The Pendulum - Part One
Retreat to High Ground
By High Desert
Missing in the mix of hundreds of bug-out stories is a forth right and candid self appraisal of lessons learned containing practical experience along with deep humility and honest self examination. High Desert expressed a willingness to share his and his wife’s adventure with TwoIceFloes and we eagerly embraced the opportunity to post his story as a three part series. - Cognitive Dissonance
It was the summer of 2011, and for all practical purposes it was smooth sailing. My wife and I often commented to each other how drama and stress free our lives had become. Unfortunately we were blissfully unaware of the squall line rapidly approaching from behind.
The epiphany struck us like a bolt out of the blue. But rather than providing clarity and calm, this profound revelation was a violent tempest. The following six years brought dramatic shifts to our belief systems, state of mind, living conditions and more – dramatically swinging the pendulum back and forth before finally compelling us to seek balance and peace of mind.
We were not significantly affected by the financial crash a couple years prior (2008-09) partly because we both had home-based businesses in niche markets which provided a lower middle-class income. But a more important factor was our lack of debt. Not one to “keep up with the neighbors”, we lived comfortably but always within our means.
We had previously paid off the mortgage, both of us owned older used vehicles and we never charged purchases we couldn’t afford to pay off at the end of each month. We had some meager investments, but fortunately years earlier we had moved into the right neighborhood. Meaning over the years, our neighborhood had evolved into one of the hottest residential markets in the Metro area.
Most of our disposable income (along with a lot of sweat-equity) was spent modernizing our home. Essentially we considered our primary residence to be our own private 401(k) plan. In addition, we owned a small cabin on twenty six acres of land where we planned to eventually retire. Our son was about to graduate from high school with honors and was (still is) a delight to spend time with. Our state of mind at the time was one of light, love and abundance.
Our life-changing insight came about due to boredom. Purposely not caught up in the rat-race of Western civilization and long term self-employed, we had a fair amount of free time to pursue other interests. Being introverts, we devoted most evenings to home activities. Usually my wife would conduct research for her book publishing business. And I, usually brain-dead from working on the computer all day, would zone out and watch some streaming TV.
Not one to watch just any old dung produced for the masses, it didn’t take me long to burn through every decent movie and documentary out there. By then, total boredom had me reconsidering my second and third string watch lists, desperate for quality entertainment. For some inexplicable reason I had placed a documentary in my queue which I had blown past on numerous occasions as not interesting enough to watch. But, just as inexplicably, I had never deleted it.
One overly warm summer night in 2011 I cranked up the central A/C, retreated to the family room and decided to finally watch “Collapse” by Michael Ruppert. That documentary was my red pill moment. Even after watching it twice in a row, I found it difficult to believe what I was only now beginning to understand.
On the one hand, the truths presented in the documentary were 180 degrees out of sync with my core belief systems. On the other, I knew deep down I had been living in the make believe world of the Matrix. When I convinced my wife to take a break and watch it with me, it only took one viewing for her to recognize the truth as presented. It was truly an epiphany for both of us, although not of the type one would usually classify as such.
Our life was about to change in ways we could not imagine. And change again and again as we rode the swinging pendulum back and forth, totally out of balance. We’d been through a lot during our many years of marriage, but we had no idea what lay before us. Waking up so suddenly and always one for self-directed action, all hell was about to break loose.
As we began to absorb our new understanding about how the world really works, my wife and I began to work out how to deal with the events we knew for certain were just around the corner. We devoted the next few months to exhaustively researching who, what, when, where and why.
Although I intuitively knew the new reality as presented was correct, I needed to convince myself I wasn’t just being stupid. After all, what did I really know about manipulated financial markets, mono-agriculture, fiat currency, systemic corruption and more importantly, what to do when all the complex systems began to collapse due to their inherent chaos.
The red pill had done its job in providing the initial jolt, but we were now strangers in a foreign land. Our initial reaction was to shelter in place as it were, maybe stock up on some supplies, install a wood stove (totally illegal where we lived) build a small greenhouse in our very small backyard and perhaps get some stun guns and mace for personal defense.
My wife’s primary concern was food. How would she feed our family if the grocery stores closed? My primary concern was our personal safety. Somehow I needed to defend the castle and loved ones against the “golden horde”, a new term picked up during my research. After all, we lived in a big city with neighbors literally twelve feet away on either side.
What happened next was quite odd. We woke up one morning, rolled over to face each other and simultaneously said “we have to get out of the city.” This is no little thing to accomplish. We owned our home, two businesses and our son was still in high school. Where would we go and what do we need that place to be?
Our research went into overdrive.
One thought was to make our cabin the bug-out location. We even began to stock long-term food there. However the cabin was old, the well was of poor quality and so was the soil. And unfortunately that gorgeous view of the city lights down the mountain meant those in the city could see us.
Additionally, the only usable flat land was at the end of the driveway right next to the cabin. How would we house other family members and close friends in a small cabin with no room to park an RV or several vehicles? We began to wonder if there was a better place out there, but still within driving distance of the city.
