Preparedness is universal — no matter who you are, we can all benefit from staying mentally and physically active to be ready for whatever challenges the future may pose. Case in point: we’ve stayed in touch with a reader named Russ who emails us with feedback after receiving each new issue. Russ is a 68-year-old Army veteran, and rather than retiring to a sedentary lifestyle, he makes a point to continually improve his fitness and survival skills. We always enjoy hearing his thoughts on our latest articles.

Reader recap Virginia colonial parkway preparation survival hike trek trail 7

This month, Russ embarked on a 23-mile journey across the entirety of the historic Colonial Parkway in Virginia. He had originally planned to make the journey with a friend, but two days prior to departure, his friend became ill and was hospitalized (fortunately, we’re told he has recovered). Instead of calling off the trip, Russ headed out solo. When he completed the trip and returned home, he sent us some photos and a brief recap of some of his preps and lessons learned:

A map of the Colonial Parkway route from Yorktown (left) to Jamestown (right).

A map of the Colonial Parkway route from Yorktown (right) to Jamestown (left). Source: U.S. National Park Service

“The parkway trek was interesting. One day cold north wind and 50°F; the next 86°F and 75% humidity. I’m glad I went when I did; we have tropically-originated rain this week, almost 2 inches last night. Then again, that’s better than being on the Big Island with a volcano — that would be a good “What If?” scenario for an issue.

I made this trip alone, but the National Park Service had a ranger keep track of me as I progressed along the route. It had fairly flat terrain along the York and James rivers, through some original woodlands, and passing through Williamsburg.

Reader recap Virginia colonial parkway preparation survival hike trek trail 4

As I was on exposed stone pavement, it was easy to hear traffic approaching. Still, you have to be alert for anything from bicycles to trucks with campers. No commercial vehicles allowed. There was also no wildlife to fear, only deer and the occasional raccoon or possum.

Powhatan Creek

“Powhatan Creek”

I have put several hundred miles on a pair of Salomon Quest boots. They do break in quick and hold up well from woodland trails to the mountains. I can attest they grip a rock face like they have suction cups. Their weatherproof properties and a good pair of SmartWool socks do the job well. As far as the laces go, I double knot them as was my habit with my Army boots years ago.

I don’t have a GPS. I did print out and laminate a map and mark check points. Left a copy a home and with a friend. As I hit a point; I texted my progress. In addition I arranged an extraction be standing by if needed. As far as lessons learned, it was mostly common sense sort of things:

Mill Creek

“Mill Creek”

Pre-hydration / hydration, no matter the weather. I usually carry about a gallon of water and pre-hydrate with Gatorade. Rations also — even for short distances at least a PB sandwich, an apple, and a tangerine. My water supply is run through a LifeStraw bottle, and the hydration bladder from my pack has an in-line Sawyer Mini filter. Hiking in the coastal plains and swampy areas doesn’t leave a whole lot of water options as most are salt or at best brackish water.

A photo of Russ from his days in the Army.

A photo of Russ from his days in the military.

I carry an old Gerber multitool that I bought in the Army in the previous century. The kind the demo folks used to prep charges. Also have a Hunter model Swiss Army Knife and a tiny little fold up tool from Sears; one of those in each jacket pocket. Always Be Ready! Preparation for insect hazards like deer and dog ticks is also necessary. DEET is a good pre-treatment.

Resting in the shade and nice breeze

“Resting in the shade and nice breeze.”

Attached a couple of pics so you can get a feel for the land. Yup, that’s me chillin’ under a pine around midday. Fairly flat country with a bit of roll and elevation.

Just a note, I am at my age with a 30-pound ruck, still moving about the forests and the mountains in Virginia on the Blue Ridge this year. I discovered GORUCK and participated in the Green Beret Foundation fundraiser back in October. Looking forward to one of their events this year. Being retired Army, it’s a good fit.

Reader recap Virginia colonial parkway preparation survival hike trek trail 6

Regarding Issue 25, thanks for the timely concerns to family/child safety. I am planning a hiking day trip with my 10-year-old grandson this summer. We have always done a day-out picture before we move out. The other safety tips mentioned are part of life with children/family.

All in all, thank you, keep up the excellent work at OFFGRID. Standing by for Issue 26. See ya in the hills. — Russ”


As we’ve told Russ, we definitely aspire to be this active and prepared at his age — if he can do it, so can you and I. We’re also glad to see him sharing his knowledge with future generations, and teaching his grandson the value of preparedness.

Have you learned any survival- or preparedness-related lessons on a recent hiking, backpacking, hunting, or camping trip? If so, we’d like to hear about them. You can contact me directly via email to tell me your story, or to share your thoughts on our magazine and/or web site. I read every message I receive from readers, and correspond regularly with some of you. I might even publish your story here on the site.

For more lessons learned and preparedness advice submitted by OFFGRIDweb readers, check out some of our past articles:

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