Here is a story, slightly exagerated, from a few weeks ago when I went for a training ride in Taupō, New Zealand, and got attacked by a couple of birds.
On this day, as on most, I go for a bike ride. Just the usual couple of hours, endurance ride kind of thing. Nothing unusual...
I leave my Mother’s house, where I am staying for the long weekend. I sail down the mountain that she lives on top of, and I am on my way. I head south, into the wind, a cold, crisp southerly frosting my bare legs and fingertips. I start to get into a rhythm and listen to the quiet hum of my headphones in the background. I admire the mighty lake, the largest in my country. One hundred and ninety three kilometers in perimeter and the result of the world’s biggest volcanic eruption.
I begin the first of two climbs that I plan to do twice on an out-and-back loop. I put my head down and begin to grind my way to the top. I make it to about halfway the sun draws from it's hiding place. The warm rays beat down and begin to defrost my icy skin. Sweat soon drips from my brow as I look up to see the pinnacle of the climb. I unzip my outermost layer and let the cool breeze flow through. Just me, empty paddocks, the noise of the busy highway road and the bicycle. Pure joy.
I make it to the top of the climb and the sun really shines now. Slowly the fatigue in my legs starts to set in and there I am. Riding along. Minding my own business. At peace with the world. Not harming anyone. And all of a sudden, I see something that makes my stomach drop. Two shadows either side of my handlebars that tell me my enjoyable ride is about to take a turn for the worst.
That's right, two magpies, one either side, swoop, aiming for my face. I panic. In defense mode now, I reach for my drink bottle, the only weapon I have to protect myself, and I try to strike. I miss. I look forward to the road, back to the birds, forward again. I try to hold a straight line next to the traffic. They won’t relent.
I pedal harder. Surely they can't keep up. They do. I'm struggling against the wind.
They attack, again and again while highway spectators surely watch in jest at the roadside entertainment. I feel vulnerable. I feel alone. But eventually, I make it to the safe zone. To point of no return for these nasty beasts. The end of their territory. I freewheel to the bottom of the mountain with a sigh of momentary relief.
But I know the story isn't over. I know this road. There is no other way back. I must, again, face an attack.
I pedal for another hour or so, headphones out now, and flinching at every beast of the air that I encounter. Sparrows included. I finally decide it's time to turn around.
I cross the road and with the wind on my back this time, heading north. I try to soak up the dazzling beauty of the huge lake Taupō, but I have to focus. I'm almost back to the dreaded magpie zone.
I begin to climb, this time, I save my legs for the anticipated chase. I set an easy rhythm up the hill. Once I make it near the peak, I take a sip from my bottle. I begin to prepare myself.
These birds live in the treetops, camouflage from the human eye, so I approach with caution. Eyes wide, ears open.
I press my gear lever, and slide into a bigger gear. Still no attack. Now I'm starting to descend slightly, I gear up again. Waiting with anticipation and I think for a second that maybe, just maybe they will not see me this time. And all of a sudden, they strike together from both sides. I pedal harder. Faster. I get some speed and look back, and one gives up and returns to his den, phew. The other however, is relentless. He continues to strike. Now I'm going my hardest. Heaving in oxygen while trying to escape this territory. The bird attacks me again, this time from the back. I take my bottle with one hand and take a swing. I miss. I swing again. He struggles now to hold the pace. I smirk. My adrenaline pumps and I hit it harder. I feel like I've been racing forever. Then, finally after a full minute of pursuing me, he gives up. He flies back to where he belongs. I check back to make sure, then I gasp and try to recover from the effort. My legs burn, my lungs sting, but it is over. Then, I ride home. Wondering what I ever did to make those birds so mad at me. I wonder who else they have attacked. I wonder if the two tourists approaching me on touring bikes will be next. And I get home. Pleased to live to tell the story.
Has this ever happened to you? I would love to hear your story, add your comments here.
Also, Wikihow offers a helpful Ten Steps to Keep Safe From Swooping Magpies
Photo Credit: theage.com.au