Saevire in Machina

Posted: November 23, 2019 in Aviation, Life
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I haven’t posted anything in a while, and just recently I was reminded of some thoughts I shared regarding the photo above. So permit me a moment of your time to share a short story about love, loss, joy, pain and and sometimes having to wait around a while.

“Uh, it’s a bridge, Matt.”

That is true. My relationship with this bridge goes back nearly a decade and is full of the kind of complicated emotions that run deep. While it is a bridge, it’s not just any bridge. What you’re looking at is the infamous Chelsea Street Bridge. On one side of the bridge is Boston Logan Airport, and on the other is Massport Parking where working crews and airport employees must park before reporting for work. The side you’re on when this motherfucker goes up can very well determine the outcome of your day. Many a crew and airport employee have been stranded for up to an hour waiting on various types and tonnage of shipping traffic to pass underneath, making those poor souls late for their duty assignments. Due to its completely unpredictable nature, never has one piece of machinery so directly determined the fortunes of so many.

They say no one has ever beaten the Chelsea Street Bridge. And they’re right. On this day, completely by chance, I was on the airport side of the bridge when I happened upon it raised completely with slow moving traffic passing below. With traffic stacked up, no end in sight and a report time to make, I made a split second decision to divert to short term parking. I made it to work on time, but that son of a bitch bridge cost me $70.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the stranded, despondent, unfortunate souls on the other side, waiting not so patiently on this pain in the ass bridge to come down, so they can report for duty to faithfully serve the traveling public. Theirs is the untold story of despair so often overlooked. We should never forget their bravery, and determination… or mostly that they need their jobs badly enough to sit around and wait and not just go home because “f this bridge.” Sometimes you have to wait kind of a while.

Stay strong, weary employees. Stay strong.

September 11, 2001

Posted: September 11, 2019 in Aviation
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I’ve never really participated in the sharing of 9/11 stories. Partly because I don’t really have one that’s worth telling, but also I’ve always felt that it cheapens the day to shift focus from the loved and lost, just to talk about myself. Who am I? Just a dumbass who drives airplanes for a living.

Where was I 18 years ago this morning? It doesn’t really matter, but since we’re talking about it, I was in Fort Lauderdale waiting to start IOE for my first flying job. I was barely a pilot then. Hell, I was barely even an adult. My mom called early (for her), woke me up and told me to turn on the news. I watched the towers come down and then spent the next three days like so many other Americans, glued to the coverage trying to grasp what just happened. I didn’t know anything about the industry I was trying to break into, or how it was the day before, but I knew for sure it wasn’t ever going to be the same.

So here we are nearly two decades later. I won’t presume to speak for all of the men and women I work with, but for those who were working, or old enough to remember September 11, 2001, I think it’s safe to say that we carry this day with us every time we walk onto the airport property to start a trip. Every time we close the doors and secure the aircraft for departure. Every day. Not just the one day a year Facebook explodes with the “Never Forget” pictures. I’m not saying the emotions behind the pictures are disingenuous, I’m simply saying that for a lot of us, it doesn’t end on September 12th.

For the thousands of families who were directly affected through the loss of their loved ones, they don’t have the option to forget. They’re living with the blackness of this day on their soul for-ever. For the rest of us, we show respect to their immeasurable grief by keeping them in our thoughts, and when we put on a uniform, being proactive in our security practices. I consider my security brief to be the most important part of my introduction to my inflight team, and while they sometimes look at me sideways when I ask to see everyone of them, there’s a method, and a message too important to get handed down through the telephone game. When we walk on to the airplane, the bullshit meter is pegged, and there’s no room for shenanigans. We do these things so the country doesn’t have to suffer again. Admittedly, it’s a small contribution, and in this huge and complex world, we may just be one airplane of thousands. But inside that airplane, we’re 200 human beings with families who expect to pick them up at the airport (reasonably on time).

I feel fortunate that the people that I include in my extremely limited social media presence, and include me in theirs, are those in the industry that do understand these things, or those that serve or have served our country in one way or another. I have always said there’s a fine line between paranoia and preparedness and we must be cautious to be on the right side of it. For my part, I’ll continue to check my doors and corners, and maybe, just once, get off the gate on time.

