Transportation and Roading Implications for Your Retreat Location

Beware nearby major roads that will funnel refugees fleeing from the cities and into your region.
Beware nearby major roads that will funnel refugees fleeing from the cities and into your region.

You have a difficult balancing act to carry out when choosing your retreat location.

You don’t want to be too close to major population centers, because they largely comprise an overwhelming number of people who can not support themselves in a crisis and who will be forced to do whatever it takes to survive – even if that extends to harming other people and taking their food and shelter from them.

On the other hand, you don’t want to be too far away from other ‘good’ people and to participate in whatever level of mutually beneficial support you and they can exchange in a Level 2/3 situation.

We wrote in an earlier article about the general desirability of siting your retreat in a low population density area.

We’ve also written about the benefit – indeed, the need – to be close to a ‘good’ small town.

In general, there’s a fairly direct relationship between a population center’s size and the safe distance you wish to be from it.  The bigger the population center is, the further away you wish to be.  But if a population grouping is small, safe and sane, then you’d prefer to be reasonably close to it.

That much is moderately intuitive.  So let’s move on to some additional considerations.

Not All Distances are the Same

The distance you want to keep between yourself and appreciably sized population concentrations needs to be measured not just in ‘as the crow flies’ miles, but also by traveling time and difficulty.

Clearly, a mile on straight and level freeway is pretty much the same whether it is traveling toward you from the north or south or any other direction.

But a level straight freeway mile is much less of an effective separation than a mile through dense forest with no roads, or a mile that is intersected by a wide deep fast flowing river with no crossing points, or a mile that involves traveling up one side of a mountain and down the other.

In some cases, an overland mile might count for the same as ten freeway miles.  In other cases, an overland mile is a complete barrier, and people will have to choose other routes to get from where they are to where you are.

Which points to an interesting and significant consideration.  When a person is mapping out their travels (assuming they actually have a map and a purpose for traveling) they will be seeking out easy routes in preference to hard routes.  They’d rather take the mountain pass route than the mountain summit route, for example.  If you are located close to the mountain summit route, there will be fewer people spilling off the road and into your retreat than if you’re on the mountain pass route.

Even if traveling itinerantly with no fixed abode, most people will be thinking along the lines of ‘Where is a place I can conveniently get to in a day or two of travel where I’m likely to find some opportunities for food and shelter?’.

Their preference will probably be to go towards small townships and other places where small settlements can be easily reached, rather than to go speculatively heading off the major roads on the map and into regions with no evidence of civilization or other supportive resources on the map they’re looking at, and for sure, they’ll seek to avoid difficult to travel routes.

People might decide to get somewhat clever and to travel on secondary roads and head for secondary population clusters, particularly as traveling on main routes becomes less feasible and more dangerous, but there comes a point where they’ll decide ‘enough already’ and go in a different direction, simply because they hope there might be better opportunities in another direction.

So, when considering how much distance you need to put between yourselves and population centers, you should allow for the effective difficulty of making the journey as well as the straight line distance involved.

There are still more considerations when choosing your retreat location with respect to population clusters.

Consider Major Routes as well as Population Centers

Maybe there’s no major population center within whatever you’ve assessed as your necessary separation distance.  Great.  But there’s another issue to consider as well.  Are you close to any major travel routes that will see distressed people and marauders passing along?

For example, look at this map of much of Idaho and Montana.  What do you see?  Not a lot of major cities, which is a good thing.  But the most prominent thing you do see is not necessarily a good thing.  We are referring to the interstate highway shields and the yellow lines denoting their routes.  Now, ask yourself the question – ‘If I were escaping Seattle or Portland, and wanted to get into the redoubt area, what route would I take?’.  Zoom the map out a bit to help you answer the question.

The answer is probably I-90 from Seattle (and being reinforced by Spokane evacuees) which goes more or less directly into and through the northern and central redoubt, or I-90 then down to I-84 for the southern redoubt.  For Portland refugees, they’d simply take I-84 from Portland and then either up to I-90 or on over to I-15 and continuing whichever way from there.

If you chose to travel all the way from San Francisco or Los Angeles to the redoubt, how would you do that?  From San Francisco (and Sacramento) you’d probably head northeast on I-80 until at some point heading north to join up with I-84 and the crowds moving inland from Portland and Seattle.  From Los Angeles or San Diego or Las Vegas, you’d probably travel along I-15 until it breaks into Idaho (some people might choose to stay in UT) and then fan out east or west on I-84.

