Oleg: Alex, SPD pedal is O.K.
1 US$ = 40,000 Turkish Lira
Black Sea Coast
92.1 km. time 5:21
92 km to date
After a photo shoot in front of the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia we roll away eagerly towards the ferry that would take us "to Asia". Upon the arrival of our ferry in Uskudar on the other side and we realize we have no maps of the entire coast that are useful. For the next eight hundred kilometers or so, we’ll be riding blind. This is a gross oversight on my and Brandt’s part, but we maintain that all we have to do is keep the water on our left and we'll be fine.
Eagerly, we form our first pace line right out of the ferry lot. We ride hard and shout, "car back!", to alert of oncoming cars. Oleg provides a Ukrainian translation: "Machine pozade". Each rider politely takes the lead in the pace line. BOOM! Alex gets a flat tire. A total blowout. The tire is okay but the tube is a write off. "It's okay, it's okay. I'm sure that was a mere coincidence." Everyone is sensing a bad omen.
We are completely lost. The roads seem to diminish and lead in directions away from the sea. Many stops and hand gestures, trying to find a road to the sea. We stop for a break in a small village where it seems all twelve of the village's adult males sit on a veranda sipping chay from shot glasses. I sip water while we wait for Oleg and Nathan, who have fallen a bit behind. Our expected mileage today was to be about 70 kilometers but with all the side roads we have added considerably to our estimates.
The terrain is rolling, testing my out of shape legs. Each village we pass through has a minaret piercing through the trees above the surrounding rooflines. In every settlement children come running: "What is your name? Where are you going?" Alex shouts back as we ride on: "Mongolia!", though I’m sure they have no idea what that means. It has been some time since I carried a fully loaded bike. Alex and I ride together, bantering Canadian-American humour, getting acquainted for an expected six months on the road together.
Bread in Turkey has been a great discovery. Thick, white loaves, always freshly baked (more than a few hours old and it turns to brick). Also found some cherry like jam, while extremely runny, was a necessary addition to the dryness of plain bread. Sickly sweet. "Very big growth potential: Jam."
We reach Sile, on the Black Sea Coast. It’s a busy resort town, nearing the end of the nine day holiday festival, Bayram. Many city folk have come to the countryside to camp. There are some very old looking walls and columns, likely the work of Roman builders. We choose a cement platform near the waters' edge near one of these towers as a place to make our dinner. Too busy here to camp, we plan to ride out of town after dark. Oleg gazes over the water, "Thees is Black Sea. Ukranian territory."
Already Brandt looks pukey. I was worried yesterday when he announced that, in his earlier years, he used to have to take shots of gamma globulin proactively because, "I get sick so often." Great. We don’t want a hypochondriac case here. Please.
We break out the pots, pan and begin to cook pasta. Alex and I are charged up, talking equipment, the days to come, expectations of unimaginable places we will see, like Turkmenistan. I hadn't even the slightest mental image of what we were to experience ahead. All the time we are talking, one by one Oleg, Brandt and Oleg have passed out on the pavement beside us. Fast asleep, these riders, the picture in my head of this moment proved more an omen than the flat tire of earlier this morning of their fate on this trip.
Campsite selection has not yet evolved to the art it will become. The site we select for the first night serves simply as a place to hide from the curious. We choose a grassy field behind a partially constructed foundation, a common site I have noticed in Turkey. It is far from the best campsite. Alex notes: "You know a campsite is shitty when you can't even find a place to piss."
88 km time: 5:20
Average speed: 16.5 km/h
186 km to date
near Kandira, Turkey
A clear night prompts Oleg and Brandt to sleep under the stars. I set up a tent for myself and Alex joins me. It's humid here on the coast. We wake to a dew so thick that Brandt and Oleg's sleeping bags will take hours to dry. Brandt looks like he has not slept. He says he has not slept now in four nights and feels sick. His slow, deliberate actions mirror the way he must feel. Lifeless, dull. I want to shake him.
We're still on an early trip program, so Alex starts to make "pancakes" which are a flour, egg, water combination fried in a pan. We found some raspberry syrup to pour over top. These early breakfasts took so long, but were so satisfying. Later we would curtail our breakfast efforts as it was taking nearly two hours off the start of the day to get moving. While Alex and I have been cooking and pulling down tents, packing gear, Oleg has done nothing. Silent, staring.
