Monday, February 3, 2014

Guerrilla Camping - Introduction and Table of Contents

About Guerrilla Camping

Guerrilla Camping 101 was written starting in September 2005, as images of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina flooded the airwaves. As most of the 9th ward lay submerged, I began writing after looking at a backpack sitting packed and ready to go by my front door. Unlike most people who have a bag packed with four days of food sitting next to the door, it wasn't meant for the end of the world. At the time, I was working two days a week in San Francisco, and spending the majority of my time living in a tent. 

Having spent quite a bit of time doing long walks, hitchhiking and "tramping" as the old timers called it, I was shocked to hear about people who had been unable to evacuate the city due to lack of vehicles, and felt it was important to share the knowledge I had gained over the years, both as a soldier and a hobo. Rather than your traditional backpacking guides, I wanted to focus on the realities of going off trail and travelling the roads, highways and railroads of the world. .

Published on GNN, the initial response was overwhelming, at one point garnering over 80,000 readers a week. In march 2006, my girlfriend and I walked out of the city to find a place in the woods to settle down. Lacking internet access, and only having access to a computer as resupply stops, the blog fell off, with only a few new articles being published as we homesteaded an off-grid 40 acre parcel in the mountains of northern California.

A lot has changed since then, the girlfriend is now my wife, I'm now a dad, and far from being the carefree vagrant I was in my youth, I am a "professional" working in the fields of sustainability and renewable energy. I still have wanderlust deep in my veins, and fully expect to begin indoctrinating my son into the art of gracious trespass this year. I still have hopes to get this mess published, but until then, here is a table of contents for you. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Thank you....

Thanks to everyone who continues to constantly comment and e-mail me about this blog. Please accept my apologies for being one of those people who pop up every two years saying, I'll blog more, I promise.

A comment from Theresa on "I wanna rock" made me realize what everyone has missed out on in my silence over the last few years,

You mean you haven’t gone camping or trekking since that rock incident? You must have missed out a lot of the activities. I hope you feel better soon.

 I certainly did not miss out on any activities, in fact, the activities have been why I don't blog anymore.

To sum it up in a cluttered rambled mess:

After wrecking my foot, I accepted a sweat-equity offer from one of the places we WWOOFed at. In exchange for keeping a 300 acre "nature preserve / off-grid e-commerce business / organic garden" running, I was offered a remote 44 acres and a dilapidated cabin to rebuild, along with the financial backing to do it.

In January 2007, we moved to an apartment near the property and began the slow process of rebuilding. I worked with dozens of volunteers from around the world, learned things like "how NOT to build an earthbag wall" and how to use bottle jacks to pick up and level a house. In 2008, eight weeks before our wedding, we moved into a 5th wheel camper on the property full-time and set to work. The gardens went in, we got married and (as materials became available) the cabin went up.

A year later, the cabin was wired, plumbed, leveled, windowed, painted, and roofed. All that was left was to finish the inside.

For most of my life, I have made it a habit to trust in others. If everyone held their word and trusted everyone else to keep their word, we would live in a beautiful world. That said, sweat equity is no equity unless you have contracts. Trust no one at their word when you have more at risk than you can afford to give away.

In 2009, after pressing to get our agreement in writing, I was "furloughed" from work on the "nature preserve" and it was made clear that it was time for us to go.

We were left without the land we had poured our souls into, but had gained an incredible and practical education, and what a journey we had. It was worth every moment, and had our time had ideally placed us within the community.

A year prior to the furlough, after many long talks with the deer, birds and lizards who frequently came to watch me work, I knew some human interaction was needed. I took a two day a week job as a warehouse worker at the local Farm Supply. When I asked the boss if I could come to work full time, he gave me a nice raise and told me, " Whenever you are here, you wander around and improve things. I want you to keep doing that." I did. We did very well as I moved up the ranks...

Since then, I have continued my travels in the professional world, with an intense focus on retaining and magnifying my ideals through the businesses I work for. I now find myself as director of the old "Real Goods Catalog". In 2002, I received a copy of the Solar Living Source Book, and it became one of my motivations to find a spot of land in the wilderness and make a go at having a fully independent lifestyle, something that led to the walk of 2006.

No, Theresa, I have not missed out on any activities. I spent my teens and twenties learning and living the lifestyle described in this blog, I've gotten older and slower, but I have continued to grow and learn. It's been a long trip.

