Way back in 2007, when I first became aware of the need to prepare for an increasingly uncertain future, I was convinced that our family needed to move from the city to a hidey-hole or a cabin in the woods, commonly referred to as “rural survival retreats.” Preferably in Idaho.
Our retreat would be located at least 25 miles from the nearest interstate and 10 miles from the nearest town, which would have no more than 1000 residents. We would be safe from zombie biker gangs and hoards of desperate people leaving the big cities en masse.
Since then, I’ve given a lot of thought to survival retreats and have come to realize they aren’t the be all, end all when it comes to preparedness and survival. That’s not to say they will become hell-holes when everything hits the fan, but I’m concerned that too many trusting folks believe that once they get to their retreat, they’ll be safe and sound.
Here’s why a rural survival retreat may not be the safe refuge that everyone thinks.
1. Rural areas are hot spots that attract the self-reliant and libertarian leaning citizens
In case you haven’t noticed, self-reliance isn’t exactly a lifestyle encouraged by a federal government and many state governments intent on increasing the level of dependency of citizens. Incredibly, top politicians boast of the number of
Americans on food stamps and are actively working to increase those numbers!
Citizens wishing to decrease their level of government dependence are viewed with suspicion. Without a doubt, those living in rural areas will come under increasing scrutiny as their activities are viewed as oppositional to those of the federal government. You will be in their bulls eye in the form of punitive regulations and laws, at the very least.
2. In a word, drones
Recently it was reported that the federal government had some 30,000 spy drones it was willing to bequeath to law enforcement agencies across the country. Has your local police or sheriff’s department requested one of these? Is there any reason to believe it won’t be used to spy on the activities of innocent civilians, especially those who may show signs of uppity self-reliance activities?
In 2012 it was rumored that drones had been used by the EPA to keep track of the activities of independent farmers and ranchers. The rumors were denied, but I can’t think of a single reason why they won’t be used to check out “suspicious activities” of those living off the radar.
3. Google knows where your rural survival retreat is
Do you really think your survival retreat hasn’t been mapped by Google? Activate a drone, and a survival retreat is less of a
retreat, with survival questionable. And, Google has a very cozy relationship with the federal government.
4. Government entities with limitless money and power but no
Here is just a sampling of stories that illustrate all too well how powerless a rural family is against the force of government.
“EPA power grab to regulate ditches, gullies on private property” and subsequently, “Feds sued over massive water-rule power grab”
Keep in mind, though, that in the summer of 2015, the EPA brilliantly managed to release over 1 million gallons of highly toxic waste into the beautiful Animas River in Colorado. These are the same people who believe they have the right to regulate rivulets of water on private property.
“U.S. top court backs landowners, limits power of EPA” The Supreme Court did not say that the EPA’s methods ere unconstitutional, just that citizens have the right to sue after the fact.
“New labor rules threaten role of farm kids,” This idea was dropped but serves to illustrate the lengths that some in
government are willing to go in order to squelch those desiring and promoting self-reliance.
How many rural families have the time and resources to fight unjust charges and policies such as these? Not many, and I haven’t even started on the I.R.S.!
5. The drought could spell big trouble for rural survival retreats
I’ve noticed that every crisis seems to cause some in government to react with reactionary speeches and usually unnecessary, burdensome policies.
The current drought has me worried because I can easily see it used as an excuse for government interference with the use of well water. How hard would it be for an agency to declare that one person or another was, “using more than their ‘fair share’ of water,” and regulating well water usage for everyone?
Read more: Already living in a drought? Learn these techniques to garden in a drought.
Of course there are also natural dangers that low levels of water bring to rural areas in the form of forest fires, animal starvation, and difficulty in growing crops.
6. Leave it to the United Nations to harass rural Americans
Has your local news media been covering Agenda 21? No? Thought not. Americans don’t even realize that the policies of this oppressive document are already being voluntarily implemented in many towns, cities, and states. The goals of Agenda 21 are shocking and when you read through them, it’s obvious they are becoming a threat to rural America in the form of various regulations put in place by people who mean well but don’t understand how easily they are signing away basic freedoms.
7. Why should your rural neighbors trust you?
How long does it take to establish trust?
How well would you have to know someone in order to leave your children with them for a week?
Would you tell your family members about your preps, what you have, and where they are stored?
Well-meaning folks who buy a rural retreat and attempt to become established there are sometimes shocked to discover that their neighbors may be polite but they are hardly welcoming. Some of these neighbors have lived in these small towns and outlying areas for decades, so I don’t blame them at all for looking at newcomers with a roll of their eyes.
You’ve moved out to the boonies, the neighbors don’t seem interested in joining your “survival team”, so now what? How many years must you live there in order to become one of them and, in fairness, would you really want to? Just because they’re country folk doesn’t make them trustworthy or noble any more than coming from a city or the suburbs makes you shifty or irresponsible.
8. Natural disasters know no borders
Mudslides, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, and massive forest fires endanger everything from big city buildings to placid rural retreats. You may have found the perfect location for your bugging out but it’s not impervious to acts of God.
