Getting home during a natural disaster: Being prepared for Colorado’s floods and more

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bike 2I live & work in north-central Colorado and the recent disastrous (and ongoing) flooding caused me to take a different look at my preparations for getting home in any situation.

My vehicle is kept in good operating condition with:
  • at least a half tank of fuel
  • food & water
  • binoculars
  • extra clothing
  • rain poncho
  • coats
  • head gear
  • Bible (New Testament & Psalms)
  • extra boots & shoes
  • tent
  • sleeping bag
  • candles
  • lighters & fire starters
  • flashlights
  • batteries
  • spare water containers
  • 2 way radios
  • cooking fuel
  • a scoping fishing pole with small tackle container, etc.

My bike: a second mode of transport

Also, a very important piece of equipment is my spare bicycle.   My bicycle is my second mode of transportation, even if I have to walk & push this beast of burden.

Several bags attach to the frame.  Here is how I’ve equipped my bike.

  • There is a front carrying rack rated a 25# and a rear carrying rack rated at 40#.
  • My EDC bag easily attaches to either carrying rack.
  • The handlebar bag contains wrenches, tools, extra tube, patch repair kit, front & rear attachable lighting, a mini-tire pump, AA & AAA batteries.
  • The rear pannier bags are large computer bags that I have purchased at thrift stores for less than $2 each.
  • There are 2 water bottle holders attached to the frame and I carry 2 extra military canteens which are hooked on (anywhere) with carabiners.
  • The front & rear racks have several large & mini bungee cords wrapped around them to tie down extra gear.
  • For protection & food gathering I carry a 12 gauge pump action shotgun with an 18-1/2″ barrel. The shotgun is kept in a Molle scabbard which easily attaches to the handlebars in various configurations.  The shotgun will hold seven rounds including 1 in the chamber and a buttstock holder keeps another five rounds close at hand.
  • For protection against critters (2 & 4 legged) I keep 00 Buck loaded.  For harvesting food I carry a combination of 4, 5, & 6 shot.
  • In my EDC bag, along with numerous survival items, I carry a .22 caliber 6 shot revolver and 250 rounds of ammo.  This pistol has interchangeable cylinders and the .22 magnum cylinder is the one I prefer.
  • The EDC bag also holds my survival Knife–a black matte SOG Seal Pup.  The holster for the seal pup houses a bic lighter, mini brass compass and a nifty light producer which has two LED bulbs, an on-off toggle switch and fits right on the end of a 9-volt battery.  Very bright, light weight & the little light housing even glows in the dark.

When it comes to survival, creativity counts

One of the military canteens is a mini cook stove.  I have put together the carrier, the plastic canteen, metal form conforming cup and metal form conforming

image by author, ShadowfaxHound
image by author, ShadowfaxHound

raised burner housing.  This housing will hold the metal cup while boiling water for instant food, disinfecting water, even warmth.  Included in this kit is an empty metal pellet container (kinda looks like a metal chew tobacco can) with the wick of a tiki torch rolled up inside.

One of the cooking fuels I mentioned above is Heet, the car fuel additive.  It is pretty much isopropyl alcohol and burns very clean.  I pour the Heet in the little metal pellet container, set it under the metal raised burner, light it and there is your cook stove–all neatly packaged in a canteen carrier.

A word of caution: the Heet burns very clean and almost not visible in daylight–kind of like napalm.  DO NOT use in a tent.  Another fuel that works great is just dry twigs, wood chips, newspaper, dry cow pies or ANYTHING that burns.  I also use altoid containers (small & large) that I fill with cotton balls soaked in 63%+ alcohol hand sanitizer then filled with melted wax.  These are very handy and you can extinguish by closing the lid (probably should wear gloves). AGAIN–these burn like napalm so DO NOT use in a tent, vehicle or enclosed area.

NOTE:  when melting wax–KNOW what you are doing.  The flash point makes this very dangerous.  Use a double burner with low heat and NEVER leave unattended.

