As I feel the sweat dripping down my face I turn the corner and am confronted with another steep section of the mountain we are climbing. My legs are screaming at me and I am being followed by a swarm of pesky flies that decided to join me for the ascent.
In the distance, I can hear the afternoon call to prayer echo out across the mountains and my mind has started to wonder what on earth am I doing here. Riding with me, James asked me if I was having fun. I paused before answering and then replied: “Yes, this is fun in hindsight.”
It was the first time since we left home just over 2 months ago that I really questioned what I was doing by attempting to cycle from London to Cape Town.
It’s not an unfamiliar feeling though – I’ve trained for an Ironman in the past and been on many training rides where you reach breaking point, so I knew it was a matter of just hanging in there and getting through this tough patch.
It wasn’t long before I turned a corner and all was good with the world once more. Circling high above me was an eagle and for a moment I was mesmerised at its magnitude as the giant bird soured high above us. Finally a smile was back on my face and I was able to look up, enjoy reaching the top of the mountain and the truly spectacular scenery around us.
Cycling through Turkey has been an enriching experience. It’s been tough and there have been challenges along the way.
We’ve climbed over 10,000m in a couple of weeks and at times the thermometer has hit nearly 50 degrees Celsius in the direct sunlight. However, it has never felt too hot or too hard – there is often a strong wind (great when it’s behind you….) and plenty of shade and water to allow some rest out of the blazing September sun.
The thing that has really stood out though is the unbelievable kindness of the people that we have met along the way. When you are on a bike, you have the privilege of passing through towns and villages at the pace of the local people; it was a big reason why we decided to take on such a long journey by bicycle.
Within hours of crossing the border from Bulgaria into Turkey, we had stopped for a breather at the side of the road when an old man came over bringing us cushions from his house. He invited us to join him on his bench where we had a conversation about the traffic – with him shouting in Turkish and us politely nodding and speaking back in English, but we all knew what was going on! Before long his daughter arrived with a bunch of grapes and a glass of water. We left with smiles on our faces and a new friend!
It wasn’t long before we’d stopped again to top up our water when a man raced across the road to give us a handful of pears.
Everywhere we have been,we have been offered delicious Turkish tea (or Chai) and often, when we have stopped in more remote areas, someone has come over to offer us bread, tomatoes and a variety of other home-grown vegetables. On one day we stopped to buy a few supplies from a local store and the shopkeeper flat refused to let us pay for anything. Despite many protests from us – he was having none of it.
We crossed into Turkey from Bulgaria and cycled for 4 days to Istanbul. Turkey is investing heavily in their transport systems and is building new roads right, left and centre. Many of these roads we found to be almost completely empty and all had extremely generous hard shoulders that we cycled in.
Our route into Istanbul was hilly but it was quite an experience having a brand new tarmac 3-lane highway, with a hard shoulder all to yourself; it was a bit like having an F1 track to ourselves, just a shame we cycle so slowly with the weight of our panniers.
There is a downside to new roads however, which we discovered rather abruptly when we approached a section of the road that had not yet been finished. The three lanes suddenly became one contraflow and we were sandwiched between the hundreds of dumper trucks carrying rocks, sand and tarmac to the road builders. Over the course of an afternoon we were covered from head to toe in dust and found ourselves clinging onto our bikes for our lives when the large vehicles blasted past us.
Thankfully we found a gap on the side of the road and continued our journey on the brand new lane that wasn’t yet open to vehicles. It won’t be long before many of these roads are complete and cyclists will be able to enjoy a large hard shoulder all the way into Istanbul – but it is always best to expect the unexpected.
All through Turkey we have travelled on a mixture of small local roads through to larger main roads and have encountered very few problems for most of our journey into Istanbul, east to Cappadocia and down to Tascu on the south coast where we took a ferry to Cyrus to allow our onward passage to Jordan.
There have of course been exceptions. On one day, we were on a very remote area when the road suddenly stopped because the bridge across the river had collapsed. As we were contemplating how to cross the river, a guy in a gigantic digger appeared out of nowhere to rescue us! Before we knew it, our bikes, panniers and James were loaded in the digger’s ‘bucket’ and were driven across the river in true style!
With the exception of a night in Cappadocia and Istanbul, we camped throughout our three weeks in Turkey. Travelling with a tent allows you the flexibility to cycle for a long as you wish every day without having to plan too much in advance. It is incredibly liberating and we have absolutely loved it, especially some of the stranger places that we found to camp along the way!
You can see some of our quirkier camping spots on our London2CapeTown blog but we spent the night at three petrol stations, on top of mountain, on the beach and various fields and forests.
The icing on the cake was definitely in a city called Mersin, which we passed through on our way to the ferry port of Tasucu. That afternoon we had stopped at a bike shop to replace James’s disc brake pads that had given up. Once repaired, we sat down for a Chai with the guys from the shop (you must always make time for tea and chitchat in Turkey) when we got out our map and asked if the knew a nearby place we could camp that evening.
They recommended we travel another 15km out of the city where there was an Audi showroom with some trees behind it backing onto the beach – we should camp there. It seemed like the perfect option so off we went, stopping for a quick kebab before sunset and we wheeled the bikes off the road towards the beach. Suddenly we could hear someone running after us shouting, “Stop!”. I turned around to say, no problem we are heading to the beach to camp – but he was having none of this.
Apparently these woods are the local hangouts for the drunks (a rarity in Turkey being a Muslim country) and he did not think it would be safe so he said we must come with him and we will sleep in his place of work. With few options available as the light was rapidly disappearing, we accepted his offer only to be showed into the Audi showroom! Within minutes, two Chai teas arrived, our bikes were locked into the secure garage and we had a roof over our heads for the night. But it got better – they had a staff bedroom upstairs which he insisted that we used, along with the shower! This was our penultimate night in Turkey and was the pinnacle of a truly fantastic time, full of incredible cycling; stunning scenery and the kindest, friendliest people I have ever come to meet.
One day, we hope to be able to continue our route further east across the country. For now, it is deemed unsafe due to the war in Syria and ongoing unrest between the Turkish government and various insurgent groups. We could not have felt safer on our journey through – if there was ever anything to worry about someone would make sure you knew.
If you are up for a cycling adventure, Turkey is a great place to start; we could not recommend it more.
We’ll be sharing more stories from Emily’s adventure – so stay tuned!