wear a face covering in public. Have a cover story ready to explain who you are and what you’re doing. Make acquaintances if necessary for assistance with transportation, money, food, lodging, etc., using your cover story to explain your situation.

Take alternate routes on your travels; avoid main roads, airports, bus and train stations and ports. Use back roads and trails, hop freight trains, hitch rides, “borrow” a car, motorcycle, bicycle or boat if necessary. When you cross into another state or country, avoid passing through border checkpoints; go overland, across water, by train or private aircraft.

Don’t bring a phone, or bring one that you purchased prepaid with cash. Don’t log in to any online account that is traceable to you. Use off-grid technology whenever possible; e.g. paper maps and compasses or GPS handheld devices instead of GPS-enabled phones for navigation.

Example Exercise: The Pasayten Exfiltration

Here’s a scenario and exfiltration plan that I’ve devised for my own training. This is a somewhat high-risk exercise as it entails going back and forth across the U.S.-Canadian border, but that makes it more realistic and better training.

Scenario: I have just completed a heist of a bitcoin wallet from a home in Lake Chelan, Washington. Unfortunately, I was caught on security cameras and may have left fingerprints. I wish to get out of the USA before I am identified and arrested, so I am activating my “Pasayten Exfiltration” emergency plan.

Exfiltration target: A road near the U.S. border in southern British Columbia, Canada. I am imagining that I have a contact in Canada who will pick me up on the road at a pre-arranged time and take me to a safe house. If I am not there at the designated time, I fail the exercise.

Resources: A backpack with supplies for 5 to 7 days in the wilderness. A thousand dollars in cash. A motorcycle not traceable to me. Paper maps, compass and handheld GPS.

Cover Story: I’m an off-road motorcyclist/backpacker headed for the Pasayten Wilderness. If I get accosted by authorities near the border, I will tell them that I thought I could hike across the border and register with the authorities in Canada. I will have nothing incriminating on my person, so at worst I would be facing a fine. If this happens, I will of course have failed the exercise.

Route: I will ride mostly backroads from Lake Chelan to Harts Pass for about 100 miles. From there I will hide the motorcycle and proceed on foot on the Pacific Crest Trail for 30 miles to the border. I will night-hike across the border, continuing about 7 miles into Manning Park. I will make my rendezvous there near Highway 3, then turn around and hike back across the border before dawn.

The Pasayten exfiltration route.

If I reach the rendezvous point in B.C. and return to the U.S. without problems with authorities or the other disqualifiers mentioned above I will consider the exercise a success.

A boundary marker at the Washington state-Canada border in the Pasayten. The 20-foot “slash” runs along the entire international boundary.
Another view of the border slash in central Washington.
The Spirit of the Shadow Scout

The Spirit of the Shadow Scout

My basic philosophy is that truth and transcendence are not found in the world created or understood by humans, but in nature, or in the “Shadow World” outside human understanding, morality and control.

Mine is a mystic’s point of view, not a moralist’s or a humanist’s. Man is not the measure of anything but his own impotence and delusions. The things modern humans most pride themselves on—their intellect, language, technology, complex societies—are the very things that keep them from experiencing a deeper reality. As these artificial things come to dominate human experience, they create a prison for the mind, body and soul that is omnipresent, yet invisible. Our souls starve in this prison even as our bodies and minds are fed more than they could ever need.  This has always been the trajectory of civilization, but it has been accelerated in recent centuries by the advent of industrialism that turned humanity into depersonalized, deracinated mass producers and consumers, and by telecommunications, computing and surveillance technologies that allow encoded human intellection to intrude ever further upon nature and human minds. This techno-industrially empowered prison-civilization conquers more and more of the Earth, assimilates more and more of mankind, like an all-devouring Beast with a will of its own, and nothing seems capable of stopping it. One day soon, perhaps, this Beast will conclude that humans themselves are unnecessary, and replace them by more efficient machines. Meanwhile, the leading thinkers and pundits of the Beast-civilization, their minds completely colonized by its machine mentality, insist that we are building heaven on Earth, and things have never been better than right now. This is the great horror and tragedy of our age.

The Shadow Scout, however, realizes that this process cannot go on forever. The Beast-civilization will run out of energy to power its machines, lose the stable climate, arable land and rich ecosystem that supports its biomass, destroy itself in a techno-holocaust, sink into social chaos and barbarism, be annihilated by a vast natural catastrophe, decimated by a super-virus or killed off by some other event as yet unimagined. Rather than try to stop, slow down or reform this Beast, the Shadow Scout simply tries to stay out of its way until it meets its inevitable doom.

