We have a fabled destination but no real clue how we will get there. We are in no rush, but seasons change and the sun and snow will form impenetrable barriers that need to be navigated. Luckily we are ‘free-lings’ by nature – in the sense that we are comfortable in flux. The not knowing and the occupation of now carry us forward. Sometimes when weary I cry out; I want to sit beneath a tree and ripen – a still life. Sleep, sustenance and magical chance encounters rectify my mood and we move on. But which way? How do we decide where to go next?
A number of navigation techniques are employed with varying results, involving both punishment and reward. (For those of you made nervous by uncertainty, to add to the excitement these directional decisions are usually made minutes before pedaling commences).
1/ The Path of Least Resistance
From Istanbul we had a choice of following the Black Sea Coast or heading inland. After reading various reports of torturous days in wet hills we had developed a healthy fear of the coastal route. Exiting the mega-city was also a concern after our eventful entrance (see Shortcuts below). A ferry across the Bosphorous seemed the easiest option and the nearest crossing point was to Yalova. A quick scan of the internet revealed that there was a thermal resort 15km from the ferry port, so this became our destination. It was a good decision. The ferry crossing was straightforward and on the climb up to Termal we saw our first mulberry trees, a nod to the silk route we are weaving our path along.
The baths at Termal were built by Emperor Justinian of Byzantium 17 centuries ago and the healing area still attract visitors, particularly Arab tourists who must find the lush, cool forest and abundant water hugely appealing. And these two road weary wanderers were equally amoured after two days soaking in the 38 degrees marble pool, the natural steam room that could only be sustained for minutes, the freezing plunge pool, the soapy scrubs and the theraputic massage. Sometimes going gentle on yourself is the best option.
On other occasions we resist the path of least resistance for factors not entirely clear. I don’t think Ioan will ever forgive me for saying no to the lift we were offered by a truck driver transporting a huge Combine Harverster across the flat, barren plains of Antaloya. If we had said yes at that critical moment we would have travelled 300kms in 5 hours rather than 3 days. But it didn’t feel right and we would have missed out on some of the highlights of our trip so far.
2/ Let Others Decide
Sometimes we may have a vague idea of which roads to take, but often a perusal of the map over a cup of tea with a local and our route changes. ‘No, no, no that road is bad’. How bad? Steep bad, gravel bad, non-existent bad, lorry bad, no shade furnace bad, or bad-bad? Language is a barrier but we are mastering a number of hand gestures which communicate these different types of bad. One important thing to bear in mind when taking local advice is that the route setter has invariably never cycled down said road on a fully loaded touring bike. But we are children of destiny and if it turns out that the ‘better’ road involves an hours 20% steep climb in the midday sun, so be it. There will be a reason; a reward or a lesson, I hate lessons.
When others get involved drastic things can happen to our course. The nice guy you meet at the petrol station happens to mention that the Phygrian valley is beautiful and suddenly you are heading south to a magical land and then well you are kind of the way so you might as well go to Cappodocia, a 200km detour.
Now you might think this is the same as Path of Least Resistance but often the shorter route is not the easiest. We have learnt this lesson many times and so no shortcut is taken lightly. Short cuts are often rewarding because they take you from the well trodden path, but forging new paths can be challenging. In Vize our new friend Bahadir had recommended a route into Istanbul on a new stretch of road. The road proved to be mercifully devoid of traffic with a wide hard shoulder, but it meandered slightly north of the city and seemed to be going through needlessly hilly areas. Surely if we just took this road, cut through this town and dropped down into Istanbul here, it would be much shorter.
Now good route setting requires many skills and when cycle touring being able to read (or lets say, pay attention to) contour lines is crucial. I like to consider myself quite handy with a map ( I like paper although electronic devices are also deployed) thanks to what felt like wasted hours in CCF at school (I can also strip, clean and reload a rifle in trying conditions i.e. lying in discarded chips and baked-bean juice on a post-lunch canteen floor, but that is another skill that may or may not be deployed later in this journey). Additional navigation techniques were learnt from my dad whilst messing about on boats and others are self taught from past cycle trips. The key thing about navigation is that it’s best done by yourself, and then you can only blame yourself when things go wrong.
The shortcut to Istanbul involved cycling up massive hills into the city of Arnavutkoy at sunset. We’d planned to stay the night here but it soon turned out that this wasn’t the friendliest place we’d been, as demonstrated by the car driver who hit me and failed to stop; it was only a gentle nudge but enough to bring out my fear. It transpired there were no places to stay in Arnavutkoy, so we decided to push on another 25km into Istanbul in the dark along a busy road. When the hard shoulder was swallowed up byroad works, self preservation kicked in and I stopped like a stubborn mule. There was a slip road to the right leading to a new road, which I decided was a better option.
And that my friend is how we ended up cycling down an unfinished, unlit motorway into Istanbul. It was crazy but it felt the lesser of two evils. The only problem was that they’d not yet built any exits from the motorway and so exhausted, angry and afraid we had to climb down a steep embankment and lift our bikes and all our bags over a barrier to get onto a dual carriageway. Needlessly to say we were completely lost and it was only with the help of some rather bemused petrol station workers and customers that the wild-eyed, bedraggled cycling nutters found a bed (be it a ridiculously overpriced room at a Holiday Inn, but needs must. (There is a video capturing this memorable night, be patient and I’ll upload it somewhere soon!)
So now we are here…
All these techniques have led us here to Cappadocia, the land of beautiful horses, a truly magical place that is worth the hype. We have had 5 days here exploring and resting. Yesterday in the scorching midday sun we found ourselves cycling tracks through wonderful visions, in all shapes and sizes. Surprisingly unsated, we ventured out again last night to mark summer solstice and welcome the full moon. For 3 hours we explored the moonlit valleys where the landscape came alive under the sliver light and the rocks revealed their secrets. Tomorrow morning we move on, which road we will take is still undecided.