Last Saturday (12/20/08) I participated in a bug out exercise with 5 other misguided individuals. The event was organized by Wetsu the survival instructor from Tactical Response (www.TacticalResponse.com) who lives in northeastern Indiana. The goal was to act as if we had bugged out in the winter on foot and had to cover an 8 mile distance. Along the way we would test ourselves by having to shoot a pistol, start a fire, crack shelled nuts and various other probable tasks. We had only the contents of our bug out bags (BoB) to keep us clothed, warm, fed and safe. I drove up the night before and got a cheap motel room with two other participants who were coming from out of state. Before going to bed, I took the opportunity to reorganize the items in my BoB and confirm that I had everything packed the way I wanted. My bag weighs between 35 and 40 pounds. I also started a list of supplies I need to add to my pack. Once I was satisfied with my BoB's setup, I got a few hours sleep. The next morning we met the other participants in the parking lot of a local gas station. From there we traveled a mile or so by vehicle to a large state park where our trek would be held. Fortunately for us, Fort Wayne had experienced a heavy ice storm a few days prior so everything was coated in a thick layer of ice. So it was not only cold (high of 24 degrees), but also slick and dangerous. At around 9 AM we began our hike. The path was frozen over with a coat of ice which created a loud crunch when we walked. The ice also bent thorny tree branches down over the path where we had to push through, crawl under or find a way around. The first guy through had the benefit of the ice covering the ends of the thorns, but anyone who followed got poked and scraped excessively. Good times. After a few miles, we left the trail, bushwhacked and did some terrain land-nav for a few miles up and down hills with a few stream crossings thrown in for good measure. One of our merry party members brought his suppressed .22 pistol, so we practiced shooting small targets while cold and heavily clothed. Eventually we navigated back to the trail and hiked to our half way point where Wetsu had stashed some apples and walnuts (still in the shell) as examples of local foodstuffs that could possibly still be available at this time of year. Once we had had our fill of cracking nuts with our knives, boots and hands, we started the long trip back. We made our way a few miles back down the trail and Wetsu stopped us for a fire starting exercise. There was plenty of fuel available but most of it was coated with a thick layer of ice. We gathered what we could that seemed dry, but it was difficult to tell what was wet and frozen and what was just frozen. Out of 6 of us that attempted to start fires, only two actually became useful. Cold fingers and cold fire making ingredients complicate the process exponentially. Starting a fire when you really need one may not be as easy as you think. We made it back to the parking lot in the late afternoon and then headed over to a local private range for some live fire pistol and rifle work. Several members of our party had to call it quits after the park excursion. I shot a few mags from my carry gun at the range, but didn't stay long. Over all, I had a very good day despite being bone cold and exhausted at the conclusion of the hike. I made it to the end, pushed myself to stay moving and fought through the cold and pain. Test your Mindset, tactics, skills and gear prior to needing them to keep yourself and possibly your family alive.