Are You REALLY Prepared to Bug Out on Foot? Heed This Cautionary Tale of a Deadly Desert Crossing

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Desperation can be a strong motivator.

I want to share a story that I strongly identify with, though I have not experienced this to the same degree. I hope never to go through what the migrants in this story had to withstand. Most Venezuelans lack the preparedness that the great outdoors requires. Many never felt the need to prepare for anything. 

I know how this sounds. But, I have to acknowledge the overabundance of lazy and unproductive people in my country that watch too much TV and eat far too much junk food. Those who try to bug out by foot don’t know what they are getting into. Some of them drag their children behind. There is no official record of how many “desert walkers” have been lost in the desert to this point. I have a feeling some have faced fatality.

The following is the story of Venezuelan migrants who crossed one of the world’s most dangerous deserts, north of Chile, on foot. 

Desert Crossing

Chile was the destination of migrants by the thousands. They either knew someone in Chile or went hoping to find a job and a place to live. The Chilean government response at the start was more or less neutral, possibly “warm.” However, once Chile had noticed an increasing number of illegals committing crimes, they started to shut down the gates. (The fear of losing legal status and being sent back is so high that the risk will make most Venezuelan migrants go as gray as possible).

Regular people, without the most basic survival skills or training, printed a map and learned to use a compass. These people entered into the desert in groups, each with a 1.5-liter bottle filled with tap water and very little food. Mostly bread and cans of tuna.

Walking during the day exposed them to the deadly desert sun. The migrants were freezing at night in the desert and burned clothes, trying to keep warm. The desert walkers risked dehydration in the Peru/Chile desert and possible death as the border is filled with land mines.

Abandoned at dawn by the guides, “You’re just 3 hours away, walking that direction.”

The walkers did not seem to investigate very thoroughly the desert on the north border of Chile known as “pampa.” Pampa is nothing but hills and valleys of dirt and stone, and so dry there is no animal life there. (How anyone tried to cross that place dragging the kids is beyond my comprehension.)

Avoiding the border crossing was the idea, so the walkers went through the middle of the desert. (*See maps: The blue is the intended route. The red line is the route they took.) Pretty sure this is over 60 km of one of the most inhospitable places on Earth. Quite an accomplishment even for someone already trained. These people did it with NO training and without a map! (The guides who abandoned them had the map.)

With only enough water and food for one night, the abandoned groups met with a team of off-road motocross riders: Team Tuareg. The riders were amazed to see people in the middle of the desert. These people were in such an inaccessible place that not even the police could get them after they finally contacted authorities, asking for help with their phones. The authorities told them to “keep walking.” Team Taureg evacuated them on their motorcycles. (We bikers are nice guys, so please be careful when you drive.)

An article on the Pulitzer Center  details the story from the motocross team’s point of view:

It was midday when Andrés Carevic saw something moving in the hollow of the desert through his binoculars. He thought it was strange. It isn’t normal to find people in this part of the desert.

****

That Sunday, they decided to go to the desert even though they had practiced in the same track only a week before. It isn’t normal for them to repeat tracks. After completing the first kilometers of the track, they decided to stop and rest in order to be able to continue walking later. That is when they saw some figures in the distance. Carevic was able to point out through his binoculars that the figures were people.

Among themselves, they argued about whether or not they should approach them. They were afraid that the people would turn out to be “burreros” (what they call drug traffickers in Chile), and thought that they would be armed.

But they decided to go.

When they got close, they noticed that the people were barefoot, and others wore plastic sandals. They did not have the tools nor the clothing necessary to be able to support the heat of the day or the cold of the night. Their faces were lacerated by the sun and the sand, and their lips were cracked, similar to when the ground does not receive enough water.

Fortunately for these migrants, which included a 9 month old baby girl, Team Tuareg found them and was able to supply them with water and even mineral salts to help the baby who was severely dehydrated. Even more amazing is that they were out there and came across the migrants and rescued them all on the back’s of their motorcycles. If the bikers had made a simple turn to the other side, they would have missed seeing the group. 

I want to give thanks to Team Tuareg: You went out to the desert to practice your sport and ended being involved in a rescue operation. I want to thank you as a father. Those babies could have been my own family. Once a father, you become a parent for every kid in the world. Thanks, and God bless you.

