Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Make mine spicy
While riding over Resurrection Pass recently, I met a rider coming toward me with the barrel of a shotgun sticking out of his backpack. This was near the spot where, a few years ago, I saw a rider with his 12-gauge strapped in a BOB trailer … under all his other gear.
There are few items more useless on a backcountry bike ride than a shotgun you can’t grab, aim and fire in a big damned hurry. That’s why there are few things more useless than a shotgun on any bike ride.
Bear protection is always a subject of debate in Alaska, but it has been on the minds of most people in Southcentral a little more than usual this summer. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people—men, usually—who believe guns are the only viable option. I believe they’re kidding themselves.
I may be fairly liberal, but I’m not an anti-gun liberal. I grew up shooting guns, and still enjoy firing a few rounds from time to time. I just think they’re useful in some situations, and nearly worthless in others—like when a 600-pound ball of teeth and fur is charging through heavy vegetation at 30 mph. Only the most skilled and proficient marksmen have a good chance of pulling off a deadly shot at a time like that. And by marksmen, I’m not talking about weekend warriors who go to a rifle range and shoot at a paper target a few times a year. I’m talking about SWAT and military types who are trained to perform in high-stress settings. Anyone else is just trying to get lucky.
I carried a gun on a few hikes after moving to Alaska, but I stopped years ago when I began to recognize that it was only marginally useful. Besides, it wouldn’t have been comfortable—or safe—to ride a mountain bike with a hand cannon strapped to my hip. I got rid of the thing and started carrying pepper spray.
This thinking goes against the macho standard that is so common in Alaska, but what the hell—I mean, I’m already out there in Lycra shorts, right? I just think it’s way easier to hit the broad side of a moving barn with a big cloud of pepper gas than with a little bullet, and the figures back me up.
Bear biologists who studied human/bear encounters in Alaska found that bear spray was 92 percent effective in stopping attacks, while guns were only 67 percent effective.
Ninety-two percent. That’s good enough for me. Actually, I’d prefer 99.9, but if 92 is as good as it gets, I’ll take it.
Besides, when I’m pedaling up a mountain, I like the idea of a lightweight canister.
That guy hauling the 12-gauge across Resurrection Pass looked tired.