The Guardian Broadcast
"Providing Concealed Carry & Armed Self-Defense Wisdom."
A podcast by Patrick Kilchermann, founder of the Concealed Carry University.
"Being Prepared – A Lesson You Don’t Want to Learn the Hard Way"
Preparedness comes with a relatively negative connotation in today's world: "You're paranoid, or you dont need to do that; that's what emergency services are for" are the common responses to seeing a person focus on being ready for a reasonably predictable outcome.
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Note: 100% accuracy on text transcription is not guaranteed.
This week, I want to share a story about preparedness. It’s a story from the perspective that we humans are unfortunately best able to learn from: when something goes horribly wrong. It’s a story from my personal life.
Many years ago, shortly after I got married, I became the proud owner of a pretty capable 4x4 SUV. It wasn’t new by any stretch, but as usual, I went through its mechanics from front to back, making sure that it was in as close to perfect condition as possible. I loved the SUV. It was built on a ¾-ton full frame, was powered by a relaxed V8, it was geared very low, and its transmission and crankcase and straight-axles were some of the strongest I’d ever seen in a passenger vehicle. I went as far as to join a regional club where other people who owned these SUVs could talk and share notes.
Now, I liked driving this vehicle off-road, but I hated the feeling that I was ever being rough on the thing, so I rarely went off-road. And if I may take a break from the story for a moment, I need to say that this was a big mistake. Having pushed as far as I have with Concealed Carry University, I’ve learned our bodies and gear MUST be pushed – if not to the breaking point, then at least harder than we’d ever push them in regular use - if we’re ever going to feel confident with them.
It’s true with the gun we carry concealed: You’ll feel a lot more confidence once you know how much sand and dirt or rain that gun can handle before it jams, and how it’s going to jam when it does.
It’s true with our bodies: if you’re going hiking with a 35lb pack, you feel a lot more confident knowing that you can run 6 straight miles without stopping, or that you can carry a much heavier pack for twice as long, or that even though a certain amount of water might be ideal, you know that you CAN get by with no water for a full day with no problems, because you’ve done it before.
And as the lesson of this story goes, if you’re ever going to take a vehicle off-road, you’ve got to know where that upper limit of its performance and capabilities is.
But that said, pushing machines and guns has always presented a dilemma for me. You see, I love these things, and I don’t want to hurt them. If I’m going to carry a gun concealed and depend on it, I want it to be in pristine condition. I don’t want one that may be more prone to failure because I pushed it hard before, by shooting it when it was packed with mud. However, when we push our equipment within reason, we’ve got to remember two things:
First, that we’re not likely to do lasting damage, provided we stay within the limits of what these things are designed to do. For example, we know that Tier 1 guns are put through high-drop stress tests, they’re buried in the mud, they’re left in sea water. And so, it’s not likely that dropping your gun in sand and firing it without cleaning it thoroughly is going to do any lasting damage.
Second, we’ve got to remember that we WANT our equipment to break during training or practice. If they’re ever going to break or jam up, we want to know that. And there’s only two times when you ever will know that. From the comfort of a practice or training arena… or while out in the field, when your life may depend on these things.
And that takes me back to my story: I had what was a beautiful SUV: strong, rugged, powerful, and capable. And yet, I didn’t know its full capabilities, its weaknesses, or its limits.
But that didn’t stop me from saying “yes!” when another off-road enthusiast invited me to go trail driving with him, in one of rural Michigan’s expansive state forests. It was a hot, muggy summer day, and in spite of my lack of off-road training, I felt confident. The weather had been dry for days, we each had SUVs that were in their physical primes, and we had recovery chains, and jacks.
He was alone in his vehicle; I took my wife along. This is before we had kids.
At first, driving on these trails was wonderful. It felt great to get our vehicles out into nature, and feel their suspensions articulating in ways that I never had before, going up hills, down hills, and driving on uneven trails. Gradually, the trails became more overgrown, indicative of fewer or no other recent traffic, and the paths became narrower between trees, and the ruts became deeper, but I enjoyed the increasing challenge.
Then, the mud started. And we started slipping and spinning a bit to get through – especially me, as I was driving behind him at that point.
I don’t know how far in we were at this point, probably 6 miles or so, but I began getting the general feeling that we should probably turn around and start heading back out. However, I believed he was more experienced than he was, and I trusted him to make that call. The problem was, in the end it turned out that he thought I was the more experienced driver, and he was trusting me to make that call!