Sometimes facing the unknown in known territory beats seeking greener pastures elsewhere

The refugees involved in this story are people without anything to lose. They were willing to leave everything behind to survive. They have too many mouths to feed, no profession, no land, maybe even no home. They have only the willingness to work with their hands, even if that means to live in some other country and never come back. The risk seemed insignificant in the beginning. 

However, I, fortunately, was not that desperate. Not desperate enough to attempt a crossing like this without thorough research and way more water. Even then, going into the desert as the walkers did after being abandoned was just plain stupid. I do my best to gather the information needed before, during, and after making a drastic change in my life. While there may come a time when you need to bug out on foot, learn all you can about it while times are good so that you’re prepared for the dangers you may face.

Recent tension in my life has prompted me to consider making changes again. I choose not to reveal the timing of my plans right now. As soon as I feel safe to do so, I will tell my readers more. 

Are you prepared to bug out on foot?

Are you actually prepared to bug out on foot if you had to? How do you train for this possibility? What kind of terrain is in your area? Let’s discuss it in the comments.

About Jose

Jose is an upper-middle-class professional. He is a former worker of the oil state company with a Bachelor’s degree from one of the best national Universities. He has a small 4 members family, plus two cats and a dog. An old but in good shape SUV, a good 150 square meters house in a nice neighborhood, in a small but (formerly) prosperous city with two middle size malls. Jose is a prepper and shares his eyewitness accounts and survival stories from the collapse of his beloved Venezuela. Thanks to your help Jose has gotten his family out of Venezuela. They are currently setting up a new life in another country. Follow Jose on YouTube and gain access to his exclusive content on Patreon. Donations: paypal.me/JoseM151

Are You REALLY Prepared to Bug Out on Foot? Heed This Cautionary Tale of a Deadly Desert Crossing
J.G. Martinez D

J.G. Martinez D

About Jose Jose is an upper middle class professional. He is a former worker of the oil state company with a Bachelor’s degree from one of the best national Universities. He has a small 4 members family, plus two cats and a dog. An old but in good shape SUV, a good 150 square meters house in a nice neighborhood, in a small but (formerly) prosperous city with two middle size malls. Jose is a prepper and shares his eyewitness accounts and survival stories from the collapse of his beloved Venezuela. Thanks to your help Jose has gotten his family out of Venezuela. They are currently setting up a new life in another country. Follow Jose on YouTube and gain access to his exclusive content on Patreon. Donations: paypal.me/JoseM151

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  • “bugging out” on foot is one step away from total failure. not even primitive hunter-gatherer groups that have lived that way for a thousand generations do well at it.

  • “ How do you train for this possibility?”

    There’s only one way and that’s by doing it. You strap on a pack and start humping the terrain. You’ll learn what’s needed.

    It’s like anything else in life. You want to be a better boxer you practice boxing. You want to be a better artist you draw more.

    You plan out the 3 phases. The “start” which includes training and pack out. The “trip” which is you knowing the routes, distance etc and the “end” which is you having an actual destination.
    A failure in any of these 3 will result in your possible demise.

    • @Matt in OK,
      Well said.
      And, as you have said in the past, practice now, and in a safe manner.

    • Well said Matt in OK.

      And as you have pointed out in the past, train now, and in a safe manner.

    • As usual, Matt with a great comment. Sure, buddy. But remember these people are housekeepers, your regular store cashier, mechanics, laborers, and so on. Not exactly people who knows what they´re getting into. The ones still inside who couldn´t or wanted not to flee, are subject to an extreme stress. Whatever of both options are going to be harsh.

      • “ But remember these people are housekeepers, your regular store cashier, mechanics, laborers, and so on. Not exactly people who knows what they´re getting into.”

        Which is exactly why they have to train. I answered your question directly.

        Your profession and lifestyle isn’t an excuse. How is it an inmate how gets an hour on a yard a day can make it 20-30 miles after escaping? He trains. In his cell he does cardio, runs in place, body weight exercises and toughness his mind. He doesn’t make excuses.

        Around here you drive 3 laps around the parking lot looking for the closest space to get a cart to load that bag of rice to bucket “to be prepared”. Then can’t remember where you parked much less hike unknown terrain.
        Or worse you have the driver drop you off then pick you up at the door cause it’s heavy. Pull in park out there then carry that rice.
        Train
        You won’t hump a bag of rice 60yds but your gonna hike 30 miles with a bob cause you’ll be magically ready with prepper strength the day of the coming.