Is there a gear higher than overdrive? You know, the gear that allows you to simultaneously get a house (or two) ready for sale, research every real estate website for hours each day, close down an active publishing business and figure out what and when to tell your teenage child his world was about to be rock and rolled.
As is the case with nearly everyone else, our life was a bit complicated. My wife has a special-needs brother who requires lots of attention and supervision. At that time my father was 90 and needed more and more care. We were both in our 50’s and I was in the midst of a long recovery from a two year stretch of multiple surgeries after an accident.
Even at the age of 50, and nearly 30 years after completing my “Thank You for Your Service” gig, I still thought of myself as that 19-year-old airborne infantryman, naively fearless and invincible. I was capable of anything, including living forever. The accident I was recovering from was my first warning that life-long beliefs could quickly be shattered. It gave me a new perspective to the old saying “things can change in an instant.”
With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, if ever there was a legitimate plea for temporary insanity we hereby stake our claim. Although our approach was in its entirety logical, we fell into a “desperate measures for desperate times” mentality, driven by fear and panic. It was not a balanced approach by any measure.
We finally decided it was impossible to deal with all of this simultaneously. We put the cabin up for sale “as is”, though we would not put much effort into selling it since it remained our Plan B. After months of fruitless searching for the ideal retreat, the cabin oscillated between being Plan B and Plan A. Our choice in that matter would soon be forcibly removed; more on that subject later.
Trying to accomplish all of the above during the day, at night I would explore new concepts such as The Long Emergency, The Fourth Turning, the sixth mass extinction event and so much more including all the right things a survival retreat should encompass. My wife dedicated her evenings to researching every potential retreat property for sale in the state. Because of the situation with her brother, my father and our son, the new place had to be within a day’s drive of our family.
She developed an efficient web search system to quickly eliminate unsuitable properties. Several ‘needs’ were non-negotiable parameters: water well, septic, acreage, somewhat remote, buildings in good condition. Even with those restrictions, there were plenty of options. It was critically important to check the oil/gas/fracking permits issued for the area of each property we had an interest in.
We knew from first-hand experience property owners in our state have ZERO rights if someone else owns the mineral rights and wants to exploit them. This issue alone eliminated entire sections of the state. My wife also researched the water well permit for each potential property to determine the age of the well, its depth, flow rate, source of water and so on. This constraint eliminated a fair number of properties. Without a good source of water, nothing else matters.
We discussed the remaining properties and applied our secondary list of wants and needs. How many people could the property support? Can we actually grow food there? Was it already off-grid? My wife would show me ten properties and I’d quickly eliminate them because of population density or other security related concerns. I would show her ten properties and she would rule them out due to altitude (hard to grow food above the timberline) distance from family or the condition of the buildings.
Our largest constraint was our refusal to take on a mortgage. We knew we could get a good price for our home in the city; the entire state was (and continues to be) in an ever-expanding housing bubble. But rural didn’t necessarily equate to inexpensive in this state.
It was all a bit overwhelming. Couldn’t we please, please, just go back to a life of blissful ignorance? Unfortunately it was too late to ask for the Blue Pill.
Compounding our difficulties (as with so many other people who suddenly wake up) we thought it was our duty to enlighten our friends and family of the coming perils. For anyone who has tried to do so, I don’t need to explain how poorly it went. Since we believed doomsday was just around the corner, we opted instead to buy/build the retreat and assume they would come.
After almost a year of searching online and physically examining properties, we were growing increasingly anxious to move forward. Our primary residence was ready to go on the market, my father had passed away, my wife’s publishing business had been sold and we’d already had that heart to heart conversation with our son.
At eighteen years of age and with his entire life ahead of him, he wanted no part of moving to a remote location to become a homesteader. We respected his decision, although during the initial conversation he accused us of abandoning him. Ultimately we all worked together to make sure he could continue on his path until things fell apart, either with his plans or the world.
In the summer of 2012 we all took a weekend off to stay in a small town and visit a top candidate for the new retreat. In so many ways the property was perfect. Nearly new structures surrounded by public lands, already set up for off-grid living, just a few full-time neighbors (but not too close) and plenty of flat land. We made a good offer.
The following week was filled with buyer’s remorse. Would we have any money left from the sale of our home? Was the retreat too remote? Were we really ready to change our entire lifestyle and take on such a large project? That Thursday we decided the best thing to do was forget the whole thing. We would move into our cabin and make the best of it.
But nature was set to intervene.
On Friday, a massive wildfire started near our cabin. By Saturday, our time to commit to the realty contract would expire; we had to make a final decision. While sitting in a hotel room to avoid an open house weekend at our primary residence, we watched updates on the expanding fire and realized there was very little chance our cabin would survive. It would turn out to be one of the most destructive wildfires our state ever experienced. It was also the second property we’ve lost to wildfire.
It seemed some unseen force was guiding us to the new retreat. It must be fate. It must be our destiny.
The following five years proved to be the biggest challenge we ever faced. We were on a mission to save ourselves, family and friends. How could so many things go so terribly wrong?
All this and more will be covered in part two of this three part series.