The tyres gave out a satisfying crunch as they cut through the gravel on the fire track, a plume of dust spread from my rear wheel and the sweat began to dry on my brow as the trail dipped down steeply. The track was clear in front of me as far as the eye could see. I pushed my backside behind my saddle and forced my bike hard into the oncoming corner. I was flying, taking air, whooping and hollering with no one to hear my juvenile screams. I was totally alone in the Australian bush with my mountain bike and miles of trail all to myself! I was in heaven!
I was however, aware of my isolation. The Australian bush goes on forever and although I had started from the end of a local Melbourne train line, I was still miles away from another human being. As happy as I was, the list of things that could go wrong in such isolation was never far from my mind. What if I totalled a wheel, ripped a tyre, broke bones! Could I get a signal on my mobile? How the fuck would I get out?
I rode for hours on excellent fire tracks and some awesome single track without any incident other than technique and skill failure, eventually popping out on a suburban road somewhere near Dandenong. I sat up in the saddle, stretched out my back and puffed out my chest satisfied with my navigational skills and my days riding. I had ridden 30 odd K without any meaningful incident.
Then suddenly, whack! My head flew forward as something hit me from behind! I struggled to keep control of my bike as whatever had hit me had stayed around for seconds. I looked up left and right but couldn’t work out what the fuck was attached to my helmet. my only clue was the two huge black wings flapping either side of my head. I had been swooped!
I had read about swooping season before arriving in Australia, but had considered it nothing more than an amusing urban myth. How wrong could I be! I was under attack! I grabbed at the bird still attached to my lid. Eventually, it took flight, swooping into the next tree ahead of me. It sat there, barring my progress, staring at me with its beady eyes. I padded my helmet with my hands to check it was still there. I slowly regained my composure and after a few minutes cautiously began to ride, never once letting what I guessed was a Magpie, or maybe an Eagle, out of my sight. As I approached, it twitched, jumping from leg to leg, waiting for its moment. Our eyes were locked like a matador staring down his bull. Although I wasn’t entirely sure which one of us was the Matador and which one was the bull. I began to worry about how the fuck was I going to get away from this deranged bird! Then, sure enough, as I approached, he swooped again! I flailed my arms around like a demented dervish never once making contact with the bird. As it swooped again I decided my only hope was to cut and run. I pedalled like the wind with the Magpie now attached to my lid. I could feel my helmet straps digging into my chin as the monster wrestled to take it from me. This was a challenge I had never faced before and certainly not something I had read about in Cycling Weekly.
After what felt like an eternity, I managed to lose the bird corsage and cycled off, shocked and confused. As I rode I eyed the trees nervously. I’d never noticed how many birds were actually out there. Now, all there eyes were on me, the Tippy Hedron of Melbourne!
I cycled for a few more miles before making it to Dandenong Station. I was swooped a further two times. One incident forcing me to leap from my bike, but I think this was an over reaction on my part brought on by the severity of the first attack. I was severely traumatised!
On the train back to Melbourne I found myself sat amongst a group of teenagers who were gathered round a punky looking kid straddling a BMX. She was regaling her captive audience with stories of her ‘happy slapping’ exploits. Her face contorted with joy as she explained how “his reading glasses just flew off into the air as he hit the deck right after I punched him in the neck!” I sat there quietly, still sweating from both the riding and the terror! ‘Yeh, I suddenly blurted, unable to contain my anger, but I bet you wouldn’t dare do that to a rabid Magpie’. They stared back at me blankly. The BMX girl curled her lip and stared at me with a look of contempt. As the train doors opened she brushed passed me kicking my wheel as she went. ‘Freakin Hoofter’ she growled as she exited the train. Her entourage concurred and slapped high fives as they left. “Yeh, but I bet you wouldn’t’, I shouted as the doors closed. I grabbed my helmet and stared at the scratch marks looking for some sort of validation. ‘Yeh, I bet they wouldn’t’, I thought to myself before turning my back and slumping into my chair to avoid the stares of my fellow passengers.