OK…I carry instant soup, oatmeal, coffee, hot chocolate, freeze dried meals, etc.  Some supplements, meds, bandages, allergy meds, hand soap (hotel size), small container of hand sanitizer, small container of GOOD insect repellant, toothpaste & brush, mouthwash, hairbrush, small mirror, and a multitool.

I carry about 1 dozen coffee beans.  Chew on one of these if you want to stay awake and alert.

Whatever you decide to take it has to be useful & light.  A couple little earth magnets are worth carrying.  Your discretion, but I carry a 8×10 brown plastic tarp rolled up as small as it will get.  This is where the bungees come in handy.

Seems like a lot doesn’t it?  All this to hopefully make it to my destination in 72 hours or less.  AND worse case scenario—having to ride OR push my bicycle.

Then after a spring & summer of HUGE fires here in Colorado—it rained–and rained—and RAINED!!!   Floods, mud slides, debris slides.  Dry creeks & small creeks turned into rivers.  Rivers turned into monsters, devouring homes, roads, highways, bridges, towns, cities, animals, farmland, forests, PEOPLE, and their livelihoods.  Incredible devastation.  It will be YEARS before things return to some kind of normal–if ever.

People are still stranded, people are still missing.  My neighbor, his son and 3 other men were backpacking into an area with 30+ people still stranded with no way out.  They are going to check on his house in the mountains and to take necessities to the stranded people.  It will be a 5-8 mile hike one way.  Hopefully just one creek to cross, it was a creek two weeks ago, who knows now.

Now, MY dilemma.  I work 28 miles from where I live.  Half is county road, half is interstate–or I can take dozens of county roads and avoid the interstate altogether.  I have taken these county roads to get home almost daily for 1-1/2 years as I don’t like the congestion on the interstate.  There are literally dozens of roads to get me home and I have taken them all.

NOT NOW…and I am not sure when I will be able to take these routes again.  The roads and bridges are washed away or closed.  Colorado National Guard members are at the closed barricades.  On a Friday morning the interstate was closed because two rivers flooded and rose above the highway.  Vehicle travel for thousands and thousands of people had to be rerouted. The county roads were mostly washed out and closed.  Traffic was diverted to a state hiway 10-15 miles away that parallels the interstate.  Vehicle excursions that normally take 15-30 minutes were taking 6-8 hours or more. It’s possible a motorcycle could have avoided some obstacles, but that wasn’t an option for me.

Hundreds of folks could not get home and went to motels or stayed with friends.  Hundreds ended up in truck stops, restaurants, churches, high schools.  MANY abandoned their cars that stalled, ran out of fuel or were unable to continue because of the huge traffic jams  A total nightmare.  ME? I would like to say I rode my trusty beast of burden past all the “unprepared” zombies and made it home in time for dinner.

The truth?  I left at 5 AM in the morning to go fishing in BIG wonderful Wyoming.  I avoided the interstate, took hiways-county roads-and dirt roads to my destination.  Stayed in a camper with my brother and a good old buddy.  Put up with a little rain, a little wind (Wyoming does have wind at times) and caught lots of fish.  A very enjoyable weekend.   But now  I am back and have to deal with the traffic, the closed roads and highways, and thousands of short tempered folks.

If I would have been at work that Friday I would probably have spent at least 6 hours trying to get home—by vehicle.  My bicycle would not have taken me to my destination, at least not in 72 hours.  In a true grid down situation where vehicles are useless and I have to ride, push or just plain hoof it I am looking at at least 7-10 days to get home.  NOT GOOD!

I am now doing some serious mapping of the entire grid area I could use to get home.  Also, I am trying to figure out a wheeled travois type trailer for my trusty bike.  It will have to be very light and portable.  I will have to rethink & restock.  A 72 hour trip has now became a 7-10 day outing.  Not the fun type of outing by any means.  Dangerous is the word that comes to mind.

Flooded rivers, streams and creeks.  Washed out roads, highways and bridges.  Thousands of stranded people–many totally unprepared.  Dangerous may be too tiny a word to describe the situation. It has me spooked to say the least.  I have some ideas for my plan to get home and am praying for guidance and direction.