And let’s not forget also that Boise will have its own exodus.  Maybe even some people from Salt Lake City will go north and into the redoubt region too.

When people start evacuating the cities, there’s likely to be a lot of traffic on these portions of the interstates (well, always assuming people get that far).

Our point is simply this.  You might decide that a location ‘in the middle of nowhere’ meets your distance requirements, but don’t overlook the presence of any nearby arterial traffic route and the implications this presents.

Although people don’t ‘live’ on the freeways (at least not in normal times) it is very likely that freeways and other major highways will become the primary routes people use to flow out of the cities and to where they hope to find either safer places to live or tempting targets to live off.

Because of the nature of such people – in large part they have been reduced to becoming itinerant scavengers – they pose a greater threat than the residents of small-sized nearby towns who are possibly attempting to struggle and survive in place through their positive efforts at becoming self-sustaining.

Furthermore, as people travel along these routes, they’re going to be needing food and shelter on a regular basis – especially once their cars run out of gas and they transition to traveling on foot.  It seems a very likely scenario that there’ll be a ‘path of destruction’ to either side of freeways marked by half a day to a day’s travel time.

People will travel for a way on the major route/freeway, and then will go off to one side or the other, looking for food and shelter for a while, before possibly then returning back to the freeway and continuing their journey.  Of course, some people will find somewhere they like and just stop and settle there.  As long as the place they stop and settle in is not your place, that’s probably a good thing, and the reason why distance buffers you from the full force of people evacuating the cities.

When people leave the cities, the density of travelers will reduce with distance.  People will semi-randomly leave the main throughways and stop in places, and from time to time turn off the main route and go down minor routes to secondary destinations.  In addition – to be brutally blunt – some people will die.  There will clearly be a major reduction in traffic once you get the far side of a typical tank of gas driving range from most cities – indeed, if we say that people average 2/3 of a tank of gas in their car at any given time rather than a full tank, some people will start having fuel problems before that.

As people’s cars die, they’ll then of course be forced to abandon them and many of such people will immediately look for refuge in the immediate area of where their car ran out of gas.

So you definitely want to be at least a day’s travel by foot from the first 350 miles or so of freeway from each major metropolitan center, and hopefully have some sort of ‘barrier’ between you and the major routes, and no ‘magnets’ on beyond your location (see below).

In our example, and ignoring all other location issues, we’d definitely say you do not want to be on I-84 anywhere from where it enters Idaho from Oregon and on through the semi-circle as it becomes I-86 and then I-15 up to I-90, and we’d probably give I-90 a wide berth too.  I-15 heading straight-shot north from I-90 up to the Canadian border also looks like a major distributor route for people to take who have reached the redoubt and are now looking to get into the more remote parts.

Barriers and Magnets

We mentioned the desirability of having a barrier between you and a major thoroughfare, and the need to avoid having a magnet further on past you.

By ‘barrier’ we mean a place that people are likely to stop at when they get there, and probably not travel on further past it.  Barriers can be both positive and negative in form.

A small/medium town is likely to be a positive barrier, because most people when they reach the town are likely to stop there, at least for a while, or until such time as the town is overwhelmed (and possibly destroyed).  A river with no bridge is clearly a negative type barrier.

Magnets are places people are likely to want to travel to.  A magnet might be a well-known resort area or settlement.  For example, perhaps a lot of people from California might decide to go to Lake Tahoe – in such a case, you’d want to be sure you weren’t between I-80 and the lake, because if you were, you might have too many people traveling past you, and many deciding to stop when they stumble upon you.

A magnet might be an appealing town or region that people for whatever reason feel would be a good location to find refuge and support – whether this is necessarily a rational choice or not.  Maybe someone saw a brochure for a Sun Valley, ID resort, and they decide to go there – so you’d not want to have a retreat too close to Highway 75 as it makes it way up from I-84 to Sun Valley (which is a bit of a shame because there are some otherwise interesting locations in that region).

These two examples incidentally point out that not only major connecting routes may be well trafficked – some unlikely secondary routes may end up with more traffic than you might think, due to the presence of a ‘magnet’ somewhere along them.