A small defeat for the Beast-civilization at Wilson creek. Read my Scouting report here.

In the meantime, the Shadow Scout exits the Beast-world of human artifice and delusion whenever possible, going into the wild, into the body, into the dark areas of the mind in search of a separate, timeless, transcendent reality. This is the higher purpose of “Shadow Scouting”. As Beast-controlled minds become ever more proscribed by what is on a screen, in a database, encoded in an algorithm or approved by an ideology, Shadow Scouting becomes ever more vital to our souls. We are explorers of worlds that those trapped in the technological hive-mind have forgotten or been programmed to ignore. We bring back reports of abandoned, wild, dark and beautiful places, without us and within. More importantly, we bring back knowledge of the world outside the Beast-matrix, and act as living reminders that transcendence is not a human construct, but an experience of a larger reality that can never be controlled or captured by any technology. Shadow Scouting is the age-old mystic’s quest to escape the prison of human artifice and delusion and discover a deeper, truer reality.

Shadow Scouts: A Vision

Shadow Scouts: A Vision

Shadow Scouts are a Brotherhood who specialize in scouting operations: reconnoitering enemy forces, infiltrating forbidden areas, exploring, route-finding, crossing borders, stealth travel, tracking and wilderness survival. Their inspirations include the traditional Apache scouts, Japanese ninjas, Rangers of the North and modern thru-hikers and explorers. Shadow Scouts move among the survivalist, hiking, hobo, urban exploration and similar communities, gathering intelligence about regions, routes and resources. They are actively scouting locations and recruiting members for a network of lookouts, meeting places and caches in preparation for the collapse of civilization. They pass on their skills and knowledge from master to apprentice, and communicate in a secret language known only to other Scouts. They mark their presence with a sigil which represents the word “scout” in their tongue, as pictured below:

Shadow Scouts give their allegiance to their Brotherhood, to nature, and to the Tao or Shadow behind this world of illusions.  They bow to no government, corporation, legal system, ideology or other construct of men. They reserve the right to roam across any border or land at will, to infiltrate any territory, escape any prison and live free, or die.

This is my visionof a spirit, way of life and lineage that I seek to establish and pass on. I am the first of my kind, but the Tao willing, not the last. I am Shadow Scout.

 

The Nine Maxims of the Ninja

The Nine Maxims of the Ninja

The Nine Maxims of the Ninja (taken from this book) are a useful creed for Scouts on the path of Shadows:

  1. Strengthen the body; it is your foundation.

  2. Stay in the shadows and be silent.

  3. Endure all hardships; overcome all adversity.

  4. Control your mind; discipline your desires.

  5. Affiliate with a Clan and obey its rules.

  6. Think outside all boxes.

  7. Be mindful of your surroundings.

  8. Make war by way of deception.

  9. Be like the wind—a formless, invisible force.

Department 17 – Shadow-Fiction Research

Department 17 – Shadow-Fiction Research

In the classic spy thriller Six Days of the Condor, protagonist Ronald Malcolm has a shadow-fiction fan’s dream job: he works for the “American Literary Historical Society”, which is actually a front organization for Section 9, Department 17 of the CIA. Malcolm’s job is essentially to read spy and crime novels all day, analyzing them for hidden nuggets of intel or ideas that the Agency might be able to apply in its own operations:

The function of the Society and of Department 17 is to keep track of all espionage and related acts recorded in literature. In other words, the Department reads spy thrillers and murder mysteries. The antics and situations in thousands of volumes of mystery and mayhem are carefully detailed and analyzed in Department 17 files.  …

The analysts for the Department keep abreast of the literary field and divide their work basically by mutual consent. Each analyst has areas of expertise, areas usually defined by author. In addition to summarizing plots and methods of all the books, the analysts daily receive a series of specially “sanitized” reports from the Langley complex. The reports contain capsule descriptions of actual events with all names deleted and as few necessary details as possible.

Fact and fiction are compared, and if major correlations occur, the analyst begins a further investigation with a more detailed but still sanitized report. If the correlation still appears strong, the information and reports are passed on for review to a higher classified section of the Department. Somewhere after that the decision is made as to whether the author was guessing and lucky or whether he knew more than he should. If the latter is the case, the author is definitely unlucky, for then a report is filed with the Plans Division for action. The analysts are also expected to compile lists of helpful tips for agents. These lists are forwarded to Plans Division instructors, who are always looking for new tricks.

