Wow – what a whirlwind the past few days has been. After the luxury of my warmshowers hosts I headed out of Bursa towards a forest town called Orhaneli – my decision was based solely on a green line alongside the road on the map which I assumed meant it was a scenic route. I soon learnt it would also mean hilly. As usual the spectacle of a small, female yabancı (foreigner) winding along on a heavily loaded bike, with sweat pouring from seemingly everywhere drew plenty of attention – and when people found out I could speak a bit of Turkish the raised eyebrows were nearly off the top of the head. But there was 1 common response from everyone when I told them the direction I was heading – allah allah! çok rampa var (roughly translating as “Good heavens! there’s lots of hills.’) I reasoned that I had to cross the hills somewhere and I was heading for the Taurus mountains in a couple of weeks anyway, so hill training was a necessary evil and I might as well get stuck into it.
Straight into it it turns out. I climbed for the whole of the first day except for a merciful section down to a dam and along the lake, then the road went up again. I was pleasantly surprised how steady and smooth Raven was and how much my body gave in return, and progress was good. By late afternoon I reached the crest of a hill and started a sweeping downhill, which cooled me down a bit and gave my legs some much needed respite. As I reached the river in the valley I decided to call it a day and started to look for a place to camp. A petrol station attendant, who was actually zooming around the forecourt on a quad bike more than any kind of ‘attending’ pointed to a dirt track alongside the small river and I found a tucked away little spot just off the track and near the water. After a super noodle feast I lay down to the cacophony of sound from frogs in the ponds on the other side of the track, the echoes of the last call to prayer reverberating around the valley and me coughing. When you are trying to be a bit discreet about wild camping, a dry tickly cough is very unhelpful.
After a patchy nights sleep I packed up, and wobbled my way out of the undergrowth and back towards the main road, surprised at how little ill effect there seemed to be in my muscles. My skin however had soaked up the previous day’s sun through the clouds and was rosy pink. The road continued climbing again after Orhaneli and wound it’s way through pine forest and small villages, where people were mostly scarce and trees were plentiful. At my second breakfast break I had to readjust the front pannier racks and as I turned around I saw a mountain fox scurrying down the hill away from me. It stopped in its tracks and stared at me for a few magical moments before disappearing into the bushes.
More climbing and by now my arms and legs were starting to realize what was going on. When I am riding uphill I have a weird chicken action where my head juts back and forward with my pedal turns and I grip the handle bars. Having somehow lost my gloves this was adding to regular numbness and tingling in my left hand – not a good sign so early into a ride. It was also having the double negative effect of reminding me that I had lost my gloves, which had been with me since I found them in a small bicycle shop in Baku, Azerbaijan 2 years previously. Although they had begun to smell awful and were falling apart, had always been too big for me and were totally misshaped, I was pretty sad at their loss (due to my habit of attaching added sentiment to inanimate objects when I am travelling alone.)
Another unpleasant aspect to uphills is the flies that find me and my sweat and buzz around annoyingly. Usually I am gripping the handlebars too much to swot them away so I have to resort to blowing, puffing and shaking them away from my head – which must make me look pretty insane. Eventually though, the road finally reached the crest of a hill and suddenly I was flying downwards away from the insects. Piles of cut logs stacked by the road waiting for collection zoomed past, as did the odd groups of men loading them onto trucks by hand. The smell of fresh cut pine and the sound of trickling water from the many roadside fountains whooshed through the air. All too soon I reached the end of the valley and turned onto the relative flat of the main road. As the sun was setting behind me I started to look for places to camp and got lucky again with a little grassy meadow, hidden from the road behind a mound of earth. I had just enough daylight left to pitch the tent, eat and scare myself in the dusk as I convinced myself every shadow was a bear before I zipped up the door!
The next day the road followed more gentle rolling hills and the forest began to give way to larger tracts of farmland, although most of it was broken up into smallholdings and meadows. The roadside was awash with beautiful colors from the poppies and other flowers and the villages became more ramshackle and sleepy farming communities. Men in flat-caps and suit jackets sat outside the tea houses and around the small squares, whilst hunched over, headscarved women tended small veg plots and goat herds. For 30 minutes I was tormented by a travelling ice cream seller who drove along shouting “ice cream” over a crackling loudspeaker on the top of his car and then pulled over whenever someone came tottering out of a field or a hedge waving at him. Finally he passed me and turned off to a village and I could stop wrestling with my desire for ice cream, even though it would have instantly made me feel sick as I got back to work on the pedals!
An evening stop at a petrol station led to several cups of tea and an offer to pitch my tent in the barn at the back of the petrol station. The attendant even took the duvet off his own bed to put on the concrete floor for me, despite my failed explanation that I had a mattress of my own. In the morning there was more tea, and some bread and olives and cheese. All shared with a wonderfully rotund and smiley traveling watermelon seller from Izmir. He had also slept at the petrol station but in the cab of his pickup truck on the forecourt with a tarpaulin across the windscreen.
