With my hands and feet bound by duct tape, a small group of strangers watched as I was shoved into a car’s trunk in the middle of the desert – miles from anyone who might hear me scream. From inside the pitch-black trunk, I could hear the laughter of my would-be captors as the car’s engine roared to life. Before I could figure out which end was up, the tires were kicking up gravel and I was sliding around the trunk floor attempting to brace myself, to no avail.
How did I get there? Well, it’s a long story…
Before I tell you how I escaped, we should start with the man who put me there in the first place, the man with the duct tape, the man behind the wheel – Jason Hanson.
Spycraft, Evasion, and Escape
He looks like a character out of the latest Jack Carr novel. Standing roughly 6’2″, he’s slim, fit, and has a rugged friendliness about him. His wraparound sunglasses, tactical khaki pants, Nevada State Parks hat, and disarming smile would have you believe he’s perhaps an off-duty Ranger, Game Warden, or some type of outdoorsman guide.
In reality, Jason Hanson is a former CIA Officer who now trains the highest-level security professionals working for politicians, heads of state, and celebrities. As a field agent for seven years, Jason worked cases all over the world and developed a unique set of skills. Among those skills are exceptional driving competency and remarkable escape and evasion expertise.
Apparently, if your name starts with, “J-A” you might have a predisposition for spycraft. Take for example, James Bond, Jason Bourne, James Reece, and Jason Hanson. The thing is…those other three guys are just fictional characters while Jason Hanson is the real deal.
I realize none of that explains why I was taped up in his trunk, but stay with me…
Jason’s school of training, aptly named, the Spy Ranch, is where he trains those previously mentioned individuals. So when the opportunity came for me to take his Evasive Driving Course, I couldn’t volunteer fast enough. Granted, I didn’t know I’d be taped up and thrown into a trunk, but an opportunity to learn from one of our nation’s best could not be passed.
You might be asking yourself why an automotive journalist such as myself would find value in this type of training. Good, let’s answer that question.
Why Learn To Drive Like A Spy?
More than ever, crime is rampant. In major cities all over the country, carjackings, robberies, kidnappings, and murder are on the rise. As a person who owns and frequently drives high-value classic and late-model cars, this type of training is more than applicable to my everyday life which means it might apply to yours too.
Fact is, it seems the world is getting crazier every day. Don’t misunderstand me though, I say all of this, not as an alarmist, but as a rugged individualist. Self reliance is important, especially in matters concerning safety and security. A crazy world is no a reason to be afraid. It’s a reason to be prepared.
Jason’s Evasive Driving Course offers exactly that – preparedness.
Whether you want to avoid a carjacking, learn how to ram a road block, or do a J-Turn simply to protect you, your loved ones, and your property, or you’re training for a clandestine extraction operation overseas, the skills taught at Jason’s Spy Ranch are invaluable.
Black Sites And Blindfolds
Cedar City, Utah – Hanson’s base of operations. This is where we made a quick introduction in the early-morning sun and loaded up the cars and gear. Jason’s “black site” or 350 acre Spy Ranch is about 30-40 minutes outside of Cedar City in beautiful and uninhabited high desert.
Our convoy consisted of six vehicles with Jason taking the lead in his “up-armored” ’00s Ford F250. The terrain was mostly flat. Our driving surface was made up of gravel, sand, and a powder-like silt. “Forgiving” is a descriptor that came to mind as we slid around tight turns between endless fields of sage brush and chaparral. The fact that we averaged a speed of 55-65 mph inches away from one another with so much dust floating around we could barely make out taillights certainly added to the spy game fantasy.
I piloted one of the two training vehicles we’d use for the course – one of the most nondescript, unassuming vehicles on the road today. A plain white Chevy Malibu.
Our final training location was minimalist, with only two small structures and a few training tools – a shipping container classroom, a carport, and dozens of orange cones placed strategically to form our course.
Jason wasted no time in the classroom. He gave us a quick briefing covering the day’s agenda, and walked us around the property while telling us some of his best spy stories.
The next thing I knew, we were paired up and buckled in, ready for the first lesson – the Slalom.
As Jason puts it, “if you want to humble someone behind the wheel of a car, put them through the slalom.” I’ve done slalom training on asphalt a number of times in high-performance vehicles. So, hopping behind the wheel of an indiscriminate Chevy Malibu on a surface akin to moon dust wasn’t exactly troubling.
The slalom is a test of hand eye coordination which consists of weaving the vehicle in and out of four cones evenly spaced from one another by roughly 50 feet. Each student was tasked with beginning the slalom at 15 mph, gradually making their way up to around 30-35 mph after each pass. At the end of the cones, Jason would give each driver a critique on their technique and offer some advise on how to improve their time. Pointers such as entry speed, steering initiation, space with relation to the car and cones, and how to control the car in the dirt. He’d say things like, “Your speed was great, but you need to be a little tighter to the first cone next time. That’s why you hit the second cone.”
Overall, it was a great warm up to let my brain know, it’s time to keep our eyes up, look ahead, and enter a heightened sense of awareness.
Bound Kidnapping Escape
Every time we began a new lesson Jason would relate it to a short anecdote from his time as an agent. The story he told us at the start of our second block of instruction centered upon a group of Israeli commandos and duct tape. Suffice to say, he swore us to secrecy as far as the specifics are concerned, but it was a nice segue into the escape portion of our training.
