As I was still waiting for my Turkish residence permit to be issued (I had long ago out-stayed my 3 month tourist visa and would need the residence permit to legally stay in Turkey long enough to cycle across it and exit without a whopping fine) I used my first week on the bike as a test run for me, Carra and all the kit we had amassed/adopted from the walk. To avoid the 60km of traffic that exits the city to the east I took the ferry to Mudanya and in a nice full-circle kind of way – my first host when I arrived in the city, Sevilay, was visiting her family in her hometown where the ferry arrives. So she met me on her bike and we spent the morning visiting Mudanya and around. Then she accompanied me to road out of town and sent me on my way. Straight up a long hill and straight into my first problem – Carra did not have anything like a high enough gear for hills. My legs and lungs were burning as ı struggled to even turn the pedals with all the weight on Carra. We stopped and started and in between I got off and pushed until my arms were screaming too. After 2 1/2 hours I had covered just 7km (my walking pace was 5km per hour!!) but I had reached the crest of the hill and I was looking forward to my first free kms.
Free kms was how I had been referring to one of the merits of cycling that ı was lookıng forward to – covering distance without having to put any physical effort in on the downhill sections ( although in reality you have just paid for them on the climb). It was something I had not had when I was walking as every step demands something from some part of your body. But my first free kms were very nearly my last! Having not got my bike computer working by this point I can’t tell you how fast I was going when I saw a bump coming up – but without enough time to brake or steer round it Carra hit it and the impact bounced the front pannier off the frame. It hit the road and narrowly missed going under the rear wheel before skidding to a halt behind me in the middle of the dual carriageway. Luckily no cars were nearby so I could bring Carra to juddering halt and walk back up the road to retrieve it with my heart thundering as ı contemplated the consequences had it gone into my back wheel.
Happily ı managed the whole of the final hour of day one without any further incident, a car park warden bought me a coffee while ı was waiting to meet my host. He was busy that night but left me with his father. I somehow managed to explain my findings from the first day (and my need to get a new gear-set) to him in my pigeon turkish. After dinner we went for what I thought was just a walk round the block, until, after asking a few people in the neighborhood, we arrived at a white van in a car park – which turned out to be a mobile bike shop! 30 minutes later Carra had a new gear set which as far as I can understand from the medium of mime – would mean I could chain smoke whilst ı pedaled up Everest; “problem yok!” I went to bed that night with a revitalised sense of satisfaction at surviving day 1 but fearful of the pain to come as every muscle was tensing and as I closed my eyes I still felt as if I was pushing or pedaling Carra up that hill – if only my body’s’ gears were as easy to change.
The next couple of days I didn’t really cover any great distances but I started to get used to Carra and spent a lot of breaks munching on sunflower seeds (chickie dicks as it sounds like when the street sellers sell them in Istanbul). It was a welcome change from the sprawl of the city to back in the green and dust and fields of the country. The region I was riding through is full of olive groves and farmland, with tractors chugging along the roads and sleepy villages having there doorways swept clear of dust by the women while the men are all drinking çay at the salon! It was a bit strange getting back to meeting new hosts at the end of each day, explaining my story again and trying to organise a system where everything lived in the 4 panniers and ruc-sac. The constant attention is another thing to acclimatise to, fully loaded Carra gets a lot of beeped horns (with meanings ranging from ‘I am a truck behind you even though you can see me in your wing-mirror’, ‘go,go,go up that hill even if my extremely loud truck horn has nearly scared you half to death and deafened you’ to ‘I hate cyclists, especially at traffic lights’) and inquisitive looks. I woke up from a little nap in the park in Gemlik (yes I am back to my favorite warm weather napping spot – park benches) to find 3 school kids looking at us and poking at Carra. We spent the next hour pouring over my maps and their english textbooks, talking about their ambitions (to be a maths teacher, the first Turkish astronaut and to own a pet shop!) and eating ice cream.
I mixed pleasure with pain, stopping for a couple of days to relax at Ceren’s olive farmhouse in the hills above Iznik lake, just eating köfte, drinking wine and smoking a night away. Before I extended my cycling Pb to 90 km whilst avoiding a pretty horrible guy on a tractor who interrupted some of my free kms downhill to try and entice me into the woods for a quick shag (or “sigaro” over there – indicating the direction of the trees with his pointing finger and something else pointing in his trousers). Then to finish off my test run was the climb up to Bolu. Even with my new granny-gear set it took over 3 hours to reach the top and all the while the motorway that ı wasn’t allowed on was taunting me in the valley below. Having survived the test run relatively unscathed, but in no doubt how much more my body (and mind) was going to have to step-up, I was on that motorway the next day – on the bus back to Istanbul to sort my residence permit. Sunburnt and exhausted!