Out of Sight – Out of Mind (Hopefully)

It should go without saying that not only do you want to be a certain physical distance from well-traveled routes, but you also want to be out of sight of the routes as well.  You want to have a land barrier between you and the route.

Other buildings are not a good form of barrier, because buildings and other signs of human inhabitation are magnets.  The sight of buildings will draw people to them.

Trees are okay but not great, and particularly at night, light from your retreat might be seen through the trees.

Simple distance by itself is okay, but if you are on reasonably level ground, you need quite a lot of distance to be secure and ‘invisible’.  If we say the highest point of your retreat roof is, say, 40 ft above the ground, and if a person is standing a little above ground level at the far away point – on a slight rise or something, then the distance you have to be apart so as to have the horizon caused by the earth’s curvature block your roof line from their sight is in the order of 12 miles.

That doesn’t mean 12 miles from the freeway.  It means 12 miles from the closest point a person is likely to travel off the main thoroughfare on a semi-random basis, which we earlier suggested would be somewhere between a half day and a whole day’s travel from the thoroughfare.

The best way to be out of sight is to have a hill between you and the main thoroughfare.  The hill not only obscures you, but discourages people from traveling in that direction, too.

Distance – whether needed or not – also protects you from other giveaway indicators of your presence – the unavoidable smells and sounds of your retreat.

Remember the Fourth Wave of Food and Shelter Seekers

In our article ‘Four Waves of Food and Shelter Seekers‘ we categorize people fleeing the cities into four categories.  The first three waves of people will be traveling along the highways in the month or two or three immediately following whatever catastrophe it was that occurred.

But the fourth wave – which is by far the most threatening of the groups – will be roaming about the country on an ongoing basis.  Long after ordinary people’s cars have run out of gas or failed, there will still be roving gangs of evil-doers, probably in mechanized transport, and if not, on horseback, looking to opportunistically loot and nihilistically destroy whatever they come across.

They will probably be regionally based, and so will get to know their local home turf, and remaining obscured from these people will be your greatest challenge of all.  While they’ll travel on what remains of the major arterials to cover longer distances efficiently, when they’re scouting for new targets to attack, they’ll systematically fan out every which way from the major routes.

But that brings us to an entirely different topic – one of defense, and we cover that in its own category.


When choosing a retreat location, you want to consider not only distance from major population concentrations, but also distance from major routes that refugees are likely to travel when the inevitable exodus out of the cities occurs.

You want to consider not just physical distance, but also the difficulty of covering the distance between you and the routes/cities you are avoiding.  A suitable retreat location should not be detectable from anywhere that refugees and roving hoards of lawless looters are likely to travel.  To minimize the amount of refugee traffic in your region, you don’t want ‘magnets’ drawing people past your property on the way to somewhere else.

Barriers can be both physical and impassable, or in the form of positive distractions that cause people to divert from otherwise traveling towards you.

2 Replies to “Transportation and Roading Implications for Your Retreat Location”

  1. David

    I want to make a point that I picked up from someone else. By the time people realize that they need to move out in a 2 or 3 situation.. things may have changed. People may be on foot because of lack of fuel and breakdown of infrastructure. It will be dangerous to travel.. because there will be bad people who want to take what you have.. and good people who are scared and suspicious of all strangers. The “movers” may be hungry and weak.. For both these reasons travel will be slow and cautious.
    The “hordes” from the city may cover a lot less distance than you might expect.. if you consider a fit person hiking steadily… 20 miles in a day?? Not if you are tired, hungry and scared….

  2. RickE.

    No matter how you slice it, the nearer one is to a large metropolitan area, the more congested and chaotic the roads will be. Sheer numbers of people will get in the way of easy egress towards one’s destination.

    The earlier one sets out,the better off he/she will be, as government road blocks may not be in place yet, fuel supplies may not have run out yet, and lower numbers of potential refugees are indecisive as whether or not to leave.

    2 years ago I decided to make the move from a small town of 2,000, to 28 miles away off of the grid. 9 miles of the road can be miserable in inclement weather, which deters most folks from sightseeing. This area though scenic, is remote, and relatively dry. Few folks are attracted to drier woodlands where the springs and seeps are difficult to locate and aren’t obvious.
    Even though I have a great bug out location that I live permanently, I still have a “plan B” in the case of certain other SHTF scenarios.

    Getting to that plan B would be contingent upon road conditions and the stages of the SHTF scenario.

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