BY ELISA WIRKALA
Bitten by pirañas, charged by a bison, harassed by hungry camp bears and chased by packs of dogs.
As a rider who’s traveled through forty countries and four continents, I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with all sorts of animals on the road, and off: Here’s a list of the ones I’ve found to be the most hazardous, or just downright gross.
I scanned the desolate Australian horizon line, seeing nothing for miles but a stick in the road. As I approached, the stick wriggled in my direction. Realization hit too late, and I shrieked into my helmet, “Snaaaaake!”, standing on my Super Sherpa’s pegs and lifting the foot closest to the snake up high. Narrowly missing it, I felt silly for my overreaction. What did I think would happen? The snake couldn’t rear up and bite me through my half-kevlar jeans, right?
Days later, I recounted my “close call” to a group at a Horizons Unlimited event. As some chuckled, a doctor spoke up. “You wouldn’t be the first motorcyclist to come into the hospital due to a snake bite. If you hit ‘em, they can absolutely get ya”, he said in his South Australian twang. “They’re made to strike, quick and hard.”
But snakes aren’t the only thing on the road to worry about. If you’re riding long distances, chances are you’re going to encounter all sorts of critters, big and small.
- Sheep on Springs: As much as I love them, they’re lethal to motorcyclists. Kangaroos will bound away from you, only to flip a 360 and dive directly into your front wheel. Guanacos of Argentina look beautiful as they pirouette across the highway, so long as they don’t plow gracefully into your bike. Deer abound in North America, where a vigilant eye might just save your life. Pretty much anywhere in the world, you’re going to encounter roaming livestock, which is just another reason to avoid riding at night. Going somewhere new? Ask locals what kind of critters might be scurrying across the road. If collisions with animals have been a problem, you’ll know to be extra cautious.
- Lions and Tigers and Bears: Bears roam vast parts of northern North America, and if you’re planning to ride up to Alaska or through Canada, they’re an animal you’ll definitely want to be aware of. On a motorcycle, it can be a bit more problematic, as it’s harder to carry things like bear cans. No, not beer cans. Bear cans! Large, hard plastic drums with a screw on lid to keep your food out of the hands of wildlife. Always play it safe. Hang all food, and anything that has any sort of scent, high in a tree and at least a couple hundred feet from camp. Use a drybag or stuffsack and carry a good length of cord. Use a stick to throw the rope over a branch at least 15 feet high, hoist your morsels up, and tie it off. Even an empty candy bar wrapper can call a hungry bear your way.
- Blood Suckers: My hatred of leeches and ticks runs deep. During a pause in my motorcycle journey around Australia, I detoured and hiked well over 100 miles across Tasmania. It was lovely, save for picking and flicking these bloodsuckers off at every step. Though leeches don’t generally carry disease, they sure are gross. Leeches come in hundreds of forms; some swim, and some live on land, like the ones I’ve experienced in Tasmania and mainland Australia. Ticks, on the other hand, carry various diseases, or even cause paralysis in some parts of the world. In places where there are leeches and ticks, check your body often. Leeches often like to hide in the lining of your socks, and ticks in any warm spot on your body, like your nether-regions and lower abdomen (but can be found anywhere on the body). Look up proper ways of removal if you’re going to be camping or bushwhacking, and make sure your first aid kit includes a good pair of tweezers. Scabies cream is very effective when dealing with the tiny ticks, too.
- Ferocious Fido: Though these vicious beasts might look cute while you’re on foot (in a mangy street-dog kind of way) they can be a serious menace to motorcyclists, and to themselves. Though I’m a true animal lover (I don’t even eat them, after all), when a pack of savage dogs are at your ankles chasing your motorcycle through the streets of Latin America, learning to administer a swift kick while riding might just save you from some nasty bites. Sounds mean, but the problem is two-fold: Some packs will try and bite you. In the process, It might just save the dog from some serious injuries, too.
Your turn: In the comments section, tell us where you’re from, and what we need to watch out for when we come visit your neck of the woods!