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Id like to share a a few thoughts I had on the value of good men and masculinity in a societal culture that would have us all in man buns and rompers.

The headline reads, “Gun guy gets rid of his AR15 after Florida shooting.”

Not any of these “gun guys.” A term I despise, I would gladly stand on the line next to any one of them. Because in the current climate of an all-out culture war against masculinity, they are exactly the kind of men we need.

Does the gun make the man? No, of course not. It is the principles that brought them out on a cool rainy day to train hard that make them men. Good men. Husbands, fathers, brothers and sons from all walks of life, why do they do it? Why should they? Especially in the face of blistering criticism from those that oppose their very existence?

I suppose to them it’s simple. Confident in their convictions, they understand the importance of taking responsibility for themselves, their own safety and most importantly, the safety of their families.

Because we need more masculinity (“toxic” or otherwise). Not less.

Because we need more mental toughness. Not less.

Because we need more critical thinking. Not less.

I’m willing to bet that, to a man, any one of them would pick up a weapon and put themselves in harms way to protect the innocent and defenseless from the evil that will never respect the laws of men, or the sanctity of life.

The louder your media screams that they should be feminized, disarmed and disregarded as deplorables, extremists, or enemies of progressive culture, the more you should open your eyes to the fact that now, more than ever, we need these men.

@vikingtactics Carbine 1.5 July 2016

 

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To say that I have a fairly storied, bordering on sordid history with this little airport would be something of an understatement. As a young man in my early 20’s, trying to learn how to fly, be an adult human and make my way in the world, I was bound to make a few mistakes. At the Burbank/Glendale/Pasadena Airport in the late 1990’s, most of them involved a few hilarious vehicle incidents (including a exploding lav cart), the secret service and at least one totaled patrol car. I am not at liberty to disclose any more than this. Suffice to say, much learning occurred inside the perimeter fence of this historic airfield, and almost always the hard way. Such was my way in those days. 

The last landing I logged at KBUR was on April 30, 2001 in a 1951 Piper Apache. A decidedly less complicated airplane than the Airbus A320 I am fortunate to have under my command today. This landing was the return flight from Van Nuys following my Commercial/Multi-Engine checkride and my last in Southern California for quite some time. I’ve talked about that flight and the lasting impression made upon me by an impressive gentleman who had likely forgotten more about flying airplanes than I’ll ever know. In the two decades that followed, more hard lessons were to be learned about becoming a professional pilot and a decent human being at the same time. These two things are not always coincident. The road has been difficult and fraught with peril. 

This two day trip marked my first return to Burbank in almost a decade and more notably, the first time putting wheels on the deck as Pilot in Command in nearly twenty years. As Terrence Mann once said, ”The memories were so thick, you could swat them away like flies.” I marvel sometimes that we all got through those years relatively unscathed and out of jail. Fortune was riding shotgun, perhaps undeservedly so. But, prevailing wisdom suggests that fortune indeed favors the bold, or in my case the stupid, so here I am, in the left seat of a pretty impressive machine with none of the 87 ill advised tattoos I attempted to get after many nights out on the town. My list of people to thank for that alone is staggering.

My connection to Southern California runs deep and I look back upon those days as a closed chapter in the ever writing story that is life. Not good or bad, but a series of experiences that helped shape the man I am today. Whatever that means. I look forward to sharing with my son (when he is MUCH older) the lessons learned as a young man trying to figure it out in SoCal. 

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My existence on this earth that Sunday morning. In a flash, it was almost over.  

Before I knew what was happening, my entire world was upended and I was sliding down the pavement under an oncoming car. My bike, wrecked. There’s not much more I can say about those critical few moments because, I just don’t know. This is what I remember:

I left my house around 2pm to go get some carb cleaner. You see, I had this finicky type generator that I had been neglecting all year and with winter not so far away I thought this Sunday morning would be a good time to get the oil changed and clean out the air filter and carburetor. I spent most of the morning working on that and when I finally realized I needed to go to the store, I got cleaned up, put on my gear like I do for every ride, and set out. It was a beautiful afternoon. Aside from the usual trouble spots, the roads were surprisingly not crowded and I enjoyed a spirited ride down one of my favorite cut throughs.  Point A to Point B, all as planned. Just like every ride. 

