My first 1000km on the bike.I have been trying to remember where I was when I realised I had walked my first 1000km, somewhere in central France I think. I knew it would pass quicker on a bike but it seems like it has taken no time at all. Just under 3 weeks after I left Istanbul for the 2nd time I have made it to the Black Sea city of Samsun. They call it little Istanbul as it is the biggest city on this coastline but it shows little resemblance to me except for the heavily built up skyline that drops down to the waters edge. It certainly seems a world away from the chaos and turmoil of the protests recently in Istanbul – where I am happy to say peace is prevailing for now as the core of protesters occupy the disputed park/development site with a strong sense of unilateral strength and togetherness. I feel a great deal of empathy and support for the protesters causes (having witnessed the heavy handed zero tolerance of police towards small and peaceful protests whilst in the city, once being caught up in tear gas attack on 15 protesters with 1 banner) and I wished I had been there to join the people power. As I go further along the black sea coast the support of the prime Minster and his government greatly increases so people have a very different opinion of the protests.
The riding was incredibly physically punishing when I reached the black sea. The western part of this coast is known for being where the mountains meet the sea and the small, winding road jumps up and down between the two with some brutal gradients. At times it was just too much for my relatively green cycling legs (i think it would even have given a fully drugged-up Lance Armstrong a run for his money in parts) and I resorted to hitching lifts. Unfortunately the only vehicles capable of accommodating me and Carra are trucks and vans and the drivers lived-up to their internationally negative reputation. There insistence on stroking my legs or trying to go for a friendly pat on the back – leading to a hug – to a hand on my breast was both infuriating and degrading. Was becoming a sexual object really the price I had to pay anytime I had to ask for a lift? There was one notable exception when 2 guys picked me up and actually just talked to me like an equal. At the top of the hill I thanked them and asked them to stop for me to get back on my bike, but they smiled and said ‘no’, pointing to the road ahead and saying something about the ‘polis’. I got a little worried – why were they taking me to the police? A few kms later we came to a brown road sign saying ‘hadrian polis’ and turned down it so they could show me the excavated ruins of an ancient Roman building and we all laughed at my misunderstanding! After some photos for them to show their families they dropped me back on the road so I could enjoy the free wheeling downhill, well, until I realised my front luggage rack was broken and had to stop for an hour to fix it!
Despite the physical toll of the black sea coast the road has been very rewarding. At one secluded campsite I saw dolphins jumping in the morning as I ate my breakfast and I have seen them out to sea on 3 other occasions. There was also the strange sight of tortoises plodding along the side of the road (at first I thought they were hedgehogs). I can only assume they were on some kind of pilgrimage as I saw 6 of them all climbing the same hill as me spread out over a couple or kms, I wonder if they knew the others were there? I also met some other cycle tourists, one group from Bulgaria and another from Turkey who were heading the opposite way to me. They promised the road became easier after Sinop and I tried to warn them of the hell that was waiting for them! I was sorry I didn’t have better news for them but very happy to find their info correct and smooth flat highway swept me along the coastline from Sinop to Samsun. And this is what I am promised until the mountains of Georgia at the border. A chance to stretch my legs without burning my muscles out and savour one last part of Turkey.
After the settling time spent in Istanbul and the security of friends and familiar surroundings I still have not adjusted completely back to life on the move. Telling the same story each time I meet new people and answering the same questions, wherever I have stopped for the night I have been treated to great generosity and hospitality both by couch hosts and turkish locals. But struggling with the language and being a strange phenomenon can be very tiring. I guess only time will tell if my heart is in this next journey east. I really need it to be – if nothing else it is the engine behind my legs!