Saturday, 15 January 2011

Tercan - Askale 37km 10/02/2011

The frost crept up on me in the night. I wake to a frozen sleeping bag and tent. I'm reluctant to move but my wet sleeping bag is a poor insulator - there's little point staying in bed. Slowly I put on my ice cold layers. Defrost water bottles, make breakfast, run around, pack gear, run around and then wait for the bag to dry in the sun.

The Drying Sessions from James Rathbone on Vimeo.

I continue on the climb up to two thousand meters. Drum and bass once more serves as my soundtrack - certainly helps me push the pedals harder.

Before I know it I'm there! Surprised enough to mutter a “wasn't that bad” when I see the top of the pass. I stop for a rest and scan the landscape - surely there's more to come...but I cant see it. Down hill from here it seems. I melt some snow for water as all the spring outlets I come across are frozen. While I do so a kind lorry driver stops to warn me of the wolves all over the mountains around me. I'm beginning to get used to the idea - but his throat tearing charades act has me worrying once more.

In the town of ashkale some folks I meet tell me there are no wolves - don't know who to believe! On the edge of town I top up my water. The owner insists I don't camp and sets me up in the generator room of the service station. With my bed sorted I'm loaded with cay for the rest of the evening.

Got to get my act together tomorrow and do some distance. Otherwise ill be copping out and using transport sooner than planned - not good!

Aciliver - Tercan 61km 09/01/2011

Several night wees due to sleeping right next to a snow melt stream. Bit of a late start. Eat last nights leftovers.

At My first cay stop I sit and watch a man hand crafting a fishing net - its an amazing skill and one I'd love to learn.

Enjoy riding again today - perhaps thanks to no notable wind in either direction. The mountains that yesterday threaten to close up (forcing me to ride over them) open out once more. Beautiful and vast snowy mountains either side of the road - I wish I could take a picture worthy of their grandeur.

Rifle shots crackle around me most of the day - land of the hunters it seems. Its also shepherd country and with it the big dogs reappear. My tolerance for them is growing daily - though still a little intolerant of bad owners who wont train or chain them.

I lunch in the carpark of a service station. As I pack up Orhan (the restaurant owner) calls me inside. I am treated to a free feed lots of cay and some fun chatter. I leave under heavy snow - the first of the trip.

Further on, in Tercan I'm called over by a group of lads (about my age). Odd how I'd feel suspicious about this back home, but have come to consider it the norm here. I park the bike up and as a crowd gathers I'm dragged to the nearest cay shack. The explain to me it's drank in a different way here (in the East). It's something like an alcohol free Tequila Slammer. One squeeze the lemon into the cay, places sugar cube between teeth and then sip the drink through the sugar. Its nice – but I feel my teeth crumbling with each glass. Short and sweet, they go back to hanging round outside, I go back to the road.

I begin the big climb up to Erzurum but set camp early in the soft evening light. Big day tomorrow.

Erzincan - Aciliver 58km 08/01/2011

Barking dogs wake me several times during the night. As I pack my gear one rather irritating mutt barks for half an hour non stop. If I approach he runs away, only to return and continue his racket.

The flags outside the petrol station indicate a tail wind - good start to the day. The road is flat and for the first time in days I'm able to zip along. I stop in Erzincan - and am greeted by many friendly and curious people. At the second of three cay stops I meet Serkan - a Turkish cycle tourer. He shows me his website and his sponsors. We have a good natter. I regretfully decline his offer of accommodation whining that I have to make Iran soon and there's some big hills and strong wind between me and the border. Being a fellow tourer he understands - but demonstrates his wonderful hospitality by loading me up with caffeine and then free food for the road. Thanks Serkon!

Once back on the road the wind is not so favourable, and somehow becomes a slight headwind. I have to start declining and ignoring offers of cay in fear that I wont get anywhere today.