With the carb cleaner acquired, standing in the Pep Boys parking lot, I put the can in my pack and my helmet on. Out of the corner of my eye I watched a husband and wife ride by on matching Harleys not wearing helmets, or any sort of protective clothing. Shorts, flip flops and a prayer. I shook my head and let out a quiet snort of derision as I snapped the strap closed and started the engine. I could never understand how people can be so lax about their safety. I suppose they think it will never happen to them. 

But I digress. 

The plan for the rest of the day was to get the carb cleaned out, run a 10k in preparation for the Half this weekend and then have my parents over for dinner. You could say I had a pretty solid Sunday lined up. 

Most of the way home was quiet. I reached the main road through town which was predictably packed with people visiting the apple orchards and farm stands. I always expect the worst from these folks and I’m usually not surprised. I navigated through the confusion and made my way up to the one stop light in town. I stopped at the light for a little longer than normal, presumably adjusting something, and then rolled through the intersection. 

What happened next isn’t entirely clear. There was a car in front of me and the speed seemed normal for the road. Not too fast, not too slow. The last thing I clearly remember is riding up the steep hill just a couple minutes from home. 

Then, it was kind of like floating in a dream, only it was more like a nightmare. I saw things happening and I thought, “Man that would really suck if it were real.” What I saw were flashes of my accident. 

The car in my lane way too late. 

“Oh Shit.” Grabbing a fistful of brake. 

Hitting the ground. 

On my feet screaming at the driver to call 911. 

My bike visibly damaged, laying on its side on the side of the road. 

Finally, reality started to piece back together as I lay on the side of the road. The first thing I remember feeling was a woman holding my right hand. 

“I’m alive,” I heard myself say. It sounded like a question. And then, “My wife is gonna be pissed.” 

“No she’s not,” the woman said, “she’s going to be happy you’re alive.”

That’s right because, I am still alive. 

Then, as though she was never there at all, this mystery woman (read ‘witness’ to those without a concussion) was gone and I was placed into the capable hands of the local first responders. From my stretcher, I saw a lot of faces with a lot of different names. I spoke to the police, fire and emt crews that came out, all of whom helped me piece together the last thirty tumultuous minutes of my life.

After giving out my emergency contact information, I watched one of the firefighters call my wife. I can not adequately describe how awful that felt. She’d had to deal with so much. It wasn’t fair that she should have to get that call. 

“I’m alive.” I said again. Making sure it was real. 

“Yeah buddy, you’re alive,” one of the faces said, “and you’re pretty lucky.”

Later that night in the emergency room, the police officer that responded to the scene, called my wife to fill her in on what happened. He told her that the driver said he “thought he had time” to cut in front of me, initiated his turn and when he saw he couldn’t make it, he stopped, right in front of me. Before hanging up, the officer also told her that her husband was “tough as nails,” because apparently, after sliding up to my chest under the car, I pulled myself out. I have no memory of this. 

Tough as nails. 

If I ever wanted to be described as something to someone, it would be like that. I know it was all reflex and instinct but I’d like to think that there must have been some part of me refusing to accept death as an option that forced me to get out from under that car. After the fact I feel pretty proud of that survival instinct, although I’m not sure I can take credit for it. I stared death square in the face that afternoon and somehow managed to walk away. My injuries, relatively minor: a little road rash on my left knee and some other bruises and abrasions. I am battered and sore, but I am not dead. Lucky is right. 