        It doesn’t require a gym or fancy facilities.

    • Well said Matt. Training and practice are key. Not only I believe that, I know for a fact it works in real life. Exposing ourselves in controlled manners to increasingly challenging situations work to get us prepared in sports, business and most everything in life indeed. Why would it be any different in survival?

      I keep saying that IMHO not everyone in a family or community has to be a prepper, but one member must be prepared, geared, trained and ready to lead. That usually is enough to keep the others more calm, hopeful and moving in the right direction.

  • For anyone considering an on-foot or on-bicycle bug-out … there is also the dirt-cheap resource of a hiking trailer. Some are DIY, some are at retail. Some are single wheel, some are two wheel, a few are even multi-wheeled. Run a search on YouTube for this phrase:

    hiking trailer

    to see the extensive variety of videos.

    Some can be used either on foot or on bicycle. If the wheels and tires are selected properly … some can be used over rough ground just like a hunter’s game cart. Some have even been used over thousands of kilometers hiking. Sometimes a two-child sized bicycle trailer has been converted into a cargo trailer for either on-foot or on-bicycle pulling. Lotsa possibilities to consider.

    –Lewis

    • Personally my ” bug out on foot” plan, includes using a big garden cart to haul most of the stuff I would need, like lots of water and
      camping supplies.
      It has 16″ wheels and a 1400 lb capacity, it can be pulled by an ATV also. . It rolls so easily, you hardly know you have a load in it. It goes over small obstacles easily. Since it is set up for “garden” work, it also has a mud tread type tire.
      I use it around my home a lot, for hauling other things for projects or gardening.

      The only way I would consider going on foot, is if an EMP rendered all my vehicles useless.
      Since a good portion of my “trip” would then probably involve traveling by road, (leaving the city) and is fairly flat overall for the first (main) leg of the trip, it is my best choice.

      Now I know some would suggest going on bikes. But to me that would make you stand out and be a target.
      I would expect lots of “refugees” would be on the road “walking out” with their belongings in whatever cart or wheeled contraption they have or can find.
      So after an EMP, so I doubt this would stand out that much.

  • Glad there was a rescue / good ending in this situation.

    Of course the question is, how many bad endings have there been? How many bones are scattered across the desert floor?

  • Although you have a point, I would hope that most Preppers are better prepared and have a workable plan, rather than what these people did.
    It seems to be a common problem, as at the Sothern border in Arizona much of the same thing occurs with those illegal, migrant populations.
    Most people who are unfamiliar with Desert travel, are totally unprepared for what they would face.

    Also in most real SHTF scenarios , those that require bugging out, staying put is not an option. Like once the power goes out completely and for ever in a city. Without power, food, water, etc., you would not survive if you remained there. So you would have to leave your “known territory” for an “unknown one”. But if you plan properly, that “unknown one” should just be an alternative, “known territory,”, not a truly unknown one.
    The same basically goes with bugging out on ” foot” and bugging out in a vehicle, you should be properly prepared to do either one.

