There were once lions in Greece, and if they lived anywhere, it would be here. Giant boulders and ancient olive trees framed the arid landscape. I was cycling through the archaeological site of Mesimvria. A road so rocky and remote, no cars could possibly travel its 16km length. A road, where it was not lions I had to fear, but dogs.
Sara, a cyclist I met a few days earlier, had warned me about the road where a British lady was brutally killed by a pack of dogs last Autumn. My mind was on high alert as I pushed my bike through rocks and gravel deep into the history of Greece. It was easy to believe that the past was still alive here. I saw no one. The landscape seemed to have been abandoned thousands of years ago. I was a long way from people. I was a long way from help.
The boulders grew larger as the road led to a wasteland between the hills. I imagined hyenas hiding in their shadows. But it was not hyenas I feared, but dogs.
Suddenly a noise interrupted my racing thoughts. Rocks were sliding down the hill just to the left of my path as ten dogs descended towards me. I froze, fear hammering through my whole body. My cheeks and chest burning with adrenaline. I knew should these dogs be dangerous, should they be the same dogs who killed the lady last year, I would need to fight. I picked up a stick from the ground, never taking my eyes off the dogs. They had gathered under the shade of a tree and were staring in my direction.
Should I turn back? Should I continue? I wished I was not forced to choose between either options. With less kilometres ahead than behind, I pushed forward. The dogs stood as I walked past and began to follow me. They were crawling low on their legs, as though hunting prey.
The final five kilometres were the longest of my entire trip. Hauling my bike over rocks as quickly as possible. I turned back every few steps to shout at the dogs, wanting to appear meancing. Sometimes I would lose sight of them until they reappeared among the boulders. Dogs can smell fear, I thought.
After an eternity, the road improved enough for me to cycle. With the stick wedged in the waistband of my cycling shorts, I jumped back on my bike and pedalled as hard as I could. The back wheel skidded beneath me on the loose stones. Don’t fall, I prayed.
The feeling of tarmac under my wheels had never felt smoother. I had reached the main road. I was safe. Still shaking, I propped my bike by a shack on the beach. The locals were perplexed to see a girl and her bike appear from the direction of Mesimvria. “They never killed the dogs”, one of them told me, “I don’t know why there aren’t more warning signs, her head wasn’t found until a week later.”
Looking out to the peaceful sea, tears streamed down my cheeks. How could you be so stupid, I thought. It was the first moment of my journey that I felt truly brave. Brave, stupid, and very lucky.