A little over a week later, I finally worked up the nerve to go see my Bonneville before it got towed away. I wanted to say goodbye. I suppose that may sound silly to some, but I suspect other riders might understand. At any rate, we got to the garage too late in the afternoon and they had closed for the day. My wife called the next day and found it had been towed earlier that morning. My heart sank as I overheard the conversation, but as she said, maybe it’s best to remember the adventures and not how it was after the crash. She is, as always, quite right. In life, my 2014 Triumph Bonneville was an amazing motorcycle. In the 16 months and 5500 miles that I had it, it took me on some pretty epic adventures. I shall miss it terribly. 

And now for the sixty-four million dollar question. Will I ride again? The truth is that, for me, riding motorcycles is probably over. As much as I loved motorcycling, and the person I’ve become as a result of those experiences, after looking at the fear and shock on the faces of my family, it’s hard to do decide to go back to something that would possibly put them through that again. They all indulged my desire to ride and had faith that my planning and preparedness would protect me if the worst should happen, and I am grateful for that. Most importantly, now a few years later, I have a little man to think about and I can’t have him growing up without a dad because a pizza delivery guy got impatient. I loved riding, but there’s really no contest there. 

The gear:

Helmet: Shoei Neotec with Sena Bluetooth Communicator

Jacket: Dianese Crono Textile with Back Protector

Gloves: First Gear Rush Mesh

Pants: Scorpion Covert Jeans 

Boots: Alpinestars Oscar Monty

Backpack: 5.11 Tactical Rush 12

Individually these items all did their jobs and saved my life. Before my accident, and now more than ever, I am a vocal advocate for riding with the appropriate gear. Life is far too short and too precious to take unnecessary risks. That’s not to say we shouldn’t participate in things that might be dangerous. We should just show the proper amount of respect. 

All the gear, all the time. No exceptions. 

Ride safe.

We walked out the door a few minutes later than I would have liked. I knew I would still have time at the start, but at that moment I was feeling the nerves and wanted to get moving. Beth walked me to the shuttle, where I boarded up with fifty other runners to be taken up to Balboa Park.

Waiting in the crowd, I was expecting more nerves. As I slowly shuffled towards the start line in my corral I was expecting fear, anxiety and self doubt. I envisioned having to tell myself over and over that I could do it and not to give into the fear. There was none of that. There was… Nothing. Only determination.

The closer I got to the start line the calmer I felt. I emptied my head of all thought and just focused on the present. Everyone around me was texting, or taking selfies or facetwittering, and having made the decision to leave my phone behind, I enjoyed these moments of being unplugged from the world and just listened to the music and the MC for the event. By the time I found my corral, she was about nine ahead. Several minutes later, she launched the corral in front mine and I put one earbud in my ear. Then the count started, and at five I put the other one in. At one, I pressed play.

Nice job iPod. I seriously could not have picked a better song.

I started my watch as I stepped over the line and got to work. I made an effort to stay slow at first. I picked a few other runners to pace behind, but eventually broke away. The first thing of note was working the water stations. I wasn’t sure how this was going to work, but it quickly became clear that I had made the right choice in leaving my hydration belt behind. It’s true that maneuvering through the water stations can be tricky and I found that actually drinking from a cup while running is even trickier. The first one I damned near drowned myself, and after that decided, screw the time, I was going to walk through the stops when I needed them. Which, by the way, turned out to be just about all of them. I had considered skipping one or two, but once I got a routine down, there was no reason not to grab a quick drink along the way.

The thing I was totally not expecting was the elevation change. Hills, man. Steep, gnarly hills. All my running here has been down by the water, and while I was aware that San Diego had hills, I wasn’t really expecting to run them. As it turns out, I was quite wrong. I saw the first couple coming, and quickly came up with a plan: take advantage of the downhills and go easy getting up the other side. A couple of the downhills were so steep that I just had to focus on keeping my balance rather than going fast. A small price to pay for not toppling my fellow runners.

I settled into a comfortable pace and before I knew it, four miles had gone by and I came up on mile five. Sponsored by Wear Blue Run To Remember, this stretch of road was lined with the names and faces of service men and women who have been killed in action overseas. Running along the left side of the pack, I made sure to look at every name and every face as I went by. I was struck by how many of these heroes were just in their twenties, some with young families. So many young and promising lives cut short. Just following these pictures, were what I assumed were veterans holding American flags and giving up high fives and words of encouragement to us all as we passed. It was a touching display of respect for these brave people that have sacrificed so much for our country and way of life.