Jason says, “Duct tape is commonly used during abductions and home invasions because it’s cheap, it’s fast, and it’s readily available.” To illustrate the effectiveness of such a restraint, he had his assistant bind his hands and feet with a few wraps of duct tape. He then instructed his assistant to tape him to a folding chair.
Even the small amount of duct tape the assistant used would undoubtedly keep someone bound and immobile – unless they know the proper escape technique.
Jason started by showing us how to bust free from the makeshift hand restraint. He instructed us to raise our hands above our heads and form a “steeple.” By applying quick downward and outward pressure, “like you’re trying to elbow someone behind you,” the tape should rip, freeing the captive. Jason says, “this one is deceptive. A lot of people think it has to do with strength, but I’ve seen big muscular guys not be able to do this because it’s all about technique.”
I can attest to that statement. I’m six-foot tall, about 200 pounds, and an avid weight lifter. I was the only person in our group who was unable to break free from the duct tape on the first try. But, after some one-on-one instruction from Jason, I had it on the second go…
Next came the feet. The technique here is more simple than the last. Jason instructed all of us to point our toes outward, forming a “V.” We then had to squat quickly, pointing our knees to the sides. Doing so caused the tape to rip. For the flexible students, it was more difficult…I still haven’t figured out why.
After freeing our feet, we moved on to the chair. Jason showed us how to bust free from being taped to a chair by, “quickly forcing your head forward and trying to place it between your knees. Like you’re on a plane that’s going down and you need to kiss your ass goodbye.”
After showing some proficiency at breaking free of the three restraints, it came time to put it all together and see if we could free ourselves from the inside of a training vehicle’s trunk…while it was moving.
So, we’ve come full-circle. You know how I found myself in this position, and now you know how I got out. By using the skills Jason taught me, I was able to free myself from the duct tape restraints, pull the interior latch on the trunk, and bail out of a moving vehicle in less than 30-seconds. This was my favorite block of instruction.
Road Block Runaround
Climbing back into the Malibu, this time in the front seat and not the trunk, we got to work running roadblocks. Building on the slalom, we were required to enter a mock “village” through a narrow set of cones and navigate around a “roadblock” with Jason standing right in the middle.
The trick to this challenge was keeping the steering and throttle input smooth and tight to the cones. Too wide of an entrance meant your exit would be too wide and you’d take out some cone “people.”
To add to the stress of the exercise, Jason took to throwing cones at us as we navigated the roadblock. You wouldn’t think it, but an orange cone hitting your windshield or driver’s side window while you’re attempting to weave a decent-sized passenger car through a narrow patch of gravel is quite jarring.
After some practice, we were all making clean, fast passes.
Hijacking Avoidance / Knife & Gun Disarming
Knife and gun disarming was a block of instruction I’ve spent a considerable amount of time training in the past so I felt somewhat confident in my ability. But, I was looking forward to learning something new. We started with disarming a gunman who was looking to rob, carjack, or kidnap you.
With a training gun or knife to our back or throat, as is common in these situations, Jason showed us a technique called, “stepping offline.” By making a quick step to the side while simultaneously rotating our bodies, he showed us how to roll the arm closest to the assailant under theirs, effectively “capturing” their arm and the weapon. By using leverage and some force, we were then able to press against the attacker’s elbow and back, forcing them against the car, and turning the tables on them.
When it came time to jump back in the cars and learn the J-Turn, Jason described a scenario in which you come upon a roadblock that cannot be avoided or rammed. So, what are you to do? The J-Turn, also known as a Rockford, can be described as a high-speed reverse 180 into a high-speed exit.
The process, in theory, is simple…In practice, it can be a little tricky, but the learning curve was fairly straight. So, for your roadblock running pleasure, Jason’s instructions went a little something like this…
“Once you’ve come to a screeching halt in front of the roadblock. Punch the car into reverse. Place your right hand on the back of the passenger seat and look over your shoulder through the back window. Place your left hand at the three-o-clock position on the steering wheel. Mash the gas pedal until the car hits the rev-limiter. Whip the steering wheel from the three-o-clock to the nine-o-clock position. Stay off the gas and off the brakes as the car spins. As the car comes around, bring the wheel back to center. Slam the shifter into drive, mash the gas pedal, and you should be home free.”
The last portion of our day was also the most exciting. The grand finale, if you will. It came time to ram those pesky roadblocks that had been popping up all day. But this time, we weren’t plowing through cones. We were ramming actual cars.
The task was simple, take a 5,000-pound pickup truck and smash into the car blocking the roadway in such a fashion as to move the car out of the way and our truck right through.
Jason explained why it is always advisable to strike the blocking car in the trunk area, just behind the rear wheels. He states, “this is where the car is lightest and most easily moved. If you strike the car in the front fender, you’ve got the engine to deal with which makes it harder to move.”
He instructed us to bring the pickup to 15-25 miles per hour as we struck the vehicles. Jason tells us, “it doesn’t take a lot of speed to move one of these cars with a pickup truck.” He was right! At that slow of a speed, the cars were still knocked about 90-degrees from where they were originally parked. Consider that roadblock ran!
At the end of the day, Jason brought us back into the classroom, thanked us for showing up, and gifted us each a custom CIA coin. As a collector of military coins, I was honored to receive such a meaningful gift. For those interested in taking the same Evasive Driving Course we did, you can find more information at spybriefing.com. You can also read Jason’s New York Times bestseller, “Spy Secrets That Can Save Your Life.”
Until next time…