By Magi Clark who blogs at Half Acre Heaven.
We all know it’s important to know several ways in and out of our neighborhoods, but it goes beyond just looking at a map and saying, “Ah, there are three roads I can take.“
I can come up with several instances, in recent memory, of unplanned road closures in my area which, had I not known the back roads, could have prevented me from getting home, or going out in the first place.
Under normal circumstances road closures are inconvenient. In a SHTF scenario, they can put you and your family in serious peril. That is why now is the time to make yourself familiar with your roads and back roads.
Start by getting yourself a good map. I like the Delorme Atlas and Gazetteer. There is one for each state, and in addition to the usual roads and towns, it includes topographical features, parks, campgrounds and hiking trails. We’ve used it for driving directions, finding campsites, backpacking and hunting. In a serious situation, however, just owning a good map will not be enough.
You should take your map now, and explore any routes you think you might use in an emergency. After that, explore the ones you don’t think you’ll use. You might be surprised to find you prefer one you wouldn’t have otherwise considered.
For city roads you’ll want to know what sort of areas possible routes pass through. You should know in advance if your road passes through an area where you wouldn’t want to break down and have to walk. Some examples might include sketchy neighborhoods or areas without services.
You’ll also want to take note of traffic patterns and road conditions. Does your alternate route have a rush hour? A shady corner that is icy in winter? Huge potholes? Drive your alternate routes often enough that you can answer these questions. When you have your answers you can decide if you need to find a better route.
As you’re driving around, also take note of service stations, stores, rest areas, hospitals, police stations, fire stations and pay phones. Hopefully you don’t need any of them, but better to know where they are and not need them, than vice versa. You’ll also need to know what to expect once you get out of town.
It might seem like rural areas have fewer roads to choose from, but don’t be deceived. If you look beyond the pavement you’ll likely find several good options. County, Forest Service, and logging roads create a valuable network of emergency and alternate routes. Plus they can be a lot of fun to drive.
Again, you’ll want to drive these roads often enough to know what condition they‘re in and how heavily they’re traveled. Even remote roads can be more busy than you’d think if they pass through popular recreation areas. You’ll also want to know where roads meet one another, and what kind of terrain they cross.
Dirt roads can change quickly with weather and with the seasons. Is there a slope that gets tricky in rain? Is there a deeply rutted area, or a tree threatening to fall across the roadway? Sometimes you might find that a road on the map is completely overgrown, washed out, or otherwise impassable. Perhaps your chosen route is buried in snow for four or five months each year. Perhaps spring runoff turns the roadbed into a creek bed in April. Can your vehicle navigate that? Are you prepared to snowmobile, ski, or snowshoe if necessary? These are all things to consider when choosing your emergency routes.
While getting to know your roads can be essential to safety, it can also be fun for the whole family. City folks can make a “date” of visiting a new diner, or window shopping along your alternate route. Country dwellers can pack a picnic and take the kids berry picking.
Now get lost! You’re sure to learn a lot finding your way home again.
Read more from Magi at Half Acre Heaven.