The halfway mark blended into eight miles, then ten and before long I was running up to the twelve mile marker. Up the hill and into the tunnel lit with flashing lights and a disco ball, I reached into my right pocket and pulled out this small piece of metal and rubber.

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This shifter knob and the tail light are all I have left of my Triumph Bonneville. In a homage to it, and my story I decided to carry it with me for all 13.1 miles. For the last mile, I closed my hand around it and pushed just a little harder.

The crowd thickened considerably as the pack got closer to the end. I made the last turn and I could see the finish line. I picked Beth out in the crowd and gave her a high five as I ran passed. It was so close. Just keep pushing.

My feet stepped over the line, and it was over. So many miles run, injuries sustained and years to get to here. I slowed to a walk and made my way through the crowd towards our prearranged meeting point. We embraced in the street, and she said “Did you see the time?” I had been keeping track along the way, but the accuracy of my watch was a little off, so I mostly just watched my pace. I had no idea what my time actually was. I started the morning with a goal of 2:10:00 and in the end, I crossed the finish line in 2:05:48. I couldn’t have been happier with that.

Back in the hotel, I feel pretty good about what I accomplished today. The last time I ran 13.1 in training, which was a few years ago, my time was somewhere around 2:20:00. I’m pleased to see the hard work and training paid off. The plan for now is to get home, take a few days off and rest, and then start planning the next race. I’ve got a time to beat.

Here are the official stats of my run:

Up before dawn. 

From my hotel window the city appears to be comfortably asleep, but I know that at least 30,000 other people are starting their day the same way. The water is heating up for my coffee and oatmeal, and I stare nervously at my race bib. I’m relatively confident that today is going to go alright, but still the nerves manifest themselves in a quickened heart beat and a minor tremble in my fingertips. Just in the last six months alone, I have run nearly two hundred miles to train for this race. I know I can do this. I have a reasonable plan for the race, and if I stick to that, everything should be just fine. 

Welcome to my early morning pep talk. 

I know it’s easy to be overwhelmed at the thought of running 13.1 miles. I can feel it now while having my coffee. It’s a good time to remind myself that like everything else in life, rather than be overwhelmed by the enormity of a problem, or event, breaking it down into smaller parts makes it much more manageable. So, what do I need to do right now?

1. Eat, drink, shower and get dressed.

2. Find the shuttle to the start line

3. Warm up and stretch

4. Run

And that where it gets tricky. Running the first few steps and thinking about the 13.1 miles ahead can be daunting and demotivating. After I cross the start line, what’s next? Salt every couple miles, a gel every 45 minutes. I also break the race into quarters. Counting up to the halfway point rather than down from 13.1. Giving myself these smaller goals inside the larger one helps to not get overwhelmed. Most of all, I have to stay positive. I think I’m pretty good at that. Am I nervous? Of course. But am I going to fail? Nope. Am I going to quit? Not on your life.

As I have checked off my training runs, logged the miles, and finally arrived at the morning of the race, it has occurred to me that training for and running this race has become about more than just running a race or checking off some bucket list item. This year it has become a part of my survival story. I didn’t die on that road in September. I’m still in the fight and I’m not quitting.

Here goes nothing.

We got on the flight yesterday afternoon. Just about six hours door to door, I forgot how long the transcon flights can be. The captain was a friend of mine from my days on the Airbus, so we chatted for a few minutes before I settled into my seat next to Beth. It’s always nice to see a familiar face. We got in late-ish last night and grabbed an Uber to our hotel in the Gaslamp Quarter. This morning, I was up at 0530, just before dawn.

Twenty-four hours to go.