And so, there we had two more problems: First, neither of us trusted our gut instincts MORE than we wanted to admit that we thought we should turn around. And second, we hadn’t talked about our respective experiences with driving off-road. We hadn’t appointed a leader for the adventure.
Now, the whole point of this adventure was to test our vehicles, so when we began getting stuck as the mud became deeper and deeper, even that wasn’t a warning sign. Probably 3 or 4 times, one of us got stuck, which only required the other tugging gently on a chain to get us both mobile.
Once, I got stuck behind him, and he had to pull me forward. I tore the trail up pretty bad in the process, but within a few minutes, I was free again. It was around that time that he said: “Well, we can probably turn around any time, OR we can just keep going and pop out of the forest on the other side. I’m having fun – do you want to just keep going?” It sounded good to me!
Well, the trails became soupier and soupier, and I gradually forgot that this had started as a nice drive on firm, grassy or sandy trails – because now, it was feeling more like a mud bog!
Well, eventually we came to a clearing in the forest that the overgrown trail seemed to cut through the center of… but rather than wondering why there were no trees growing up next to the trail as there had been up until then, my buddy up in the lead pushed forward. As it turned out, there were no trees because the ground was too swampy!
Well, I hung back to make sure he could get across okay – I at least had enough common sense to know that we should never push both vehicles into an obstacle at the same time. He made it about half way through, and bogged down completely to a stop. He sent mud forward and backward as he gunned it, trying to free himself. No luck! He was stuck hard with his frame resting firmly on the ground.
Our first reaction was to just chain our vehicles together, and have me pull him out. However, he was so stuck at this point, that my own wheels spun even on comparatively firm ground, and I knew I’d just dig myself in if I kept that up. So, I tried to jerk him out with a few good tugs on the chains – having not learned yet the difference between a steel chain and an elastic recovery strap. Big mistake. You may already know what happened: on about the third tug, the chain broke.
Now, because that was our only chain, with it snapped in half, the chain was too short for me to reach him from firm ground!
At this point, we should have recognized the severity of the situation, accepted a little embarrassment, and driven our single working vehicle out of the woods, coming back with two more vehicles and better recovery equipment. However, we underestimated the depth of how stuck his vehicle was, believing that the worst-case scenario would simply require us to use our recovery jacks, shovel, and fallen pieces of wood to raise the stuck vehicle and build a false road on which he could drive out on. We just didn’t want to do that, because it sounded like a lot of work on such a hot day! We were sure that if I could get around in front of him, I could get close enough to use the chains again.
So, desiring to try one more thing, we decided to try a different plan: the edges of the bog seemed pretty firm: I would drive around the bog, then back up to his vehicle, and pull it out from the front. It seemed that he had made it well past the halfway point, so the shorter chain should be enough to allow me to pull him forward. Then, having been humbled, we would both drive back along the outside of the bog, and call it a day.
It seemed like a good idea. We carefully walked the path that I would drive around the bog, checking the firmness of the ground. It checked out, and now from a position in front of him, I carefully backed up to his front end, until the much shorter chain would finally connect us. I could tell my back wheels were sinking, but my front wheels were holding firm. Attached, I began applying torque slowly, when to my relief and surprise, I felt his vehicle breaking loose. Just as I began applying more torque, he gunned it. He surged forward 4 or 5 inches before halting fast again in the mud, slackening the chain. Not being able to see what was happening, I mistook this slack for him making good progress! Not wanting to get in his way and cause him to get stuck again, I gunned it as well, hoping to keep or make up the slack in the chain. Well, when that chain tightened, my wheels immediately broke loose. Still not realizing that he was stuck fast again, I kept the pressure on the pedal for about 2 seconds too long. My wheels quickly dug themselves in, and too were stuck. My buddy tried to use the 4 or 5 inches he’d gained to reverse and get me loose, but that only caused us both to get even more stuck. Soon, we were both down to our frames in this bog, and his vehicle appeared even to sink a bit under its own weight.
What a mess!
Much of our recovery plans up until then had centered around using come-alongs and the chain around a tree to ratchet our vehicle out, but because we were now in a clearing, we were too far from any trees to even try that. And because of the clearing, we were now baking in the early afternoon sun… and because of the bog, we were being swarmed with mosquitoes.
Now even at this point, we weren’t very worried. “Well, let’s get the jacks, get the shovel, and get to work!” However, we quickly realized that without a firm plate to set the jack on, something with far more surface area than the base of the jack had, every crank of our jacks was just sending them further into the bog. So, we needed to dig deeply beneath the vehicles, and find something to use as a base – no problem.