  • I walked everywhere as a Grunt in the Marine Corps…every climate every place. Start with physical conditioning. You have to work on your cardio in order to have a chance. That includes increasing the load you carry over time so you get use to the weight. Depending on how out of shape you are this could take awhile. Footwear. I still wear combat boots; Rocky 8 inch S2V’s (ankle support). I use the Rocky foot beds, but have used SOF ones (bake in the oven). I use 550 cord for bootlaces. Socks. SmartWool, Rocky 2SV or Fox River socks. The Rocky boots did not require a lot of break in, but spend some time wearing them so the foot beds adjust for your feet. Most newer better quality boots have low break in, but I would suggest doing it so you can toughen up your feet to avoid blisters. Over time you will develop calluses that will protect your feet. When I did get blisters I drained them and used MoleSkin. If they ripped off I used Liquid Skin to cover; then Moleskin. I use a 5.11 Rush 72 pack (internal frame). I can put enough “stuff” to get me buy for a week. You can add a 128 ounce water bladder (recommend Camelback bladders – cheaper ones puncture or leak). Plan on having a LifeStraw/Katadyn and/or be prepared to carry more water. I use 2 quart canteens w/Molle on the outside of the pack to increase water. I use MRE’s, but field strip them for less space and to get rid of the “stuff” I don’t use or eat. Cliff , Kind, Lar bars, beef jerky, hard candy, trail mix, sun flower seeds, etc. Keep it small so you can stuff it anywhere in the pack. Small mirror, canteen cup, Esbit stove w/extra fuel, fly half or plastic tarp, poncho/poncho liner (Snug Pack jungle bag), leather gloves, IFAK, Leatherman Skeletool, Gerber Infantry Knife, cotton balls soaked in Vaseline (fire) 2 x lighters, flint/steel, 2 x MRE spoons, 4 x microfiber towels, toiletries (at least soap), Gold Bond foot powder, sun screen, bug juice (bug spray), baby wipes, Silva compass, Garmin, Streamlight flashlight/head lamp w/extra batteries, multiple changes of socks, 10 x small tent stakes, 100 foot 550 cord, duct tape, QT and Gallon size Zip Lock Freezer bags, small sewing kit (make one – include various sizes of safety pins), 2 x contractor garbage bags (thick), toilet paper (two ply), 3 x nitrile gloves (in addition to what is in the IFAK). I have other stuff I add depending on what I am doing.

    • @InTheBooniesTX,
      First, Semper Fi!
      Second, lot of good advice there. I have a lot of stuff you list with some deltas.
      I used to be a LifeStraw guy, but then we had a drought bad enough, a lot of the water sources I would of used to get home (assuming humping it from work) dried up.
      Since then I have been using a Platypus gravity filter system. My “Clean” bag is my water to drink, and I fill the dirty bag and carry it too to filter later, giving me 6L of water. Assuming 1L an hour, 5 hour hump home, with 1L for margin of error. Of course I could ration, depending on the weather conditions, level of effort, Murphy lurking.
      My ever so thoughtful wife got me half a dozen KA-BAR Spork/Knife combo sets. The chopsticks are pretty cool too.

      • Semper Fi! I was at Horno back in the day! 1/9…ancient history!

        I will have to check out the water solution you listed.

        Oh love the Kabar sporks! We have a few of those too.

        It’s funny, but there is literally water all over Texas in stock ponds. You’d never think it, but they don’t dry up! At least around here… We just put one in and I am waiting for the rains to fill it up so I can stock it with fish next year! Guess I should have included a hat of some kind…hated humping with a Kevlar, but it is what it is! Now I just wear a multicam ball cap (hate that term – ball cap). Had a Navy guy call our covers “Ball Caps” so I have never forgotten that. Funny the stuff we remember from deployments….

        • One of the little things that still really sticks with me from SERE forty years ago is “Drink water, ration sweat.”

    • Gee @InThe BooniesTX, reading through your gear list felt like packing my own camping/survival bag, save for minor differences. Even the Leatherman the Gerber knife and Silva compass, kinda reassuring to read your comment I must say lol.

      Some good advice there, this is proven stuff according to my experience too. I’ve lived from this bag for weeks in training you sure can go a distance and do a lot with that. I’ve added a lightweight tarp and a compact hammock w/ bugnet and some adaptations to shed weight, having a good sleep is refreshing and helps me keep going.

      I also use compressed towel pills instead of baby wipes. I can carry a lot in small space, as in a tube or bag (waterproofed of course). They’re lightweight, and can be used for everything: to clean wounds or gear, personal hygiene, pre-filter water, tinder… And they can be cleaned, dried and used many times over. I guess it’s the most versatile item in my bag other than my knife.

  • I am prepared to, as I can walk 10 miles in 3 hours with a load on my back. As to a load, I have vitamins, oatmeal, peanut butter, and about 20 empty half-liter bottles for water. (I keep filling them, but roommates keep getting rid of the full ones, for some unknown reason.) I also have 3 sweatshirts, gloves, and long johns. Last, I’m the type who enjoys 90F or warmer weather, and a person who doesn’t fade quickly despite some dehydration.

    As I live in a creosote-steppe area, between an intermittent river (due to city/agriculture use) and mountains with a few semi-permanent springs, I don’t plan to “walk out”. But, I’m aware that a Yellowstone event, even as minor as a lava flow event, may make my environs untenable. So, I’m prepared to do so, but not planning to.

