You might have heard that the apocalypse is scheduled for Friday.
December 21, 2012 marks the end of a "Long Count" cycle in the Mayan calendar, an event which occurs once every 5,125 years. Although Mesoamerican scholars agree that Dec. 21 is simply the end of one Long Count and the beginning of another, people around the world anticipate the date with emotions ranging from indifference to hysteria.
Locally, it seems few people expect the world to end later this week, but a growing number of people are preparing for a range of disasters.
Fueled by apocalyptic movies, television shows and the news media, an entire subculture of "preppers" has emerged over the past couple years. While some of these preppers dedicate their lives to preparing for the worst, most simply see prepping as an enjoyable side hobby.
Jack Simons owns and operates the Springs Road Gun Club in Hickory. Although he thinks nothing unusual will happen on Friday, he said "there's always the possibility of other disasters" at some point in the future.
Simons said solar flares predicted for 2013 are a cause of concern for many people. Weather-related incidents in the United States, from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to Hurricane Sandy, have led many of his customers to consider how they would survive if the municipal services on which they rely were interrupted.
How would you survive if you were without electricity for a week? What about water and groceries? Preppers answer these questions by gathering specific supplies and by honing their survival skills.
Vince Blalock, Jeff Williams and Darren Sweet all work at Springs Road Gun Club and share an interest in prepping.
All three men have put together "bug-out bags" which would allow them to leave home in an emergency and survive for about three days with only the contents of the bag.
A basic bug-out bag includes a medical supply kit, food, and items for protection from the elements. A modest bag costs about $50 to put together, but the cost can range up to thousands of dollars depending on the items a prepper selects for his or her bag.
Blalock said the most important pieces in a bug-out bag are the items that will help keep you warm and dry. He said a person trying to survive in the wilderness faces a greater risk of becoming a victim of the elements than a victim of a malicious person or animal.
His bug-out bag includes a torch lighter with extra fuel and a collapsible mylar tent. He said "redneck stuff," including duct tape and zip ties, is handy to a person living off the land. Duct tape rolled into a cylinder can provide a better flame than a candle and zip ties are perfect for fixing broken tent poles or making spears.
Williams said that when he gives information to novice preppers, "the main thing that I ask people is, 'What would you not do to feed your family?'" He says invariably people answer that there is nothing they would not do to protect their loved ones. "If you go back to primal instincts, you'll do whatever you have to do," he said.
Williams keeps his bug-out bag ready and his gun magazines loaded. "I don't let it take over my life to where I sell everything and just buy prepping stuff, but I feel like I'm pretty well set," he said. "I'm a firefighter/EMT. I don't want to hurt anyone for any reason. All I want to do is help people, but if it came down to it and I had to protect my friends and family, I would."
Williams stressed that he can use all of his prepping supplies whether a disaster occurs or not. He uses his bug-out bag and its contents when he goes camping, hiking or canoeing. "A lot of people take this to an extreme, in my opinion. What I've got, if I don't end up ever needing it (in an emergency), it's fine . . . All of it is useful stuff," he said.
Sweet said that he, Blalock and Williams are different from the people who allow prepping to take over their lives.
"There's nothing wrong with being prepared, as long as you're not obsessed," he said. People who live in hurricane zones and keep bottled water and canned food on hand during hurricane season are technically preppers, whether they know it or not. Prepping is "really not as outlandish as people make it," he said. "It just gets blown out of proportion" when the impression most people have of prepping comes from extreme preppers shown on television.
Blalock, Williams and Sweet agree that one of the best ways to start prepping is to talk with other preppers and to learn from them.
One organization dedicated to spreading information about prepping is the American Preppers Network. Tom Martin founded the network in 2008 and oversees it from his home in Idaho. American Preppers started as a collection of blogs, and eventually the members of the network's online forums started planning local meetings for people interested in prepping.
Martin said about 100 groups have formed by now. They meet in nearly every state across the country to network and share information on survival training and sustainable living. American Preppers has groups that meet in Asheville, High Point and Raleigh.
Martin became interested in prepping while working as a commercial truck driver. During the financial crisis, he said he saw the vulnerability of America's supply chains firsthand. With much of Americans' food and household goods delivered by truck, any disruption in cross-country travel would lead to shortages.
Martin decided that "it would be good to help people get prepared for anything . . . Everybody has something to teach somebody else," he said. He is proud of the work the network does to educate people, and he is happy that the community he created online has evolved into an organization which helps people meet and learn from one another in person.
He said he and most of the network's members do not buy into the Mayan doomsday scenarios, but instead prepare for catastrophic weather and civil unrest.
One Hickory man who has had December 21, 2012 marked on his calendar for a long time is Andy Farr. He is not a prepper and he does not think the world is going to end on Friday, but he and some of his friends made a plan 15 or 20 years ago to spend the evening of the 21st camping together.
Over the years, more and more people have been invited, and Farr said he expects several dozen people will spend the last night of the Mayan calendar under the stars in the Shining Rock Wilderness, a part of the Pisgah National Forest.
If everything goes according to plan and the world keeps spinning, Farr said he will wake up on Saturday morning in darkness and drive toward the sunrise back to Hickory.
Here's what you might need if you need to survive for several days on your own. The list is provided by American Preppers Network:
--Long sleeve base layer shirt
--Short sleeve base layer shirt
--Change of underwear
--Hat or Watch cap
--Buff, Scarf or Shemag
--Shell jacket (Waterproof and wind proof)
--Warm long sleeve shirt
--Heavy duty pants
--Poncho, Rain Clothing or Bivanorak
--2 pair of extra socks
--Watch with button compass on the wrist band
--Sleeping bag, Sleeping bag liners helps to extend the lifetime of your sleeping bag
--Sleeping mattress, Hammock
--Tarp, Tent, Bivanorak, Fjellduk or Bivi-bagLight
--Flashlight or/and Headlamp (LED)
--Extra batteries (Lithium)
--Matches in waterproof container
--Fixed blade knife
--Back up knife: compact fixed blade knife, multi-tool or Swiss Army Knife
Pocket survival kit
--Compact LED lamp
--Compact knife or razor blade
--Water Purification Tablets
--Anti diarrhea tablets
--Condom or Alok SakWater
--One or Two Water bottles (Nalgene or SIGG)
--Water bladder for your backpack; Camelback, Nalgene or similar system.
--Water purification tablets
--Water purification filter
--Freeze dried food or Meals Ready to Eat (MRE:s) minimum 6 meals for 72 hours
Flapjack, beef jerky, trail mix or other snacks
--Tea, coffee, sugar and powdered milk
--Salt and Pepper--Stove: Multi Fuel Stove, Kelly Kettle, Trangia, Ebsit or Jetboil
--Fuel for your stove
--Spork (Or Knife, Fork and Spoon)
--Steel wool, mop and washing up liquid (I recommend Fairy)
--P-38 Can opener
--Waterproof container for map
--Cash or Gold/Silver
--Roll of toilet paper (in waterproof bag)
--Toothbrush, Toothpaste and Dental Floss
--Sun block or Skin care lotion
--First aid kit
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