“Do you still have electricity?”
“Yes, off and on. We try to charge up all our devices when the power is on, and so far, we haven't lost any frozen meat. But it looks like, very soon, we will. In the meantime, our windmill and solar panels are working quite well until they'll get vandalized by somebody.”
“I'll be there as soon as I can, Julie. I'm making very good time on the river. I tried to call my bush pilot, but get no answer. I'm afraid I may have to paddle all the way there. Bye for now. Love.”
“Bye. I love you.” Julie's picture, that had been popping in and out all session, disappeared from the screen entirely. I felt lonely. It was the first time I felt lonely on the trip, but it wouldn't be the last.
With an urgency I hadn't planned for the trip, I moved down river. As I planned, I lived off the land. I found duck eggs for breakfast. Blueberries were plentiful and easy to harvest. I ground-up cattail root and let it dry to make a kind of flour. Fish continued to be plentiful, allowing me to catch a three-meal size northern with a single cast of an artificial lure. I saw more bear, both black and grizzly, but gave them a wide berth and protected my camp each night from their nosy inquiries. I saw moose, deer, lynx, wolverine, fox, beaver, squirrels and many other animals by the banks of the river. I saved my bullets for a greater need and caught ducks, rabbits and squirrels in traps and snares to avoid having to continually eat fish. It was amazing how bountiful the forest was. Every time I ate, I thought about those starving in the States. But I didn't dwell on it. Too morbid to think about–starving to death.
There were periods where there were rapids and periods where the river was quite calm. I was amazed how large the river got so far north. So far, I hadn't seen anyone and didn't think anyone ever came this way. It was hard for me to believe that there were untouched places like this where no one ever went except by bush plane. My kayak, made of canvas, strengthened with dope, held up quite well, and I only had to make minor patches after running some pretty rough rapids with sharp rocks. If I had had a fiberglass kayak all the sharp rocks would have destroyed it. My mentor, the professor, I told you about, had warned me about aluminum canoes and fiberglass kayaks. Old systems, proven over centuries, were often better for long journeys like this. Amid all this abundance, I tread lightly. I was sharpening my survival skills. Finding new things to eat like forest mushrooms and pinecones. Pinecones were something I hadn't tried before, but were plentiful and tasty to eat.
By July, it got rather hot, and sometimes I slept with only the mosquito netting over me. This was the time when the horse flies and deer flies were at their worst. It seems like I swatted thousands of them as their burning stingers dug for my blood.
Each time I called Julie, things got more urgent. There was no Fourth of July celebration that year for anyone, the fires had burned over half the forest in the country and the smoke was everywhere, combined with dust from the dried-up soil where the crops had failed–most of the Midwestern crops failed. California was producing crops, but water was getting scarce there, and the price of gasoline was too great to ship most of the crops out of the state into unknown territory where, more and more, law was breaking down, and trucks were hijacked. The cities were breaking down. With no electricity, water, or food, city dwellers were abandoning the cities in mass. As a result, unless a city dweller had cash and a destination in the country, he/she would have to join a group of anarchists to survive.
Julie reported that the smoke was so bad sometimes that it burned their eyes and throats, and made breathing hard. I smelled it, too, from time to time. There was a general pall in the sky from smoke that had reached the stratosphere and encircled the globe. I didn't know it at the time, but, as a result, the next three years would be much colder, before the real heat set in from all the carbon dioxide in the air and methane released from the tundra. Julie also reported that she and Frank had been busy putting moss and fern cover over every root cellar and hideaway that they had so that they would not be discovered by marauding gangs–something they had learned from locals--that gangs were in the area.
I figured by the end of July I would reach the point where I would be flown out, Little Pine Lake, just off the river I was on that continued on to Hudson Bay. I needed to go south and the charts that I had from my GPS stored on my smart phone indicated that I would have to do a lot of portaging to go south and pick up the Boundary Waters into Minnesota to the St. Croix and Indianhead country. The next time I called Julie, I broke the news.