Little more to report. Great views! Erzincan is on a plateau at 1185m either side of which snowy (skiable) mountains extend skyward. Way ahead of me in the distance I can see the mountains close in and grow. I know my road goes up there somewhere - my excitement is diluted with apprehension (Erzurum has a reputation for very harsh winters - lowest recorded temps being -37C). Fortunately the forecast for my visit is a comparatively tropical -20C.

Set up my camp under a small bridge where I hope to escape the frost. Use the last of the light to cook. Lentils, cabbage, onion, garlic and chilli - real food, check me out! Stu would be proud!

Rafhaiye - Erzincan 58km 07/01/2011

Wake up early - finally habit is catching up and I no longer have to rely to the alarm. My body feels odd - it doesn't hurt anywhere...that'll be the small amount of exercise and the real bed.

I do yet more internet'n as I pack up my gear. As always when in proper accommodation I use the time to throw out any accumulated crap - and despite my lifestyle it does still accumulate!

I sit and chat with the hotel staff over several rounds of free cay. Finally get to the road, though much later than planned.

Spend the morning climbing - but in better head-state than days before (I'm motivated by my limited time left for entry to Iran). I'm quite chuffed to be surrounded by snow, even to be freezing cold. The environment shows up my concerns about inappropriate gear - my hands and feet struggle to maintain heat. Fortunately (when the temperature are not serious cold) there's a simple answer - ride harder, and it works too!!

I eat my lunch fully exposed to the biting wind. I walk around while eat, and pause often to run or do some press-ups just to maintain some body heat.

Another hour of climbing and then huuuuuge downhills which help me reach my required daily distance. Sleep by the side of the road. No dinner - forgot to get water.

Cobanli - Refahiye 9km 06/01/2011

A new low.

Can't really even say I got on the bike really. My Wifi stop dragged out as I faffed around. I Copped out and booked in to the onsite motel. Im hoping to do couchsurfing again soon - but my clothes are black and stink (even by my standards), and I'm fareing no better - not the kind of state to rock up to a strangers house amd expext a warm reception.

Little to report. First shower of the year felt amazing!!

Susehri - Cobanli 60km 05/01/2011

As I make to leave camp two traffic police pull up. They ask if I'd like cay – but they get wrapped up in proper work so I make tracks. Drum and Bass is my soundtrack for the morning.

I spend most of the day climbing. By later afternoon I'm up in the clouds and there is snow everywhere. I'm grateful that the roads are good, not really in the mood for pushing the bike. It's quiet. I have no idea how high I am – but it seems high.

Stop at a garage when I come down from the clouds. One fellow suggests I sleep in the disused building over the road. I do. An old fellow warns I don’t make food – big dog comes out of the hill at night and could cause me trouble. I get the impression the Turks are pretty scared of dogs. But I still listen to the warning. I must also confess – I myself am finding a fear for the creatures. They've shown themselves to be fierce for sure, but I'm yet to come to any harm, I suspect my fear is somewhat unnecessary. My hands slow down as I type away inside my concrete cell...think it's gonna be a cold one...

Yesilyurt - Susehri 50km 04/01/2011

Lip Balm is not the answer...

I manage a reasonable start - mainly because I have reverted back to my shitty diet...time to find out how long I can go on white bread and carrab syrup. I have to confess to feeling dizzy after the first hour. Damn Stu for ruining me with proper food - now my body craves the missing nutrition.

 Head wind again today - but not so strong and so I'm able to enjoy the ride. More than my fair share of cay stops..seems I make up for the lack of nutrition with caffeine. Oddly more than my fair share of dog chases too...wonder if there's a link there.

At around lunch I stop for a (particularly scenic) wild poo. As I'm doing my do I happen to notice a rash on the inside of my thighs. Gross - yes. The result of muchos cycling, not washing or changing clothes - yes. I had been aware of soreness, but having cycled a sniff off five thousand miles I'm beginning to ignore arse based pain. I waddle back up to the bike ( much like how a child only cries once a bloody wound is noticed). I pull a stick of lip balm from my handle bar bag. It says moisturising and blah blah blah on it - so I figure it'll do the trick. In the five minutes it takes me to get me gloves on and layer up the heat from my crotch is perhaps on a par with the fires of hell. Lip balm, it seems, is not the answer.

