Gule Gule Turkey…
After a wonderful rest day in Trabzon where we treated ourselves to a night at a hotel, ate everything that took our fancy and had a good cleanse in the hamam where I was laid out on a marble slab and scrubbed, washed and massaged by a professional wearing leopard skin knickers until she was satisfied I was clean, we remounted our Trolls and got serious about getting to Georgia.
We continued along the Black Sea coast for 140km or so through the tea growing region of Rize. Given the amount of Cay we have consumed over the past few weeks it was nice to see where it comes from. Every inch of arable land in the region is covered in tea plants. They even grow out of the drains on the D10! Loaded up trucks trundle along with leaves blowing out of them scattering the coastal road. The air even smells of tea thanks to the number of factories accumulated in the region.
But at Hopa and full of excitement we left the familiarity of Karadeniz (the Black Sea) and turned into the mountains! The first climb was a steep 15km to about 1000m in the heat of the day. Hard work. We stopped at the top for lunch and spent a pleasant hour or so chilling in the shade whilst watching a cow graze on a tea plantation. A fast decent took us through Borcka for supplies and onto a magnificent camping spot on a weir with stunning views and a decent sized hydro electric scheme.
We continued to climb and wind away into the mountains the next day, this time with a strong tail wind. At descending points we had to use caution as the wind cut some gnarly shapes into the hairpins, funnelling us in head first, giving half a second to adjust weight before yeeha – a full sideways body slam buffets you out the other side. Don’t look down because the Turks are more interested in building dams than road barriers! At Ardin, the earthworks of a second enormous dam have led us to wonder whether the Turks are using their formidable architectural skills to quietly work away at energy self sufficiency.
Onwards and upwards. The next day saw us climb 1,898m in 37km to an altitude of 2,470m in searing heat. Absolutely brutal. I bonked just 1km from the top, but nothing a honey sandwich quickly prepared by Chris couldn’t sort out. A fast, hair pin free decent took us to the alpine plain town of Ardahan where we checked into a dirty hotel, too tired to camp. A Finnish cyclist, Seppo, whom we’d met the previous day turned up at the same hotel a while later looking equally disoriented from the climb.
The fun was only just beginning though. We said goodbye to Seppo after breakfast. He is going to Iran so our roads parted in Ardahan. Rolling through about 45km of beautiful alpine pastures where herds of content looking cattle and fat tail sheep grazed, took us to the foot of our next climb. This was a shorter climb with a 20km descent to Posof as a reward! Yippee!! The climb took us to our highest point of 2,550m. Epic on a touring bike laden with 20kg of panniers! The views were incredible. Spine tingling. The mountains of Georgia were in sight with dark thunder storms complete with spectacular bolts of lightening over them.
We started the descent, the part we usually love the most. Now Turkey, I need to ask you this: What the hell happened to your roads? They’ve been so good, but then you get to the town of Damsal just before our final climb and hit a good size pothole on entry because it’s either that one or the one either side of it before skidding across loose gravel into the next hole. And that’s the way it stays until a kilometre before the border. I don’t understand why loose gravel has been scattered across the road with a few splotches of wet tar here and there and just left. I know mountain weather wreaks havoc on roads and that you don’t have cyclists in mind when you are repairing them, but surely cars don’t appreciate this system of maintenance either? It put my nerves on edge! We started the descent with joy in our hearts that was short lived. My bike bounced crazily from pothole to pothole, three out of four panniers unhooked at the bottom and clanked against the racks, the road twisted steeply around the mountain giving views into the surrounding valleys, all with thunder storms that were closing in on our mountain. I was trying desperately to burn off speed but couldn’t seem to get below 50kph. Navigating the hairpins as best I could to avoid the gravel I had horrifying pictures in my head. Traffic was still moving past us in both directions and the bends, potholes and gravel were endless. Something felt wrong with my bike but there was nowhere safe to stop. Big drops of rain started to fall and great flashes of light followed by roars of thunder indicated the storm was over us. The pictures in my head got worse and the speed of the descent continued, sometimes having to skip to the outside lane to avoid the worst of the road carnage before hurtling back across to avoid oncoming trucks. The moment the road straightened I signalled to Chris I was stopping. He came up in front of me and asked what was wrong. Between thunderclaps I let out a few expletives about atrocious roads and near death experiences before saying there was something wrong with my bike too. I gave the handlebars a shake for emphasis and nearly dropped my front wheel on the ground as the skewer had come undone… Some things don’t bear thinking about too much, but I need to thank Saint Christopher as I’m sure he had a hand in keeping me safe against all odds on that descent. To sum up, lets just say I had a good sit down in Posof afterwards and Chris bought me the most expensive ice-cream without hesitation.
Another 20km of appalling but rolling rather than steep roads took us to the Georgian border for sunset and we entered our second country with friendly goodbyes from the Turks and hellos from the Georgians. So gule gule Turkey and thank you. You have been the best training ground we could have asked for as we commence our journey. Your people, landscapes and food have seen us arrive in Georgia happier, fitter and stronger, a little more aware of culture and certainly better at handling our bikes and camping stove. Your cuisine has ensured we are not leaving any leaner but we’re not complaining, it’s been a pleasure!
So we’re now in Georgia and for my first hairpin at speed I had to negotiate a rock fall and two savage dogs charging me head on. Thank you Saint Christopher for stepping in again. The dogs tripped over each other and both fell over long enough for me to speed past and find a line through the rock fall. Chris whose always looking back over his shoulder for me breathed another sigh of relief and we carried on. It’s a different country from the outset with a whole host of new adventures and challenges waiting for us by the look of it…