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Apocalypse Now

Seven years after publishing their game-changing The Art of Living According to Joe Beef, Meredith Erickson and the team are back with its iconoclastic sequel – Joe Beef: Surviving the Apocalypse. In this excerpt David McMillan recalls the high school trip behind his current survivalist retreat.


Today, no parent in their right mind would let a long-red-haired forty-something vegetarian teacher take five boys to his off-the-grid cottage for four days. But in 1988, a high school teacher named Bob Hartley brought me and four friends to “Secret Lake” in a milk truck. His truck was usually a chase vehicle for cyclists, so you could also eat in it and sleep in it. And we did exactly that.


Mr. Hartley brought six giant loaves of sourdough bread, a massive jar of Hellmann’s mayonnaise, tomatoes and a block of sharp Quebecois Perron Cheddar. That was the Secret Lake sandwich, and we ate it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.


I bought my own cabin there a few years back—a jewel of the Laurentians, it is boat in and out only. No road, no public sewer, completely off the grid. The landscape is best described as End Times. The lake’s shores are lined with rudimentary crumbling boathouses. The people? A Jurassic Park gin-and-tonic drinking mix of Anglos, Francos, Germans.


I can’t tell you the real name of Secret Lake because the first rule of Secret Lake is there is no Secret Lake. I would be shunned by the community.


The goal of the Secret Lake cabin is to go solar and be completely self-reliant: there’s something to be said about having all my amenities from home but not paying a dime for it. If you’re going to grow stuff—and you should—grow edible stuff, a la Northern Gardener: sweet potatoes, kale, borage, Roman chamomile.


Success means different things to different people. Success for me has never been a home, a car or material possessions. It’s just swimming in a lake every day. — D.M.

The Drink of Choice at the Secret Lake is this Cedar Gin:

  • Equal parts cottage gin and tonic water (cottage gin is the gin that’s been sitting on your cottage bar for years until you decide suddenly to make gin cocktails one night because friends who drink gin are over or you’ve run out of everything else)


  •  2 short cedar twigs

Excerpted from Joe Beef Surviving the Apocalypse: Another Cookbook of Sorts by Meredith Erickson, Frederic Morin and David McMillan, Appetite by Random House, $50