Today is very slow off the mark. No one has really dialed in repacking their gear. Oleg is especially slow, and we wait thirty minutes for him roadside before we have even begun to ride. Probably feeling bad for making us wait, he finally emerges from behind the foundation after Alex has gone to offer help. Instead of the usual slow, warm-up ride, Oleg takes off like a rocket, pedaling hard ahead of our group. Five minutes later we pass him on the first hill. He is walking his bike. Oleg is not happy to be passed.
We leave the coast early and begin a steep climb. A narrow, secondary road but nonetheless it appears to be a shortcut based on our one map of the region. I strain and hear the shout from my awakening knees. Alex and I keep close, climbing slowly but steadily. At the top of the climb we sit for a while at a crossroad, waiting for the others. Naturally, a crowd gathers and wants to know all about our trip, our gear, our family. Alex displays the map and begins asking about our route. It seems the road we wish to take does not exist, and we will have to detour inland to Kandira to proceed.
A half hour later Oleg appears, totally bonked. He is pale and shaking. He reaches for a cigarette from his front pannier, which seems to contain nothing we recognize, but is full. "Alex, we camp here tonight.", he suggests. We have traveled 30 kilometers. Oleg has had enough. We try to appease him by lightening his load further. Alex takes his sleeping bag, he carries no tent, we take all food from him save what he might want for the road, including the can of meat he brought from Ukraine. He has consumed no water. He explains that he didn't think he was allowed to, since we had worked to filter it, it must be for us, for later, for cooking. His logic was not what we were used to.
He has brought with him an appalling amount of excess gear. Despite Alex's assurances to him to bring only a few necessities, Oleg is beyond over packed. I was shocked when I saw him in the Istanbul airport carrying a full sized backpack, fully stuffed. As we now pilfered his gear we realized how over packed he was. In addition to the pannier full of cigarettes and rolling papers: a container with five different kinds of soap. Each one having a discrete and separate purpose: one for shaving, one for cleaning the body, one for cleaning the hands, one for cleaning dishes....we had one bottle of high concentrate soap for all of these. These and other items, like the thoroughly inexplicable "scorpion trip wire", designed to keep scorpion away from the campsite, amount to some very stuffed panniers for Oleg. I see now that Oleg might not be the asset we may have hoped for. As we stripped Oleg of his baggage we urged him that he would have to send some home upon reaching Yalta. Natasha, his wife, would meet him there to lighten his load, and to take some of his baggage. Hehe.
In this manner we struggle through the day. Cycle for an hour, wait for Oleg for half an hour. I have written in my journal on the second day of riding that I expect to be ditching Oleg long before his expected tenure has expired. "Dead weight." I write. We have to make a change regarding Oleg soon or we will not come close to realizing our destination. At one point early in the day we crossed the mark of 120 kilometers accumulated mileage. I said to the others, "Hey guys, we just made one percent of the total trip distance." There is silence. It is painful for the others to extrapolate the struggles of today one hundred times.
Today, though, I am not a super-Olympic cyclist. My inexperience burns me as well. In the afternoon I fail to consume enough water and am dehydrated later on. I know the symptoms well. By evening I am bloated, unable to eat. Drinking feels like I am filling a balloon in my stomach.
Traffic has increased now, since our re-emergence onto the secondary road from the pathway of this morning. As cars pass the horn honks. Every time. Early in the day the charm of acknowledgement is a novelty. The afternoon heat strips the joy of this friendly gesture. Every time. Beep Beep. Car passes. Faces turn and wave. "Where are you going?" "Mongolia!" Hehe.
Our last town of the day is the small town of Kandira. We wait for Oleg at the only intersection in town, a routine we have established for regrouping. A young soldier tells us we must move on. It is hard to explain to him that our Ukranian friend is following. We have also forgotten a Turkish phrasebook. Duh!
There are two main streets with plenty of shops that seem to stock nothing useful we recognize, only potato chips and chocolate, which I devour. I am too tired to make a logical decision about what I need to eat.
