Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Finally, I Did It!

Just after sunset, I started my picnic dinner from the Carrefour market 200 meters away.

Every time I have a birthday my Dad never fails to ask me how I feel at my new age.  This year, because we didn’t talk on my actual birthday, and there was no way to get a card to me, he didn’t.  But if he did, perhaps I would say I feel bolder.  Last night, for the first time, I purposely camped in the wild and survived my experience.  To tell you the truth, I really enjoyed it.  I’m not an expert by any means, but it went pretty well.  I know this might seem like a small feat for all you tour cyclists, but as a solo female traveler who could be labeled as a bit more "anal" when it comes to feeling clean and fresh, it is a big feat for me!

I had my doubts about crossing the Greek border so far west and thought about staying up in Bulgaria, but my legs were done climbing.  On back-to-back days, my Garmin GPS congratulated me for new personal records.  I had the longest day with 152 kilometers, and the following day, the most climbing, 2,192 meters of positive altitude gain! No wonder I felt tired! Bulgaria is beautiful, the people are hospitable, and I enjoyed feeling like I had gone back in time going through rural areas.  There were more donkey carriages on the road than cars.  Not to mention it was extremely cheap!  However, I was desperate for some flat terrain, enticed by the beach scenery and the warm weather.

I went from Bansko down to Drama, Greece.  I had plenty of climbing at the start of the day and didn’t think I would arrive in Drama, but the last 40 km of my day were downhill and I rolled in to Drama around 5pm.  I stopped at a gas station before reaching Drama, desperate for a bathroom and also had a Fanta.  I almost had a heart attack when I saw the prices.  I forgot that a can of soda can cost more than a euro!  I had gotten used to the Balkan prices! I shouldn’t have been shocked then, when I asked prices at a few hotels,….40, 50, 60 euros.  I know, really not that expensive, but I hadn’t paid for a hotel in a week, and the last time I did, it was 9 euro in Macedonia.

Considering the temperature outside, and the fact that Drama was still pretty “rural” with a lot of open countryside, I decided that this would be the perfect place to try camping in the wild.  It was about 5:30 and since I had crossed the time zone line entering Bulgaria, everything here happened an hour later.  Therefore, I had another hour or so until it got dark.  I cycled through the city on the main road I would travel on tomorrow to get to Kavala, the beach.  I looked around at some of the roads that went off the main drag and explorer the area a bit, looking for a good place to “hide” my tent.  The thing is, everyone says you should discretely look for a place to pitch your tent when wild camping.  But I wonder how a solo young lady on a fully loaded bike with bright yellow panniers is suppose to look discrete cycling 2 km an hour up and down tiny little town streets frantically looking around for a place to pitch a tent?!?! 

After I left the main part of town, I found a small road that went up a hill.  I didn’t really want to climb it, but I thought it might lead to a place that was a little more off the beaten track.  I followed it up to where it forked and took the road to the left, which had a lot of shrubbery on both sides.  From there, another little gravel road went up and seemed to arrive at the back of some houses in the distance.  There were some little pockets off to the left on this road that had a good amount of shrubbery acting as a barrier, making it rather “hidden”.  Unfortunately it looked like a “pit stop” for people who had passed through.  I concluded that after spotting some toilet paper around the perimeter of the shrubs.  This grossed me out, but I didn’t want to look any further, besides I would choose an area where there wasn’t much toilet paper.  The ground also wasn’t completely flat, but that didn’t bother me.  I went back out to the other road to make sure it didn’t go somewhere that would attract a lot of people.  I followed it for another 200 meters, and it turned out it went to the backside of a giant Carrefour supermarket.  Ok, so I wasn’t that isolated, but from what I could gather, no one used this back entrance because trucks also had another main entrance on the side to go to the unloading dock.  I know this because I followed it and I arrived at the front of the supermarket to get some groceries for dinner.  Perfect!  Plus, there was a restroom totally disconnected from the main store that had a powerful hot water heater and locking doors so I was able to wash-up nicely!  My version of a hot shower for a night, no big deal!

I wandered the aisles of the Carrefour, hoping it would get darker faster, then headed back to my campsite.  I set-up my tent, organized my things, ate a picnic dinner at dusk, and was ready for bed at about 8pm.  I was sooo excited to have an early night.  I could have turned on my headlamp and done some journal writing or email drafts, but I didn’t want to draw attention to myself with the light.  I could see the lights from the house in the distance, but honestly I think they were on an automatic timer, because there was no movement in front of the windows.  I also thought that if someone was home and saw me, I would just explain to them who I was and hopefully they would be okay with me camping in back of their property. 

To not get too spooked out with all the noises from the evening, I popped my earplugs in and went to sleep.  I thought about setting my alarm, but something told me that going to bed at 8pm, I would definitely be up at a reasonable hour and I was.  I started hearing dogs bark, at first it sounded like a chorus in the far off distance, and then I realized that one of these dogs had spotted me.  He wasn’t very aggressive because he never seemed to get too close to my tent, from what I heard, but his bark was like a broken record.  By that time, it was just about 7:30 and I figured I should probably get up then anyway.  I had made it through my first night of camping in the wild without any problems, slept almost 12 hours, and felt refreshed!  I was out on the road extremely early, excited to arrive at the sea! 

Things I can do better for my next wild camping experience?  I should try to go further off the beaten track.  I could still hear cars passing on the main road and truth is, if you drew a straight line from the Carrefour to my tent, it was probably like 150 meters!  The fact there was toilet paper on the perimeter of the bushes is a little disgusting, but I just washed my ground mat in hot soapy water to be safe!  The dogs are a problem.  If they find you, you are guaranteed not to sleep any longer with all their barking.  Later on in the morning when I stopped by a bike store, the owner told me to be very cautious with stray dogs in Greece.  In fact he gave me a little can of pepper spray.  Let’s hope I don’t have to use it because the chances of getting it in my eyes rather than the dog’s are probably pretty high!

Flat ground is a must, the tent slid about half a foot downhill during the night.

Overall I was pretty impressed with myself for camping in the wild for the first time.  I met two other German cyclists today on the road and they asked me where I had passed the night and when I told them I had camped in the wild, even they were impressed! Now that I am close to the beach and the weather is decent and the region is rather rural, I think I will try it again.  Tonight, however, I opted for a hotel room with Internet connection to catch up on the logistics of my trip!

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