After bidding a grateful farewell to my impromptu hosts for the night I set off towards Çavdarhisar and a planned stop at the historical Temple of Zeus. But nature called beforehand and I stopped at a roadside mosque to use the toilet. Not paying attention to the track as I pulled Raven away after, I dragged her through some very clayey mud. It instantly clogged up the mud guards and brakes. A 1 minute mistake led to 1 hour of dismantling, cleaning out and rebuilding, not with standing a little bit of a grumpy mood at my stupidity :(.
The patchy sunshine of the morning started to be broken up by threatening thunder clouds that seemed to be forming randomly in all directions. Half way through my very late 2nd breakfast stop I noticed one coming a bit too close for comfort. Then some huge cracks of thunder made me jump up, strap everything back onto Raven and start pedaling hurriedly away. I was just congratulating myself on having escaped a soaking when I came to the turn-off for Aizonai – home of the Temple of Zeus and other Roman ruins. I was surprised to see a Motocross piste right next to the road as I rolled down the road towards Zeus. Too surprised obviously, the next thing I knew my front wheel was veering to the right and me and Raven were hitting the road to the left. There was a sharp thud as all of mine and the bike’s weight hit the road through my left knee and quickly came to a skidding stop. Now horizontal to the road, I looked around in shock, dragged myself out from under the bike and nearly fell over again straight away.
The road had turned into an ice rink where a passing rain storm had obviously been through and not completely dried off. Only as a result of incredible luck and sunburn issues – I was wearing trousers and my long sleeved shirt – the skid along the tarmac hadn’t cost me too much skin, but as I hauled Raven back up and out of the road before any vehicles came, I could see the handlebars were skewed and the foam grip ripped on one side. As my left leg started to wobble I pulled up my trouser leg to see the damage and besides a small graze, a huge throbbing lump was literally growing before my eyes around my knee. In hindsight I was very lucky, I must have been doing about 25km/h and there was no other traffic on the road to hit me. I was also only about 1.5km from the town and as the road was too slippery and Raven’s handlebars facing the wrong way, not to mention the extra kneecap I was growing, I limped us both into town.
I went straight to the pharmacy and was kindly given an ice block and a cup of tea (of course), just then the heavens opened with a massive thunder, lightening and rainstorm. When I asked if there was anywhere I could stay for the night they drew a blank. To cut a long story short (over the next couple of hours) I ended up drinking tea with the mayor of Çavdarhisar, along with all the old men in the çay evi (not a place you find any women!), being given the key to an empty room in the old school house and invited to the inaugural village motocross event the next day! I spent the night with my knee and ankle (I later realised I had smacked it on the frame as I fell, as well as jarring my neck!) under ice blocks that were hacked out of the over-iced freezer in the municipality building and contemplating an eventful day.
In the morning the swelling around my knee seemed to have reduced a bit and the bruising on it and my right ankle was starting to come out, with a little bit of whiplash thrown in for good measure. But all in all I felt surprisingly better, so I made the repairs to Raven (first of many bits of gaffer tape for her on the handlebars) and then gave us both a little test ride round the village, visiting the Roman ruins of Aizonai in the process. They include a temple to worship Zeus, stadium, amphitheater, hamam, market place, 2 bridges, and various other sites, and I have to say they are the most incredible Roman sites I can remember visiting. There is also the added wonder of just being able to amble around them, through them and over them with wild flowers and grasses growing among them in perfect harmony. It was amazing to just be able to go wherever you liked, to totally interact with the sites as you wanted. I was a little bit blown away – which doesn’t usually happen to me with history and old stuff, even really old stuff like this from 117AD.
As the knee felt sore and stiff bit relatively alright I loaded Raven back up and headed back to the scene of the accident to accept my invitation to the Motocross event taking place just outside town. If tea with the mayor was surreal yesterday – it was even more so today with the noise of bike engines, the heady smell of petrol in the air and me being introduced to everyone and anyone connected with the event. I stuck around until the afternoon for the first race and then gingerly (and by now sun-burnt again) got back on Raven and wobbled out of town. I had almost made it the 35km to the next down when I was climbing up a wooded cut through on the road and someone started running down the hill waving at me. It was one of the (many) people I had been introduced to that afternoon, begging me to come and join a group of guys for a mangal (the Turkish obsession with BBQ). Time was running out for light and I tried, to no avail, to make my excuses and carry on, but 30 minutes later I was practically being force fed grilled chicken, green peppers, aubergine, watermelon and cola. Delicious as it was – I knew I had not finished the climb up the hill and was dreading a roadside vomit when I had to get back on the bike.
In the end I apologised profusely and made my way back to Raven, just about keeping everything down as I strained the last couple of kms up the hill. As I rolled downhill again, this time to the university town of Gediz, I thought I was home and dry. Just then a truck came past with its cover flapping wildly and glass bottles bouncing out of the back. Some were smashing as they hit the road and others were rolling all over the place. I heard a car screech to a halt behind me and I gently pulled on the brakes as I tried to dodge the carnage around me. With my heart in my mouth once again I weaved around the obstacles and subsequent glass shards all the way into town and headed straight for the reliable haven of the Öğretmen Evi (a kind of cheap hotel for teachers which you can often stay in). It’s been a crazy 36hrs and the relief of a shower, a clean bed and a couple of big swigs of cha cha is very welcome. Next up – some more ice for my colorful knee and some sleep.