“Hi, Julie. I hope everything is okay there. I've got good news and bad news. Do you want to hear it.”
A frightened voice came on the line. “Oh, am so glad you called. Uncle Frank and I have been hiding here in the woods all day. It's too confining in that hideout hole, so we are out in the woods, about a mile from the cabin, hoping they won't come this way. Luckily, we heard them coming a long time before they got to the cabin and we both headed out with backpacks to this hole we dug that we crawled into for about an hour until we came out here in the brush. Mosquitoes are biting me right now and it's not pleasant. Every once in a while we can hear them shooting and whooping it up, so we won't go back until they have left. I sure hope we have something left to go back to. I heard they burn places like ours just in spite. Luckily, we have caches all over and a couple of tents we can live in until we build something back if they burn everything down. Most of our stuff is buried and grown over so they can't find it. Now all I have to do is make sure they don't find us. Still, I'm scared…”
“I'm sure glad that you have Uncle Frank to help you. Frank, (Frank stuck his head in the picture. His hair and beard were now pure white and more unruly than ever) thank you so much for helping Julie get protected from the awful things that are happening.”
Uncle Frank's gruff voice was very clear. “Well, it's the best I can do. I ain't sure whether I'm doing enough, though. From what I hear, those bastards can be really mean and take away everything you have. I'm going to make sure they don't get a chance to rape your sister. We'll be hidin' like groundhogs if they come this way. And we both got rifles and pistols to let them know that we mean business if they try to take us. In the meantime, we'll hide and will do them no harm unless they try to harm us.” Frank's face disappeared the screen and was replaced by Julie.
“I'm going to sign off now. Don't want them to hear us or run down my battery. I sure as hell hope we've got something left of the cabin after they leave. It's getting dark so it looks like we may have to spend the night out here. I'll call you tomorrow because I don't want my phone to ring if they're anywhere near. I love you. Bye.”
“I love you too, Julie. Put your phone on vibrate so that it won't make a sound. And Uncle Frank. Bye now.”
I must've covered 20 miles the next day, every minute worrying about them. Finally, after I made camp and ate a squirrel that I had snared overnight in my previous camp, I couldn’t wait no longer and made a call even though Julie had told me not to.
A strained voice came on the line so I knew that it was her. Her phone was set to automatically lock out anyone who tried to use it except her. “Hello, I'm so glad you called. We have been too busy to call you back and I just started to relax and try to get to bed just now. They left sometime last night. We snuck back to the cabin and knew what we would find, because we saw it burning in the night. For some reason they didn't burn the boathouse, but they took the boat. We still have the canoe that we hid in the woods and most of our supplies furnishings and equipment–all buried. That's what we've been doing all day. Digging up stuff that we had buried so that we can get this place back in order and build a cabin by winter. This time, we will build further from the water and the road and leave the burned-out cabin for anyone else to find, thinking no one lives here anymore.” She sounded exhausted.
“Okay, that's a relief. At least you've minimized your loss and have a plan that will do you well in the future. You really don't know how many more marauders there are out there. I just had a tasty squirrel dinner and made at least 20 miles today. I figure that I'll be at my turning south point in about five days. I still don't know if I can make all the portages and the 500 miles yet to go to reach you by fall.”
I figured about right, and, in about five days on July 30, I reached my take-out point just off the river at Little Pine Lake. The lake was deserted, except for a well-stocked lodge and cabins that the bush pilot used to bring people and guides fishing on the lake, privately owned by the company. As was a tradition in the North Country, a note on the door said, “Welcome to this sanctuary. You may use it if you wish, but leave it better than you found it.” It was like finding a diamond in the rough. I immediately planned to spend a couple of days recuperating from the strenuous run I had just made and restock. Somehow, I knew no one would come to my rescue. All of my calls hadn't been answered. More and more when I called, I got, “this circuit is no longer in service” or a fast busy signal indicating a busy circuit. While the satellite, with its solar panels, continued to relay calls, its earthly designations, including cell phones, were rapidly disappearing. I hoped that wouldn't happen to Julie's phone. Unfortunately, I was wrong. And I have been wrong many times since.
