Another little leg of the journey done and I’m glad to of found out that my fitness hasn’t seemed to have suffered too much despite my 6 week break back in England. I rode just over 400km in four days through fairly tough terrain climbing two passes over 1100m. Not bad at all!
On the first day of this leg I started by doing a bit of bike maintenance in Safranbolu determined to improve my front-right pannier rack which has been wobbly ever since I collided with the wall of an unlit tunnel in Serbia. Whilst taking a closer look I noticed that part of the rack eyelet had been snapped off in the collision and is starting to rust (see picture above).
Luckily there seems to be enough eyelet left for the bolt to get a grip on and the wobble has been rectified by replacing the missing third mounting bolt that wobbled its way loose somewhere near Vervins in France back in October. Worst comes to worst the fork and rack are both steel so can be tack welded together.
I rode out of Safranbolu with the city of Kastamonu as my next target as I’ve heard it’s famous for a dish called Etli Ekmek which means “Meat with bread”. It was about 110km to this town so I figured I’d camp after about 90km or so then ride into the city the next day and try the dish for lunch. I did a teeny bit of research that showed Safranbolu being at about 300m altitude and Kastamonu at 700m which in my naive mind meant I’d climb about 400m, no problem.
I noticed I was climbing a hell of a lot but didn’t think about it too much as my legs were feeling good after a day off. I was also well fuelled by my new discovery, chocolate spread in a toothpaste tube…
I started to realise that maybe I’d climbed a bit more than I thought when I started getting some rather nice views of snow capped mountains on the horizon. These mountains didn’t seem to be that much higher than I currently was.
At this point I’d ridden nearly 90km and decided that I’d see how much I could push myself and that if I made it the 110km to Kastamonu I’d treat myself to a hotel room. I was starting to feel at my limit as I crested a hill and spotted a sign marking the top of a mountain pass… at 1230m. I knew I’d been climbing a lot but not that much, it’s a hell of a weird feeling to unexpectedly see a sign like this. What the sign also meant was that in the 20km to Kastamonu I would be descending 500m+ which would be a nice way to end the day.
I flew those last 20km downhill with the light beginning to fade and reached the city lights just in time for darkness to really set in. I found the centre of town and walked into a hotel that didn’t look to pricey where it turned out to be about £15 for a room. Too shattered to look for somewhere cheaper I checked in.
After a shower I headed out, with what was now a massive appetite, walked into an eatery and ordered an Etli Ekmem still not sure exactly what the dish was apart from Bread and Meat. A few minutes later this monstrous meal was laid out in front of me…
It is hard to describe. The bread is thin and most and folded over encapsulating a thin layer of meat. In the end it actually had a similar taste and texture to Pelmeni, a type of dumpling popular throughout the former Soviet Union.
I polished it off in about five minutes, paid up, walked to a convenience store and bought more food to eat in my room. Kastamonu is a big military town with a handful of sights, including a big fort which I was unable to get any decent photos of at night. There is an old bridge in the centre that reminded me a lot of the Latin bridge in Sarajevo in the way that it has been incorporated into the modern city.
Once I left the city the next day I really started to notice that the landscape was beginning to get more barren. I’d been in the mountains before which were much greener, as well as following rivers, but this was starting to feel like a new environment.
There was also an odd moment as I rode through Tashkopru. A few school kids where running along after me shouting the odd English words they knew when one very small kid just kept screaming “Mother F*** You!” over and over again. I settled on that being the only phrase he knew rather than him being angry at a passing cyclist!
In my small bit of route research I’d read that after the town of Hanonu there would be no where to buy supplies for 100km until I reached the coast. The main reason for this was a 60km mountain road (The D785) I’d be taking from just north of Boyabat to the coast. As a precaution I stocked up on lots of food and water.
When I was about 10km from the pull off for the mountain road a car pulled along side me and said they’d meet me at the next tea shop and buy me a drink. A lovely gesture but I’d be pulling off this road before the town so wouldn’t see them.
Just a few minutes latter I cycled past a group of road workers, who had stopped for a tea break, and they waved me over to their little rest area and gave me a cup of tea. I managed to explain what route I was taking and one of them said he lived 10km into the mountain road (20km from my location at the time) and said I could camp in his garden. Result. He made a phone call (I presume telling someone at his house to look out for me) and I rode off.
5km up the road a few dogs started to chase me, these ones weren’t really that aggressive but I’m going to get into the habit of filming these experiences so people can see what it’s like. On average this happens a few times a day…
As I started climbing the mountain road I reached the 10km point and there was no houses to be seen, I must’ve miss understood him. There were small dirt roads pulling off the climb but they had signs saying their was a town 5km down them. This put me in a predicament as the road is carved into the side of a hill so there are crash barriers along both sides and no obvious place to camp.
It started to get pretty dark and luckily there was a gap in the barrier and a flat area about 10m wide and 30m long adjoining the road and with a drop on the otherside. There were some bushes about 5 feet high and I managed to conceal myself from any passing traffic.