9. Squatters are a fact of life
One of the most memorable scenes in Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, is when one of the main characters, a self-made millionaire, finally reaches his survival hide-out only to discover that it’s already occupied by squatters. He doesn’t have the weapons, man-power, or tactics to remove them, so he continues on, hoping to survive without any of his supplies, gear, or shelter.
Rural retreats are, well, rural. They’re out in the country, the boondocks, and unless you live there pretty much fulltime, they are vulnerable to squatters moving in, using your stuff, and staying there. How, exactly, will you prevent that and when you arrive at your now squatter-filled home, will you put up a fight or walk away? What if law enforcement isn’t available or they just don’t care?
10. Harsh weather conditions are a rural reality
When you look at a map of the United States, there’s a reason why vast areas remain virtually unpopulated. Those areas encompass enormous deserts with few, if any, water sources and tracts of forests that cover steep mountainsides and difficult-to-access valleys.
These areas aren’t just rugged terrain but they also experience some of the harshest weather conditions, such as extreme drought or multiple winter blizzards. Throughout history, people have built their civilizations in areas that enjoyed milder climates and reliable water sources. Sure, the lure of a peaceful retreat may be calling, but make sure you visit that location in different seasons so you know what to expect.
11. Criminal elements
I’ve always said, “People who live far from other people, do so for a reason.” Sometimes it’s because they truly want to be one with nature and enjoy the solitude, but for many it’s because they want to avoid the law and law-abiding citizens.
When we were house shopping in Texas, we checked out a number of homes miles from town and on acreage. One local friend said, “Be sure to find out where the meth houses are,” and he wasn’t kidding.
No, not everyone who loves country living is a criminal, but you can’t deny that the hinterlands have a certain allure for people who have something to hide.
12. Road conditions can be nonexistent
Thousands of words have been written about bug out vehicles, with long debates about which make and model is best. The fact is, though, that the vehicle is less important than the road conditions to your retreat. There are some routes that are completely impassable during long periods of time in the winter. If the S hits the fan during December or January, you may be completely out of luck due to something as mundane as road conditions and will have to go to Plan B — hunkering down at home.
I have multiple copies of the DeLorme atlas, which is very detailed, but in certain weather conditions, having multiple routes planned still won’t get me to where I need to be, no matter how urgent the cause.
Read more: Here are my tips for putting the DeLorme atlas to use for planning evacuations, this article not withstanding!
13. Isolation can work against you
I love getting away from it all and leaving the sounds of traffic and people far behind, but in a survival scenario, being alone and isolated can work against you and, in fact, could be deadly.
Health and physical safety are very fragile. Accidents happen, a common cold or flu can take the turn for the much worse overnight, and you’ll find that your First Aid class and copy of a survival medical handbook just aren’t going to do the trick. If an urgent trip to the hospital becomes a matter of life or death, can you make it there in time?
Sometimes the problem won’t be a health issue but, instead, a bad-guy issue. Living away from everyone else has its risks but for the criminal, it also has its opportunities.
Fernando Aguirre, author of Surviving the Economic Collapse, lived through Argentina’s multiple collapses and has this to say about surviving in a rural area:
I don’t think an isolated homestead or farm is the best place to be in, and it certainly isn’t when crime becomes a real problem all across the country. In people’s minds, in their novels and fantasies things may always work out just the way they want. It also helps that none of the things speculated in these fictional scenarios have ever occurred, at least not yet. A person can be so easily fooled into thinking that his retreat or homestead in any given US state is safe from looters and criminals because this or that “expert” claims so, the real reason why it´s been working well for any given period of time is that you’ve never actually had it put to test by your environment. Argentina puts you to test and that’s where suppositions, theories and wishful thinking crash against the cold hard reality.
…a friend of mine suffered an attack to his farm in just a couple days ago. He’s smart, successful, experienced, and a true survivalist in my opinion. You might remember the home invasion attempt my dentist suffered a while back. This friend of mine wasn’t that lucky. During the afternoon five men approached the housekeeper’s home and took the family hostage. Dogs barked but they (the men) moved fast. They used ski masks and gloves, armed of course, communicated with radio and were very professional. Right after reducing the housekeepers they quickly moved to the main building and took control of the main house. My friend wasn’t there with his wife and kids, it was occupied by other family members that were visiting. Being the smart person he is, that’s not his main residence and prefers to live in a gated community.
Read Fernando’s entire article at this link.
Listen to my interview with him on the topic of “Prepper Myths”
In these different scenarios, how quickly will help, in the form of law enforcement, medical professionals, or fire fighters get to your location? If you don’t have reliable internet or a phone landline, how will people know that you need help?
I haven’t written these points to discourage anyone from establishing a retreat somewhere away from big cities, but I think it’s important to not over-estimate the level of security such a retreat might bring and to have a checklist of sorts for considering how quickly things can go sideways.
No, I don’t think cities are safer! They come with their own challenges and dangers, but at least preppers who are also city-dwellers are aware of their vulnerabilities. Too often, survival pros sell the concept of a “survival retreat” as a cloak of immunity from coming troubles, and that is what concerns me.