With thousands of miles under my heels and wings, I'd venture to say that some journeys of a thousand miles stay in one place.


I'll blog more, I promise.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Have You Seen This Man?

An old buddy from the GNN days was seeking a picture. I decided I would post a few. While going through it, I found this picture:

I'm the pale kid in camofluage in the picture, which was taken a few days before I walked out of the city. The big guy in the picture is "Papa", a vietnam vet who lived in the door way of a closed down drug store near the corner of 7th And Market in San Francisco. I lived a block way in a cavernous basement beneath 6th and Market and When walking home from night shifts papa and I gradually grew to be good friends, spending many late nights and sunny afternoons discussing life and slinging stories.

On every return to San Francisco, I look for Papa. I haven't seen him since this picture was taken five years ago. If any of you know his real name, his whereabouts, or can contact him, let him know Sean from San Francisco would love to share another cigarette and has a much warmer place to spend the evening.

Papa was a fixture at Seventh and Market, a man who many protected and who protected many in one of the grittiest parts of the city. A disabled vet who lost his right leg in Vietnam after leaving his family hog farm behind, his decline to the streets was inevitable, given our country's definition of "supporting the troops". While I have spent lots of time hanging out with homeless vets from every war since Korea, Papa was one of the wisest and kindest of all. While I'd occasionally help him, he helped me much more than he may ever know.

There has been much recent talk about percentages. Let me assure you that papa is the 1%

He is the 1% who gave his life for his belief in this country. While he did not die, his life was so changed by his wounds that he was left destitute, to fall between the scracks of society as he slept upon the cracks in the street.

He is the "bottom" 1%, disregarded by those who ordered him to a foreign nation for reasons still argued upon by historians and political scientists.

He is the top 1% who, though he has nothing, gives the world to everyone around him. His presence and arbitration in the sixth and market district of SoMa calmed tensions, settled disputes and gave consolation and consultation to others who society had feigned to swallow whole.

He is stronger than 99% of us, who would wallow and consume ourselves in self pity at the lot we were dealt, but who instead still took every day as he could, once explaining to me that he had a good day because somebody had stolen his crutches, and in an hour or two, friends had found him a better set and padded em out real nice so he was able to walk to the Chinese restaurant on the corner for some $1 chicken legs.

Hanging on the closet door behind me is a small nylon American flag that Papa gave me for Veterans day in 2005. He thanked me for serving when he gave it to me. Someone had been through the tenderloin passing them out to homeless vets, and he said he was excited to get it because he wanted me to have it.

I'm not sure what that flag means. Perhaps it is to remind me how small my sacrifices were. Maybe it is to recall the things that are possible when we continue to believe in the fight even when it maims us. I like to believe that it is to keep me thinking of all the things that flag means to so many people around the world, a thing to burn, a product to sell, a symbol of freedom or stamp of oppression. This flag, gifted to me by Papa, simply makes me think.

So, Bigato, there is my pic. I'll post another soon.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I wanna rock.

As the weather changes, old injuries come out to haunt. A couple of dislocated knees commiserate with a pair of shoulders who shared their fate. Tingles and pops remind of awesome, decade-old stories, but the fame shines on a point just at the ball of my right foot, where cold weather becomes searing pain and taunts me with the notion that I may have crippled myself away from the very freedom I once swore by.

Yes, five years after the infamous rock in the dark that ended my cross county hike, I still enjoy frequent pains from that damned foot.

An update for those of you just tuning in, Stocked for a 72 mile trek up the rails aside the Eel river, I turned 220 lbs of pack and body weight onto a upturned rock in the middle of the night, and destroyed the inside half of the right foot behind the big toe. Live long lesson learned: Yes, "hiking boots" use less calories to lift than mountaineering boots, but even civilian roads can occasionally call for heavy soles and steel shanks.

I want that rock.

It's probably about two inches long, an inch or so at the bottom and half an inch on the business end, and if you look carefully, you might see shards of shattered dreams left across the narrow end. I collect odd mementos. I am willing to trade my deer molar for this one. Consider it a bounty and a mission.

Friday, October 14, 2011


Real life is oft a sledge hammer to my promises to write more. Thank you to everyone around the world who continue to send messages of encouragement, particularly those who see the bits that only get posted for a new minutes and who e-mail words of encouragement from the four corners of the globe.

