Blood trickles down my leg at the same speed as the tears falling down my cheeks. I lean into the bus stop wall, my forehead pressed against my palms, making no attempt to conceal my sobs. It’s 11 pm in Greece and the dark streets are empty. Another reckless drunk driver zooms around the corner, accelerating so loud, I jump. My mind is blank but for one thought; I want to be home.
The day had started so differently. I cycled the Greek coast in the glorious – if a little hot – sunshine. I rode out of my saddle, wiggling my bum to Chaka Khan and singing George Ezra as loud as my panting breath would allow. Staff at a beautiful restaurant overlooking the ocean filled my bottles with water and ice. It was the perfect day to be on a bike trip. I imagined a peaceful secluded night of carefree wild camping on the beach. A 5-star tent for one, complete with a panoramic sea view.
Luxury resorts and holiday homes scuppered my camping plans. Before I knew it, I had arrived in Kavala, and I had no idea where I could sleep. Stress muddled my thoughts and made me incapable of making decisions. I spent forever considering every option (of which there were few). Unable to afford a hotel, I chose to ride out of the city in the dark to a campsite around 20 km away. I dug out the fluorescent jacket and bike lights from the bottom of my pannier, where they had stayed since the last time I used them in France. Gritting my teeth, I began cycling the main road out of the city. Within minutes, a driver sped past me so close, I decided to push my bike. It was prime drink-driving time in Greece. Only three hours and you’ll be there. It’s not so bad, I tried convincing myself.
Bash. I slammed my knee into the metal barrier lining the road. Letting out a cry of pain and frustration, that is how I found myself with my head in my hands, leaning on the wall of the bus stop.
I continue limping down the street, passing a retired couple enjoying the cool evening air on their terrace. I long to ask them for help, but something stops me. All the time my head sweeps from right to left, looking for a place to pitch my tent. A roof of an abandoned building, behind trees, in the shadows. Nowhere makes me feel safe.
Hobbling with an injured knee, I estimate it will now take at least four hours to walk to the campsite. Enough, Amy. Ask for help, the voice in my head finally speaks reason. I push my bike over a hill and can see restaurants clustered along the edge of a harbor. People sit eating, drinking, enjoying. I pause for a moment, simply watching them, thinking how different their reality is. How different my reality has become.
Preferring to ask a woman for help, I approach a lady sitting outside the first restaurant. “Do you know where the nearest hotel is” I manage to squeeze out, my voice cracking. The tone of emotion supersedes our language barrier. She knows what I’m asking, despite speaking no English.
Soon, I am sitting on the curb, a large plaster covering the gash on my knee, drinking ice-cold water. Stefan, the waiter, sits next to me. “Ok, what are you going to do? I have two offers. You can sleep on the restaurant terrace when the guests have gone. Or, one of the guys who works here says you can stay in his garden. It’s just on the other side of the harbor.”
I follow a middle-aged man in flip-flops up a track by the sea. It’s ok, people know you’re here, I think. The road leads to a clearing between trees on the top of a small hill where the man lives in his tent. He is a gentle and reclusive man who enjoys his quiet life on the edges of society. I spent two days on top of the hill, reading and waiting for my knee to be well enough to cycle. It had taken me a while to find it and it wasn’t quite what I expected, but I had arrived at my five-star tent for one, complete with a panoramic sea view.
The givens of a life lived in one place can become impossible decisions to be made on the road. Every day I am faced with the same often very simple questions, and every day the answer is different. Discomfort and inconvenience have gifted me total freedom at a very low cost. But sometimes, just sometimes, I hate it. None more so than deciding where to sleep.