Contributed by Mike Nash of the Caledonia Ramblers.

Expect the unexpected

This has been year of adventures for me, including a near disaster on the Bowron Lakes that I discussed in an article, “Accidents rarely have a single cause.” As well as multiple causes, some other factors to keep in mind are: 2) the greatest risk that we face in our outdoor adventures is likely to be on the highway while driving to and from the trailhead; 3) always expect the unexpected; 4) maintain situational awareness (and preparedness) to boost your chances of dealing with whatever might arise – stack the odds in your favour; and 5) take advantage of any lucky circumstances that often accompany accidents. This last point might seem a bit frivolous, but his good fortune in quickly finding flammable birch bark and dry kindling helped a well-known Prince George outdoorsman survive a fall through the ice on a remote northern lake, secondary to his preparedness for, and immediate response to the accident (‘Forty day and forty nights alone in the wilderness,’ Outdoor Safety & Survival, pages 9-10). These five factors all came together for me last week as I was driving back to Prince George on an idyllic sunny afternoon after a pleasant hike in the mountains.

I had been driving for about ten minutes and I was fresh, alert, and enjoying a straight stretch of Highway 16 a few kilometres west of the Bowron River. There was no traffic in sight, either in front or behind, and conditions were clear and calm. In short, it was as benign and ideal a stretch of road and driving conditions that one could expect. Suddenly, out of the blue and with absolutely no visual or other warning there was a huge impact on my front windshield with the force of a sledgehammer hitting it hard. Imagine that, I’m driving along an empty stretch of highway with nary a care in the world when, without any warning, a sledgehammer force wallops my windshield.

To give you a sense of its intensity, it was comparable to that of a low-flying Canada goose that I hit on the Island Highway a few years ago that fortunately missed my windshield but tore off and bent my steel roof rack. However, this latest impact was no bird, large or small. I saw nothing incoming or outgoing, and the shattered glass bore no sign of blood or feathers. Furthermore, the glass guy was later able to identify a small point of impact in the centre of the mess of cracked glass; and he also confirmed that it could not have been caused by a rock chip.

After eliminating other very unlikely possibilities such as an object falling from an aircraft, or a meteorite, I was left with only one possible explanation: my windshield had been struck by a rifle bullet that, by great good fortune had glanced upward and off the glass. Had it penetrated the windshield, which is apparently usually the case for bullets fired at normal vehicle glass, I likely would not have known what hit me. The RCMP seemed appreciative to receive my incident report, but were inclined to conclude that it was a stray bullet related to the hunting season. I’m not so sure, given that it hit almost dead centre of the driver’s side of the windshield; but either way I was extremely lucky that it deflected off the glass. In the image below, you can see where a bullet fragment appears to have departed the glass from a secondary shear impact at the top.

Expect the unexpected? There was no way that I could have anticipated this shocking event, but it did emphasize the importance of being fresh, alert and not distracted while driving. Luck also played a part in the bullet not coming through the glass; but as outlined in the Bowron Lakes story accidents almost always have multiple causes, and if something like this happened, say, to a distracted or tired driver and/or in poorer road conditions, there might have been a different outcome. On the highway, the unexpected can come in many forms, including a mechanical failure (my wife’s car has recently been recalled for exploding airbags), a blown tire, an oncoming driver veering across the centreline into your lane without warning (this has happened to me several times), dangerous overtaking (we’ve all seen that), wildlife leaping out of the roadside ditch without warning, etc. The lesson is to stay alert on the highway, as we do on the trail, to slow down (especially at night and/or in poor weather), and to expect the unexpected. This way you are likely to optimize your chances of dealing with whatever might happen.

by Mike Nash, author, Outdoor Safety & Survival, Rocky Mountain Books, 2012