My buddy grabbed his shovel and started to dig, when unbelievably, the handle on this short entrenching tool broke off. He cursed, and turned to me. “Well, where’s your shovel?” I said, “I didn’t bring one!”
Well, after about two hours of taking turns digging with only the head of the shovel and fooling around with those jacks in the direct, intense sunlight while being attacked by mosquitoes and gnats, and making zero progress, I began realizing how ominous our situation was. I stood up and pulled my phone out, wondering how much a towing company would charge to come all those miles back in that woods to get us, when I realized that I had zero signal. My old Nokia box phone had not a single bar. My wife’s flip phone was just as useless. My buddy didn’t have a cell phone.
And so we passed 2 more hours of fooling around, trying everything we could think of. My wife was off standing in the shade, trying to stay cool. My buddy and I both were covered with mud from all the wheel spinning. Neither of us had any gloves, and our hands were raw from digging and from trying to shove branches under the stuck wheels for traction.
And presently, his engine was hissing and popping and cracking as it cooled down, from the latest attempt to make some progress.
Pouring with sweat from all the useless effort, I went for a drink of water from the bottles my wife and I had bought when we gassed up. I knew we must be getting low on water, but as it turned out, we were completely out.
At that point, I calmly said, “I’ll be right back – I’m going to see I can find anything better for traction”, but really, I was very concerned about our lack of water, and I didn’t want my wife to see the concern on my face. I needed some air.
I walked away, and began running through my options. We had been driving for 7 hours, 4 of which had been spent stuck in this bog. We’d had nothing to eat but some granola bars since breakfast that morning. I hadn’t even thought of food, but even though my wife had demonstrated WAY more patience than I could ever ask up until then – after all, she didn’t even really see the point in driving off-road - I was sure she must be hungry. It would begin getting dark in just an hour or so. We didn’t have any flash lights. There had been many turn offs and side-trails that we’d driven by - walking out for help without a flash light would risk getting lost, and who knew how far I’d have to walk before coming back into cell phone range.
We had no water, I was already sweaty and thirsty and feeling dehydrated. We really had no idea where in the forest we were, and I wondered how we could pinpoint our location to any towing company, even if I did get cell phone service. It was looking like we would have to spend an uncomfortable and uneasy night in our vehicles, only to wake up even thirstier, even hungrier, with a long walk ahead of us to find help.
And all the while these thoughts were running through my head, I felt my heart rate increasing and I began having disastrous thoughts! What if I got lost walking out in the morning? Or what if I made it out, but couldn’t guide help back to the stuck vehicles? Should we all try to walk out together? My buddy wasn’t in very good shape. I had no desire to subject my wife to a muddy, sweaty, thirsty 6 or 8 mile walk through the woods, but I was beginning to question how much I could trust this buddy of mine. Could I leave them together? I had really only known him a year, and already on this adventure I had probably quadrupled the amount of actual time I’d spent with him – and plus, I had sensed more and more during those last couple hours that he was blaming me for this situation.
He was becoming resistant to my ideas, and was becoming uncooperative in trying any possible strategy I could think of for getting these vehicles out of there. With all these thoughts running through my head, as I stood there swatting away swarms of mosquitoes, I felt my throat constricting and my heart rate escalating. I paused from all the thinking, and realized right then, the effect that fear can have on a human body. I had technically been in much greater danger in my life, but I had never experienced what I could only assume were the warning signs of a pending panic attack. I knew right then: this isn’t me. I am not a guy who panics, especially because panic isn’t going to help anyone right then and there.
Without yet having studied combat breathing, I began instinctively fighting the urge for shallow breath with deep breaths. I began forcing rational thoughts through my brain: “This is Michigan for God’s sake, there’s water everywhere! I’m in good shape, I can run 6 miles without stopping in less than 50 minutes! We have plenty of gasoline, I can go sit in the air conditioning and cool down! I am armed: the GLOCK 26, which is what I carried at that time, was comforting in its own way – even if the idea that this guy would become violent was preposterous, it was still a very loud signaling device if needed! I hadn’t tried climbing a tree for cell phone signal yet! I jammed as many encouraging thoughts as I could through my head, and between that and the breathing, I felt that feeling of panic recede and disappear.
To this day, I’ve never even come close to feeling panic again, and I’ll tell you, I don’t want to. But that feeling, and that miserable situation absolutely helped me to cement into my head the idea of ALWAYS being prepared – not prepared for the worst, but prepared for the likely.
