9 – 21 October 2016
This section covers 1,250k through Turkey from the Black Sea border in the east to Istanbul. Initially having planned to spend much more time in Iran, I had expected to bike Turkey in November, which would be cold and therefore a straight ride to Istanbul. Riding in October, I could have done some detours, but being mentally exhausted on a worn down bike, I stuck with a straight run for Istanbul.
From the border, I rode 500k along the Black Sea on a mix of flat and rolling hills (except one big climb) past endless bays with countless towns/cities but also many long rural stretches. The road was new and more often with a wide shoulder, so it was pleasant riding especially through the cities/big towns where a central lane with no entries/exits made biking fast and safe. The first days were overcast and rainy, but afterwards I had some beautiful sunny days providing great views - though I still had to wear long pants because of the cold wind from changing directions. From Samsun, it was 600k inland over the mountains to Sakarya – sometimes along rivers in narrow gorges and sometimes through open countryside, either cultivated or forestry. The weather changed a lot from sunny/warm days to overcast/cold days where I had to wear three layers of clothes/gloves/headband – fortunately, rain was only in the evenings, at night and early mornings. The big road was not very charming, but still many nice views especially on the sunny days. The last 150k to Istanbul was all built-up on a very busy road with few views, so not much of a pleasure, though I was very happy and relieved making it all the way without having to give up and take a bus. With the endless and constantly changing bike problems, it was not until the last week before Istanbul, I really began believing I could make it.
The vast majority of the Turkish people were indifferent which suited me fine – better indifferent that the crazy honking and shouting. Except for one valley were many people refused me camping on their property, everybody I met were friendly and accommodating. When asking, I was allowed to use the internet (and once even a computer when my own didn’t start), and several times people let me camp on their property. Only one person spoke good English, so conversation was limited, but often I still took the time explaining a bit about my trip. As most drivers were competent and considerate, Turkey - together with Georgia – offered the best local experience since Southeast Asia.
Even in the rural areas I biked, it was difficult to find camp spots, but I still ended up some fantastic places by the Black Sea and with some nice mountain views. In the mountains, it was still fairly cold during the nights, but - as in Georgia - it was worse camping in the high humidity by the Black Sea.
I still had a number of flats and broken spokes, but my concerns were elsewhere. Despite the good road, my rear tire was still very wobbly, which was very disconcerting on the steep and fast downhills. So, with about 700k to Istanbul and I changed to the new foldable Continental tire, I had acquired from the French /Argentinian couple in Bishkek. The reason, I hadn't changed it before was a bad US-experience where a Continental tire only did 1,500k and expecting the foldable tire to do even less (more fragile), I wanted to get as close to Istanbul as possible before using it. The other disconcerting problem was the wiggling handlebar now 8-10mm in each side. There was still nothing I could do about it, except putting as little strain as possible on it and hoping for the best. Luckily, both tire and handlebar made it all the way to Istanbul.
The same day my pc (temporarily) stopped working, I broke my key in the bike lock and was close to starting a forest fire when my stove leaked and a flame jumped from the burner to the petrol container. Luckily, I was standing just next to when it happened instead of - as normally - being busy setting up camp. I was very happy going to Denmark for bike parts, because it also meant a chance to bring a lot of other equipment for replacement – about time, as it seemed I had more equipment not working than working.