So,  even though you may have SHTF plans for different scenarios, you MAY have to revise those plans.  Be ready to revise & improvise in a moments notice. Use these disasters, storms and new laws being passed to re-evaluate your ability to make it to your destinations. Your survival may depend on your preparations.

Guest post by ShadowfaxHound

15 thoughts on “Getting home during a natural disaster: Being prepared for Colorado’s floods and more”

  1. Thank you for writing this. I have a few things to think about. I work 39 miles from home. in my case it’s a straight shot over the Interstate. I can take the country roads but that adds an additional 30 minutes to my drive. I have a few things to think about. I really should pull out those maps and see what natural obstacles are in between home & work and between work & my parents. I also need to map some of the backroads. I know a few but not enough to route safely around if I need to.

  2. Glad your alright, and you have plans to re-evaluate your situation. I am glad I live 3.5 miles from where I work, with no rivers or bridges in between.

  3. The understatement cracked me up…”Wyoming does have wind at times.” I also live here in northern Colorado (Greeley) – and we used to live up in Casper, Wyo. Thanks for the thoughts to revisit the SHTF plans – great ideas.

  4. I live less than 5 minutes from work. However when we were flooded out two years ago from a flash flood, my normal route would have been blocked off. At that time I learned an alternate way. It takes me way out in the country out of the way to come up from behind, but at the time it was the only way in or out. It’s a horrible feeling to be that close yet not close at all.

  5. We went from drought minded to flood zone over night. Flood was not on my list of potential disasters to prepare for, but now its hugely impacted my community. The map is changed for us. As I watched the flood zone go by us in Greeley and continue east, the destruction continued where the river went.

    I was at a visitor center a while back and picked up the state travel guides for a few states. You know, the ones that list all the hotels, motels, bnbs, and campgrounds in the back of the guide. Those and maps for the 3 state area are included in my Grab ‘n Go Binder that I almost had to use if my home had been 5 miles south.

    This experience was definitely a test. I became the resource for others because I knew what you could do with a bucket and kitty litter! (thank you!)

  6. Thanks for the article. Two mountain bikes and a hybrid are key to my notion of preparedness. I live in DC and in an evacuation would be putting two of the bikes on my hitch-mounted rack. Would also be taking my Burley “Travoy” combination bike trailer and hand-cart. Highly recommend. I mostly use the Travoy for walking groceries home from a supermarket three blocks away. The Travoy is expensive but extremely well-crafted and designed — it is light and compact, yet sturdy. Very highly recommend:

  7. We had a flood last month and my husband was at work. When he finally got here, he had to park his car and hoof it home to us. I am lucky enough that I am home, for now, but it was really scary to be here alone. We were much luckier than those in Colorado, we only lost 80% of our food storage and some things in our basement. It got me thinking that if I were to get a job, I would want it within biking distance of my house. Interesting article!

  8. That was a GREAT tip about using computer bags as side saddle bags on a bike. The ones made for bikes are kind of pricey.
    I’m glad I read this article.

    I wonder if a few chunks of charcoal would be a good substitute for the napalm?
    Is charcoal hard to dry out if it gets wet?

  9. charcoal does get wet.. it is hard to keep lit unless you have a hot fire. there are lots of fire starters you can buy. I prefer to make my own. used to make “Jackson Hole Hotshots.” filled up a spent 20 gauge shell with fine sawdust or fine steel wool then poured alcohol or paint thinner in to the shell. then pushed a spent 12 gauge shell over the 20 gauge shell and taped around the seams. some leaked so you would use a watertight container. I also carry strips of old bicycle tires that I light and put in my fire material—especially if the tinder or wood is damp, even wet. the old tube strips burn for a long time even in rain or damp conditions. Shadowfaxhound

  10. I have a canteen stove like Pictured, I found out the water will boil much quicker if you use a lid for it.

    The Bike set up is nice, I have Mountains bikes with the front bag, rear panniers, and a Bicycle Cargo trailer for each bike to put our Bug out bags in, in case we are forced to ditch the bikes.

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