Backwoods Prep Kit for Coronavirus- May 2020



There’s a pandemic happening.  Supplies will get harder to find.  But you’ll want certain things in order to mitigate risk when you go out in public.  Also, if you do get really sick- you may need to improvise treatment as you may not have access to a hospital.  So because you like to be prepared, here’s what you should get.

Preventative-  The goal is to not get sick in the first place, which is easier for some than for others.

DIY Masks-  Wear masks when you are shopping,  in spite of what the federal govt tells you to do.  The hoarders bought them all in January- so you’ll have to make them.  Fortunately, you can make ones that work well, and to do so you’ll need two materials, cut them and sew them together:  1) vacuum bags, and 2) elastic.  I bought both on eBay.

  • Studies show that vacuum bags are a close 2nd place material to surgical masks themselves
  • Vacuum bags- get a good quality, name brand. Should be labeled as HEPA, hypoallergenic, N95
  • Elastic- get ¼” width or close. In a pinch you can innovate with hairbands or maybe rubber bands but they won’t be as comfy.
  • Comfy is as important as filtration, or else it won’t get worn consistently.
  • I bought mine on eBay. From U.S based shipper, otherwise they’ll never show up.


  • get rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide and/or bleach. Still work great.  Put in a spray bottle and dilute as needed for cleaning surfaces or hands.
  • Set up a station by your front door to make it easy to sanitize when you walk in.

Immune system

  • Eat better. This is especially hard in times of crisis bc we turn to junk food when we are stressed.   Good foods help your body’s immune system.  Bad foods distract it.
  • Take vitamins. Vitamin C, D, zinc especially.  Take them every day.
  • Research adaptogens. These are supplements that have been traditionally used to boost the immune system.  They work better as preventatives than as treatments-.  Ginseng, schisandra, maca, rhodiola


In case you actually get the Coronavirus and its critical.  These are the things that will get increasingly hard to find.  Basically, you’ll need two things- supply of steady oxygen, and anti-virals.

DIY oxygen-   you’ll need a tank with built-in regulator and fill gauge, plus a mask.

  • get a setup like they prescribe to folks with emphysema, user-friendly and plug-n-play.
  • Chemically there’s no difference between ‘medical oxygen’ and regular oxygen- just be wary of very old tanks coming from welding kits.  Also, tanks are all stamped with a 10-yr timeframe and refillers won’t fill them back up if they are expired.  So avoid buying expired tanks.
  • Regarding the size of tank- remember that you aren’t replacing the air we breathe so much as supplementing it. It’s not like a scuba setup where the air in the tank is the only air you are breathing.   Common misconception here.
  • Get some masks that have a little reservoir bag that gets filled up, and when you breathe in that’s where the oxygen comes from. I got these on Amazon.
  • Improvise with the regulator, tubing, mask design as needed.
  • If you can, make friends with someone who can help you refill the tank. g. welders.

Anti-virals-  not sure how to help you on this one.  Lots of theories online as to what works.

  • Some commonly-mentioned anti-virals: chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine.  Do your homework because these are dangerous drugs with high toxicity and side effects.
  • Before, you could order meds online from Canadian or Indian pharmacies, but not likely for a while going forward.
  • Some natural medicines to consider are adaptogens, but if you aren’t familiar with herbal medicine then now would be a hard time to start.
    • Be reasonable with any alternative medicine. In my experience, herbal remedies usually work better as preventatives, and I would consider them a complement to western medicine as opposed to a replacement.   If I could get my hands on anti-virals right now, I would.  I still keep echinacea tincture, elderberry, garlic, ginger nearby for all kinds of ailments and this pandemic is no different for me.
    • Remember that when Tylenol reduces fever, it reduces your body’s intentional immune response. So be smart and work with your body instead of against it.

Conclusion:  Do your part to flatten the curve, be smart and be resourceful, take care of your family and be a responsible part of your community at the same time.   Don’t be selfish, don’t hoard, and don’t worry about things outside of your span of control.  Just do your part.

