(MTB Article) Swooped. Fighting Off Magpies in Lysterfield Park
By Michael Lancaster
My tyres gave out a satisfying crunch as they cut through the gravel on the wide open fire track. A plume of dust spread from my rear wheel as the sweat began to dry on my brow. The trail dipped down steeply and spread 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 leaving my brakes well alone. I was flying, taking air at every opportunity, whooping and hollering with only my fellow riders to hear my juvenile screams. We were totally alone in the Australian bush with miles of empty trail all to ourselves! We were Heading for Lysterfield Park, the Victoria State Mountain Biking Course and the location of the 2006 Commonwealth Games mountain bike competition and I was in heaven!
We bombed the excellent, but fairly tame fire tracks until we arrived at what appeared to be nothing more than a picnic stop. The sign read Lysterfield Park. I was dumbstruck. We stared at the neat tables, outdoor barbecues and contented families. Could this place be the riders nirvana we had heard so much about? Had we come all this way for a picnic spot? I was confused. As we stood there perplexed and dejected, a rider appeared out of the thick bush at the top of the car park, his face was flush with exhaustion, a tell-tale grin spread wide across his face. My heart leapt. After him, another rider appeared, then another and another. we jumped back on our bikes and headed straight for the spot where they had magically appeared. As I closed in I could see a sign pointing towards the trail. The path led away from the car park across a dam at the head of the lake and straight into the bush on the other side. It plunged straight into the forest and within minutes we were on undulating trails and testing single tracks weaving our way through the forest without a single picnic or barbecue in sight.
The trails were far less cut up than I was used to and the surface was different to the heavy European trails back home. My mud friendly tyres struggled with the loose dusty topsoil and I put myself on my arse more than once. Why hadn’t I paid attention to all those ‘what tyre, what surface’ articles in the magazines. Was I paying the price for ignoring the articles and flipping straight to the bike porn. we continued to ride the trails weaving in and out of the many circular tracks. There was narrow singletrack, fast flowing down hills, granite rock sections and obstacles a plenty. There was even a lakeside trail fit for the infirm. The trails ranged in distance from 6.38 km, to 1.2 km, but all could be combined to ride any distance you like, as none are more than a stones throw from each other and often overlap. The only problem is, most of the trails are in thick forest and bush so it is easy to become disoriented. Although, every so often there is a fire brake that cuts straight through the bush and generally leads straight back to the lake so it is not to hard to escape.
Lysterfield Park turned out to have almost everything a rider could want and a couple of things you don’t. Some of the more testing technical obstacles were enough to put me firmly in the dirt, but the single track is fast and plentiful. The trails are busy by Australian standards but they would be classed as deserted in the U.K. One unexpected and unpleasant obstacle was the flies, a pretty common problem on any Australian trail. After one of my many tumbles, I dragged myself from the dirt to inspect the damage to my unfortunate body only to find my cuts and grazes already teeming with flies. They stick to anything with moisture and to a fly an open wound is a rare treat indeed. Another obstacle is the Magpies, yes, the Magpies. They were certainly the last problem I had expected to encounter in a country that boasts eight out of ten of the worlds most deadly creatures, but encounter them we did.
When we found our way out of Lysterfield Park, we dropped onto a nondescript suburban road somewhere near Dandenong. We had managed to ride most of the day without any meaningful incident and only a few minor cuts and grazes. All we had to do now was jump the train from Dandenong to Melbourne and ride the short hop home. As I rode upright, stretching out my back, whack! Suddenly my head flew forward as something hit me hard from behind! I struggled to keep control of my bike narrowly avoiding face planting on the tarmac. My head jolted again as whatever had hit me had stayed around for afters. I looked up left and right but couldn’t work out what the f±@k had hit 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 the swooping season before arriving in Australia, but had considered it nothing more than an amusing urban myth. The idea of looking out for aggressive Magpies swooping down on riders seemed a little trivial when I had snakes, spiders and crocodiles to worry about. How wrong could I be! I was under attack! I grabbed at the bird still attached to my lid. Its claws scraped into my helmet with an unerring screech. My fellow riders stared dumbstruck. Eventually, I beat it off. It took flight, swooping into the trees ahead of me. It sat there staring at me with its beady eyes, barring my way. 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 assumed was either a Magpie, or a Pterodactyl 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 I was going to get away from this deranged bird! Then, sure enough, as I approached, it swooped again! I flailed my arms around like a demented dervish, never once making contact with the bird. As it swooped for a third time I decided my only hope was to cut and run. I pedalled like the wind with the Magpie attached firmly to my lid. I could feel my helmet straps digging into my chin as the beast wrestled to take it from me.
After what felt like an eternity, I managed to lose the bird corsage and cycled off, shocked and confused. As we rode on we eyed the trees nervously. I’d never noticed how many birds were actually out there before. Now, all their eyes were on me, the Tippy Hedron of Melbourne Mountain biking! We huddled together riding tight. Apparently, Magpies only bother individual riders as, to a deranged Magpie, they resemble a predatory animal hungry for their freshly laid eggs. We huddled together more through fear than logic or insight.
There is no doubt Lysterfield park is a great riding destination and worthy of exploration. There is lung busting technical riding aplenty through some truly unique and stunning landscapes. There is enough to challenge and excite the most hardcore of riders. But how many will master the spring trails when they are prowled by the rabid stalking Magpie? I have since acquired some stick on eyes for my helmet, which I acquired from Bicycle Victoria (http://www.bv.com.au) and I am also considering getting a hand gun. The eyes are available from most bike shops and tourist information centres and sticking them on my helmet will apparently deter another attack. It seems Magpies are just like motorists, as they don’t like being looked in the eye. I may however, just get back on my rollers and wait for the end of swooping season, or perhaps, start packing some heat!