Its not that I don't have tons to write about. It's just that I'm not a nomad anymore. I'm a dad. In seven years, I will attempt to conquer the final stretch to complete California by foot, and we'll see if my boy wants to knock out Oregon and Washington with me in the following years.

But you guys jumped on for my backpacking adventures, which I lack now. My passions lie in gardening and self sustaining systems now. I've been back to the 9-5 world for a few years now, and have been doing well enough (considering the current depression) that my wife and I joke about our outmoded and stereotypical gender models. Our boy is beautiful and we struggle to find domestically made toys for him, bought from local merchants.

I still religiously pick up hitchhikers in hopes of someday repaying the karma that drivers heaped on me from 19-31, so I try to keep my ear to the ground. But I'm going to have to expand my horizons if I continue to post. I'm sorry if you are a long time follower and disappointed by the taming of BlackPacker.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

You're not going anywhere.

Most disasters will not require you to get out of town, as romantic as the notion may be. In fact, in the bay area, most disasters will completely strand you as bridges, tunnels and overpasses are shut down for inspections or reconstruction. Not only will this keep you in, it will keep essential services out. In the event of a major quake, you can expect to be on your own for three days to six months depending on the severity of the incident. Truth be told, the following advice will help you even if the tremors you experience are a layoff, an earthquake or the proverbial zombie apocalypse. This is what you need.


Water is easy. You turn the tap on, and out it flows. But the terrible truth is that those water lines run underground, often only a few inches away from the sludge that flows out your toilets. With any major flooding or infrastructure damage, your tap water will be rendered unsafe.

You need 1 gallon a day for cooking and drinking, but a safer estimate is three gallons a day if you want to do important things like washing dishes or your stinky ass. You already have 30-50 gallons of water stored in your hot water heater. As soon as a major trembler hits, pour yourself a nice steaming bath. If your water lines are contaminated, this water will not be clean, but it will be cleaner than what you get later. This comes out to ten days of water. You may need to treat it, but at least it is there. Likewise, the tank behind your toilet holds a days worth of water, and if you refrain from flushing, it should be clean.

If you’re freezer is largely empty, throw a few bottles of water in there. Two liter soda bottle are best, since they don’t break easily. Gallon milk jugs work as well, but require and incredible amount of cleaning; I thawed a few gallons from my mom’s freezer and they reeked of spoilt milk, and I wouldn’t wash in that crap, let alone drink it. Frozen bottles have the advantage of serving as thermal mass and will slow the thawing process of any food you have in your freezer.

The blog in the side bar details treatment options, but for the average SF apartment, your best bet is a gallon of bleach. 1 TBS of bleach to each gallon of water will probably kill any nasties, though if you experience an extended loss of services, you will need to boil your water as well. If you have the spare cash, a pump filter will allow you to drink the rainbow water on sixth street without becoming a pigeon.


Living in the city, I always had my slow day stash of food; a buffer that allowed me to stay fed if I lost my job and was forced to choose between eating and paying rent. You’ll want 1000-2000 calories a day, but you can make it on less. My stash was 10 lbs of pasta, 5lbs of rice and 5lbs of dried black beans alongside my favorite canned food. Since then, I have discovered Quinoa and Polenta, both dried food that offer great nutritional benefits and which are pretty cheap in bulk at wholefoods. (Quinoa is a complete protein in grain form) The 20lbs of food above can be had for less than a Franklen if you find them on sale or hit Grocery Outlet in the east bay. My canned foods usually included a bunch of veggies (even though I hate canned veggies) thanks to the vitamin content. Canned meats can be intolerable, but tuna, chicken and Vienna sausages are great in recipes. Canned tomatoes are essential for the pasta and rice.

The 20 lbs of dried food and canned stuff for sauces and tastiness was enough to last two weeks without eating out, and if I really pushed my bachelor’s selection of condiments, might even taste good. Thank god for Siracha and Tapatio. If you frequently cook at home, you can easily adapt your existing pantry to serve as emergency rations.


You gas mains are going to break if a cat farts on a fault line. This means your gas range is not going to work. Anybody who has lived in the city for any length of time remembers the rolling blackouts, so if you have an electric range you don’t even need to wait on feline flatulence to suffer a Frisco Famine.

I would personally recommend two stoves; a multi-fuel camp stove and a solid fuel stove capable of burning wood or charcoal. Neither are suitable for indoor cooking, but both can be used semi-safely next to an open window.

