Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Ultimate Road Trip - Part 1

So, the Imperial Firearms Advisor, Kim Du Toit, has put up the "Crossing America" challenge again (he did it last year as well).

The basic premise is this:
You have the opportunity to go back in time, arriving on the east coast of North America circa 1650, and your goal is to cross the North American continent, taking as much time as you need. When/if you reach the Pacific coastline, you’ll be transported back to the present day.

Your equipment for this journey will be as follows (taken back in the time capsule with you):

-- enough gold to buy provisions for the first five days’ travel
-- a small backpack containing some clothing essentials
-- a winter coat, raincoat and boots
-- waterproof sleeping bag
-- an axe
-- a box of 1,000 “strike anywhere” waterproof matches
-- a modern topological map of North America, binoculars and a compass
-- and a U.S. Army First Aid kit.

-- ONE long gun (and 800 rounds, but no scope)
-- ONE handgun (and 1,000 rounds)
-- TWO knives.

Once there, you’ll be given a horse, a mule and a dog—and apart from that, you’re on your own. Remember you’ll be traveling through deep woods, open prairie, desert and mountains. You may encounter hostile Indian tribes and dangerous animals en route, which should be considered when you answer the following questions (and only these):

1. What long gun would you take back in time with you?
2. What handgun?
3. Which two knives?

So heres my answer:

Long gun: Marlin 1894ss in .44mag with a gold inlay outlined tritium front dot, a reciever mounted tritium outlined ghost ring, and a tang mounted fold down peep site (the first for defense at close range, the second for hunting and long ranges. I believe the 1894 has an all coil spring action. If not I'd find one with an all coil spring action made of stainless.

Handgun: Ruger Redhawk 5.5" in .44mag. Tough, stainless, and no leaf springs. I'd need a custom grip on it though. I hate the stock redhawk grip.

Obviously the advantage of the two weapons sharing caliber is too big to give up, because it's pretty much 100% that one will break or be lost before the trip is over.

The biggest problem here is maintaing the firearms without tools. The fact is, if you expect the weapons to live, you'll need at least one phillips and one slot screwdriver. You will also need a brass brush and a soft bristle brush. If you are allowed a small cleaning, spares (one of each screw, extractor, firing pin, roll pins or retnetion pins, clips and springs), and maintenance kit for your weapons and your pack you may make it all the way with all three intact and fuctional. If you aren't, count on all three to fail during your trip (probably the lever gun first).

Actually if I could, before I left I would take all the screws in all my gear and replace them with square drive screws, then use the weakest loctite on them, and safety wire or cotter pin any that could be. I figure I could get away with 3 screw sizes total, and if necessary manufacture the screwdrivers locally.

Knife one: Swamp Rat Camp Tramp. I originally chose the Cold steel Recon Scout, because t's big enough without being too big, but the Camp Tramp is about the same size, about the same quality, and has tougher handle material. I'd actually prefer to have a Busse Combat, but they are semi-out of business (only doing a few hundred knives a year), and focusing on Swamp Rat.

Knife Two: Gerber multipro with toolkit. I had originally not wanted to go with a toolkit knife, instead choosing a Dozier professional skinner in D2, but as I pointed out, the problem of maintenance is going to be one of the biggest issues you will have to deal with, and the toolkit is too big an advantage to discard.

Kim also mentioned an axe specifically, and any one of the finnish or swedish medium axes would be good. Something larger than a hatchet but smaller than a felling axe. An axe like this is good for small trees and hand work, as well as light woodworking and manufacturing field expedient structures.

For a dog, personally I'd go for either a rottie or a german shepherd, trained as a working dog (track, kill, attack, and defend). There are hardier breeds, but I get along well with both of those, they train well, and they are tough and smart enough to survive, and to hunt on their own (the only thing I'd worry about was adequate diet for them).

But... But... this is nowhere NEAR enough detail for geeks like me...

You knew I wasn't going to stop there didnt you? I mean this is me, the guy who can turn just about any subject into 5000 words; theres only 760 words up there, I'll have to do better than that.

There's a hell of a lot of stuff you will absolutely need to purchase or build once you get back to 1650 to get across the country successfully, while still keeping it to one horse and one mule.
What you buy, and how you store it, are HIGHLY dependent on your load carrying capacity, which means your horses and wagons.

Remember you'll need to winter at least once and likely twice, and you'll need to build at least one boat (barge or raft really) large enough to carry everything you are bringing with you (when you cross the mississippi), unless you want to head into northern Iowa or Minnesota in the middle of your first winter (which is where the river becomes fordable, or easily bridgeable). I personally would take the southern route, and just build a boat. I've done it before, and it's not actually all that hard, especially since you're only going a mile with it.