I took a hot shower. I made hot meals on the electric stove, powered by windmill and solar panels. I luxuriated in a wonderful bed. I tried to contact the outside world through the Internet. The only news that could be found was CNN and it was all bad. The exodus from the cities of the United States had had an immediate and dramatic effect. Millions had died trying to find food and water from heat stroke, dehydration, starvation, and smoke and dust inhalation. Thousands had died from gunshots as those that had protected their stores from those that had not. Even those that were survivalists and had stores of food and water found themselves driven out by fires, smoke, and dust. At one point it seemed the entire country was burning. Once these fires got into the cities, they burned without stopping for days or months and gave off toxic clouds of smoke from all the chemicals and plastics that were incinerated in the buildings. Some of the cities were so hot they created firestorms reaching over 100 miles an hour. The hot breath of death, if not from the sun, was everywhere from the forests to the cities.
It was no better in Europe or South America where the rain forests were on fire, having experienced drought for the first time. In Central America, millions walked northward, only to find nothing to eat or drink in the United States after they crossed what used to be the Rio Grande and was now nothing more than a dry riverbed. When the rains did come, they were muddy and caused floods and mudslides. Hurricanes devastated coastlines throughout the world in the tropics and dumped torrential rains on the temperate zones, only to turn to drought again after the floodwaters receded and the mud rapidly dried.
Each day that I called Julie, it got worse. “Hi, I don't know where to begin. They keep coming back and now we hear gunfire in the distance all the time. We are making our cooking fire on the ashes of the cabin so that it will look like no one is here. At noon today, we had to interrupt our lunch, quickly put out the fire, and run to our hideout again because they came. Fortunately, they make so much noise we can hear them at least a half mile away. It doesn't look like we have any chance of rebuilding until they're all gone. I don't know if this is the same group that came the other night are not. From all the gunfire, there may be several groups fighting each other. We try not to be seen from the water, because there are boats on the water all time and we believe that they are marauders too, because when I first came there were only fishermen on the lake. I'm really scared now that they will find us or we will get too exhausted trying to hide all the time. How are we going to prepare for winter if they keep harassing us like this?” I could hear her sobbing in the background.
“Julie… Julie… You know I love you and would be there to protect you if I could. Please get your wits about you and deal with this as best you can. You've got the right strategy. You just have to wait them out. After they've got all they want or need, they'll leave… Or kill each other off. You have stores they don't know about and can't find. You'll just have to outlast them. That's all.”
“Okay… It just gets too much, that's all. I need to sleep now… too tired. Bye.”
“Bye… Sweet dreams. I'll call tomorrow…” I was really worried. So far they had escaped detection, but I didn't know how long before something terrible would happen. It wasn't long before it did.
The next day, around noon, I finished up my morning chores around the lodge and was contemplating how I might get to Julie and Frank before winter, when my phone rang. It was Julie, and she was hysterical.
“Oh my God… They've done it! They are setting fires and the woods are all so dry, so tinder dry, that the fires are everywhere and the smoke is getting almost unbearable here. We may have to leave soon because it seems like a fire is about a half-mile away and coming our direction. The only thing we can think of is packing some stuff in the canoe and getting out on the lake and covering our faces with wet cloth to block the smoke.…” She was crying loudly, clearly panicked.
“Now, now… Try to think. Try to think of everything before the fire gets there. Loading the canoe is a good idea, try to stay near the shore so that you won't be seen out on the lake or they may try to come and attack you there. Let Uncle Frank help you. I know he knows what to do. Call me anytime. I haven't left here yet. I'm stocking up on food for my trip south. Take care and beware. Keep your pistols handy and surprise them if you have to. Kill them before they kill you. Don't give them any opportunity. Remember… call me.”