After all, we absolutely should have been able to predict this situation. We were driving off-road, for crying out loud. If we’re taking two 5,000lbs vehicles into the woods, did it make sense to shirk the responsibility of adding 50lbs of recovery gear that would have made our escape a cinch? Or what about a few gallons of drinking water? Or some boots – my shoes and socks were long since packed with mud, which wasn’t helping my psychological perception of the situation a bit. A pair of gloves would have been amazing. A GPS could have helped. A map. A full length shovel. An elasticized recovery strap, or two. Knowledge of the area. The wisdom to not go into the forest so deep. But most important of all: skill and ability. The fact was that neither of us knew our machines well enough to tackle a difficult obstacle, or to execute an effective recovery. There was no excuse for this. It was the vehicular equivalent of not considering what it takes to be effective in a self-defense fight until the gun is already pointed at your head.
It was a cascading series of embarrassing failures of forethought and acceptance of responsibility, and I vowed that it would never happen again. When I walked back to the stuck vehicles, I approached my wife, and apologized. I admitted that we had failed to prepare, and that unless we could free both vehicles in the next couple hours, we would be sleeping in the woods and walking out together tomorrow, then riding back in with one of our friends and a 4x4.
Strangely, the relief of having felt such a life-long important lesson in preparedness lock into my head made the situation feel far lighter to me. And perhaps it was that lightness that allowed me to think a little more clearly, and become a little more ingenuitive.
First, I let about half the air out of my tires, and tested traction with just a little bit of throttle. I was amazed at how the tires really did feel to grab a little better. Then, I shut it down, and it occurred to me that trying to dig our vehicles out was only going to keep giving us a few inches of leeway. What we needed to do was to build the ground up beneath our tires. So, I began digging out the ground in front of the wheels again, but then replacing it with more firm gravelly dirt that I’d cart in from some higher ground 40 or 50 yards away.
I tested the strategy after a little while, and I could tell it was going to work. So, my buddy and I both hit it hard for the last bit of daylight, and built up the tracks. And this time, I wasn’t going to make the mistake of getting stuck again once my short, firm road brought me back to the surface!
Now as someone who always pampers my vehicles, I cringe a little bit any time I push the engine harder than I needed to. But this time, I wasn’t going to take any chances. All day I’d learned the hard lesson from getting stuck again and again of what happens when you go half throttle through mud. I had no idea what would happen with maximum wheel spin, but it was the only thing I hadn’t tried…
So, I held my breath and my wife and acquaintance watched. I had the front and rear differentials locked, but the transfer case in high range. I gave it a little throttle, and I felt the promising feeling of the front end rising. I felt one of the back wheels break loose for a moment, but it caught again, and without any wheel spin, I felt the truck climbing slowly away from its bottomed out position. Finally, it was up! As soon as it was up, I knew I’d reached the end of my hand-made two-track, because it immediately began sinking in the mud. Well, I didn’t hesitate. I put the throttle literally to the floor for probably the first and last time in that vehicle’s life, and I held it there. The engine screamed and it sailed down into the mud. I could tell my front bumper was now plowing mud, but I kept on it, while alternating my steering wheel left and right. Mud was flying, and the engine was roaring. I could hear coolants washing through the heater core down in the dash. A couple times, making my way through that bog, I was almost completely stopped, but in the end, not letting up a bit worked like a charm, even though I knew that if I got stuck with that much wheel spin, I would be in deep.
But, I didn’t. I made it to firm ground on the edge of the bog, evident by increasing speed. I slowed and stopped, and just to let the victory sink in, I tested reverse, and forward a few times, as I re-oriented the truck back toward the way we came.
I wasn’t sure if my buddy would be able to repeat my success, but I didn’t care. Either way, we had one working vehicle, and would either have a much shorter walk in the morning if we got stuck again, or we might even be out of the woods and back in our beds tonight – after a much needed stop at a gas station for water, of course.
But, the strategy worked for him as well, and in the end, we both made it out that night. I remember hitting the pavement again, well after dark. As I sped up and heard mud slamming into the fender wells as it peeled off the tires, I apologized to my wife and to the vehicle, which after the day’s abuse seemed to have accumulated an exhaust leak and some other rattle, and the steering seemed less in alignment than it had been.
But, I didn’t care. The lessons I’d learned in preparedness with regard to Mindset, Training, and Gear were worth more than the cost of whatever repairs were going to be necessary.