    I think, despite the prevalence of firepower among the “neighbors” (i.e. many who live nearby), that abandoning the river is foolish. Moving upstream or downstream is viable, but “away” is troublesome.

    • Dear Ogamol, if I were you I´d try to educate my roomies with some readings about what happened in Texas recently, for example, and explain that such water could be a real need. Other than that…well, if they won´t listen, just stockpile everything under your bed. My kiddo has already a list of what he´s going to have under his bed (a custom-made one he wants after he watched an earthquake-proof bed video). I can resist a lot of heat and thermal stress too, but age seems to be weakening me. Or maybe just so much time being sedentary. With what I’ve seen in Venezuela with water scarcity in some places because of the public water grid relies entirely on you-know-who…well, those living close to a stream have no problem at all. And our water quality is great. Women in Caracas have (or used to have back in my time) wonderful hair thanks to that. In our mountains, pure water quality is just like your fancy French bottled water.

  • I’ve read “bug out” articles for years. Mr. Martinez offers sage advice about what the reality is likely to be rather than the romanticized notions far too many have regarding the issue. His description of the physical conditioning of those attempting to cross the desert can be applied to the majority of Americans.

    I watched a nature film once about the unbelievably huge sardine migration along the coast of Eastern Africa. Once it began, predators of every description descended on the school of migrants. Larger fish, birds, sea mammals, and sharks ate their fill over the entire journey of the sardines. There was nothing to prevent them from doing so. The dinner bell was rung! There is a lesson there for those willing to learn it.

    If someone lives in a location where they foresee the need to have to “bug out”at some point in the future, especially on foot and with family in tow, then they should move now to a safer location.

    • Dear Whydah,

      That´s an excellent example. For those reading this and asking why I said it, mind there is no statistics of how many Venezuelan men, women and children have fallen victims to the human predators trying to reach their destination. I came to this city and country by mistake, and I won´t let my only child to walk alone even to the next street corner, literally.
      And as a matter of fact, we will be soon on the move to a safer place.
      Stay tuned.

      • I hope you find that safer place, Jose. I remember when here in the US we never had to worry about where our kids were. That has changed drastically I’m sorry to say. Having grandchildren now I never let them out of my sight when out and away from home. Sex trafficking is now epidemic in the US and I have no doubt most would be shocked to learn who all is involved in it.

  • First I will grab the BOB and put in the pickup or option #2, put it in the car, or option #3, put it in the trailer behind the riding mower. If all three of those fail pitch the pup tent wherever I am and open the Spam. I am too old to walk and the wife has bad joints as well. I might just stay home in my rural house and face whatever comes my way. I had a friend who insisted he could walk home to Snowflake AZ. from South Texas because he ran two miles every morning before work. It wouldn’t be the same.

    • Dear David Homer,

      I’m not that close to my 50s and I doubt I could walk from Texas to AZ. It’s not just about physical condition, it’s about getting there in one piece, and having a safe place to arrive.
      For some of us, staying put maybe the best option. After trying the terrible hamburgers they have here, I knew this was the wrong country to come.

  • Jose’s story should be a very sobering warning to people who think they can just bug out across inhospitable land without deep preparation and conditioning. Some years ago I began developing extensive documentation of smuggling trails on the border area of Arizona (specifically, the Tucson Sector of the Border Patrol). How did I do this? Initially, by accessing the Pima County Medical Examiner’s database of illegal alien deaths. The public records for every recovered body – often just skeletal remains – contained the GPS coordinates showing where the body was found by Border Patrol, Sheriffs or Tohono O’odham Reservation police. It didn’t take long before it became evident that every recovered body was either on, or within a few feet of, an existing smuggling trail. Hyperthermia, hypothermia, dehydration and pre-existing medical conditions were the primary causes of death in most cases where the medical examiner was able to make a determination; although there were also several cases of homicide (gunshots, stabbings and hangings).

    My point is simply this: Anyone that thinks they can throw a hastily prepared pack on their back and strike out into the wilderness with no more preparation than the people mentioned by Jose, is a fool. Most search and rescue operations in the SW deserts aren’t about rescue at all. They are about finding and recovering a body.

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