In my entire running career this is the closest I’ve ever been to running this race. I have mixed emotions as I sit here in bed waiting for the sun to come up. My default is to say I’m nervous. That’s mostly true. I’m not especially worried about the distance, or the course. I’ve run in San Diego many times, and while the route is different and certainly longer, none of that really bothers me. It’s all the unknowns that come with running my first real half marathon. Things like, where do I get the shuttle? How will I find the right start line? And mostly, water. I’ve trained all my long runs with a hydration belt, carrying 40oz of water with me. My impression is that this isn’t something people do on race day, so I’m going to have to hit the water stops. I know that’ll slow me down, and I know I can do ten miles without water, but since that’s not ideal on race day I’m going to have to make it a point to stop. Since I’ve never actually done this before, I suspect it’s going to be a learning experience.

I’m putting together a plan for tomorrow morning. The timing will depend on when I start, which I’ll find out later today. I’m assuming I’ll be up at 4ish, make some coffee and oatmeal, relax for a few minutes and get my gear together. Since I’m not running too fast I’m expecting to be on one of the later busses to the start line. I have a plan for the race, and I think it’s reasonable. I’ve been training my long runs at a 10:00 per mile pace, so I’m hoping to be done in around 2:10:00. Is it lightning fast? No, but who cares? I’m getting it done. After this race is over and I start looking to the next one, I’ll start figuring out how to get faster. Right now, the goal is to get it done, the time doesn’t matter as much.

Considering my history with attempting to run races, I’ll spend the rest of the day wrapped in bubble wrap and looking both ways before crossing any streets. This is happening.

Twenty four hours to go.

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Amid a flurry of grass clippings and dust, I saw the USPS truck speeding around the bend in our street as though our few humble homes were the last deliveries standing between this mail carrier and the freedom of a holiday weekend off. I rumbled to the backyard on a mower that has likely seen better days, and when I came back, there was a box resting on the doorstep. As a self confessed Amazon Prime junkie, I knew I wasn’t expecting a delivery. I examined the return address and immediately knew what was inside.

ScooterBob had arrived.

When I first signed up to host ScooterBob I was the proud owner of a 2014 Triumph Bonneville. My third motorcycle, the Bonne turned out to be a perfect fit for me. In the two years that I had it, It took me on pretty amazing adventures. There was no ride too long, no adventure too daunting, simply nothing I could not do with that bike. The story of its passing is as dramatic as it is sad, and is a post for another time. I mention it now because given the untimely parting with my Bonne I was unsure if I was the right person to host ScooterBob. Would he still want to see New England if it wasn’t on two wheels? My correspondence with the current host (Toadmama )and moderators ensured me that Bob would still want a visit no matter how it happened. I was touched by their kindness.

So here he is. As I opened the box I was profoundly moved by the small wooden motor scooter I found inside so lovingly packed in bubble wrap and peanuts. I found the bag of souvenirs that chronicled his journey around the world. I carefully unfolded each piece, remembering where I had read about it before. There was no doubt in my mind that this little scooter, and the man who inspired it’s travels, meant a great deal to the people who are keeping his mission alive. Described as an imperfect human, I feel like maybe Bob and I would have gotten along.

So for this man I have never met, and the people who have taken such good care of the tiny scooter that embodies his traveling sprit, ScooterBob and I are going to kick some ass.

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As a gun owner/advocate I feel strongly about taking the responsibility of owning and carrying a gun seriously. To me that means being proficient in not only the safe handling of your guns, but also the efficient employment of your defensive firearms. There’s a significant difference between a range gun, one you like to shoot for fun, and a gun you rely on to save your life and the lives of your over ones if needed. The best way I’ve found to determine which category one of my guns falls into is to take it to a class and train with it. Not just practice at the range on my own, but to run it hard it all day, or multiple days, through a variety of drills, positions and weather. At the end of a training evolution like that you should be able to tell whether you’re going to want to fight with that weapon or just plink with it on the range.

