The line between sleeping rough vs. an adventurer’s definition of stealth/wild camping is a blurry and fine one at the best of times; it varies greatly on each individual’s idea of creature comforts vs. bare necessities.
However, following months becoming used to sleeping in hedges, or waste land near villages, I crossed this line even by my own rough standards, this was in Romania, where I had my worst night ‘camping’ to date.
There is a massive stray dog problem in this country, not a few here or there, but thousands of them; 65,000 according to official estimates.
They mostly roam in packs of three to seven, sometimes up to a dozen or more, scavenging for waste from bins, neither scared nor respectful of humans. Unfortunately every year several people are killed across Romania when one of these packs turns territorial and attacks.
Without being prepared there is little you can do if such an attack occurs but try your best to cover your windpipe and face with your arms, try to stay in the foetal position and play dead, however I doubt most of us could actually play dead or keep our arms in place while being attacked!
Needless to say camping in Romania was something I tried to avoid, a tent provides zero protection from attackers while also rendering you blind to defend yourself!
Also, a tent that you have cooked near and or had food in, will attract animals who may not even consider the possibility of your presence. There’s really very little difference between a plastic tent and a plastic bin bag to a pack of hungry dogs when they can smell food inside; but when they tear it open and you startle them, they will be very scared, fear which will quickly manifest as aggression.
Lying on the floor underneath a pack of scared hungry and aggressive dogs is not somewhere you wish to awaken!
I stuck to good roads, which meant frequent access to shops and restaurants and most nights cheap guest houses, well within budget. Having to throw the odd stone towards dogs a few times a day didn’t bother me too much after a day or two.
However on my worst night sleeping out so far, the only pensineau (guest house) shown on the map was 34 miles away from where I woke, I made the miles, but the place was now a building merchants!! The nearest place was some 15km back the way I’d came. No chance!
Ordinarily this wouldn’t be a major problem; I’d just run out of town, find a quiet patch and sleep. But there was no “out of town” on this road, between this town and the city of Bacau, there were 28 miles of houses and buildings both sides!
I had to find somewhere in town to sleep; this isn’t wild camping, it’s sleeping rough on the streets. I’ve had to do it before and no doubt will again at some point during this run I’m sure.
The only rough ground I could find was near a storm drain, but with all the dogs I could hear fighting near the area there was no chance I was putting up my tent, as explained above it just renders you defenseless to attacks!
I ended up after much deliberation placing my roll mat underneath a bridge which spanned the storm drain, plenty of broken glass on the floor meant I wasn’t risking puncturing my air bed and so it was just a cold mattress for the night!
That night I lay down not planning on sleeping but simply to rest a little before continuing in the morning. To maintain some warmth I had to do static exercises such as the bridge and plank inside my sleeping bag. After eight hours running the last thing you want is to exercise to stop your teeth chattering, but needs must.
There were three main packs in this area and they fought, chased, howled and growled incessantly until 4am before starting up again at around 6am. A little after this I waited until sun-light at 7.30am and packed away my kit for another marathon.
Its nights like these once or twice a month that lead to a mounting fatigue when combined with the running, the running itself can be tiresome but the other factors hugely compound the effects.
The scariest point had been when a large Alsatian cross had appeared approximately four metres from me; luckily being startled caused him to turn tail rather than attack! I was lying there with my torch in one hand and a large stick in the other but he had surprised me, if he’d attacked I probably wouldn’t have had time to prevent being bitten.
However this same dog turned out to be my guardian angel. For the remainder of the night he barked an ominous deep chesty growl whenever any other dogs made a noise anywhere in the area, protecting me from their onslaught.