Multi-fuel stoves can run on white fuel (naptha, camp or coleman fuel) or gasoline. In the event of a major disaster, you will be using gasoline, which is dirty and VERY dangerous to use inside due to the additives that gas contains. It will also leave a sooty residue on the bottom of your cookware, which is made easier to clean by swiping a bar of soap along the bottom of your pots and pans prior to cooking.

Multi fuel stoves can be had on craigslist and ebay for cheap, from $15 to $50 depending on the model. The Coleman Peak One is the usually the cheapest used stove on craigslist. I personally own an MSR Whisperlite (which will also run off kerosene and similar fuels) and a ridiculously oversized two burner Coleman campstove.

A solid fuel stove is easier to build than buy, and can be made out of a coffee can in less than an hour. A very efficient version of the tin can stove is known as the rocket stove and requires a coffee can and a regular old soup can to construct. Awesome instructions can be found with a quick google search. If you aren’t going to build one now, print out the instructions, as your internet will probably go down before your gas lines.

More info on stoves can be found in the sidebar under the “Playing With Petrol” blog, including a stove which can be made with only a few beer cans, and which will run off rubbing alcohol, Bacardi 151 or any sufficiently strong alcohol.


Odds are good that you apartment will be fine, but there have been many a building knocked flat or rendered useless due to the structural stresses of a strong earthquake. A box of trash bags and a roll of duct tape is enough to temporarily cover broken windows, but in the event of a wrecked building, you may find yourself needing some other sort of shelter.

A military poncho makes a functional, light and versatile shelter but, to be honest, for just a few dollars more large camping tents can be had from a number of sporting goods stores for under $40. If your home is unsuitable to remain in, contact a friend to set up in their place or in their backyard. DO NOT stay next to an unstable building.

A sleeping bag is good if you can afford it, but your own bedding will suffice in most situations; particularly if you can crash a nearby friend’s house. Using couch cushions or any other sort of padding (yoga mats are awesome) will keep you off the cold ground, make sleeping easier and keep you warmer. If you have the inclination, a roll up foam mat, or a self-inflating matt such as a Thermarest is easy to carry, packing up to about the same size as a water bottle.


A Flashlight with spare batteries. Seriously, if you lack this, stop reading and go get one now. Better yet, get a few.

A battery or crank powered radio. You can get these at dollar stores and they are very important. When you get one, spend a few minutes to find out what you local NPR stations are. Big stations are often computer controlled, and will not have any good information for hours after a disaster. One September 11th, numerous New York stations continued with regularly scheduled broadcasts for up to 24 hours after the towers fell. Local public radio will tell you the locations of hazards, shelters and resources, often starting seconds after a major event.

A multitool like a leatherman or one of the hundreds on knock-offs is essential. However, after an earthquake a crescent wrench is imperative. A broken gas line can ruin you day, and having a wrench able to shut off your gas line is important.

A prybar of any sort should be kept under a couch or bed. DO NOT KEEP IT IN A CLOSET. After a quake, buildings can lean or sag, making doors impossible to open without a lever. If you find yourself stuck without a bar, remember that doorknob screws are always on the inside, and after pulling out a door knob you might be able to pull open stuck doors.

A cellphone is important, and while it may seem counter intuitive, after a major disaster, you should call one person out of the area and then turn it off. If the circuits are tied up and you are unable to get a call out, text messages will often go out when calls won’t. Turn off your phone once you’ve made contact to let people know you are alright. It may be a while before you can charge it again, and probably not long before you need to call someone.

Heavy shoes are one of the things I would usually forget to mention, as I’m the kind of guy who shines my hunting boots for job interviews. But there will be lots of glass and other hazards lying around after a quake, and flip flops won’t cut it as well as shards of broken windows cut your feet.

Rain Gear can be as simple as holes punched in a trash bag, as cheap as the $5 sets you get from grocery stores, or $150 fishing gear from a company like Dutch Harbor. Do not expect a disaster to happen on a sunny day. Umbrellas are worthless.


There are a lot of things to really consider when preparing for a disaster, and this list has barely touched the surface. For lots of professional input, visit for information in preparedness kits, emergency resources and advice. No matter what, make a plan, build a kit and keep your head.

I’m heading out the hills for a week tomorrow morning, but will finish the blog about that $50 kit when I return. Stay steady.