Once back on the bike I'm able to put the pain somewhere else and get on with riding. Dubstep podcasts boost me up the long climb towards Sushili. At a water stop I notice a crack on the Bob trailer - could spell very bad news! But holding up so far....

Just before I find my bed for the night I witness the extraordinary burst of pace of an adult male Kangal dog – this dog was fast! Had I not been shitting myself and peddling like all fury I might have liked to stop and appreciate the scene. Fin.

Akinici - Yesilyurt 44km 03/04/2011

Thanks to a fair breeze when I wake my gear is already dry which will save me some time during the day. I reheat lastnights dinner and do some pushups to warm up my body. By the time I hit the road the breeze has become a soul destroying headwind. For a short while it's a novelty, but soon enough I'm sulking. It's my own fault really. Before I started the trip I had a genuine interest in how I would handle getting up in the morning and simply riding into a headwind day after day – the regularity with which I consider jacking it in and taking a bus leads me to believe I'm not handling it well...

I listen to some podcasts to put my mind elsewhere. They are interrupted when the daily dog chases require me to stop the bike and ball out swear words until the mutts find another (quieter) lunch.
I'm done in early thanks to the wind and search out a camp spot while it's still light.

Tepekisla - Akinici 55km 02/01/2011

Frost creeps up on me in the night and covers the inside of my tent. I get up-and-at-em at a reasonable hour but use the morning to dry out my gear in the sun. I have to wait for my boiled eggs to thaw until I can eat them. I try the first one frozen..not good - surprisingly close to what I expect from egg flavoured ice-cream. As I'm packing three fishermen come down to the river. They ask I wait a hour and then eat fish with them – I regretfully decline and get started with the days cycling. I'm Greeted at the road by a fair old headwind. Progress is slow. On two occasions I'm asked if I need any help, if I'm OK for food and water – I have the Turks down as a friendly bunch, but this is outrageous kindness. Never have I seen a passing fellow back home and gone to see if he/she requires any assistance, anything at all. Perhaps they can see through the beanie, beard and gortex to the lost child within!

As I ride the line between solitude and loneliness seems to thin. Perhaps this is amplified by the recent parting of company and the relative infrequency of towns/villages as I move further East. Not even a cay stop today!

I find a nice enough camp spot. Stars come out to greet me as a cook up some lentils. Once dark I hear wolves calling from the other side of the valley. Still not a sound I'm comfortable with but one I'm coming to associate wild camping with no doubt.

Cambuku - Tepekisla 64km 01/01/2011

Happy New Year from James Rathbone on Vimeo.

It seems I played a large part in the late starts of recent days. My thinking that once alone I would be able to get back on track was a little wayward. I can hardly pull the birthday card again!

Fairly uneventful day. My water stops are rewarded with çay. I realise that I miss the regular banter now my cycling is reduced to silence once more.

As I approach the end of the day I spot a cave not too far up the hill. After ten minutes of scrambling I get up to it and have a look around. The roof is thick with soot that suggests years of fires. Unfortunately the climb is too steep for me to bring the bike and so I ride on. Find a nice spot by a river – yet to pop my cave camping cherry.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Amasya - Cambuku 33km 31/12/2010

The splitting of Banana Biggs and Mop Top

I wake up to the comfort of the familiar - not the bearded smelly bloke a few feet from me, but the small nylon cocoon which is my home. I permit myself the luxury of lying in until eight before geting up and waking Stu. We return to the onsite restaurant in which we drank cay lastnight – a great place built in the style of a grand toureg tent. We are given free soup and cay – scorchio!

We ride into the ancient town of Amasya. Stu and I both admit to not being the best tourists. I do little or no research about the places I visit. I'm just as happy chatting with locals as meandering through museums. We cycle round aimlessly for a while before accidently discovering the main attraction. Several caves a carved into the cliff face above the river. I splash out all 3tl (about £1.20) for the entrance is my birthday after all! We spend a few hours and have a great time -  though I'd say the highlight was going off piest and discovering the out of bounds caves.

