I Crashed an Ostrich
Let me tell you a few things I recently learned about ostriches…but first I should put things in a little bit of context.
July 4th of 2007 I left home on this little Amtrekker adventure of mine thinking, “Remember Swiss Family Robinson? Man, that kid on the ostrich looked like he was having a blast!”
Fast-forward eight months to the first time I ever got a close look at an ostrich…or as I like to call them, “Giant feathered dinosaurs.” Suddenly, I was thinking, “Huh, I don’t remember seeing that kid in any other movies. I wonder if he survived the filming.”
Now that I had let fear into my heart it became VERY important to me that I find an ostrich that was used to being ridden. Preferably one that REALLY enjoyed being ridden. Maybe an ostrich somewhere that loved having people on its back so much that it would seek out interaction, softly cooing and nuzzling you until you gave in and jumped on his back making him the happiest ostrich in all the land.
I found the next best thing. Joe Hedrick makes his living raising exotic animals and traveling the country doing shows and setting up ostrich and camel races. I got in touch with him months ago but never managed to cross paths with him until now.
Yesterday I was in Virginia City, Nevada for the 49th annual Virginia City International Camel Races and Joe went out of his way to insure that I got on top of an ostrich. Except that once I actually arrived I was instantly reminded of how terrifying ostriches look. And act. (Not to mention all the horror stories involving ostrich instigated hospitalizations people have shared with me over the last year.)
I don’t know if the video shows it (I really hope it doesn’t) but I was noticeably shaking while interviewing Joe inside the ostrich pen. With the ostriches. Nothing between them and us. Maybe I’m a big sissy. Okay…I AM a big sissy. But things didn’t improve.
Just before the race Joe and I walked out into the center of the arena and talked at the crowd a little bit telling them my story and whatnot.
“Are you ready?”
“Well, I’m a little terrified but let’s make this happen!”
Then Joe addressed the crowd, “Brett here weighs about 150 pounds. The average ostrich weighs about 450 pounds and can kill a man with one kick. Standing in front of a tractor they can kick forward and pop the tired without even trying.”
“Okay, well now that you say all that I feel much bet– Are you KIDDING ME?!”
All this on top of the earlier lesson where I learned that ostrich’s eyeballs are actually bigger than their brains. So despite being assured that ostriches are only dangerous when they’re around a breeding female, in my mind I had just heard, “Driven by pure animal instinct ostriches are perfect killing machines that can outrun you and put their foot through your skull without even thinking.”
Maybe that isn’t necessarily what was said but needless to say I was nervous.
I jumped on top of the giant feathered dinosaur in the starting gate and he started to buck.
“How do I steer this thing?”
“Just hold on tight, keep your balance and hope he goes where you want him to.”
I was mostly speechless (unusual) but I’m pretty sure the look I gave the wrangler said something like, “What am I doing here?”
Over the intercom I hear, “Okay, Brett! Are you ready?!”
What the heck. This is what I came for…time to suck it up. “Let’s go!”
The ostrich leapt out of the chute and I suddenly understood what everyone was saying about trying to stay balanced on top of a 450-pound football. It’s not easy. I was mostly focused on my hands as I hung on for dear life so I missed out on quite a bit of what happened but from what I hear I started in second place and briefly held first just before my ostrich decided to sit down.
Yeah. He sat down.
I only made it through about a quarter of the race before he gave up. I jumped off the back and waited for him to stand up. Meanwhile, he waited for me to go away.
A few minutes passed and once it he decided I wasn’t paying attention anymore he jumped up and bolted for the fence. It was definitely exciting but less than completely satisfying…so when Joe asked if I wanted to go again I jumped at the opportunity.
Knowing what I was in for made round two much less nerve-racking. My ostrich jumped out to an early lead and left the competition behind. It was a slightly bigger bird and much easier to balance on so I was feeling pretty good. Apparently he sensed my glee and stopped in his tracks, turned a full 180 and made a mad dash towards where we had just come from. At some point he decided it was a good idea to stay at a full gallop despite the metal fence in front of us.
“Whoa, Ostrich! You aren’t really going to–? You are, aren’t you!”
I stuck out my feet and hit the fence at a full run. Deciding it probably wasn’t healthy for either myself or the ostrich if I continued to hang on I rolled off the back and hit the ground, quickly thinking back to Life Lesson #9 (“When in doubt, assume the fetal position.”)
At some point I got stepped on…I definitely have a bruise and a little bit of swelling but nothing you couldn’t earn at an average pick-up soccer game. I jumped up smiling and brushing the dust off. Gave the camera a thumbs up and brought my ostrich racing career to a close.
I’m actually really happy with the way things went down. If you can’t win you should at least have an epic crash to brag about.
Quick thanks to Joe Hedrick and the folks from Team Amtrekker that came out to watch. It was great meeting all of you and thanks a ton for the pictures, Teri!
Just for the record. Bookingbuddy really is a pretty rad website if you’re looking to plan a trip. It actually allows you to search most of the top website from one location. Pretty handy! But more importantly…our new affiliation with bookingbuddy.com means all you have to do to help out Amtrekker is click on one of their ads and sign up for an awesome newsletter filled with travel deals! Thanks everyone!
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