A Turkish State of Mind

It’s been 10 days since I caught the 6 a.m. ferry over the Bosphorous, left the sprawl of Istanbul behind me and headed Northeast, up and over to the Black Sea coastline. I’ve followed it to Sinop, where physically it has been some of the toughest riding so far.

Mentally though, I’m in a good place. My mindset seems to have changed since I arrived in Asia – I feel more relaxed and less rushed than before. In Europe I was dashing from city to city and country to country, whereas here I know that it will take me a few weeks to cover Turkey and rushing on a single day won’t change that. I’m eating better and I’ve taken the time to stretch and do the occasional yoga when I stop. But perhaps best of all, I’m finally reading! Hitherto, my Kindle had stayed stashed in a side pocket, gathering dust – now I read in the morning, at lunch, in the evenings, whenever I can.

I’ve also been doing a lot of thinking, principally because very sadly after one and a half years of being together, Marie and I broke up whilst I was staying in Istanbul. The mix of spectacular scenery and calm days on the bike have helped, as does being offline. Besides, The sea is a good place to think of the future…*

Black Sea, Blue Water

I headed to the coast for the cooler climes more than anything else, realising that 40 degree heat wasn’t my cup of tea. The decision has been a fantastic one though, as the coastline has offered up pearl after pearl of incredible scenery. The sea has been a brilliant blue, warm to swim in and whilst skirting around the Küne Dagliari mountain range stunningly beautiful.

However despite being so close to the sea, I have done more climbing than at any other time in this trip. I complained a few weeks ago about Turkish hills, but if I could go back and speak to my former self I would pat him on the head and tell him, “You know nothing Josh Day”. The beaches are flat of course, but venture just 100m inland and the road rears up at astonishingly and agonisingly steep gradients, climbing up and over to the next cove and repeated all along the coastline. Beyond the pleasingly named Zonguldak the mountains fall straight into the sea, with no room for a road at all. Here, the climbs were long, hard (consistently >10%) and continuous, but rewarding for the views from the top, a strong sea breeze (read headwind) has kept me cool as well.

High-way or the highway?
Sometimes there is a get out of jail free option though, as Turkey is building roads like there is no tomorrow. In many places, where once a single lane road would wind it’s way along and up and down the hills along the coastline, now a monster 4 lane highway blazes a trail straight through. This has left me with a dilemma – follow the slow, winding coast road or blast along the busy highway. Despite the size, the highway isn’t always a terrible place to be as there is often a large hard shoulder to ride in, plus of course the road is faster, straighter and with less severe gradients. The only difficulty comes with the junctions, which are treacherous as effectively you are cutting across a lane of motorway speed traffic. You try to time your mad sprint across the gap, hoping that cars don’t need to turn off and if they do, that you guess correctly whether they’ll overtake then cut across you, or undertake and turn off behind you. Guess wrong and it’s game over.

Sometimes the choice of road is already made for me. In the stretch between Akçakoca and Eregli for example, there is only the highway. In this case it also meant tunnels, which no cyclist enjoys (unless of course they are bike path only!). Inside the air is thick with fumes and the echoes mean the smallest car sounds like a huge lorry and a lorry sounds like a freight train. There is also no hard shoulder, just a concrete wall to be crushed against if a truck comes too close. You have no choice but to stick the rear light on and go for it, breathing a sigh of relief (and fresh air!) if you make it the other side.

New Faces

I’m still meeting people as I go, be they fellow tourers, warmshower hosts or friendly locals.

During the worst of the hills I passed three Turkish cyclists resting at a cafe, originally from Izmir in the West but cycling the coast as well. Self proclaimed Anarchists, they were a fasincating bunch. Deniz was the fastest and has done a tour of every province of Turkey, 14000km in total; Sinasi is slower than me in the mornings and a medical student, who cooks the best Turkish food; Ossi, who I bonded with the most on account of him being the only English speaker is a remarkable chap. Turkish by nationality, he spent his first 14 years living in Germany, before moving back with his parents. He was jailed in the 90s for being a Conciensious Objector to military service and once released was officially a “defector”, meaning he couldn’t get a permanent job or any other societal benefits. His name was only cleared by the ECHR in 2006 – needless to say, he was a fascinating conversation partner.

Touring with the three was fantastic, with Deniz sprinting ahead to forage for Hazelnuts and Plums, whilst meals were a delight of Turkish cuisine. We differed in our approaches to camping and I must say I’m now converted. Normally I go for as quiet a spot as possible, but the three roll straight into a village, find the Muhtar (elder) and ask for the best spot. First night, he suggested the local school (it being the holidays) so we pitched up in the grounds. At around 10.30pm I saw a flashlight approaching and became a little anxious, but this being Turkey it was only a curious neighbour and after enquiring how we were, then insisted on bringing out a bigger light to cook by and a coffee pot and mugs! Similarly we were greeted by the Caretaker in the morning, then the school director who offered us tea and good humour (Theresa May is his aunt, apparently). Much better than hiding out in a field alone on the lookout for farmers and dogs!

I rode with them to Inceburun (the most Northerly point of Turkey), then left them at Sinop, glad to have met more friendly faces and wishing them the best for their trip.

Others I met include Genís, who is heading from Barcelona to Indonesia and is at a similar stage in life, having left his busy job of 5 years to pursue adventures on the bike. He is also meeting his girlfriend along the way, which didn’t help my confidence in recent decisions!

And Kuno is a retired and eccentric German who is running (or walking when he gets tired!) around the world!! We wild camped together after bumping into each other late in the day. Here is his website (in German).

Camping

Finally, I think I’m getting the hang of wild camping. The fear is mostly gone and I’m much better at finding spots now, despite the touristy nature of the black sea coastline. Here, it’s proved easiest to just pitch my tent up on beaches and fall asleep to the gentle noise of the breaking waves. My favourite so far has been at Denizkoy, with a beach and a whole Kavun (melon) to myself. Bliss.

Onwards I will go along the coast. I’ve been reliably informed the hills cease to the east of Sinop, from which I can glide along to Batumi and Georgia beyond. I’ve also ticked over 5000km, more distance in 2 months than I’ve ever ridden in a year.

*Credit to Los Campesinos for that line, from their song “The Sea is a Good Place”

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4 thoughts on “A Turkish State of Mind

  1. Hi Josh,
    I enjoy a lot your very rich and concise descriptions.
    British cyclists are undoubtedly the bests, on the Tour de France, as well as on the Silk Road ! ☺
    All the best to you. Take care !
    Luc (in Belgium).

    Like

  2. Pingback: Black Sea East  | Cycling for Days

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