We eat our lunch at the busstop. A chocolate bar and a beer sum up the birthday feast. Then Stu and I say our goodbyes. He has a date with the Georgian border, and I with Iran. There is a chance we may meet again – we certainly compiled a grand list of future adventures. But perhaps not – neither of us are too hot when it comes to organisation. My concerns about the lonely road ahead...will I find another willing to get kit off and raise instrument for a laugh, will I find another who considers the "fart" to be the pinnacle of humour....who knows!

I ride out of town under rain. Steep valley sides covered with pine trees are all I can see until the horizon. Once at a suitable point I pull off the road and set up. Talk to some friends from home who are out having a birthday tribute meal in my absence – thanks all.

Merzifon - Amasya 50km 30/12/2010

Our host is not an early riser as I had hoped he might be. I am first to wake. After last nights çay my bladder feels like it's ready to explode though my gut like a scene from Alien. Once I stumble out the door all are awake. Stu and I play music (for what will quite possibly be the last time) while Abi prepares breakfast. Possibly my favourite breakfast of the trip so far. Eggs fried with oregano, honey (from his bees), home-made cherry jam (from his tress), molasses, olives and a loaf of bread each.

 We then take a trip down to Abi's local mosque where we sit in on a prayer service. Afterwards we a treated to a trip up inside the minaret and then Stu and I are given a prayer mat as a gift. Pack up the bikes and head down to the bus stop. Treated to a lunch feed by Abi's at his friends restaurant. Over several rounds of çay we are quizzed about our beliefs (or lack there of). It seems the generosity thrown our way over the last day came at the price of some preaching. No problem. I'm interested to learn about Islam – one of the reasons for my chosen route. Dare say I'd even give the Qu'ran a bash if one came my way.

Abi kindly escorts us out of town – we're keen to get on the way, but the delay is no big problem. Stu and I are quite looking forward to one last night of camping before we split, but Abi wants us to stay with his friend – the imam in the next town. We are unable to communicate our wishes. It's all done with the best of intentions – but such insistence can ,at times, be a little tiring.

We finally head off pedalling hard into a headwind. Turn South towards Amasya and from then on the wind is in our back. We surprise ourselves by getting to Amasya at a reasonable time. The kind folks at the petrol station let us pitch up at the back of their property.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Merzifon - Rest day 29/12/2010

We mooch around town in the morning. I figure on leaving after lunch to continue East while Stu plans to take the bus to Georgia.

With banking duties done we sit in the park and have a few goodbye beers. A bunch of cheery teenagers join us for question time and slowly a crowd gathers. One fellow (an imam) invites us for lunch – after which we sit in on his prayer ceremony – quite a unique experience and one I didn't expect. We walk to his humble abode on the outskirts of town. Two rooms make up the settlement. A stove, a bookcase and two sofas. No electricity. Very pleasant and simple living. We eat potatoes and sunflower seeds and drink lots of cay. Two friends come over, we all take it in turns to play music. Fun night.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Osmancik - Merzifon 65km 28/12/2010

We are woken by the sound of the workmen starting up diggers behind the garage. A quiet pack up and breakfast and push the bikes back to the road.

Thanks to a reasonable start time we actually manage to find a rythym on the road - a novlety these days.

We stop at a garage owned by a German couple. Conversation fail! These days my German is worse than my Turkish. Our ride gets interrupted once more at around lunchtime. On this occasion by a group of road workers who call us over to share there lunch. Trip first- roadies tend to be a friendly lot, but this is the first timed we've joined them for lunch.

By early eve Stu and I are on the verge of a daily distance record - 60km!! In Merzifon we stop for wifi at a truck stop. The car washers manage to soak my sleeping bag which i had hung out to dry. After a short sulking period I get on with blogging and research my route east. I take my first shower in over a week - feels good!!

