Jul 29 2014
In a perfect world, all dog owners would be responsible, and all dogs would be well-disciplined. But ours is not a perfect world. Which explains why many cyclists clip a can of Halt! to their handlebars. I’m one of them, and I’ve often had reason to be glad that I do. That said, a can of Halt! is like a loaded firearm. A moment’s carelessness can end in misery. I was reminded of this only last week, when I discovered that the spare can of Halt! in my bar bag had a leaking valve. I popped it into a ziplock bag then and there, hoping to keep it from contaminating the other items in the bar bag, but in so doing I smeared a tiny amount of the pernicious ooze on my cycling gloves. All was well until, a few minutes later, I wiped the sweat from my forehead with my gloved hands.
That was when I realized my mistake.
My skin burned for the better part of an hour afterward. Of course, it could have been much worse. I could have gotten the stuff in my eyes. All in all, the incident taught me a valuable lesson. One of the things I learned was that I really had no idea how to “put the fire out” after an accidental exposure. So I looked for answers online, aided by Wikipedia. And I soon realized that my first impulse—to flood the affected area with water—was very wide of the mark. Capsaicin, the fiery extract of hot pepper that lends Halt! its authority in close encounters of the wrong kind, is NOT water-soluble. But it is soluble in fats and oils, at least to some extent. And a solution of soap and water will also do the job, as will detergent or shampoo.
But what if you get some in your eyes? Just blink. Rapidly and often. (You’ll probably do this without prompting.) Flushing with water won’t help, but contact lens wetting solution—if you happen to have some on hand—can be used to irrigate the affected eye(s).
The upshot? Post-exposure first aid is of limited value. There isn’t really much you can do on the road if you fall victim to your own pepper spray. Beyond some common-sense advice—don’t spread the stuff around by rubbing, and don’t wipe your eyes—you’ll just have to wait for the fire to go out on its own, though if you experience severe respiratory distress, patience is no longer a virtue. It’s 911 time. And don’t delay. You’ll need prompt professional care.
It’s much better to stay out of harm’s way altogether, of course. Inspect cans of Halt! regularly—don’t point the nozzle at your face when you do this!—discarding any that show signs of leaking. (The orange residue is easy to spot.) And never let fly into the teeth of a gale, even if the hound of the Baskervilles is in hot pursuit—you might find yourself cycling blind.
Bottom line? Halt! lives up to its name, and if you ride where big dogs run wild and free—and that’s true of much of rural America—it’s well worth keeping a can within easy reach. But treat it as you would a loaded firearm: with extreme care. Or be prepared to face the fire.
Further Reading From Wikipedia:
This article is an update of one originally published on August 11, 2012.
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