“I will… I will…” She hung up without saying goodbye.
While at the lodge, I smoked some fish and snared a few animals, not wanting to waste the guns and ammunition stored there. I pared down my equipment so that I would only have to make two portages between bodies of water: one for my kayak and the other for my food and shelter. After making sure the sheets were washed and everything was in order, I left Little Pine Lake about 11 am, striking southward on foot. I made 10 miles that day to another lake, walking 30 miles in order to get my kayak and pack there. At that pace, I would get to the Indianhead about Christmas. I hoped there would be something left for me to arrive to. That night I called again to be sure.
Julie was crying on the other end of the line. “Oh my God. It was unbelievable. It got so hot. And the smoke was so bad. We had to put wet cloth over our mouths to keep from choking and wet our clothes to keep from being cooked alive. It burned through very fast and burned our cars, the boathouse–everything!” She sobbed uncontrollably for a while, and then came back on the phone. There was no picture. “We are still in the canoe and it's getting dark. They shot at us from the other side of the lake. Fortunately, we saw the bullets ricocheting off the water and turned the canoe away from them, paddling as hard as we could until we were out of range completely, keeping a narrow profile. I hope the damn bastards burn in their own pyre!” I had never heard my sister talk like that–so angry.
“At least you're still alive. Remember that your stores are probably safe from the fire underground. You may also be able to salvage some timber from the water to build a shelter for the winter and provide you with firewood. Keep your wits about you. I know Uncle Frank knows how to survive. You just have to be strong.”
“We will. We will. I just don't know how.” She sobbed again, but came back on the line. “We are drinking lake water already and that may be poisoned soon by runoff from all the burned forest. We will have to sleep the night in the canoe because the ground all around is still too hot to land anywhere. I guess we're just lucky to still be alive.”
“You sure are. Others without a lake to retreat to are probably dead. One thing is for certain. Most of those marauders will stay away from scorched earth. If you can make it through the winter… Build a house of mud and burned wood, it will protect you… and add snow when there is snow for insulation. And then next summer grow a crop or two. I know you can do it.”
“I hope so. We are exhausted and have to sleep now. Call tomorrow. Okay?”
The next day I made 5 miles to another lake. This lake was small and swampy so going was tough. Up ahead was 30 miles to the next water, so I stayed the night and called the next morning as soon as I got up. Julie's phone was dead. I don't know if it was her inability to charge the phone or if the satellite could no longer carry the signal. I don't know. That was the last I heard from them. I wished for the best, but expected the worst. The next thing I hoped to tell them was to try to gather as much supplies as possible and then try to make the nearest unburned forest where they would stand a much better chance of survival than staying in the burned area. On the other hand, they did have their stores in the burned area that would give them some security from further marauding. My only hope was that they would survive until I arrived. And then I wasn't sure what I could do to help except be of some support and another mouth to feed.
Four days later, the smoke got so intense, I had to retreat. It was a struggle, but I made it back to the lodge in record time. The sky had turned a dusty gray from all the smoke and dust, creating only a half-light at noon that continued day after day. It was now late August and the nights were getting colder along with the cold, muddy, smoky-smelling rains. Two days after I arrived back at the lodge there was 2 inches of dirty snow on the ground in the morning. By afternoon, the snow had melted, but it foretold of the long hard winter to come. I made use of every bit of the dingy Indian summer to gather and preserve all I could. With much of the world in flames and anarchy, and me in a warm lodge with ample stores for ten people, electricity and clean well water, I felt very fortunate, indeed. Very fortunate.