Again our campsite is below the what we consider a good campsite. Oleg is fuming. "Alex, you said me that tonight we camp near river." It seems our lack of nightly bathing is a point of contention for Oleg.
He would write later that he could not understand how we lived with ourselves being so covered in sweat. His viewpoint was the exact antithesis of ours. He wrote later in an article: "..they go without a bath for a couple of days at a time. Even when we settle into a comp for a night, they don't bother to look for site near a lake or a spring. They just don't care. Buth they sure think I'm crazy because I immediately jump out of my clothes and splash in the nearest lake or pond to wash off the daily crust of dust, sweat and sunburn ointment." So wrote Oleg, who constantly pissed us off as we arrived in a campsite for not helping out with setting up camp or cooking, but took off to wash his balls.
Despite my searching, on the request of Alex, to find a site with water, we pull out roadside and drop our bikes behind a small knoll, out of site from the road, on a hillside, quiet, away from the curious Kandira kids.
I am awakened at midnight by a deep hunger. Unable to eat the bean mix cooked earlier due to my dehydration, I am now parched and empty. I stumble in the dark to find food. Not eating tonight will kill me tomorrow. There's some sausage and a few berries bought earlier in town. My head aches, stomach churns, knees are okay now, but I felt telltale twinges earlier today that shouted out in warning.
100 km. time: 5:21
avg speed: 18.7 km/h
286 km to date
peak elevation: 190 m
Black Sea coast, near Karisu, Turkey
A cool, cloudless night behind our roadside hideaway. I didn’t sleep well on my churning stomach, and awake squint-eyed, soaked with dew, hungry and weak. Today we take a brief breakfast of bread and jam, eager to make early miles. Clear skies. Looked like a scorcher till clouds came in the afternoon. Humidity replaced heat. Whew. Sticky.
We have asked everyone we have met about our route along the coast since our maps for this area basically suck. Roads where the maps show none; and no roads where our maps show roads.
In grade 11 I decided to take German to be in a class with Lisa Pavan, with whom I was infatuated at the time. The payoff of my twenty-five word German vocabulary has been invaluable already. With so many migrant workers spending time in Europe, many Turks speak German. Go figure.
In Kardasu for lunch we ask a German-speaking Turkish man about the route. He says it is “impossible” to attempt a coastal route as the road does not exist. Then he asks me something about “fraulines”, winks, and raises his eyebrows. For a moment we think we are being set up with babes but can’t confirm it. What a class act, I think. Here we are; five sweaty, dirty, lycra-bound pigs pulling into town and this guy is trying to get us laid. As I apply some lip balm, he asks, “ is that cocaine, my friend? Do you like to smoke….shit?”
“No”, I say. Using our usual escape clause, “sportsmen”. I get the universal not of understanding, oh….Sportsmen.” Thumbs up. But he points ahead, to our proposed route. Far too hilly, he indicates. Can’t be ridden.
With that guidance, we cruise the next 40 kilometers at over 25 km/h over completely flat, straight terrain. Only stopping to wait for Oleg every 20 kilometers, waiting 30 minutes each time for Oleg. Man, he must be hating life, I think. Since we left Istanbul I’ve seen him smile once, tonight, when I buy him a beer and says that our campsite (complete with a river, at his insistence) reminds him of his wife, Natasha. (?? Never quite understood this reference. A grassy riverbank? I don’t know.) Alex and I are bending over backwards to ensure his relative comfort until Yalta, at least. We anticipate him blowing out soon, but unsure when. Then again, he’s damn resilient. But he’s also very weak and out of shape. Each day we lessen his load to reduce the hourly waiting. Now he’s down to: no sleeping bag, no food, no tent, no stoves, pots or pans, no water filter. We even carry water for him until he’s ready for more.
My bike is about 15 lbs heavier than Istanbul. Knees ache, and by 90kilometers my quads are cramping when I accelerate. Oleg is deadweight. He must pay off soon. His savings of $200 will not get him far. When will he give up? Or will his heart blow first? (his prediction).
We sail through villages, children swarming after us, “where are you from?” “Where are you going”? I take on a cowboy twang in my responses, “Howdy, partner. Why, I’m from Canada, little feller! Study hard, and stay in school. YeeHaw!” Alex takes delight in plugging his Walkman into the ears of our “fans” and pumping a little Guns ‘n Roses for them.