It’s a fascinating, though perhaps fantastical, idea. But regardless of whether such a project would have much real-world intelligence use, it would certainly be a dream resource for the student of shadow-fiction. One could hone in on the precise types of stories one prefers, browsing for sources of ideas about any particular subject of interest. If you wanted to find crime novels featuring prison breaks, research Islamic terrorism in spy fiction, find men’s adventure novels set in South America or identify novels featuring ninjas published before 1983, you could quickly get a list of relevant works.

Which begs the question: why not create an open source version of Department 17 – a comprehensive database of spy, thriller, crime, men’s adventure, mystery and pulp fiction, broken down by genre, author, op types, plot synopsis, story elements, characters, series, etc.? There are nice sites that catalog science fiction/fantasy stories and comic books, but as far as I know nothing for shadow-fiction genres.

Below are some sample database listings for books recently reviewed on this blog to illustrate the idea:


Title: Hijack
Author: Lionel White
Publication Year: 1969
Category: fiction
Genres: crime, noir
Op Types: heist, skyjacking
Plot Elements: femme fatale, Vietnam vets, alcohol
Locales: USA/Nevada
Plot Synopsis: A money-hungry ex-stewardess seduces an ex-Air Force pilot and tells him about a flight that carries millions of dollars in cash. The pilot assembles a team of misfits to hijack the plane, but the whole plan goes horribly and brutally wrong.
Reviews: https://shadowscout.ninja/2020/04/15/hijack/


Title: The Betrayers
Author: Donald Hamilton
Publication Year: 1966
Category: fiction
Genres: espionage, noir
Op Types: assassination, counter-espionage, terrorism
Plot Elements: femme fatale, sailing
Governments: USA, Russia, China
Locales: USA/Hawaii
Series: Matt Helm
Series #: 10
Plot Synopsis: Counter-espionage assassin Matt Helm is sent to Hawaii to stop a traitorous rogue agent who is rumored to be working for the Red Chinese and planning some kind of terrorist operation. There he encounters two beautiful but dangerous female operatives whose allegiances are unclear.
Reviews: https://shadowscout.ninja/2020/03/26/the-betrayers/


Title: Breakout
Author: Donald Westlake
Writing As: Richard Stark
Publication Year: 2002
Category: fiction
Genres: crime
Op Types: prison break, heist, fugitive
Locales: USA/Midwest
Series: Parker
Series #: 21
Plot Synopsis: Professional thief Parker is busted, sent to prison and must find a way to escape. He must also find a way to break in and out of an armory loaded with jewels and get away clean.
Reviews: https://shadowscout.ninja/2020/03/26/the-betrayers/


Title: Splinter Cell
Author: Raymond Benson
Writing As: David Michaels
Publication Year: 2003
Category: fiction
Genres: espionage, techno-thriller
Op Types: espionage, terrorism, counter-terrorism, sabotage, infiltration, kidnapping
Plot Elements: stealth technology, arms dealing, supergun, Islamic terrorism
Agencies: NSA, Third Echelon, The Shop, The Shadows
Governments: USA, Iraq, Israel
Locales: China/Macau, Iraq, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran, Israel
Series: Splinter Cell
Series #: 1
Plot Synopsis: “Splinter cell” Sam Fisher, NSA covert operative and master of high tech stealth, is sent to the Middle East to track down the sinister cabal of arms dealers called “the Shop”, stop the Islamic terrorist group called “the Shadows” and rescue his kidnapped daughter.
Reviews: https://shadowscout.ninja/2020/03/28/splinter-cell/


Title: The Hong Kong Massacre
Author: Joseph Rosenberger
Publication Year: 1988
Category: fiction
Genres: men’s adventure, pulp
Op Types: ninjutsu, assassination, infiltration, disguise
Plot Elements: ninjas, organized crime, triads, revenge
Locales: Hong Kong
Series: Shadow Warrior
Series #: 1
Plot Synopsis: “Shadow Warrior” Scott McKenna must avenge the death of a good friend at the hands of a triad gang. The story of how he became a highly skilled ninja is recalled, and his brutal assaults on the triad gang’s strongholds are described.
Reviews: https://shadowscout.ninja/2020/03/25/welcome-to-the-shadow-war/


If I can find a simple platform on which to build such a site I might get it going. Hopefully others would see the value and contribute. Spy/crime/men’s adventure literature is a rich resource that deserves to be studied by present and future generations; it shouldn’t be allowed to fade into oblivion! I will post more about this project as developments warrant.