Case in point: Last year, I was bitten by the AK bug, and decided that I really wanted to add an AK47 to my safe. Because, you know, all the cool kids had one. I did some research and bought a Century Arms C39v2. One hundred percent made in the USA it seemed like a decent option for a somewhat less expensive AK. Now before I go on, whatever you may have to say about the Internet rumblings about CAI reliability, standby, I’ll speak to that in a moment. Moving on. So, I had my new AK and immediately took it to the range. It ran great, but as an AR15 guy, I realized I was going to have to I spend a good deal of time learning how to actually operate this rifle in the way it was intended, as a fighting rifle. I did a lot of reading, made some functional cosmetic changes – swapping out the nice walnut furniture for Magpul polymer, and adding an optic. After all that, and hours of dry fire and live fire practice, I finally felt ready to take it through some training. I signed up for a one day rifle class at the Sig Sauer Academy in Epping, NH. I’ve taken quite a bit of training with them, so I was confident that I was going to get a good day of work in running this rifle. My goal for the day was to be able to tell if I, as a lefty, could run the AK47 platform as efficiently as my AR15.

First, the rifle, now with over a thousand rounds through it, ran 100% reliably. No malfunctions whatsoever. I’ve found some wear on my bolt and carrier but none of that has affected its performance. All guns will fail at one point or another but so far my experience with this AK47 has been positive. Before getting into the operation of the gun I will add that the C39v2 with its milled recover is heavy, weighing in at just under 9lbs with no magazine. That’s pretty stout when you start adding body armor, sidearm, additional mags and gear. For the class my loadout probably weighed in the vicinity of 50lbs. Definitely doable, but something to take into consideration.

Concerning left handed operation of an AK47. Its no secret that being a left handed man operating in a right handed man’s world takes constant adaptation and improvisation. Running an AK47 is no different, and as such, there are pros and cons to being a lefty with an AK. With the charging handle located on the right side of the gun, if you watch a right handed guy running a reload of an AK you’ll see him doing a couple of different things to reach it to rack a round into the chamber, reaching under or over the rifle to operate the action. So here’s my big win for the AK: since the charging handle is on the right side of the gun I can keep my left hand on the grip and rack the bolt with my right hand after loading a fresh magazine. This makes for a super fast and smooth reload sequence, assuming I do my part.

Here’s what is less awesome: the safety. Unlike the AR15 the AK47 is decidedly less modular and an ambidextrous safety simply isn’t an option without a significant amount of work, and probably a gunsmith. I’ve done plenty of reading that says as a lefty all you have to do is swipe the safety off with your right thumb and go to work. Sounds easy enough, right? Sure, and it does work. The problem I found is that if you want get your support hand out on the end of the rifle for more control, it’s slower than already having an established grip. I recognize this as a training issue, and by no means impossible, but I’m not sure how practical it is in real world employment. From the low ready position, it’s not bad but from the high ready I found it even more difficult to get the safety off, my support hand out and the shot off in any kind of reasonable time. The trained AR guys were smoking me. I eventually gave up moving my support hand at all and just held the magazine. It should be noted that if you’re going to do that, get your thumb out of the way of the charging handle. The charging handle doesn’t care about you or where you put your thumb. Ask me how I know. Lastly, when put into a real world simulation at the end of the class, I found that when forced to moved to multiple firing positions, flipping that safety on and off between moving was clunky and slow. It was obvious how much easier the AR15 thumb safety was to operate in that kind of dynamic environment.

By the end of the day I could draw a few conclusions. First, I knew that I could reasonably operate this rifle, and fight with it if I needed to. I feel pretty good about that. However, I also recognized that as much as I like it, the AK47 is not going to be my go to defensive rifle. Will more training and practice smooth out these issues? Absolutely, and I will continue to work with it. But if you asked me to grab a rifle out of the safe right now and defend my loved ones, the AR15 would be the first one out the door. That realization alone made the cost of admission and ammunition more than worth it.

I have and always will encourage gun owners to get out and train. It’s easily the best money we can spend and best way to tell if your guns and gear are going to work when you need them. I will be the first to tell you that there are plenty of shooters out there, far better than me, that have forgotten more about shooting than I’ll likely ever know. It’s in our interests to seek those people out and learn from them. We don’t exist in a vacuum. Techniques and and technology are constantly evolving. We must evolve with them or be left behind.