The first springtime ride for the year is a time for great rejoicing in the peloton. With the short, cold days of winter rapidly fading into distant memory (at our age it does not take long for any memory to fade) and the prospect of sunny days on the trail, it is no wonder that everyone was wearing a broad smile. I decided to celebrate the start of springtime by reverting back to the official starting point at Mt Evelyn. As I pulled up in the car park I was soon joined by Peter Booth who suggested that we ride back up the hill to the rotunda in Mt Evelyn. For someone to suggest riding UP a hill shows just what high spirits we were in.
As we emerged from the shade of the trees I could feel a strange sensation on my skin. It turned out to be the first warm sunshine we had felt in some months. Although the air temperature was quite cool it did not take long for the radiant heat and the pedaling to start warming our blood. When we arrived back at COGS there was already a significant gathering of yellow jerseys. All early indications were that we would have a good turnout to celebrate the season.
Not long after starting the ride I noticed that a car was parked across the trail and that Peter Booth was busy talking to the driver. When I pulled in alongside I discovered that the occupants of the car were none other than Hooters and Spanner Billson. It took me some time to get over the initial shock but I was glad to see that they had decided to join us, even it was from the comfort of their car. It was not until we had arrived at Woori Yallock that we saw them riding on the trail.
Behind all the frivolity and celebrations there was a much darker side to the changing of the seasons. Little did we suspect that, high in the surrounding treetops, sinister metabolic changes had been taking places in the the bloodstreams of countless magpies. These normally placid and friendly songbirds had been quiety metamorphing into weapons of mass (pelotonic) destruction. When vast amounts of avian testosterone are released into the body of the male magpie it becomes a mean killing machine.
I suppose we should have taken the vivid accounts of those travelling the trail in the opposite more seriously. Several of them had tried to mouth a warning about the horrors that lay ahead but I casually dismissed them with a condenscending smile and wave. Our horrific encounters with Eddy the Mad Magpie that caused such mayhem in our early rides had been relegated to urban myths and we continued on towards Warburton as if we were indeed invincible.
The further we progressed the more warnings we received. A group of terrified middle aged walkers appeared out of nowhere. Some of them were vainly trying to protect themselves by covering their heads with bags and rucksacks. “M-M-M agpie At-t-tack !” one of them stuttered as she ran down the trail with a look of abject horror on her face. She could have easily scored a bit part in one of those Japanese science fiction movies. I rode on feeling very smug and superior in my yellow jersey and Avanti bike helmet.
Somewhere near Launching Place I became separated from the main group of the peloton and rode on towards Yarra Junction all by myself. Far ahead I could see the others disappearing into the distance as I tried to make up long ground. I did not pay attention to the ominous fluttering sounds in the leaves above me. A loud whooshing sound brought my attention back to earth as a low flying pecking machine swooped low over my head. A glance to the shadow by my side showed just how close I had come to disaster. The magpie turned around and soared for the final killing run. I had no other choice but to squeal like a teenage girl at a Mark Holden stage show and at the same time pedal as fast as I could for safety. When my heart rate finally returned to normal I realised just how close I had come to calamity and resolved never to be so blase about the avian enemy in the future.
It was only when we were safely gathered in the comparitive safety of the Milgrove Bakery that other riders began to recount their stories of survival. Some had been swooped on multiple occasions, others testified that their ridiculous defensive headress (cable ties on the helmets) protected them from injury. I have always maintained that the only reason that magpies won’t attack such a ridiculously attired rider is because they can’t laugh and fly at the same time.
The afternoon continued to improve so that the return ride was undertaken in positively balmy conditions with the late afternoon sunshine streaming across the paddocks and casting long shadows over the trail. What a blessing this trail is to those who use it regularly – may we never take it for granted. In spite of the feathered fiends in the trees I am immensely looking forward to the next few months of the cycling season.