Over the last several months (well, actually over the past five years or so), I have researched a lot of different things regarding what I need to know about doing an Alaska motorcycle ride. The potholes, ice road truckers, gravel, and the remoteness gives me some concern; but not enough even as a combination to keep this trip of a lifetime from happening.
What does worry me is the wildlife. Up there, man is no longer the top of the food chain, and some of the animals would see a average-sized man to potentially be a possible meal or chew toy. Riding the roads of both Canada and Alaska, the visitor will encounter bears, moose, and even possibly wolves. So, let me expound on what I know about each of these.
Let’s see…I may encounter brown, black, or the polar variety. There are tens of thousands of them, or more, in the wilderness of our country neighbor above, and the around largest state in the union. I know that with the vast amount of square miles in both locations, chances are fairly remote that there would be any very close encounters. However, I have read and followed a few blogs and ride reports from others who have accomplished this journey, and seen the photos that they have posted regarding all of the bears that they saw. I have also read some first hand (and second hand when the first person didn’t make it) reports of bear attacks. Definitely not a pleasant thing to read, but knowledge is power.
Here’s an interesting fact. A bear can run up to 45 miles per hour. So, doing the math in my head: if I was to pull over some place to take a picture, and a bear came charging out of the woods in attack mode from 100 yards away, I would have no chance to jump on the bike, get it started, and up to 46 miles per hour on the gravel roads before being enveloped by a mass of hair and muscle. That brings shivers just thinking about it.
With a brown bear, you are supposed to play dead and hopefully they just sniff and walk off. Of course, when they start to eat on you, maybe they just take a little nibble and move on.
A black bear is different. Normally jittery, they usually run off when they hear noise. Perhaps loud pipes do save lives on a motorcycle…and mine are loud enough to make a “normal” bear head for the next county. But sometimes, a black bear is hungry, and sees man as a potential meal. They say with a black bear, you fight from the start when attacked. Chances are if you can get it sprayed with bear spray (a very high concentrate of pepper spray that goes out about 30 feet in a mist), it will stop dead in its tracks and retreat. I can’t see something 30 feet away running at 45 MPH not slamming into the holder of the bear spray, but hey, what do I know?
Did I mention that adult brown and black bears usually weigh between 400 and 1400 pounds? Heck, I can barely even push my 70 pound dog off me when he’s all ramped up playing. How does one fight a 1400 bear? Smack it upside the head and scold it?
And…heaven forbid you encounter an agitated black mama bear with cubs in tow. I hear that their defense mechanism when “protecting” their young from strange men is so powerful, that bear spray sometimes will not even slow them down one bit.
If I do make it up near the Arctic Ocean, there’s the occasional polar bear that gets spotted. A very carnivorous creatures, those white bears they are. You aren’t out running one of them on foot, and with all that blubber on them, they are not even going to feel a punch to the ribs.
Like any tourist, I would love to get pictures of some bears out in the wild. Maybe I’ll just stay on the bike and leave the engine running. And hope that the bear is enjoying somebody else’s picnic basket somewhere else.
A moose looks “lazy” since they seem to just amble slowly around, but after doing some quick research, I see they have been clocked at 35 MPH when in aggressive mode. And, a full sized moose can weight nearly two thousand pounds? How do you fight off a moose if attacked? They not only can kill you with their rack, but they also can stomp you to death. Anybody have heard of moose spray? I have not. Maybe the bear spray will work…but my luck, Bullwinkle really likes his food spicy, and the pepper spray on his face is just giving him some seasoning to savor before playing “kick the motorcyclist”…I hear that’s a favorite game of them there mooses.
Think of an animal with a worse attitude than a pissed off pitbull, who is hungry, and has little ones to feed. Now, multiply that by six or seven, the average size of a pack. They have been known to have group sizes of over fifteen. And they hunt together…and they excel at entrapping their pray and terrorizing it before moving in for the kill. They normally do not attack humans unless they are very hungry. I’m hoping that any wolf that I see just finished up his breakfast of some rabbit or squirrel, and would rather not give their self indigestion by trying to make me their lunch.
They also can run about 35 MPH when chasing prey. What, everything that may eat humans has got to be faster than a man? What is up with that?
Time for a plan. Guess I’ll carry along some bear spray (I just heard that wasp spray works too…not sure I’m willing to be the one that tries that theory). Maybe a firearm is needed, but a regular handgun is just going to tick off a charging bear. Maybe I’ll bring along a bazooka. Hey, I know…all I have to do is find somebody slower than me! None of these animals go after the strongest or fastest in a herd of prey…so I just need to find somebody that’s in worse shape than I am and make sure they stop with me when taking pictures!
Now I see why my wife asked me to triple my life insurance before leaving.
Anyways, in all seriousness: I’m looking forward to the trip. Bear/moose/wolf attacks are actually pretty rare. It’s about using common sense. Being aware of what is around you. Not putting a tent in the same area as twenty minute old bear droppings. Keeping a clean camp. Not approaching the wildlife. Always having more than one exit available to leave the scene quickly.
So, here’s hoping for a few neat pictures of the wildlife when the ride occurs. I’ll make sure when I stop for lunch some place not to rub the hamburger grease on my jeans.