All photos by Greg Preston
I leave San Francisco for five months in just five weeks, and I have way more shit to do before then than I can hope to accomplish. I am, however, realizing more and more the extent to which this job is a seriously badass form prepping. I almost wish we were required to hunt and gather our own food - but then again spending 8 hours hiking with a 60 pound backpack and then 3 hours hauling rocks, handling chainsaws, and beating the fuck out of my body every day for five months is probably enough for me to take on right now. Additionally, any time a shitbag likes me decides to pull a Bear Grylls / replicate the book “Hatchet,” it makes national news when they finally find the body in a ravine somewhere. Not on that level.
One of the more fun parts of me getting ready to leave is buying new gear to replace the very old, very crappy junk that makes up my current camping supplies… much of which are also a part of my Bug Out Bag, as more often than not me camping has involved going to the woods for a weekend with a bunch of shitbags and beer. A good portion of my gear I inherited from my dad, who bought some of it in the 70s, and as durable as some of it is, most of it is also heavy as fuck. So this is a perfect excuse to build the basis for an epic Bug Out Bag, then field test everything, then return with money to spend on guns and a crossbow… Just in time for people to potentially freak out on December 21st.
… It’s really sad that this is how my brain works, but I really believe that the most important / generally underrated part of prepping is getting your brain comfortable with thinking about things in terms of “how can I use this to survive” - “is this edible” / “can this be used as a weapon” / etc. Knowing how to fix a car > Having a stocked Bug Out Vehicle that becomes useless the moment it breaks down. This is why I read books about tying knots and butchering livestock, and very possibly why I love a lot of embarrassing historical fiction and sci fi - you learn a lot from reading about the world before (or after) modern technology… so what if the world you read about has dragons. HEY MAN, WHO KNOWS WHAT’S IN STORE.
This doesn’t mean I’m not stoked on being able to validate purchasing all the expensive sleeping bags and tents and camp stoves I’ve been lusting over, but hey, I need all that junk to save the planet and shit. And the fact that I don’t have to worry about paying rent for the next five months makes spending $350 on a tent seem perfectly reasonable, especially because that tent is going to be my literal home for those five months.
It’s funny to think about how much I’ve changed in the last couple of years - I went from being a dedicated student fixated on saving the planet, to a deadbeat living on someone’s floor in Oakland, to a lush who promoted nightlife events, to a social media coordinator for an upscale clothing brand, to literary curator at a tech startup incubation space, to a full-time shitbag server and barback / part-time blogger and farmer… and now I’m about to move to a National Park for 5 months and dedicate myself to service work.
In some sense, I’ve come full circle… And a huge part of that was becoming a Prepper. Sounds strange, but when I think about it I haven’t spent extra money on shit like clothing or useless gadgets in over a year and my mindset has totally shifted from being polished and stylish, networking, and working elitist jobs, to learning how to be self-sufficient, focusing on the state of the world around me, and challenging myself to try things that are outside my comfort level. I buy hiking boots instead of heels. I research peak oil instead of creating event invites. And instead of buying into all the bullshit vanity projects of the people around me, I focus on things that are important to me - things that I think are positive and meaningful outside the standards of the people around me, or the scope of the city where I live or the people I hang out with. I don’t censor myself online to appease uptight employers who are fixated on their image, I don’t buy into the bullshit consumerism that I once used to gauge my value and talent, and I don’t give fucks to people who don’t deserve them. I’ve reached a strange, enlightened state where I like my life and appreciate it more because I’m convinced that at some point it will change drastically. I am in survival mode - and not just because my closets are fully of knives and canned goods, but because death seems like an inevitability that I’m capable of dodging for awhile by means of tenacity and a prepared mind. I have taken a long, hard look at the world around me, accepted that I’ve done my part to ruin it, and now hold myself accountable for paying the price. I am never a victim, I am not afraid, and I am resigned to getting by… by any means possible.
That, to me, is the point of prepping - the dedication to being responsible for your life and livelihood regardless of how much shit hits the fan. It isn’t about stockpiling crap or having detailed, meticulous plans for a particular disaster, it’s about how you approach life in general and the obstacles it throws you way… such as zombies, or a nuclear holocaust, or a government collapse.
