Friday 23 July 2010

Killer instinct

Good news! I am no longer in Cougar Country. The bad news is, having reached California, I’m now in Lion and Bear Country. Out of the frying pan, into the fire.

The Rangers dispense an advisory leaflet with the following opening gambit;

Mountain lions are large, seldom seen inhabitants of these parks. Like any wild animal, they can be dangerous. No attacks on humans have occurred within the parks.

All well and good except that, in a stroke of brilliance, the word No at the start of that last sentence has been stamped over with the word Few. Fortunately, they tell you what to do if you’re not lucky enough to be one of the many:

1. Do not run!
2. Do not crouch or bend over
3. Remain calm, give the animal a chance to leave the area
4. Be aware of the animal’s location and slowly back away
5. If the animal approaches, yell loudly, wave arms and throw objects
6. If the animal attacks, fight back aggressively

They don’t place enough emphasis on the Do Not Run! given that this would presumably be the prime instinct of any sane person. They may as well tell you not to shit yourself with fear too. Do not crouch or bend over. My next move, after deciding not to leg it and failing to control my bodily functions would not be to crouch or bend over. (Unless the crouching and the shitting yourself with fear were connected). And bend over? You’re faced with a Mountain Lion and you’re gonna be wiggling your butt and pulling dragon faces? I doubt it.

They break it to you gently with all that other advice, but ultimately, as with the Cougars, if push comes to shove, you’re going to have to fight the f**ker. Aggressively. As opposed to passively? "Reason with the Cougar/Mountain Lion. Assure it that, even if it strikes first, you won’t hit it back". If I go out to one of these creatures, it won’t be for lack of aggression, that's for sure. I’ll have given it everything I’ve got.

I’m hiking through the Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park, a giant forest, of giant redwoods. I’ve done the short loops down by the Smith River, and now I’m hiking up the Little Bald Spot Trail (!). I’ve been going about twenty minutes without seeing another living soul. As you walk, you think. And eventually, like it or not, you start thinking about what you would do if a Mountain Lion did come sauntering out of the bushes.

The problem is that, besides my bare hands, everything I’ve got is a small Swiss army knife that hitherto has been utilised solely for the opening of beer bottles. How’s that going to help? The blades don’t lock, so they’re no use. The tweezers and toothpick won’t do much damage, but they are detachable, so I could feasibly use one of them in my left hand. In my right? I guess it has to be the corkscrew. But given it can’t even trouble the synthetic stopper on a five buck bottle of Safeway’s merlot, what good’s it going to be against a frickin’ lion?

At this point, the image of me doing the old jungle dance with a Mountain Lion, trying to uncork its eyeball with a Swiss army knife in one hand whilst deftly attempting to pluck it’s whiskers with the other, convinces me it’s time to head back to camp. Seen one forest you’ve seen them all, right?

There’s one other thing I can’t quite get my head around though; they don’t tell you what to do if you meet a Bear. Maybe, if you do, it’s just a foregone conclusion. They don’t even give you a picture or anything. They’re Black Bears round here, so I’m assuming they look the exact opposite of Polar Bears. I guess I’ll know if I find one sniffing around my tent in the middle of the night. They do provide a Bear Locker, but I wouldn’t fancy my chances of coaxing one into that little thing in the middle of the night.


This morning I bought a myself a hatchet, ostensibly for chopping wood, but you never know when it might come in handy...

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