The Scarcity that binds us after disasters

South Asia’s traditional caste system has been around for several millenia.  The idea that people are borne into their status in life- it seems offensive- an idea that we should reject if we believe in meritocracy.  But here’s another unpopular opinion- Caste societies have a rational, if exploitative roots.  They start with identifying groups of people who have fallen into a trap, and then taking advantage of them while they are caught.

  • Poverty causes the Scarcity mindset*, creating a cycle of poverty with a foundation of short-sighted habits that once were effective in helping one survive, but now only serve to inhibit one to plan for the future.
  • These habits, like any habits, are social- meaning they are passed along to friends and family.
  • Therefore the concept of a “Caste” society has a legitimate foundation in recognizing the cycles that some groups are perpetuating, and serves to label them permanently as Losers instead of just people caught in negative, self-perpetuating cycles.

The roots of this problem likely starts in crisis.  Crisis is what disturbs our healthy equilibrium- our sense of moderation and discipline.

We were doing fine, walking down the modest path of slow-growing prosperity.  Slowly accruing wealth, getting exercise, working most of the week and then spending time with friends and family the rest of us.  Giving back to the community, developing hobbies and sharing them.

And along came a Crisis.  A flood.  Or mass layoffs.  Or a medical procedure that bankrupts us.  Or suddenly becoming the caretaker to someone else.  Some Crisis that levels our sense of balance with our money, our time, and our health.  How resilient are we in the face of this Crisis?

Crisis disrupts our healthy living;  Scarcity replaces our sense of disclipline as developed in good habits; and then Castes and predatory capitalism keep us in a state of Scarcity- fat, broke, sick, and desperate.

Resiliency ought to be measured in so many other ways than we see it now.  It’s more than Jobs.  It’s the fabric of our daily lives. Are we back to getting enough exercise?  Are we eating well- mostly vegetables, not too much processed crap?  Are we saving money again, do we have time for the people and activities that make our lives meaningful?  If the answer is yes- then we have Recovered.  We are Resilient.  But if we are still living on short-term measures- meals that come out of a box but take their toll on our health;  a budget that gets us through the month but at the expense of our retirement; a schedule that keeps us in our homes but defers all of their required maintenance; a job or two that leaves us too tired to socialized, and too busy to volunteer;   then we have not Recovered, we are not Resilient- and we are still stuck in the Scarcity Loop.


*for more info on Scarcity, check out the excellent book written in 2013 by Mullainathan and Shafir

Cash is King for Disaster Donations?

A donations food drive feels like a real way to support people in need. Donating cash at a checkout line, or on a website doesn’t usually give that same feeling. In contrast, it feels depersonalized, uncertain.  Where’s the money go from there-  what’s the impact?  Where’s the feeling of solidarity and support?

Collecting donations is something real. It feels like you are already making a difference.  This past holiday season my employer did this, and the pyramid of cans  that we collected was a visible, in your face display of our solidarity with those who needed that food.  The can drive collected food to donate to a nonprofit that handles the logistics of distributing it to a flooded community. It was a great team project, it brought us together, and it felt like we were helping this community. Over the course of a couple weeks, we pilfered our own pantries, cleaned the shelves of the surrounded supermarkets- drove all those cans back to the office and lugged them to the 3rd floor where we made a pyramid of them. You could see this monument to charity before your eyes.

Beyond our office- what was the impact in the flooded community ? We can’t say for sure, but we do know what happens to a flooded neighborhood.  Perhaps no water or power, kitchens largely out of commission, people living in hotels or shelters or out of their car-  and those in greatest need lacking the ability to cook and prepare food.  Even not in a disaster, cans are usually only a small part of the food source for families.  The greatest problem- we don’t really know what happened to the food we donated and if our goal was not just to come together as a company, but to impact a flood-stricken community- then we should care as much about the cans as much as the cash.

In the months after a disaster, interviews with surivors relay a common response:  somewhere in that flooded community was a warehouse full of cans- perhaps still is.  It’s called the “second disaster” to those in the disaster recovery community- the challenge of making well-intentioned donations available and useable to the community.