Racing past a dazed man at a bus stop. “Hey! Do you know where we can catch a boat to Yalta?” It’s comedy. We’re so lost, but forge ahead, hoping we’ll find our Yalta connection.
The German-speaking woman here are not interested in conversing with us. They giggle and run away when I say “good evening”. In general the coastal women seem to wear less of the fundamental chador clothing. Seemed like Istanbul had more tents, but that may have been holiday related.
We’re camped in a gazebo-like shelter near a river’s edge. The coast if not far off; we’ll see it again tomorrow morning. I cook beans over our howling stoves. Frustrating that they can’t simmer. The guys politely chow down on my very burnt bean stew. Some picnickers wave us over to share chay. We sip chay from the tulip shaped glasses; two sugar cubes, as usual. The men ask us the usual questions; shouting louder and closer when we can’t understand. One man seems to grasp our problem. He’s patient and draws pictures. Out comes the Raki. Can’t drink alcohol. Too tired. I hear the sound of rain on the tin gazebo roof during the night. Deep, restful sleep.
92 km. time: 5:20
378 km to date
camped on roadside pullout. Oleg miserable after sleeping near animal corpse
93 km. time: 6:06
471 km to date
peak elevation: 500m
near Bartin, Turkey. beyond Zonguldak
We start the day with a long, steady climb from our miserable campsite. We’re all so cranky barely a word is spoken as we fold up camp. Oleg discovers that he has spent the night sleeping next to an animal corpse. He is angry at Alex for this. Somehow, according to Oleg, Alex is responsible for this mess.
We rolled in to camp last night late, tired, no “hooter” in the legs. Zonguldak, a dusty, busy, industrial town confused us, killed our mileage, and distracted us in our search for a boat to Yalta. We climbed out of town in the failing light. Looking for camp, options depleting as we climb. Many partially finished homes dot the landscape, but there seem to be people milling about as we approach a couple of them. The first site, rejected on account of the skewered, half sheep corpse near by. We settled later for this roadside pullout with piles of garbage, suspect piles of toilet paper and a rotting animal corpse of its own.
Oleg: “Alex, tonight we can
have reever camp?” No, it was not to
be. Exhausted, I actually sleep quite
well, ready to attack the climb. I also
seem recharged, feeling better that I don’t feel as bad as Brandt, Nathan and
Oleg. Alex charges out of camp. I follow soon after, in chase.
Some morning rain is a bummer, but a cool, steady climb to 500 meters. Alex and I stop at the bottom of the chilly descent to warm up with some chai, and wait for the others; already 30 minutes behind. Feel like we’ve been ripped off, paying 10,000 lira for the chai (that’s about 20 cents).
Back on the coast, the short, steep climbs resume, and with it my tweaking knee. Very short, steep hills of 100 meters joining innumerable villages. My jovial, “howdy”, or stopping to chat is replaced with a head down, gritted teeth.
Turkish villagers have been friendly, now touching me in my pain, to the point of annoyance. Late in the day I’m tired, sore, irritable. I’m pained to go through the ritual, “isim Douglas”. “we go from Istanbul to Sinop, to Mongolia”. Usually there’s recognition with the first two place names. Blank faces meet the mention of the terminus.
The search for a Yalta boat dominates our coastal experience. Responses have become predictable: “No boat from here to Yalta. You must go to Istanbul”
My knees are on fire. I’m popping 7 Advil a day now. But I’m not the only one in pain. Not sure I can go on if my knees don’t get better. Nathan bonks near the end of the day. His head is down, he reaches forward for his handlebars, too far away on his bike. He implores me to find our campsite soon. We’re gliding along near the coast. Grazing cows populate the pastures to our right. I’m searching for that hideaway driveway with a river. Just as we bump off the road, 200m off the route, we put our bikes down and Nathan begins barfing.
I convince Oleg to help me prepare dinner tonight. I’m chopping onions with Oleg when he disappears. Angry, I’m about to go after him when I realize that I’m more efficient as the domestique without him.