Assuming I could do so, the first thing I'd buy or build would be a mule cart with two very large, wide rawhide bound wheels (possibly solid, non spoke wheels for strength) with iron over rawhide rims. This would increase my mules capacity from around 350lbs to around 1000 lbs (including the cart which weighs about 250lbs), and it can go almost anywhere a mule can. Personally I'd go for one of the floatable designs. Oh and those wheels are important. Straight Iron over wood will have a tendency to brake in rough terrain. If the wheels are rawhide bound, and theres a rawhide buffer between the Iron rim and the wooden wheel, the wheel is a bit more flexible, and a LOT more resilient.

If instead of a mule and a horse I could get either two good mules, or two good sized work horses that were both saddle and harness broken, I'd go for a floatable 4 wheeled wagon, which would give me up to about ton of carrying capacity (for long distances without injury to the horses. Over shorter distances a horse cart can carry a surprisingly huge weight).

Assuming wagons or carts aren't allowed or available, all of the supplies I list here except for maybe all the the water I'd want to take, maybe all the alcohol I'd want, and the portable forge (more on that below), can easily be squeezed in at around 450lbs. This is really the max long distance load for a single mule (for shorter distances mules have been known to carry up to 700lbs).

Rmember, 1 gallon of water is 8 lbs, and I want to have at least two growlers (5 gallon barrels), or better, two frikins (9 or 10 gallon barrels depending on whether you are using U.S. or U.K. measurement). Raw alcohol weighs around 7lbs per gallon, and I'd also like at least a firkin, and preferably two available.

I would of course carry myself, and my personal gear and whatever else could be comfortably carried on my horse, but I'm a pretty big guy. Even after a few months of living in the wilderness I'll still be 265 (at 265 I'm positively skinny), so the horse isn't going to carry much more than myself +50-75lbs, and I'll be walking as much as possible to save the horse.

Combine the items we get rid of if we have no wagons, and the capacity of the horse, and this will give us the extra capacity for 5-10 gallons of water, a couple weeks worth of food, and our ammo and modern gear.

Some might say that wagons are unrealistic because there isnt enough cleared area for them to roll through, but this sitn actually true. There are actually enough rivers, valleys, and clear areas that I can get narrow wagons or carts with large wheels through all the way to the plains states. The wagons would definitely have to go by the board by the time you reach the western mountains, but by then your suplies are going do be pretty low anyway.

On the subejct of horse and mules; as I said, if I were stuck with the horse and mule, I'd load them down with supplies and mostly walk, but I'd only lightly load the horse. The fact is horses just aren't all that hardy, and if I don't have a vet and a farrier handy I don't want to depend on the horse that much. At that point it'd be even better if it were two mules since a mule is much tougher, and can carry more for a long distance than most horses.

Of course if I could get something like a Shire, or Percheron or two it would be a different story. In that case, bring it on baby. A single shire averages 16-17 hands at the withers, weighs well over 2000lbs, can pull a 5000 lb wagon, and can carry around 1000 lbs on it's back for short ditsances, and at least 6-700 over distance. I've seen one carry three normal sized adults without breaking a sweat. They are also one of the oldest draft breeds, so it may be possible to find them, or horses like them, though probably not as large as today. A pair of them would be very nice thank you.

Of course they also eat an AMAZING amount, and drink even more, but there are always trade offs to these things.

If as I suggest above, two of us could pair up, that would give us four animals. I would still choose four draft horses, if I could get them, or mules if I couldnt. I'd use two of them at a time to pull the wagon, and keep the other two walking, and lightly laden. Primarlily I'd just use them to carry more food and water, and of course to rotate out the teams to keep them fresh.

At a sustainable walking rate, I figure 7-10 miles a day is an average for when you arent actually climbing a mountain or stting out the weather (counting the plains states which are almost half the total distance, that should be doable). The total walking distance is probably 3500-4500 miles including detours etc... and at the projected pace, it's a 2 year trip (winters).

So now that we know how we're going to carry the supplies, what are those supplies going to be?

Like I said, there are a HELL of a lot of supplies necessary to get yourself, two draft animals, and a dog across the continent.

Expendables (non food):

First, you WILL die without salt. You must have large amounts of salt on a long journey both as a nutrient, and for preservation. In that same vein, good luck trying to find pepper, but if you can, buy as much as you can get.

You should also buy as much raw high proof alcohol as you can conveniently carry. Use it for tradegoods, as an antiseptic, as fuel, as a cleaning agent and solvent, really for everything.

Some fuel oil would be VERY useful. Whale oil would be common, white oil (kind of like kerosene) is also available but hideously expesive. Naptha might also be available depending on where you start, but it is both rare, and expensive. You should also grab some refined mineral oil, and some turpentine if you can get them (again, they are around, but they are rare and very expensive).

Soap would be useful but it's pretty easy to make once you kill some game (ground limestone, ash, and rendered fat).

Candles are the same as soap, once you have some animals killed you can render tallow. Was will be very rare (bee keeping wasnt that big yet) and you can probably collect small amounts of wax and pitch locally for sealing and the like.

Speaking of beekeeping, try and get as much sugar as you can, and believe me it won't be much. You MAY be able to find some honey, but as I said, beekeeping doesnt become a major proposition in north america for another 150 years.