I spent the long winter of dirty snow at the lodge and shot a moose to sustain me through much of it. I cut ice from the lake and buried it underground in sawdust like I saw my grandfather do so that I would have ice all summer long even though I had power for refrigeration. Spring came late and the clouds never seemed to go away. It was a short, cold summer that was welcomed because the year before had been unbearably hot at times. There was rain… Always cold dirty rain and snow, and a smudge on the sky from smoke and dust. With no Internet and no communication with anyone, I can only surmise what had happened based on what I heard from the last stories that crossed my smart phone. And that was that much of the world's forests had burned or were burning, along with the cities, leaving the soil exposed to the winds. There may have been wars because they were rumored in the last messages I got. I wasn't sure if nuclear war had taken place, but with so many countries having that capability and then losing control of their population, anything was possible. I sheltered in place, grateful for what I had–a forest still full of food as long as I stayed there.
But the urge to move south overwhelmed me. In early June, I set out once again, southward. By June 15 I came upon where the fires had reached, and the barren land ahead looked too formidable for a even me, now seasoned as a survivor and able to survive on almost anything. The only good sign was that seedling pines had already sprouted in the burned-out areas and flowers and grass were popping up everywhere. I turned tail and returned to the lodge by July 1. Sensing that this summer would be truly short. I began forging for food immediately to try to stock up with as much as possible for the coming winter.
The second winter was even colder, longer and darker, and dirtier than the first. After holing up for a couple of months, I got cabin fever and went out into the dark, cold to hunt. I found a grizzly bear in a state of hibernation and killed it with an ax, thus saving a shot from my rifle. The bear meat wasn't much good. She had a couple of fetuses that were very unappetizing, so I threw them to the wolves. The wolves came around the lodge often. Their howling scared me. It was a good thing that all of the buildings had barbed wire protection on every window, or hungry bears would've broken in, in the night—I often heard them outside. The lodge had been very well stocked, so even after so long, I still had stores of rice and flower. But weevils were starting to develop in the gunny bags, so I removed portions of them into plastic containers and zapped them briefly in the microwave. I was fortunate to still have electricity from the windmill to supply power to the microwave. Had to take down the windmill every six months or so and clean and grease it so that it would continue to rotate in all the dust. My potatoes, kept cool in the root cellar, started to sprout, so I planted them and produced a minimal crop of potatoes the second summer without sun. I also gathered seeds from canned tomatoes and grew some of those, mostly inside. I set up snares and caught quite a few arctic hares that tried to eat my garden. Sitting up a few nights also bagged a couple of deer with a bow and arrow. I had more meat than I knew what to do with, so I smoked them and made jerky. With my food stocks growing, I felt good about facing the third winter that appeared to be as bad as the second.
In the third spring, after a brutal winter where my cabin fever almost drove me to suicide, like a miracle, the sun came out. Oh, there were still dust storms to deal with, but the smoke was gone and it was warm, much warmer than any April in that climate had ever been. I decided that it was time. Time to head south again and try to make it to where Julie and Frank would be by fall. I knew I could do it. I packed very carefully, based on my experience, equipment and stores. I left on April 15 with the lodge as tightened up against the onslaught of nature as I could, not sure if I would ever be back, with making sure that if I did, or if anyone else found the place, that it would provide for me or them as it had before–shelter from the odds. I left with some regret and some longing. Regret that I may never have had it so good again and longing that I needed to see if anyone else was alive in the lower forty-eight. By April 20, I reached the burned area and was surprised to see that the pine sprouts were now three-foot tall with grass and flowers and deciduous sprouts forming a thick blanket over the dusty covered ground, sometimes making walking difficult because I caught my boots in the thick matting. I had no problem snaring ground squirrels, rabbits, and even squirrels in their underground and dead tree hideouts. Through the burned-out trees, I had no difficulty spotting occasional deer, moose, and even bear foraging in the new growth that was everywhere abundant. It quickly got very hot and I found myself stripping to shorts to carry my heavy loads on the portages. The heat and gully washing storms that cropped up were fueling the regrowth at a rapid rate. The North Country had never seen such growth because of its short, cool summers. That was no longer the case. I hoped I wasn't heading into hell. Little did I know?
