It has been a while since I last blogged, but I will endeavour to keep this post short and sweet!
From Istanbul I headed northeast to Şile on the Black Sea coast – which greeted me with a glorious golden sunset, cool sea, and what appeared to be a wedding magazine shoot!
From Şile I began my eastward leg along the coast, quickly appreciating the sheer understatement, garnered from a few people I had met along the way, of ‘it goes up and down a bit’. The cycling, at least as far as Gerze (some 700km or so), was definitely some of the hardest I have ever done! Constant and unrelenting hills of 10% average gradient followed by bare-knuckle rapid downhill sections (which afford no rests), in a mix of broiling heat and torrential ceaseless rain.
The landscape however was beautiful, sharp dog-toothed mountains, lush with rich greens and small streams, channeling down to an azure sea. The route has not yet been tamed by the ongoing Turkish road developments (though the process has begun) – rather the roads are dictated by the landform; steep climbs and falls, pulsating to and from the coast and back, along valley floors and rising again above sheer clifftops. Between valleys are small towns, typically comprising modern concrete housing and mosques, though interspersed with the occasional beautiful old timber-clad house. The towns cluster towards the sea, and are serviced by small honking transit-van busses.
On my third day on the coast the road took me through mining country, in the Ereğli/Zonguldak region, with shabby care-worn buildings in a typically Turkish sprawl. Above the town of Kilimli I was stopped, mid-way through sweating and puffing up a steep turn in the road, by a group of miners who treated me to tea while we had a brief talk. The mining industry in the area is based around coal and energy supply, and remains a dangerous job.
Asking of the dangers of the job, one of the men replied that some 300 people had died in a recent disaster. A quick bit of research reveals that the disaster was the Soma Coal Mine Disaster. In May of 2014 a fire broke out in the Soma mine resulting in a flood of carbon monoxide which killed 301 workers, and remains Turkey’s biggest industrial disaster.
After leaving the men I descended into the valley where Kilimli is situated – with black stained machinery and the mass of the mine above, following an unhealthy river along, via railway crossings and past large power plants, and once more to the sea.
On the fifth day, as the climbing ramped up to its steepest and least forgiving, I met Frank and Patrick – two German tourers headed through for Iran, and likely through to Southeast Asia. The two (a mechanical engineer and traffic engineer in turn) are, like myself, in their late 20s and have taken a year off to complete their trip. Unlike myself, however, they are free to take a more leisurely pace (my flight back to the UK for my cousins wedding now being booked for July 10th from Baku, Azerbaijan). For the following three-and-a-half days we cycled together however; enduring 1960m of climbing and some minor sunstroke that first day, sharing in a shameless bout of cheating the following day (when accepting an offered lift for a hilly few kilometres), and then battling through a gentle (by comparison) yet never-ending 2715m of climbing the following day – which left us at the end of the major climbing and on to the more developed and fast dual-carriageway roadways that characterise the eastern half of Turkey’s northern coastline. Each night, and despite pouring rain on our last, Patrick would make up a roaring fire (with the help of a little petrol) while Frank slaved away at the stove, and I lamely chipped in to chop vegetables, provide commentary, and on an occassion wash up. Along the way we encountered a nomadic family, a German-speaking Chechen who hosted us for coffee, barking dogs aplenty, and an erratic gravel road-come-dirt track down hill section which successfully undermined my packing! It made a pleasant change to have company.
At a town called Yakakent, the Germans and I parted ways, with them headed to the beach to make an early camp (and later being invited to drink copious amounts of raki by some locals), and me pushing on in a persistent headwind and drizzle towards Samsun. I had not intended to reach Samsun – but a dearth of anywhere to camp forced me to limp on into the city, acquiring my first puncture of the trip (within metres of a bike shop – still open at 7:30p.m!). Then, in now pouring rain, I pitched up in the middle of the city on the beach. Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo, but I was the filthiest I had yet been on the trip; head-to-toe dirt from the wet dusty roads.
The next morning I swam, then showered (at a public WC within a stone throw of where I had camped), cleaned the bike a bit, bought much-needed chain lube, and pootled on. The next three days bought me to Trabzon, with very easy riding along a generally wide and well paved shoulder of a near-level dual-carriageway. The only moments of ‘excitement’ being a stretch of heinous tunnels between Balaman and Ordu… If you have never cycled through 5km long tunnels with coaches and gravel trucks hurtling past at 60 miles per hour, and no shoulder to speak of, then well done! Not fun.
As of now, I am sat in a (or should I say the) pleasant hostel in Trabzon, sipping my first beer since Istanbul (being Ramadan and all, beer isn’t particularly readily available).
İyi Akşamlar benim arkadaşım!