We skulk off in the dark to find an unfinished block of flats. Roll out the mats. Sleep.

Hacihamza - Osmancik 47 km 27/12/2010

Great nights sleep thanks to the jandarma. Have our breakfast on the roof terrace.

Superb riding. The landscape gradually changes from rolling hills to pointy rock formations - a nod towards the spectalur landscape of Cappadocia thats lies directly South from here. All around us there is something to catch the eye and keep us entertained.

Several cay stops keep our caffiene levels sufficiently high. In Osmancik a crowd gathers as we park up the bikes. More cay.

We escape in darkness to find somewhere to camp. A disused petrol station takes our fancy.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Tosya - Hacihamza 29km 26/12/2010

If your going to get arrested - do so in Turkey!

Another alarmless wake up. Lie in for a few hours and natter like a pair of grannies. We listen to some podcasts and then get our gear packed up. Wrestle the bikes back up the embankment and rejoin the joyous flat tarmac of yesterday.

Huge mid-day wifi stop and some lentil soup.

Once we reach to the village of Hacihamza it's dark. We stalk the streets for a market to top up our supplies. At the only open shop we meet Metin the chubby cheery owner. We drink several rounds of cay and talk with his friends. We decide to unpack the instruments to give them a mini street show. It goes down very well and we receive gifts of food for our efforts. People are confused when I lay the guitar flat on my lap, even more so when I start bashing it with a knife and using a slide. I don't think they know where to start with the didgeridoo! The crowd disperses and we tell a fib that'll we'll keep riding tonight - when actually we'll just pop back to a small shack we saw on the edge of town.

Sling the bikes around the back of a seemingly unused electricity sub station. A quick feed and then we lie in our sleeping bags and watch a film on the laptop. As we do so we hear a car pull up outside and torch lights begin to dance around the shack. We lay quiet for a moment - the old "perhaps they don't know we're here". But we're wrong, they do, and we decide to admit defeat calling "hello" back. We hear several shouts from outside. Stu goes through the door and I pop up at the window. Jandarma (military police). Commander with semi auto pistol, translator with a G3 and four others with MP5's - all pointed at us! Brown pants moment. We stand outside, our bare feet in the brambles, as they check our passports. Things calm down - though we are under arrest. With the help of the others we throw our belongings into the back of their truck (the bicycles wont fit). We are instructed to follow them and do so under some very watchful eyes. Not so far down the way we stop again. The translator says "Are you hungry? you look like your hungry". We go into a restaurant and they bring us a meal. A really big meal. Stu and I do our damndest to demonstrate the awsomeness of the cyclists appitite - that and we no longer know when our next meal might come! Over dinner the commander removes the round from the chamber of his pistol and puts it back in the magazine - but makes sure we are aware that it was meant for us should we need it.

With a grand feed over we are instructed to follow once more. We carry the bikes through the entrance of a government building. The rooms downstairs have barred doors and windows. A night in the cell it is then...not so. We carry our gear up several flights of stairs to a room. Theres a bed, a light, a plug socket and some blankets. They leave us there - it seems because they no longer have to worry about us. In the morning we a free to go on our way. Score!!!

I speak to family back home on the phone – my “one phonecall” I guess. We plug in all our gizmos to charge and get back to the film. We remark that it wouldn't have gone this way had it happened in England or Austraila. C'est la vie.

Karabey - Tosya 27km 25/12/2010

Christmas day.

We permit ourselves and alarmless wake up. Once up we have several rounds of cay - with sugar!! I then bust out our second Christmas present - a carefully smuggled chocolate snowman (from my red cross package delivered in Istanbul) sadly no carefully enough, he was a little cracked. I didn't have the heart to tell Stu that said snowman had been wrapped in my pants all that time : ). Merry Christmas dude!