Oleg dreams of home. Will we have trouble finding gas in Ukraine? “on every corner” What about water? “every corner” Calculators? “every corner” Condoms? “every corner”.
We’ll see. Big days ahead.
89 km. time: 6:08
560 km to date
average speed: 14.4 km/h
peak elevation: 400m
Lots of brutal climbing today. Steep hills that trucks can’t navigate. I’m having continuing knee trouble. Sometimes so painful that I must stop for the sharpness to subside. On the down hills I put my head down and zoom through the villages.
It seems like the small grocery stores in Turkey all stock the same five items. Meager selection. Today at one, Oleg delights that they carry rubber boots. “This is just like store in Russia”.
Brandt is holding close to Alex and I. Long waits for Nathan and Oleg. In Mermoy we eat Ruffles. So tasty, the salty chips. I’m craving more. We pick cherries off the roadside trees. I take a nap outside the store while we wait for the others.
We camp in a small city park in town. A bit noisy, but feels safe. A bar is near by; the whole place turns to stare. Children surround us as we fire up our stoves. Darkness falls, and we retreat to our tents. We look ridiculous in this park. I’m tired today.
100 km. time: 7:35
660 km to date
average speed: 13.1
Exhaustion. Last night I knew something wasn’t quite right as my farts were getting louder and longer. Around 11pm an alien in my stomach manifested itself and I purged the macaroni dinner. As if on cue, Alex moans from the tent, “Doug, you should brush your teeth after barfing.” I spend the rest of the night with loud farts and an interminable case of the shits.
This morning I’m tired. More dry heaves in the playground. I leave camp early, looking for some orange juice for quick energy. I’ll catch up to the others later. They’ll have to wait. I’m going slow today. In a small store I’m in line to pay but feel the urge to barf. I just make it out to the street and let it hurl onto the crowded street. The storeowner sits me down, arm around me, strokes my hair, looking concerned. He splashes cologne into my hands, indicating to rub it into my face. At least I smell a bit better.
I begin the steep climb out of town. I’m empty and aching with a day of climbing ahead. Up the hill, around the point, steep descent into the cove, through a tiny village with a name that looks like the last one (Inebolu, Donuglu, Ereglu; I lose track). Atop one such climb I nap, aching, stretched out on a picnic table while cars whiz by. Buses stop, passengers get out, throw garbage over the cliff, get back on and drive away. . Alex, Nathan and I await the arrival of Brandt and Oleg. Alex chatters away, recounting our travails thus far, anticipating the demise of Oleg.
Oleg is said to have hitched a ride today. Brandt follows soon after. We lose them in the evening. Nathan rides with Alex and I into the evening, falling off near dusk, and opting for a ride. Bonked, he hitches and stays the night in a Pancion. I’m riding stronger, but not 100%. Enormous farts when I rise from the saddle. Our first night separated, Alex and I camp in young wooded area, like lilac bushes, near a river. We set up camp, but I’m not up to par. The shits hit again. I sleep while Alex concocts a swampy tasting soup for dinner. Disgusting, but I force it down with crackers before sleeping again. Shits around the tent throughout the night. Awful.
79 km. time: 5:15
739 km to date
average speed: 15 km/h
My stomach has calmed a little. We find Nathan in Doganyurt; he joins us and the three of us carry on. We wonder where we will find Brandt, and if we’ll ever see Oleg again. More difficult up, around and down riding. Nathan fades quickly. We cycle into Inebolu into the middle of a Bayram parade. Rows of nurses, girls with Casio keyboards, young men with bugles and cadets file by. It seems like the Turks have been celebrating since we arrived. The second we stop in town, distracting the flow of the parade, we are surrounded by children, all repeating the familiar lines of English in their sing-song voices, “where are you from?” All the children seem to be friendly and personable. Young girls are outgoing and friendly too, until they hit the age of fifteen or so. Then it’s a challenge to get them to even look at us. We’re not scoring in Turkey, that’s for sure. Ukraine will be different. The homeland.
We find Brandt in town. He’s been on the phone with his parents and his family doctor seeking advice on what ails him. Pretty damn clear to me. Eat more. Sleep more. Drink more. Poor guy. He looks like hell. Not going to ride the final leg into Sinop. He says Oleg is in town too, sleeping in their hotel room and non-stop for the last day and a half. After lunch in a small restaurant off the highway strip, Nathan, too, announces that he will seek a ride with the others into Sinop. Alex is disappointed, particularly with Nathan.