Now, that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to invest in a four year supply of freeze dried food at some point if I have the money, or that any of you get to forget about putting together a fucking 72-hour kit with some survival basics, but I think it’s important that people also begin to look at themselves and the world around them and take some goddamn accountability for how fucked up shit has become. And instead of just investing in a stash of precious metals or throwing a pity party with plenty of liquor and white drugs to numb the pain, let’s stare down death by having some goddamn guts. I don’t know if we can fix all the messes we’ve made, but restoring hiking trails in the backwoods for five months will sure as hell help to build up the skills and fortitude needed for survival in not only a post-apocalyptic world, but the world we live in now.
I think it’s time for prepping to become less about buying crap to throw in our basements, and more about moxie. A backpack full of guns won’t do shit if you run out of ammo, and a head full of good intentions won’t save your skin if you don’t have the courage needed to act on them.
… At least this is what I tell myself when I look at the miserable state of my Bug Out Bag and realize it probably won’t do shit to keep me alive when the world ends.
I have not lived very long or been many places, but all that I have seen or smelled, or heard or felt has happened on a little planet 150 million kilometers from the sun, in a strange galaxy, in an even stranger universe. And this planet is strange too - a round blue speck filled with millions of people like and unlike me, living in a million strange places, most of which I will never see. But I like it here. I’ve spent all of my 9,329 days of life on this planet. It is my home, and every bit of joy and suffering I’ve ever experienced has happened here.
When I was a kid, I lived on top of a big hill covered in big trees (oaks, mostly), and below the hill there was a stretch of mud and grass and wet where the egrets lived and where my brother and I could chase the dog and throw sticks and search out odd-looking bugs. I liked this place more than most places (like school, where things were neat and orderly, and there were no decaying deer carcasses to poke with sticks and no mud to sling at your little brother). I liked the way the cat tails would grow tall and straight and that you could cut them and use them as swords. I liked the way that everything smelled damp and fresh, and the way the air kind of filled you up with all the green things and made your lungs feel clean. I liked the sounds - the clicks and chirps and rustling of birds in reeds - little noises that were louder than you’d think once you stood still for a minute with your eyes closed and the wind whipping your hair across your face.
Home: Novato, CA, 1987-2005
I spent a good portion of my childhood knee deep in that mud, and most of the other portion I spent up the hill, climbing trees and running in the creek and picking blackberries. I was never clean; always covered in scratches and bug bites and sunburns. And I felt things, big things, things that I still remember because they were important. I lay in the grass with my dog at night and the sky was too damn big and I could never find the little dipper and I knew what it was to be small and lost. And I climbed the oak out back and followed ants along a branch, trying to understand where they were all going, and I felt alone, and big, and lost in a different way. I knew every tree for miles around, I knew where you could sometimes see the little marsh rats swimming around, and where you could pick indian paintbrush and lupine and sour grass. I knew a place where I accidentally hit a quail with my slingshot, and I knew a little hidden place beneath the blackberry bushes where I could go cry when things died.
I go back to those places and they are different now. Maybe because I am bigger and I can’t climb trees as well as I used to. Maybe because I have different places now. I have a little apartment in the north-west-ish corner of San Francisco. You can hear fog horns at night sometimes, and in summer you can open the windows and listen to the whole world bustling around in the heat while you hide in bed eating popsicles. Up in the Klamath there’s a lake that’s clear as cellophane and full up with icebergs and salamanders. You have to scale a mountain side to get there, and at night the wind picks up something awful, but there are more stars in that sky than I’ve ever seen. That is a place that makes you feel small and big and proud, proud because sometimes you hike 16 miles to look at a pretty lake and life is better because of it.
Home: ManEaten Lake in the Klamath National Forest, Memorial Weekend, 2012
I have been to a lot of places. Bus stops where I read good books and apartments where I lay wrapped in unfamiliar sheets. Parking lots where I chain smoked cigarettes and yelled at boys, classrooms where I learned about molecular biology, bars where I drank beers, bathrooms where I pissed, hiking trails where I sweat and bled and moved huge rocks. But all of it happened here, on earth. And I like this place. It’s where I keep all my stuff. My friends are here. And I belong here, generally, even when I feel like I don’t belong so much in a particular room or town or state. And most of the times when I felt the most joy or hate or sadness, it was because the whole planet seemed to resonate in my consciousness. That’s what makes my guts ache when I look at the ocean, what makes me feel small and confused when I look upwards towards the stars and know that past the atmosphere is a place where I don’t belong. Earth is the only place where I’ve ever felt anything; 25 years of triumph and failure, heartbreak and love and self-loathing, all of it happened because I live on this little blue planet.
Home: Western Addition, San Francisco, 2009-2012