I finally got out of Istanbul and started along the Black Sea coast. That was tough cycling. Short, steep climbs followed by short, steep descents all the way. Loads of 'welcome to turkey' shouts and handshakes through car windows. Lots of fun passing through the villages. I have to admit feeling abit of shame rolling through these villages. All the young men my age are fashionably dressed whilst I, maybe the first stranger they have ever met, look like primitive man on a bad day. Even the shepards seem to all sport a pair of imaculatley polished winkle pickers. I got ill soon after that and spent a three days flat out in bed.
When I got back on the bike I started to get sick of the coast, it is very busy and for every nice coast view you come across plenty more industrial waste sites. I headed inland. Hundreds of kilometres of quiet road flanked all the way by mountains. No villages along the way, so no dogs to chase me. Just nice mountain towns Toysa, Amaysa.... and the constant mountains.
The Turkish mountain highway.
Peolpe have asked me, whats the cycling like? Turning the pedals is not the hard part. I am lucky that I can cycle 130km a day, day after day and not ever feel (too) tired. The hard part is making yourself do it, being alone in the saddle for hours everyday with only your own thoughts for company. When everything is going good the legs and lungs work in perfect sync, I put my head down and almost forget I am cycling. But when I can't get into a rythm and I can't find my legs it can turn a simple ride into a real beasting.
After all the climbing I started to get abit obsessive about weight. I got ruthless with the contents of my panniers, then with the bike, removing the reflectors from the wheels and pedals, trimming the brake and gear cables, cutting away the storage pockets from inside the tent etc. I saved a couple of kilos and I could have dumped even more stuff but luxuries like books and a walkman I need.
It has been Ramadam throughout my whole ride through Turkey. I have not been fasting. Normally pulling into a town for something to eat is a welcome way to break up the day and to meet people but with all the restaurants closed during the day I rarely left the road, pretty much stayed out of towns altogether and cooked almost everything I ate. Of course all the restaurants were packed for Iftar at dusk but I was normally tucked up in bed by then. The days of sipping chay and stuffing my face with kebabs were over.
Late one day I was looking for a camp spot when the local Jandarma, army, stopped me. They told me it was impossible to cycle to the next city (80km away) and too cold to camp (about 15 degrees). I thought being in the army was supposed to make you hard?!? Who were this bunch of sissys? Before I knew it the bike was being hauled into the van and I was driven to a hotel. I left early the next day because I thought the sergeant would come and put me on a bus to the next city.
For the last stage through the east I left the main highway and tried out some back roads. They definatley save the best for last out here. I have to recommend the strech from Serin Karahishar to Artvin via Bayburt (especially Ipsir to Yusefeli). It had everything, moonscape mounatins, tough tough climbs, 20k downhills, valleys, gorges, cliffs, rapids, waterfalls, fording rivers, on road, off road and even a plain to ride across! (yes a flat plain in Turkey), and it was all stuffed into a 500km naturefest with only a handful of cars everyday. They are sitting on a tourist goldmine out here, I noticed the odd Hotel had appeared offering trekking and fishing, 'Trout' their signs proudly dispalyed.
Turkey is a tough place to cycle, no doubt about that, but the rewards are so worth it. I nearly crashed the bike quite a few times because I was too busy gaping at the scenery or staring over my shoulder at something.
First sign of autumn.
These monster storms stalked me almost the entire length of Turkey, always appearing just before dusk. Made me glad I upgraded my tent to a more waterproof model in Istanbul.
Worth getting out of bed for?
The climb up to Artvin.