At this time most sugar is from apples, beets, and other fruit or vegetable sources, or from molasses, which had started to be imported from Barbados.

Oh, one interesting thing aboout molasses, it removes rust; No seriously, it does (unlike the urban semi-legend about Coke, which WILL remove rust, but not much more effectively scrubbing with water).

Kegs: You will need water tight carrying capability which means kegs. You'll be using them for oil, water, alcohol, smoke meat, jsut about anything that needs to be kept dry, or moist.

Horsehoes: Your horses aren't going to go very far in rough terrain shoeless. Or they will, but it will be very slow with frequent stops when they pull up lame. This of course creates additional requirements filled below in the tool section.

Tools and hardware: You will need hoops, nails, pegs, brass and iron (or steel if you can get it) wire, rope, tongs, pliers, nippers, a couple of different sized hammers, an awl, a few different files, a couple of chisels, a small saw and a large saw, a draw knife, an adze, a plane, a small and a large brass brush, a small and a large wire brush, a small and a large bristle brush, a felling axe, sharpening stones, some oil, and finally a portable forge with bellows and anvil.

Other than the forge and anvil, that's only about 75 lbs of tools, but the forge and anvil together are going to weigh about 100 lbs. Some of these could be eliminated if you had no wagon or cart, but I'd rather have them all.

Other Domestic supplies: For cooking you'll need at least two pots (one large, one small), I personally would want a seperate coffeepot, two frying pans (one large one small), and a dutch oven would be nice (it could serve as your large pot), along with a large wash tub (which everything is packed in), and two buckets. For prep and eating you'd need a pair of tongs, a spatula, a large and a small fork, a large and a small spoon, a plate, a cups, a mug, and a bowl, preferably all made from steel if you can get them.

You will want some candles as mentioned above, and if possible a lantern (and oil). Lighting is critical, especially during the winter when you will hole up in a location with as little natural light as possible (because light means drafts).

Continuing, you'll need some heavy needles, various thread, twine, rawhide lacing, leather strapping, some sheet leather, some heavy and some fine cloth. Basically you need enough supplies to make two large tents, two large tarps and ground cloths, some horse packs, and two suits of clothes, two sets of moccasins, and two sets of soft boots, for when your starting sets wear out.

Kim mentions a U.S. army first aid kit, bu that one it isn't very good. I'd take my rescue pack (which is a small backpack, not much bigger than a standard kit), and load it even more than it already is with various broad spectrum anti-biotics, sulfanilamide, disinfectants, ointments, maxi pads(take up less space than compression bandages), and painkillers... Lots and lots of painkillers

Finally I personally wouldnt do this without at least five honking big books (possibly in multiple volumes) that I would have to take from the future with me.
  1. A guide to the edible, poisonous, dangerous, and useful plants and animals of North America
  2. A complete history, geography, and atlas of the united states with as much detail as possible
  3. A one volume complete unabridged works of William Shakespeare
  4. A one volume complete unabridged works of Mark Twain
  5. A one volume complete unabridged works of Robert Heinlein (yes, it exists, and it's huge)
Oh and a harmonica. Gotta have some real music, and I don't think a guitar would last long.

If it were possible to take one luxury item, it would be a PDA, with a few mem cards (the size of a postage stamp each) completely loaded with useful or entertaining ebooks (a 1 gig card can hold up to 2000 or so), a few mem cards loaded with music , and a solar charger for it (I actually have one and it works great).

Ok, but can it really be done?

First things first, I am in fact a bona fide U.S. Air Force certified expert on surviving in the wilderness with only the contents of a load bearing vest, and a knife. Really, this can be done, though it isn't fun and obviously you aren't getting far on just the vest alone.

Realistically, I think it would be impossible to do this alone. I figure that pairing up with other people and pooling your transportation and supplies is about the only way to make sure one of you lives.

These are just wild ass guesses, but they feel about right to me (I've been through a couple of modern wilderness survival courses, military and civilian), I'd say it's about a 10% shot of doing it on your own at worst, and 25% at best.

The odds are just too great against you as a single individual being able to travel, feed yourself and your animals, defend yourself, and not suffer an incapacitating injury or go mad.

For every Jim Bridger there had to have been at least 10 nobodies who got et.

The more folks you have, the more you can spread the workload, the more resources you have, and the less the felled game will go to waste.

I figure a 2 person team gives you a 50% shot, and 4 gives you a 75% shot, 85% if it's only one person who has to make it all the way and not everyone.

No matter what you do, I doubt it would ever go much above 85% because of four things: The rocky mountains, disease, hostile natives, and the fact that nature is a stone ass bitch.

I'd say that the odds of everyone surviving go up until you hit around 8, then they plateau til something like 15 and go down from there. In any group bigger than about 15 out in the woods for two years I figure at least one person has a major accident, at least one person gets a fatal disease, and at least one person gets et or shot.

And of course that assumes no-one in the party goes on a killing rampage of madness or anything like that (which is actually a big assumption).

I tell ya though, if I could, I'd do it in a heartbeat.