After the first day of our 150 Kilometre journey from Dresden to Prague along the Elbe River, Rob and I found ourselves on the outskirts of Děčín, in the north of the Czech Republic. I had been nursing a flat rear tyre for the last 10 Kilometres through the urban byways of this industrial town, that eventually took us, unnervingly, down a motorway sliproad... at night and without any lights on our bikes.
At the first sign of a field, we decided to set up camp for the night. It wasn’t perfect, to say the least. It was nearly pitch black by the time we made it to Děčín and already it was starting to get cold (we had had snow in Berlin only the week before). The images we had each formed in our minds of our nights along the Elbe, over the previous months of planning in Berlin (of meadows of lush green grass backing onto dense forest with the river flowing in front of us as we clinked glasses of local wine), were hard to keep hold of as we looked across the black expanse of the Elbe onto the flashing lights of a busy dual carriageway.
With our two tents set up to face one another, and with the sound of moving traffic from across the Elbe reminding us of our precarious situation, Rob and I settled down to arguably the worst night’s sleep of our lives. Rob, at this point, was starting to regret not spending the extra €20 on a better sleeping bag in Dresden earlier that same day.
In the middle of the night I was woken up by a loud, repetitive stamping next to my tent - loud enough, in fact, that I could feel the vibration in my ear as I lay on my sleeping mat. Slowly I took out my earplugs and began thinking through all the wild animals that we could potentially run into while in the Czech Republic: domestic livestock such as cattle or sheep (we didn’t see any when we set up camp), wild horses (too close to the town), bears (get a grip).
The only two possibilities I could rationalize at 3am that night in the cold of my tent were that either someone who lived close enough to our camping spot to have seen our fire was now coming to take a closer look, or that a wild boar was doing the same thing. Wild boars are quite common throughout Germany and the Czech Republic, and can be aggressive if they feel threatened. So, with my head torch turned on and my recently purchased Opinel knife shaking in hand, I opened the front of my tent for what I was sure would be the battle of a lifetime.
Would bacon be on the menu for breakfast?
To my relief, there was nothing to be seen. Pumped with adrenaline from the all the excitement of potentially
facing off a dangerous wild animal, I staggered a few laps around the tents, shining my torch into the dark... just to be sure we were in fact alone.
And so, with the river still gurgling along just a few feet from us, the now only occasional sound of traffic from the road, no beasts in sight and yet my heart still racing, I closed my knife and threw on every piece of clothing I had left in my panniers - socks and underwear included - as I could see now the condensation of my breath inside the tent. I put in my earplugs and settled down once more.
Then, without any doubt, I immediately I hear the stamping again. And make the discovery of a lifetime.
There was no beast lurking outside of my tent that night. The locals of Děčín hadn’t rallied to attack Rob and I, the British intruders. It had been my own heartbeat, reverberating in my ear against the earplugs. Yes, I had woken myself up with the sound of my own heartbeat.
We still had 100 Kilometres, and one more night camping wild along the Elbe, to go.