On June 5, I chanced upon a gravel road. It hadn't been traveled and crabgrass was sprouting everywhere, giving it a strange green look for as far as I could see down the road. It was time to decide whether I would abandon the kayak and walk the roads or continue southward through the Boundary Waters area in a straight shot to the Indianhead country. The water route was harder, but I would still have my kayak for river running, but the road route was much longer, skirting the Boundary Waters and entering settlements that may still contain people. My solar powered smart phone still had GPS from the satellite and charts that I saved before the Internet failed. But I couldn't reach anyone with the phone. Believe me, I tried and tried.
After studying the charts, I began to think like a Voyager and decided to take the water route. Once I got to the States, I knew that the water routes would probably be easier and safer. For the next 250 miles, I knew there were no roads. I could use roads later for portaging. The kayak was too valuable to leave behind.
I covered that 250 miles in thirteen days. I found islands that had not burned and were filled with all kinds of berries and other edibles. There was lots of dead, unburned wood for firewood, and fish jumping to be caught. When I saw the expanse of Lake Superior, I wanted to take it and all the other Great Lakes, all the way out to the Atlantic, but I couldn't. I was only going to be on Superior to Duluth, and I was quite unsure what I would find there. It was strange on the Lake because the banks and high bluffs overlooking were nearly barren of timber because of the fires, but the water was still pure and I was able to drink directly from it. My second day on the lake in my kayak, a massive dust storm came up, and I had to take shelter on the shore under an overhanging bluff.
By June 15, I reached Duluth. What hadn't been burned in the city was abandoned. The whole place had a ghastly look about it. Emaciated, mangy wild dogs roamed the streets. Probably had survived on human carcasses. I had to scare them off with my walking stick because I didn't want to waste any ammunition from my 357 Magnum. That was saved for bears and unfriendly humans. But there were no humans around, just evidence of their destruction and bodies. It was a long uphill walk out of town on paved roads beginning to crack and sprout weeds, but after that it was downhill to the headwaters of the St. Croix where I put in my kayak in precious little water for the run down river to Indianhead country. The scope of the devastation was immense from the heights looking down river. The little towns along the way were all abandoned and burned down. Still, with the relentless heat and the occasional rain, there was new growth everywhere, and eagles could be seen fishing along the river and nesting in the high bluffs above it. After each rain, the water rose quickly and was very murky. But soon the floodwaters receded and the water became clear. I could see fish swimming in it and caught some–mostly catfish.
There was abundant wildlife of all kinds, including bear. By June 20th, I reached the point where I had to leave the river and cut across country to reach Turtle Lake where Uncle Frank's cabin had been. Occasionally, I found buildings protected from the fires that burned crops and woodlands, houses and buildings indiscriminately and devastatingly. I entered some of the still intact houses and found out why they were abandoned. Sometimes, I found them in bed. Skeletons wrapped tightly in heavy covers, trying to fend off the cold. Sometimes, I found them in easy chairs, doing the same. Sometimes, I found their skeletons in kitchens or in closets, clearly the victims of trauma–guns still in hand. Sometimes I saw them outside, in the street or in the yard, their bones scattered by wild animals or their own dogs. And I found them in cars riddled with bullet holes, or stuck on the roads without gasoline, food or water. I sensed their suffering and moved on. It was so disheartening to see so many dead. And I knew I wasn't seeing most that were burned in the fires alive or dead already. I know that some of them starved to death.
It was doubly strange for me to find so much fresh water and abundant food from the regrowing forests all around. Nature replenishes itself quickly. When I came upon an unburned garage with a late-model pickup in it, I decided to change my mode of travel. The battery was long dead but not burst from the cold. The key was easy to find. There was a full tank of gas that the owner had planned to use in an emergency that never came. I pushed the truck out of the garage and down a slight grade and jumped in the cab until I reached about 15 miles an hour and dropped it in gear with the key on. After a couple of lurches, the truck roared into life like it had never been stored and unserviced for three years. I now had a real means of transportation, one of many I would commandeer in the future.
