DRESDEN NACH PRAG (2018)

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 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 (rarely come this far down from Romania). 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 very aggressive if they feel threatened. So, with my head torch turned on and my recently purchased Opel knife shaking in hand, I opened the front of my tent fully expecting to battle a wild animal to the death.

Perhaps we would be eating pork for breakfast...

There was nothing to be seen. I staggered a few laps around the tents shining my torch into the dark... just to be sure.

With the river gurgling along, the now occasional sound of traffic from the road, no beasts in sight, and 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 the condensation of my breath inside the tent. I put in my earplugs and settled down once more.

Immediately I hear the stamping again.

My earplugs.

There was no beast lurking outside of my tent. The locals of Děčín hadn’t rallied to attack the British intruders. It had been my own heartbeat all along, reverberating in my ear against the earplugs. 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.