Alex and I leave town together. Rain starts. Just outside town we stop at a junkyard for shelter. I sleep in a roll of filthy blankets supplied by the junkyard curator. Alex has hit it off with this fellow. They sip chai as Alex attempts to build new tines for the stove. In my dazed state last night I left them in the dirt somewhere at the last campsite. Two of our spare spokes are sacrificed for the stoves.
Rejuvenated, we coast the next 40 kilometers, hitting town near dusk, and not in the mood to camp. We look for a hotel, but find only a grotty truckers resthouse. Our standards are still much too high. For $1.50 for the night (75,000 lira), it’s not a bad deal, even if it looks like a prison.
It’s cool on the coast. We buy lamb kebabs and bread from a beachfront “burger joint”. A teacher from the next town arrives on a motorbike, striking a conversation up with us in broken English. Either nervous or shady, he offers little of interest. We’re too paranoid about the food to enjoy the surroundings. Happy to leave this shifty guy behind. Cold night.
107 km. time: 6:00
846 km to date
And then there were two. Alex and I , alone in Casilzetin, leave town early, off and cycling by 6:30 am. Fast, gradual, hills for the first 30 kilometers then steady uphill to around 400m up. Town signs separated by only a few hundred meters. Too many to remember. We are hammering, realizing the efficiency we’re achieving in fewer numbers.
My health is improving with rest. I was able to hold down that lamb sandwich last night so the signs are good. We ride fast and efficiently. No waiting or unscheduled stops By 80 kilometers, I’m a bit sore. Pushing too hard, we’ve covered 90 kilometers by 12:30; still no sign of the others passing us in their ride.
5 kilometers from Sinop their bus pulls along side, the others unload, and we slowly and intermittently make our way to Sinop. We go straight to the docks, lucky to find a boat bound for Ukraine, but Mitch doesn’t leave until Tuesday. This gives us four days to recoup and see the sights. Time for some writing home, phone calls and fattening up. Soviet diets loom ahead.
Sinop is and old and beautiful coastal town. The old town walls date to 2000 BC. We follow a young local fellow around town. Kahn is tireless in his eagerness to practice English and show us about. A tour of the beaches, the museum, and the old town walls. I’m tired and listless though. I’m out be 7pm the first night, not budging for thirteen hours.
Nathan and I tour the town, trying out a Turkish bath. Invigorating, the bath guy scrubs our filthy, scales till we’re screaming. We leave unsure if we’ve enjoyed the experience or if we’ve been violated.
By Tuesday, we’ve done Sinop to death. Much like a multi-day treeplanting day off; deprivation followed by excess (but cheaper than Hearst, Ontario). We’re checked into Sami Gule’s Palas Gule for the knockout price of 125,000 lira per night (about $3). It isn’t much past the Casilzeytin prison hotel, but does have a shower, for which Sami tried to charge us an extra 100,000 when we showed excitement.
Khan, 18 year old English student becomes our guide. friend of his can't wait to join army to "kick some Kurdish ass". we get a tour of the local museum during "museum week" from Khan's English teacher. Alex meets Kenan, the Turk with the Georgian (American) accent, while shopping for a new bike seat for Oleg. An astounding mix. He says things like, “what’re ya’ll doin’ here?” with a Turkish accent. He works near the water in a tire retread shop. Kenan teaches Nathan about "the mind of Allah" while we drink cay in the Kasim Hotel lounge listening to the belly dancing artist called, "Cim" (grass) wail her Turk strains. We make multiple trips to the local restaurant for pudding. It’s better than Istanbul’s Pudding Shop.
Khan is more than eager to practice his English. Very stylishly dressed and Western looking- a Chicago White Sox shirt. “What is ‘sox’? I could not find it in any dictionary.” He is a woman magnet. He shows us the museum – it’s “Museum Week”, the wall, good restaurants with good Turkish pudding, and generally just wants to hang out with us. He arrives each morning at our hotel to see what we are doing that day and to shoot the breeze.