It’s less than a week out from the 2016 ITU Cross Triathlon World Championship in the Snowies Mountains outside of Canberra, Australia. As athletes gather from around the globe, the excitement grows. The anticipation is palpable. Everyone is anxious to preview the course and burn off some of the extra energy from tapering. But Mother Nature has had other plans. Rain and cooler tempuratures have been hitting the venue at Lake Crackenback for the last 32 hours.
Sunny days are predicted to come, but for now, athletes take shelter and wait for the rain to pass and the air to warm. While stuck inside, editor and athlete Will Kelsay was reminded of a story from his last trip to Australia. For those athletes, and anyone else looking for a way to pass some time, here is an entertaining story about Will’s first encounter with a feathered fiend in Oz.
An Entertaining Ride Down Under
Cold chilly weather. Snow on the horizon. Long nights and short days. The treadmill and the trainer were calling. But I wasn’t having any of that this time around. With just a backpack and my bike, I boarded a plane to Australia and said good bye to the Colorado Rocky Mountains for a few months. The Southern Hemisphere summer was calling.
Excited and relieved a jersey and shorts were fitting for the weather outside, as apposed to 14 layers of clothing required to ride back home, I climbed on my road bike for a long ride on the quiet roads north of Sydney. The day started out perfectly as I rode through a beautiful national park and was treated to lush forest and peaceful roads. The sun poured down on my ear to ear grin. Exiting the park, I swung onto a small highway where I was planning the main part of the ride – a long out and back. That’s when the fun started…
Round 1… Surprise!
Pedaling at a comfortable pace, I was delighted to take in the scenery. Rolling hills, quaint farms, and giant eucalyptus trees lining the roadway. I was in my happy place enjoying every minute of it, but as I cruised along, out of the blue something slammed into the side of my helmet. BOOM! Completely surprised and in utter shock, I cried out as my head jerked to the side and I was thrust to the edge the road. The bike stayed upright and my legs kept pedaling despite total bewilderment consuming me.
“What the hell was that?!” With senses at full alert, I surveyed my surroundings with lightening speed to figure out what the hell just happened. That’s when it hit me, I had just been dive bombed by a large magpie. Friends had told stories of these birds protecting their nests by swooping down and attacking passersbys, but I had no idea the size of the bird and the force they could rain down on a human.
Looking over my shoulder I quickly spotted my assailant a few meters above. I dropped it into a bigger gear and picked up the pace in an effort to out run him. Seconds later, to my surprise, SLAM! The bird hurled its entire body into the side of my helmet again causing my head and body to be thrown sideways. As I cried out again in surprise, I was dumbfounded that a single bird could be so forceful. Enough was enough. I dropped it into the biggest gear I had and blasted the pedals to reach top speed. I threw down a leg burning, teeth gritting, lung busting sprint for more than thirty seconds. Peering back, I spotted the feathered fiend far behind. I kept turning over the gears quickly to ensure that I was indeed out of its swooping range.
Several hundred meters down the road I eased up, caught my breath, and couldn’t help but laugh. “So that’s what everyone has been warning me about!” I thought with a smirk. While reveling in my satisfaction from out sprinting my assailant, I realized I would have to ride right back past it on the way home.
Round 2… Fight!
With the element of surprise gone for that combative magpie, the encounter during the return ride was a bit different, yet still quite thrilling. I had hatched a plan of attack and was prepared for the dive bombing bird this time.
My senses were on full alert as I approached the area where I first encountered the ferocious fowl. My ears attuned to even the slightest of sounds. Listening for the flapping of wings. My eyes taking in every movement in front of me, as well as to the sides, and the shadows below. A nervous excitement grew inside me as I continued along, ready to spring into action and show that bird was I was made of.
Swoosh, swoosh, swoosh. I heard the flutter of feathers quickly approach from behind. I immediately ducked, anticipating the attack was aimed at my head. Guessing correctly, the bird narrowly missed my lowered helmet in its first failed attempt to pummel me. Faster than a gun slinger from the old west, my fingers flicked the shift triggers to drop into the quickest gear. I exploded into an all out, balls to the wall, adrenaline pumping sprint. I grunted as spittle flew from my mouth and my legs burst into of of the fastest sprints I have ever launched. You would be surprised how much faster you can go when something is attacking you.
Head tucked, with a white knuckled grip on the bars, I produced chain snapping power to outrun the bird. “Come on you son of a @#&$%! Whatcha got?!” screamed the voice in my head. I kept my head down and looked to the shadows below for any sign of the next attack.
Three hundred meters down the road, I could still see him there. “Holy crap! This birds fast!” Digging deep, deep down into that well of sheer will power (pun intended) I somehow accelerated to even greater speeds. With my legs screaming to stop, lungs feeling like I was drinking boiling water, I pushed harder and harder. “This bastard is not gonna catch me!” I thought. I kept up the blistering pace for over a minute.
Nearing the point of exhaustion, I looked back and was pleasantly surprised to see the bird was finally gone. I did it! I out sprinted that aggressive little turd. As I sat up, I was rather proud of my effort. Throwing down a sprint like that was something I didn’t know I had in me. My chest heaved as I caught my breath. I took a drink and casually finished my ride in quiet content.
To give a better visual of exactly what it looks like when a magpie swoops down to attack a cyclist, check out this video from Anthony Newman.