The weather forecast was sun for days so I decided to sleep without a tent laying my air mattress down on top of my tarp to stop punctures. I ended up having a wonderful few hours watching the Orion constellation move across the night sky before drifting off.
The road noise wasn’t a problem as there was only one vehicle every 30 minutes or so and the area was so silent I could here the trucks gently approaching for about a minute before they passed. I was also lucky enough to spot a shooting star, the second of the trip, as well as a satellite passing over.
I woke up feeling a bit week as in my desire to stay hidden from the road I hadn’t made a hot dinner on my stove, settling for cheese and bread instead. I was really looking forward to a solid lunch.
The downside of sleeping on a climb is that first thing in the morning you’ve got to start climbing again. Luckily the views here were spectacular
I’d read there was a tunnel cutting off the top 200m of the climb which would make things easier but when I reached the mouth of the tunnel I wasn’t happy to see that it ran for over 2km. You can also see from the sign in the picture that the tunnel starts at 1,110m altitude, a solid mornings work getting to that height!
Luckily the tunnel was well lit and there was barely any traffic. On the other hand I was surprised to find the road still climbed in the tunnel taking me up about another 50m. 2km at a 2.5% gradient is not a problem but when you are trying to get through the tunnel as fast as possible it is quite an annoyance.
Out the other side I was home free descending virtually non-stop for 40km down to the coast. There was a moment at around 600m altitude where the air got noticeably warmer and more humid in seconds, a strange sensation.
Once I hit the coast I was relieved to pull into the first petrol station I saw. Unfortunately their cafe was closed so I couldn’t get the meal I was after but instead went into their mini market and devoured a big pack of Doritoes and a litre of cherry juice. With renewed vigour I headed off down the coastal highway with the goal of stopping as soon as Samsun was under 100km away.
I surpassed that goal and stopped in the town of Yakakent which the sign marked as being 84km to Samsun meaning tomorrow should be a nice easy day. I found a cheap hotel in town, carried my bike and luggage up to the 3rd floor, and noticed the crazy salt deposits on my cycling leggings from the last two days.
A had a quick walk along the seafront in Yakakent and there really wasn’t much to see, I got myself a couple of chicken kebabs are collapsed in my room.
I awoke the next morning to the room filled with a strange red glow. I pulled back the curtains to find a huge Turkish flag covering the front of the building and a political rally going on downstairs.
I didn’t hang around as I was keen to get to Samsun for a much desired day off after pushing myself hard for the last three days. The 84km were almost entirely flat and fairly uneventful except for when I passed through the town Bafra.
Almost clear of the town I passed a petrol station where one of the forecourt attendants started shouting “Chai!” at me. This has become a common occurrence and I always accept so pulled in and started having a chat. Like clockwork I was asked what football team I support. As someone who doesn’t follow football I’ve found saying Newcastle United is good choice as people abroad have heard of the team but don’t know enough about them to go into a more in depth conversation about players. Which is perfect for me as I don’t know anything about Newcastle either.
Once I’d got through a couple of cups of tea they ushered me into a back room where I was served a three course lunch! Minestrone soup followed by a small plate of meatballs (Kofte), rice, chips and vegetables rounded off with a bowl of yoghurt.
Full of fuel I flew the remaining 50km to Samsun and collapsed into bed at the Hotel Necmi.
Samsun is an important city to the Turks but does not have a huge amount to offer tourists. The city is famous as being the point where the First President of Turkey (Ataturk) disembarked from a ship to begin the revolution against the crumbling Ottoman empire and founding the modern Republic of Turkey. There is a diorama of this moment on the seafront in the centre of town…
As well as replica of the ship…
I also spotted a huge Decathalon sports store in Samsun in which I’ve managed to get some much needed new gear. A major improvement has been replacing the really heavy ski coat I’ve been using for warmth (which I bought due to lack of options in snow struck Sarajevo) with an ultralight body warmer which I picked up for £12! Incredible. Between the weight savings on clothes and a parcel I just sent back to the UK with equipment I no longer need I’ve shaved about 5kg off my luggage (plus a load of space) which will definitely be noticed in the mountains as I go east.
My next stop is Trabzon which is a 3-4 day ride and where I will be getting my visa for Iran. It looks like this will only take one day but is going to cost a bank busting 270 euros! I plan to head through Georgia and Armenia and cross into Iran from there.
In terms of my long term plans it is looking more and more likely that I will not visit Tajikistan, home of the glorious Pamir highway. The main reason being that, due to clashes, all border points between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have been closed which would basically trap me in the country. Hopefully the situation is resolved and I can reconsider my plan to bypass it!
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I also want to divert the interest this trip generates towards helping out a charity that made a big differance to some friends of mine. Samuels Children Charity are a Lewes based charity providing support to families throughout the UK who are currently affected by childhood cancer. I hope to raise the sum of £5,000 from people who hear about this trip to help them continue their work, and to also keep me motivated throughout the challenges this trip will provide! If you’d like to see how the fundraising is going (or even better would like too donate!) then click here.