In all my wimp worthy nights of wild camping, lightning hitting the ground where I camp is the most scared I’ve ever been and it’s certainly the fastest I’ve ever ran.
I’ve pedalled through five countries now and haven’t checked the weather forecast once. It doesn’t matter if it’s sunshine, rain or wind, I’m out there cycling and camping just the same. So for me it makes no difference whether I know what’s coming or not.
It’s already evening as I cross the Slovenian border into Croatia, on top of a substantial hill. It’s always a great feeling crossing a border into a new country. Today however, I am exhausted and I just need to be horizontal. I camp immediately, still up the top of the hill, in a small field and by 8 pm I’m lying stretched out and already falling asleep. An hour later I am awakened by an animal jumping at my tent trying to get in. Whatever is out there, it’s not giving up. As a girl who is freaked out by slugs, I am having stern words with myself to calm down because we humans are top of the food chain and that makes me boss in this situation.
With no warning a massive lightning storm begins. I’ve never experienced anything like this before. The entire tent is lighting up with the sky. I am frozen by fear, the thunder and lightening above me is just so loud. There is a deafening crackle which rather than coming from a specific source consumes everything in it’s existence. I can’t just hear this crackle I can feel it also and it’s followed by an almighty boom taking over the ground. I open the tent and flee, running as fast as I can across the field. I don’t even waste a few more seconds to close the tent and leave it open.
I reach a farmhouse and stand under the porch of the front door. Shaking and trying not to cry, I stand in a state of shock looking out to the lightning storm above the field where my tent is. A bolt of lightening hits the ground, straight down from the sky. Again consuming my senses. The air is different. Something has changed, the world around me is not the same. I can’t explain. There are no words I know to explain. I’m now whimpering.
The front door opens and there is an understandable scream from the home owners in response to the stranger on their doorstep. But I am lost and remain with my back to them still staring out to the storm, rambling in a Scottish course whisper,
“It’s okay, I’m just going to stand here all night, I’m going to stand here all night, that’s what I’m doing, everything’s okay”.
They speak no English but when they see my tent in the field, they physically turn me round and walk me into their home, putting a blanket around me and giving me a warm sugary drink. They give me a bed for the night in a spare room. I cannot begin to explain how grateful I am to these strangers as I lie in bed, safe from the lightning storm. I resolve that from that point on I would check the weather forecast on a daily basis. With each boom that night I awake panicked thinking I still have the tent to run out of.
The next morning I descend into the Croatian town of Rijeka. The descent freaks me out and I wonder if my bicycle has picked up a ghost. Things keep jumping off my bike onto the road. First my solar charger which has been securely fastened to my bike. Then my whole Ortileb handlebar bag jumps off scattering all the contents across the road.
All along the coast that week no-one can believe I was camped out on top of ‘that’ hill on ‘that’ night as the Croatian coastline below had been watching the storm in disbelief.
Ishbel, creator of World Bike Girl, has spent her life on bicycles, from road racing, to velodrome sprinting to cycling the world. She has pedalled across 20 countries solo and promotes commuting by bicycle. Much to the dismay of her friends, she is an avid wearer of socks and sandals.