The point is that we have to differentiate between feel-good projects, and those which make a difference. Mayne we can zero in on other goods that are essential. Like diapers, medicine, tarps.  Maybe outsiders have no idea what that “short list” of useable donations is, on any given day. That sort of analysis would best be conducted in the locality.

This, then, provides a useful intersection of the survivors and the supporters. Survivors provide the analysis, the certainty of what the feel-good support project ought to be- and the supporters do the can drive. Or the diaper drive. Or whatever the case may be.  Here there are two issues:

  1. Efficiency- get the rights resources to the right place at the right time, with the right distribution and support.
  2. The Story- give supporters a reason to support. An understanding of what the other person is going through and why a diaper drive has such an impact to that community. You can’t do this with numbers alone. Something as tangible as a pyramid of canned goods.

Sometimes cash is the better donation- it supports the community’s ability to decide for itself what needs are most urgently met.  Sometimes those needs can’t be met with cash- and well-intentioned volunteers should be ready to listen for those requests- for time, labor, and other resources they may be able to provide.

Ready to go Bikes, part 2

We spoke with Dave Schweidenback of Pedals for Progress about his model of collecting good used bikes to send to regions that could use them. In the Pedals for Progress bike-donation model folks who want to donate a bike must also make a cash donation to cover the cost of shipping the bikes.

That way two things happen 1) folks don’t donate junk bikes just to avoid a trip to the scrap yard, and 2) the best bikes are also sent overseas rather than being auctioned off at home to help cover shipping costs of the worst bikes. There are a lot of different models out there for collecting and sending bikes from the USA to different regions of the world, each holding to varying standards of ethics and accountability. The concept itself of sending used bikes, good ones or not, treads on “aid” territory dangerously close to what has been termed SWEDOW (Shit WE DOn’t Want).

This is a term that has been used to describe the tendency for donors to think of others as having lower standards than themselves and thus thoughtlessly sending used crap to other people with an expectation that those poor folks elsewhere ought to be grateful for anything, whether that be our used tea bags or our used bikes. This is an important thing for those sending bikes overseas to think long and hard about, and is equally important to consider in disaster response efforts. A key way to avoid sending SWEDOW is to listen to communities and follow their lead, working as their allies, rather than arrogantly assuming that our ideas are best and therefore worth implementing.

So as we talk about how to get bikes to folks in the aftermath of a disaster, lets start with the caveat that sending bikes is only appropriate if communities have identified this as a need and a valuable recovery resource in their own context. If survivor communities are not asking for bikes then it is probably not appropriate to be pushing bikes on folks and potentially sending them our junk. If survivors are asking for bikes, then sending good bikes in a timely way is something we need to figure out how to do.
– Bjorn

Here’s an idea…

So here’s an idea: survivors of catastrophic disaster need to be able to lead the recovery process and bikes are a tool that can help make that happen. Therefore, bikes need to be more central to disaster response. After some time in Biloxi, Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina, we saw this need for a more central role of bikes in disaster recovery. In fact, it was Kryzra Holmes, an East Biloxi community member and leader, who noted that it was unfortunate that bikes were not more available as a way to involve survivor youth directly in the recovery rather than seeing the youth as a nuisance.

Some bikes were eventually delivered to the area for the survivors by at least one group, in addition to the few bikes we were able to borrow from the police station’s stash of impounded bikes. There are a number of organizations like Pedals for Progress and Cyclo Nord Sud (and many others) that store up containers full of bikes and send them to other countries for “third world development” projects, but none of these initiatives are geared directly toward immediate disaster response.

Another organization, World Bicycle Relief, helps to set up bicycle manufacturing in regions affected by catastrophic disasters, but again, these bicycles are not available soon enough to be part of the initial recovery process. So the question remains, how can bikes be delivered to survivors in the immediate recovery phase – within days of a disaster occurring? Along with medical help, water, food and blankets, how do we get bikes, as a versatile and fuel-less means of transportation, to survivors in settings where they would be useful?