I'm a Doomsday Prepper

Inside one woman's obsession with outliving the end of the world.

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It's just weeks after 9/11 and my car is backed up to my apartment building. The trips up and down the stairs are exhausting, but the 60 gallons of water have to get up there somehow.  I carry up the jugs one by one, balancing them on one shoulder, storing them in the living room. Once they're all in place, I allow a small sigh of relief. If terrorists attack Ann Arbor, Michigan, I at least will have something to drink.

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The cupboards are stuffed with plastic bags of rice, dried beans, shortening, pasta, and other non-perishables. I've made sure to include things other people might forget about, like chocolate. Can you imagine how delicious a square of chocolate will taste when there's no electricity or running water and we all have to live on our own supplies? People will be begging me for a few well-preserved Oreos from the gigantic package I bought at Costco.

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Precious cupboard space is dedicated to things I can't use yet, but the day will come. I'm sure of it.

Fourteen years later, it still hasn't. But I'm not abandoning my plan. Food storage is in the basement of my new house, and I've expanded the inventory: propane, a torch, plastic tarps, mason jars, face masks, a tent, and cordage of all kinds. I study survival techniques by reading the Farmer's Almanac, Mother Earth News, and religiously watching the show Dual Survival. My husband plays along, buying and installing an outdoor firepit for my birthday. How many matches do we have on hand? Why don't we own a flint? I panic at our reliance on refrigeration. There are four or five coolers in the basement—would that be enough? I worry over our tree-shaded backyard. Without sun, how could we grow crops from the seeds I save and update yearly?

Can you imagine how delicious a square of chocolate will taste when there's no electricity or running water and we all have to live on our own supplies?

Not only do I worry about our survival, I worry about the community around us. We live near Detroit. What kind of looting and violence would take place in such a major city during a political or environmental crisis? Although I refuse to own a gun, other precautions are in place. We have two solar-powered radios charging at all times, our passports are always current, and we own a small stash of pure silver coins in case American currency collapses. Countless times I've congratulated myself for settling so close to the Canadian border. We could walk there if we had to.

I've trained myself to sew and knit and have enough supplies to keep us well-dressed for decades. I stock up on beads, wire, clay, paints, glazes, waxes, and dyes we could use for our own needs or to trade with others for things we don't have, like eggs. (There's an ordinance against chickens in my town; if there weren't, I'd have at least two.) I know how to dehydrate vegetables, pickle, preserve, and use a root cellar. I practice gardening by growing beans and tomatoes, and herbs—which will be the only medicine in a time of severe strife.

Some people think I need medicine of the psychiatric variety, but I disagree. Survival is encoded in all of us, just maybe in me more than others. And in spite of my fixation on the inevitable collapse of industrial society, I embrace the world as it is and marvel at how Earth continues to rotate even though so many things could go wrong. When the sun comes up in the morning, I savor my coffee more than most people ever do. And I know that when it's time—deep down in the basement—that giant box of Oreos is waiting.

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