I found myself scavenging at every unburned building and made myself a bed in the pickup truck bed that was quite comfortable. I also gathered canned food and whatever else I could find to put in the truck bed for my comfort and use. I knew that most farms had a source of gasoline or fuel oil for powering their farm equipment. Finding one that wasn't burned or empty was no small task, but I wasn't beneath siphoning gasoline from other vehicles. One thing I did need, and found right away, was a chainsaw. I only had about 50 miles to Turtle Lake, but my biggest obstacles were vehicles in the road, trash in the road, and fallen trees in the road. I pushed the first two away with my front bumper, and often had to cut my way through on narrow roads with a lot of burned, fallen trees. In spite of the lack of landmarks as result of all the burning, I arrived at Uncle Frank Wilson's place by nightfall the day I found the truck. I found nothing except the burned-out remains of the cabin and boathouse. No mud hut. No graves. I spent the night there and spent the morning digging around and fortunately, finding some of their underground caches, still intact. There was smoked meat, flour, potatoes, preserves, can goods, and so on. Enough to keep me in food for three months. I found a tarp they used for covering up their stored stuff and made a very nice tonneau cover for the pickup bed. I found some guns and ammunition in good order. I now had a fairly good arsenal of rifles and pistols with ammunition in case I ran into trouble or needed to shoot an animal for food. While there, I saw a bear off in the distance grubbing out an existence in the three-year-old forest. It would have been only a matter of time before he found the caches. Before I left that morning, I said a few words for my sister and uncle, hoping that they had somehow survived, but doubtfully so. I had to move on. I thought it best to head south so I could avoid the brunt of the coming winter. But it was hot. Almost unbearably hot, so the truck's air-conditioning was very pleasant until I ran into a low gas situation and had to turn it off. My phone told me the temperature. Anything above 105º, I didn’t want to see. Fortunately, the high humidity kept the temperature from soaring.
So equipped and provisioned, I headed south to what had been Interstate 94. I spent the night just short of the Interstate by a bluff where some tall pines had survived the fires and a small stream ran through. I cast a line in the stream and was surprised to catch a nice trout. I made a fine meal of fresh rainbow that evening in this setting that reminded me of camping in my younger days. I was comfortable in my solitude under a mantle of stars.
Except for the burned-out wrecks and obvious gunfights, Interstate 94 was relatively easy to travel. I would, occasionally, have to leave the Interstate and look for a farm with either a fuel tank of gasoline or vehicles with gasoline I could siphon. I was very careful to check to see if there was water in the gasoline, rust, dirt, or any other contaminant in it and filtered the fuel by pouring it through a cloth. Along the way, I picked up two 20-gallon gas cans, so that I eventually had about a 500-mile range every time I completely filled up. I would always use the last 100 miles to search for more gasoline and food. My pickup was quite crowded, but also quite capable of carrying all the things that I needed. I slept well with one hand on a pistol trigger with the safety on so that I wouldn't shoot my foot in my sleep. Most nights, I found good shelter off the Interstate where I didn't think anyone would find me easily. In two days, I made it to the ruin that was Chicago. I made it through all the toll gates (slept in one) and past the silent O'Hare Airport on my way south after the second day. In all that time, I hadn't seen anyone, not a soul. They all had either left or died. I suspect that most of them did the latter from the bodies I was finding everywhere I went. Besides, what would they run to? There was much evidence of firestorms that scorched everything and melted metal and cracked the concrete on the interstate. These firestorms were probably the primary cause of death for refugees and marauders, alike. This prairie-like region was the hardest for me because it was flat and all the crops had probably burned in one huge fire after many months of drought that brought the normal corn and soybean crops to tinder dry. Now, after three years, some of the corn had reseeded itself, but was drying in the baking sun without irrigation or enough rain. Reseeded soybeans were doing better, covering huge areas, but were also dying of the lack of rain. I was lucky to make it to southern Illinois before I needed gasoline. That night I found trees again in bluffs that had escaped fire and provided a more normal, if very hot, night.