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Middle East » Turkey » Marmara » Istanbul
September 14th 2010
Published: September 17th 2010
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The thunder clapped like the Ramadan cannon and the rain sounded like hail as it pounded the side of our tent in drops the size of marbles. The cold front had finally arrived and the heat moved out like migratory birds. Good riddance. We were not the only people to breath a sigh of relief as this summer has been the hottest that any in the region can remember. The next day brought us to the end of our Black Sea experiences as we approached a 1500 meter climb into the interior. Clouds veiled the sun´s intensity as we rose with wings into pristine pine forests. Days like this are what cycling is all about and it always makes us homesick. The serenades of the tiny mountain mosques paired with the peaceful greetings of locals worked to satiate that however and kept our thoughts grounded in the here and now as we ascended one alpine valley after the next. Making climbs like this from any altitude is epic, doing it from the sea is virtually transcendent.
Along the way we received a milieu of mixed guidance spanning a rainbow that touched down in useless and contradictory, with the majority of the arc passing through comical. This involved a lot of hand waving, ranting, blatant misunderstanding, and the occasional map drawn in the dirt which brought back pleasant memories of our time in Mongolia. In fact there are quite a few similarities between rural Turkey and Mongolia. Khalk Mongol and Turkish are in the same Turkic language family (along with such other far flung tongues as Korean and Japanese) and one can hear the similarities, especially in the traditional music. Apparently many Turks trace their roots back to Central Asian steppe nomads and the great hordes under the Khans. This has been diluted and mixed and diluted again however and we have found this country to be quite a salad bowl of ethnicities not unlike our country. Many people we meet are quick to point this out and relate it to the overall sense of acceptance that pervades in most of the countryside. For us these knowledges have been interesting but trivial in a practical sense. Just as in Mongolia, if no one speaks Russian or English, communication is a mix of scherades and pictionary.
Oddly enough, our best piece of road beta came from the only Dutch people we have ever met who do not speak much English. Armed with our terrible Nederlands and their rather nice maps, we were able to plot our course to Istanbul and avoid some long stretches of construction. Given that our map is slightly less accurate and far less detailed than Disney's cartoon atlas of the world, this was a real treat as was the cold water from the fridge in their RV. Our next piece of valuable info came from a truck stop owner who had worked as a US military contractor in nearby Iraq. There are apparently quite a few Turks earning a boisterous living in such service and the stories he told, the insights he shared were at once hysterical, chilling, and revealing of the organic depths of misunderstanding that separate us from the truths of armed conflict. At least now, when we wonder where all the money goes amidst the mayhem of armed conflict, we can picture a courteous Turk, the gas station he bought, and the food we ate.
The Interior turned to semi-arid savanna with numerous high passes separating drainages that flowed to three seas. A true geologic mess with no sense of the predictable. We tried to camp high and ride low to have pleasantly cool nighttime temps and the signs of early fall (bird hunters, first harvests, fresh cut timothy) began to fill the air. In the middle of this time Ramadan ended and candy eating ensued. With the amount if sweets pouring out of every roadside stand we find it interesting to imagine what a study coordinating diabetes and the end of the holy fast might reveal. Strictly out of concern for such matters we have taken it upon ourselves to eat as much of the baklava as possible so that the local supply will be moderated. You know, we try to keep the best interests of the locals in mind.
Somewhere west of Bolu we climbed a small hill and wondered why a 300 meter ascent would be marked as a major pass on a map. As we crested the world dropped out below us and a thick cloud of industrial air filled a seemingly endless basin that disappeared into the haze. The following 40 kilometers of descent rolled us down to sea level and into an industrial throng. The city was near and a change in attitude seemed automatic. We spent our last night out in the "provinces" camped in the well trimmed lawn of a vacation home along the Sea of Marmara. Only a neighborhood cat came by to inspect our situation as we lay in restful slumber amongst gaudy shrubbery. The only thing missing was a fountain statue of Cupid urinating as he fires off love darts at the unsuspecting. In the morning we made coffee and broke bread on the lanai as placid wavelets lapped at the nearby shore. In our explorations of various paradisical locales the world over we have found a simple formula to hold mostly true: tent + audacity = vacation home. Eminently logical, don't you think? We rolled off the ferry and into Istanbul just as another cyclonic cell sent cumulonimbus billowing and brought down heavy rain and lightning in a race to the ground. Suited up in gore tex sweat suits we rode around through sometimes axle-deep puddles in search of a hostel. We had heard warning after warning about to dangers of traffic in the city but we have learned how to play the city riding game and Istanbul, despite all the fanfare is just another city. When you throw out an arm and cut off a lane of traffic they yield just like they do in New York, San Francisco, Tokyo, Ulaanbaatar, Омск, уфа, wherever. It is less about the place and more about the confidence of the gesture. When they honk they see you, when they honk again they really see you. What few motorists know is that we use the sound of their horn as a cue to write them off but shhh, lets just keep that our little secret! The one that gets you will likely be the one you never heard. Otherwise the physics are simple: just make the move and be seen, sprint it out, pass cars, jump on the sidewalk when you want. Similar to mountain biking, in the urban trail network, momentum (both physical and figurative) is your friend.


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24th September 2010

Enjoying the trip with you !
Hi to all-- Your descriptive and amazing commentary is fantastic -- I have so enjoyed vicariously traveling along with you. Please give my best to Julie and J.P. with thanks for Julie's phone call from Macedonia. The moon is shining brightly on all of us, wherever we are.....Enjoy your continuing adventure. Love from Weezie (Julie's mom)
24th September 2010

Fun
Always a treat.

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