Wednesday, September 19, 2018

What do you call a boom box in the wilderness?

What do you call a boom box in the wilderness?

“Bear Rap-pellant!”


Portable speakers seem to be getting more and more common as outdoor accessories. I can only cite anecdotal experience, but I feel like I’ve come across more and more people using portable sound systems, both in the summer and winter.

Big shocker: I think they’re stupid.

Playing audible music, whether for personal entertainment, or for that of a larger group, outside on the trails, is just dumb, in the opinion of this one-billionth Internet blogger.

Playing it under the guise of bear deterrence: really moronic.

Why does anyone need to listen to audible music in the backcountry?

I can only hypothesize that it comes down to a lack of self-confidence, fear of bears, fear of having to maintain a conversation with riding partners, or fear of silence and riding alone.

Though I’ve run into a few groups and individuals with speakers over the years, my all-time favorite was a ride on Russian Lakes where I got tangled into a rather large group. One of them had some speakers in a set of gigantic waterproof panniers, blasting – are you ready for this – gangster rap.

I won’t re-type some of the key lyrics here, but I’ll let you know the album probably came with a parental guidance warning.

Believe me, I was not offended: I was just really, really entertained.

Normally, I’d observe the Golden Rule here, and not judge or make fun of these people, but here’s the thing: when you decide you need to drag your sound system into the backcountry: you forfeit that privilege.

The nice thing about the backcountry (or the ambiguous middle country), is that you can leave that whole society thing behind. Yes, you may see a few other people, but, unless you are wearing a chicken costume, odds are, most others you do encounter, will pass you with a nod, and not much more.

If you decide to blast music in the wilderness though, what few strands of society you do encounter, namely, other people, are probably going to judge you.

So ya, back to these doofs: the guy with speakers is on a fully rigid bike getting trundled by Russian’s rocks and roots. Sorry, but he can’t ride to save his life.

His pals aren’t exactly blowing him out of the water either: a solitary root across the trail resulted in all but one of these riders (and now us since we are stuck in their melee) having to dismount and walk.

Why are we stuck with them, how did we witness this all? The front of this group had not realized we’d invaded their posse: the blaring music left most the group riding in silence, but also unable to say: “Hey, rider’s back.”

So we just sat in for a few minutes and got to be part of the circus.

The giggles started subtly at first, but pretty soon, Adam, Mere, and I were struggling to keep it together. The lyrics kept getting better, no one in this group was talking, and we just had to keep stealing glances at each other.

I think it was pretty obvious to the guy with the speakers and his nearby homies, knew that we were really amused: at them.

I almost felt bad for laughing at them…but not really.


So look, I guess it could be worse. If had to choose between a someone riding with a portable speaker, or someone riding with earbuds blaring so loud they can’t hear anyone else (something I’ve definitely encountered a few times, though not in the backcountry that I can recall), I’ll take the speaker. Though uncommon, I’m amazed when I find someone biking in the height of moose and bear season with earbuds cranked so loud I have to shout from right behind their wheel to let them know I’m there.

But is a speak actually worthy bear deterrence?

I don’t think so. The reality is, as annoyed by sound systems as I may be, it’s not because they’re great at generating noise. I know bears have way more sensitive hearing than I do, but nonetheless, it seems these systems do a poor job broadcasting actual audio outward – more just broadcasting a lack of self-confidence I suppose.

Also, in a group ride, you’d think there would be enough to chat about. Conversation carries farther

Also, in a group, you’d think you could make enough noise just by the racket of your bike and the occasional hoot and holler to warn any wildlife down the trail of your approach.

So, not wanting to be all criticism, if you are scared of bears, and think a portable sound system is the solution to making your next bike ride safer, or more entertaining, I’ll offer you some constructive solutions below.


  1. Whether in a group, or alone, just try to enjoy the silence; or the sounds around you; or the thoughts in your head; or all three if you can multi-task!
  2. If you are with more than one person, you can go ahead and interact with them, have a conversation. If you have multiple personalities, you can converse with them. (Warning: conversing with your multiple personalities out loud in the presence of other riding partners may result in a loss of actual real-life riding partners…meh.)
  3. When you need to make noise, use your voice. Sing, yell, holler, hoot, whatever. The faster the section of trail or thicker the brush, the more gusto you should put into it.

1 comment:

brian p. harder said...

Funny I should end up here but since we might be skiing on Friday....

I'm bored at work so I clicked on this. Funny story. But I'm one of those guys with a little speaker when I'm solo. I turn it off once I'm above tree line. It has to help. I'm not going to yell or talk to myself. Too boring. I've taken care of a few bear mauling victims and it's not pretty. False sense of security? Maybe. Hard to do research on that. You could call it dinner music for the bear.