After a lazy morning of utter luxury we hit the road and soon the day feels like any other. We stop at a bread shop for a snack. Outside (under the shelter of the bus stop) we dip bread into a mixture of olive oil, salt and chilli. The closest we get to turkey is simply being in Turkey. Christmas fail! While we eat Jergen rolls up. A cyclist from Germany - who had perhaps spent a little too much time alone. He insisted we'd met before and then laughed at the puny distance we'd covered, while he had managed to cycle to the far side of Iran and back. Merry Christmas to you too Jergen.

The snowman gave us the taste for chocolate and at our first cay stop we devour several bars each.

As darkness falls we ride into the town of Tosya. Which is hands down is the friendliest town in Turkey - while having no seemingly obvious reason for being so. Around twenty thousand inhabitants. Endless manky car workshops and dingy markets. And yet - every single soul we pass greets us with a mighty grin. After a quick cybercafe stop for Stu we stop by a shop for a treat - whiskey. With a cheap bottle of "highland malt" we head on out of town.

A few kilometers down the way we make out a building in the dark. After some inspection we realise it to be a disused chicken farm. Wheel the bikes into the barn, roll out the beds, cook dinner, drink. Our tipple is so far away from "highland malt" you cannot believe - for a start it was made in Bulgaria and was a "blend" of who knows what - I'd guess kerosene, Danube water and piss. But it mattered not. All in all a top Christmas and one I shall not forget.

Ilgas - Karabey 25km 24/12/2010

Christmas Eve!!
My normal day back home would involve a lie in, meet friends at lunchtim,e and then spend the entire day drinking and chatting. Not today.
I wake next to another smelly bearded cyclist. The room has no warmth to it despite last nights fire. Horse hair plaster, mud and straw - while cute and rustic, is not the best insulater. We get up and ready. Snap a few pictures of what is possibly the coolest place I've ever stayed. Hit the road.

The fog refuses to lift. The valley we ride through is littered with tiny old houses much like lastnights. We explore a few and find them all to be empty. Untended plots of cabbage ensure our evening meal wont be lacking in nutrition. Yoink! We name it the "Valley of Plenty" - providing all we need to survive. We pick our accomodation quite carefully. The idea being it'll be nice to wake up somehwere cool for Christmas morn.

Catkese - Ilgas 42km 23/12/2010

After a night of camping experimentation (may I add, not involving Stu and myself). Simply trying to see if it's possible to evade condensation when camping in sub-zero temperatures. Our idea being that perhaps increased ventilation (from our open tent doors) may reduce the water that gathers inside our tents. As it happens, this is not the case – what condensation does occur freezes to the inside of the tent and outside of the sleeping bag. Fail!

Boots on a face the day. Get the çay going. Randomly bursting into a sprint or shadow boxing (while singing the Rocky theme tune) to beat off the cold. This is the first morning of hard frost on the trip. By standards further East I expect it's mere child's play – but it's a novelty to us all the same.

The riding is joyous. As the sun burns away the foggy blanket rolling snow dusted hill are revealed. We pull off the main drag to a village called Eskiahir for Stu to visit the post office. While I wait I'm swarmed by a group of school children. They speak their basic English and I my Turklish. They're very friendly and cheery and we have a luagh while I wait for Stu. Upon rolling further into town we meet Isamil an English speaking lorry driver. We sip çay while he tells us that he didn't like Iran “No women, no alcohol”. Both rather valid points – though I've heard differently from others. We thank our new friend for the caffeine boost and get on outa town.

When we reach sunny spot with a good view we stop for lunch and dry out our wet gear.

Do our usual wifi checks at garages along the way. A guy videos us while talking to his camera. We get talking. After the briefest of introductions he says “ok, go inside and get a meal, I'll pay.” What a legend! After shovelling a good meal down us we join him and his family outside for a drink. He is a Turkish businessman who works all over the Middle East. After two rounds of tea we all leave. As the fog gathers for the night we seek out a shelter. Just off the road we spy an old farm building. Mud/straw/horse hair plaster, no windows – rustic bliss. We utilise the working chimney to beat off the cold. Get a film on the laptop...oh how hardcore we are!!