It was just past midnight on the Greek island of Naxos when I awoke to bits of sand hitting my face and cold air blowing in off the Aegean Sea. I quickly sat up, looked around and began to panic. The thing I had been afraid of this entire trip had just happened.
That night I had decided to sleep on the beach, and while normally the idea of sleeping outside with no tent would have turned me off, I was used to it by now. I was at the end of a bicycle trip that started in London three months ago, and we had free camped the whole way, meaning we didn’t stay in hotels or even hostels, we put out tents where someone wouldn’t find us (hopefully) and left the next morning.
I jumped up. My handlebar bag, which contained my wallet, passport, iPhone and anything valuable was gone, and I knew right away that someone had stolen it. I frantically checked my bicycle to find they hadn’t taken any of my bags and had also left my baby taylor guitar. I experienced a moment of relief amidst the growing frustration.
I ran out to the street in the off-chance the thief was still escaping but there was no one around for miles. “No one around”, I thought… might as well take advantage of that. I screamed. I beat my fists into the sand and recited every cuss word I could think of, making sure to blame the entire population of Greece while I was at it.
Even though part of me knew it was pointless, it felt good to be able to let out my anger knowing no one was around and no one was going to get hurt or feel scared. I walked up and down the beach for a few minutes contemplating my next move and it became clear I wasn’t going to do anything until the morning. I went back to my sleeping bag and laid there for four hours, getting maybe thirty minutes of sleep the entire night.
In the morning I started riding back to the town where the main street was, including the pier where I would need to catch the ferry to Athens. On the way back to town I passed a sign for some ruins. On the way out I didn’t have much interest, but after all that had happened, I figured “why not”. As I arrived, I noticed it was closed, which wasn’t surprising since the sun had just come up and it was five in the morning.
On the other side of the locked fence lay a mother dog and eight of the cutest puppies I had ever seen. As I reached through the chain-linked fence the puppies all got up to lick my hand and show me how excited they were to see me. After a few minutes I decided to find a way in, and I climbed up the fence and landed inside with the dog and her puppies. I instantly felt better. I had still been upset from the night before but this completely melted me. The mother dog even seemed to be nudging her puppies toward me. I couldn’t believe my good fortune to have found this situation after having gone through mental torture just five hours earlier.
After about thirty minutes of rolling on the ground and being licked and entertained by eight puppies, I decided to give myself a tour of the ruins, since I was already inside. As I got up and started walking away, the mother dog followed me and jogged out in front of me. “Is she leaving her puppies to show me around?” I felt like royalty. Everywhere I went she would run out in front of me and look back, wagging her tail in delight.
Maybe it was the fact that I was so angry the night before, or maybe it was because I was high on oxytocin from all the puppies, but in that moment I felt incredibly supported, and when I stopped to appreciate what was happening, it was overwhelming. Even as I write this now, I don’t know that I can really explain how incredible I felt in that moment. It was magical.
I’m a pretty skeptical person, so when it comes to experiences like this I don’t easily attribute it to a chosen deity (even though I was in a Greek temple dedicated to one of their gods), but this is one of those experiences I’ll never forget, and it stands out for me as the most beautiful moment of my whole three month bicycle trip across Europe.
It just goes to show that sometimes we need the bad times to experience the good times. I don’t know if I would have had that moment with the dogs if it weren’t for getting my bag stolen, but I think that if I did, I wouldn’t have appreciated it as much.
How did I get back to Athens with no money and just by Baby Taylor guitar?
You can bet there was a lot of inspired singing that day.