PrintDuring most of my long-distance runs with friends, the conversation always drifts from the serious to the ridiculous. They may start out being about politics, our kids, or why our wives have decided not to talk to us on this particular week, but inevitably end up being about whether a polar bear and grizzly can really mate (they can) or if Taylor Swift or that girl from the Hunger Games are old enough yet to go out with fit, good-ish looking 40-something guys like ourselves (they are).

So I was taken by surprise near the very end of a workout on the Mountains to Sea Trail with my friend Walter when, during a lull in the conversation, he posed a deadly serious and relevant question: “Greg, what should I do when the Zombie Apocalypse happens?”

It’s a topic that I’ve given quite a bit of thought. We all know that the inevitable zombie takeover will occur—whether it’s tomorrow, 10 years from now, or sometime farther down the line is the only mystery—and we need to be prepared for it. Even the slightest hesitation in response can mean the difference between being alive or un-dead.  Fortunately, our proximity to the Blue Ridge Mountains gives us a natural advantage in the battle for survival over reanimated corpses.

In fact, in some ways, you could look at a Zombie Apocalypse as a sort of adventure opportunity. It gives you the excuse to leave your material possessions behind and settle off the grid in the Appalachians, just like so many of our ancestors did in these parts generations ago—minus the brain-eating monsters chasing them. Then, when the dust settles and good inevitably conquers evil, you can join the scattered bands of remaining humans to form a new, better, and stronger society. Here are the tips I gave to Walter.

Flee the population centers by bike

Think like a zombie for a second: If you’re hungry for human brains, where’s the best place to get a bite to eat? The urban centers, of course. No self-respecting flesh-eating corpse is going to forage for food in Shenandoah National Park. His first thought would be to head somewhere like the drum circle on Friday nights in Asheville. He’d hardly look out of place. Your first action when zombies attack should be to get a bike. You have to assume that auto traffic will be at a standstill because of accidents and downed electricity lines. If you’re not close enough to home to get your own bike, steal someone else’s. Don’t be squeamish about this little act of larceny. We’re talking about the Zombie Apocalypse here, so civilized society will be in a shambles, and the cops aren’t going to chase you down. Take the shortest route that will lead you to rural or undeveloped areas, and get off the interstates as quickly as possible. Fortunately, many of the cities in Southern Appalachia have easy access to the Blue Ridge Parkway, so you can quickly get to vast tracts of protected forest land. Once you’re in the woods, ditch the bike and hit the trails. More on this later.

Bring a smartly stocked portable survival kit

I’m assuming that you have a portable Zombie Apocalypse survival kit in your closet. If you’re a fool and don’t, my biggest piece of advice as you put one together is to be realistic. Act like you would when packing for an ordinary long-distance hike or bike trip–carry only what’s absolutely necessary and leave behind extraneous little luxury items like a portable espresso machine. Consider what a Tibetan monk once told me: when the undead take over the world, there are no sherpas. My survival kit is a fully stocked backpack that contains a bivy sack, big knife, stove, magnifying glass, lighter, basic climbing gear, insulated clothing, sleeping bag, about a week’s worth of freeze-dried food, and some other, dangerous MacGyver-like trap-setting materials that I don’t want to reveal in case anyone reading this column un-dies someday.

Get onto a long-distance hiking trail

Long-distance footpaths like the Appalachian or Mountains to Sea trails serve as the perfect escape routes from the Zombie Apocalypse. Let’s face it, the un-dead don’t want to go into the woods. Despite their many strengths, they’re slow, clumsy walkers who can easily trip over a rock or root and lose a decaying limb. Could you ever imagine a zombie shuffling to the top of Mount Mitchell? Ridiculous. Not worth the burned calories. Other advantages to the woods are that you can hide more easily there, and set booby traps for intruders (see reference to the girl from Hunger Games, above). Long-distance trails allow to you keep moving through the wilderness without being bottled into one place and surrounded by bad guys, and you’ll have the assurance of water sources, primitive campsites, and other bare-bones facilities within reach. Some sociologists (or at least my sociology-major roommate from college) believe that small societal networks of Zombie Apocalypse survivors will link together along the Appalachian Trail, warning each other of attacks, sharing damn fine moonshine, playing bluegrass, and even creating a loose code of conduct and system of laws and justice.

When zombies give you lemons, make lemonade

I know, easier said than done, right? But you might as well make the best of a bad situation, or you’ll be miserable out there. Enjoy your travels in the Southern woods. Savor the sunsets, the songbirds chirping overhead, the azalea blooms in the spring, and your time away from the stresses of civilization. Embrace the long hair, and be like a Charlottesville hippie by laughing off your lack of shampoo and that musk from the chronic absence of deodorant (without the $5 latte in hand). Be proud of your survival skills. Celebrate each day like it may be your last—and make sure that it isn’t.

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