It had already rained for an hour when the hail began. I was soaked and to stop riding now and find shelter (of which there was little between Aksaray and Nevsehir) would only serve to give me a chill. If I kept pedalling I would at least stay wet and warm and, donning some novelty retro motorcycle goggles I bought for novelty value back in England, I was able to protect myself from the worst of the falling ice.
The predicament I found myself in was entirely self-inflicted; I was too stubborn to abandon the plan I made while staring at a map in Istanbul to reach Cappadocia on a specific date – a date that was determined by me measuring 90km distance between two fingers and counting how many of these across the map end to end it would take. In spite of the madness in the method, my idea was that if I made it to Cappadocia on time I would still have enough time to cycle through the rest of Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan in time for the date my Uzbek visa began.
This final, wet, icy stretch to Cappadocia was high up, around 1200 meters, and I was basically riding through the thunder clouds determined to make use of the tailwind the storm provided. Visibility was down to about 10 meters. The apparently epic-looking Mt. Hassan was nowhere to be seen and trucks had either stopped or crawled along the road with their hazard lights flashing. These orange flashes were the only things that gave me a sense of where I was heading with what was now mad, captain Ahab-like determination to make up for the two main factors that attempted to prevent me from reaching Cappadocia that day, neither of which had appeared on that map back in Istanbul: mountains and locals.
I had been greeted by the silhouettes of mountains that had to be climbed as soon as I rolled off the boat at Yalova and “into Asia”. By the second day I was already at about a kilometre up and I remained around that altitude for the remainder of the ride. As I continued through the north-western corner of Anatolia through Iznik, Bilecik and Sogut, the landscape remained pretty mountainous and I followed long winding passes on minor roads or 4 lane highways that boisterously ploughed through this rocky region. It was very odd to see such high-capacity infrastructure in a terrain that is so unforgiving to the traveller. There was even a perfectly straight railway line that turned for no mountain; each hill that stood in its way had just had a hole blasted through in which was simultaneously a testament to human ingenuity and two fingers up at the natural beauty of these deep, rocky valleys. Whatever type of road I was on, however, it was slow going. I certainly wasn’t meeting the arbitrary daily distance.
The hills eventually subsided and gave way to the central Anatolian plateau. Here, particularly around Lake Tuz, the only things that broke the pancake-flat horizon were the minarets and steel domes of each village’s mosque that shone in the hot afternoon sun. It made navigation easy: you just choose the dirt road that pointed toward one of the minarets that was toward the south-east and repeat every village you get to– It was like a ‘dot to dot’ puzzle you did as a kid.
But as the challenge of the land subsided, the other cause for delay didn’t let up for the whole journey. If you want to cycle long, uninterrupted days on the saddle involving big distances, and some epic stats for Strava, don’t come to Turkey. I had heard about Turkish hospitality before the trip and for once the reality surpassed my expectations as I was endlessly made offers of cay and food I couldn’t refuse. One very small town, with a main drag only a couple of hundred meters long, took me an hour to pass through on the count of the various offers of cay from curious old men propping up the little tea houses.
Another village took me over 12 hours to get through. I made a slight detour there just to fill my water bottles and for a quick sugar/caffeine infusion of Cay. I was immediately invited over to the table of a group of locals, who presented a pile of fruit in front of me to eat, and said it would rain later and that I was to stay here tonight, making the sleeping charade and then pointing to the ground (google translate helped with later discussions). That night I was provided with countless cups of cay, invited to one of the group’s family home for dinner; invited to a barbeque under a bridge for a second dinner; and then taken to one of the locals’ home where I was given an actual bed and roof over my head for the night. I had only stopped for water.
Experiences like this are becoming the norm rather than the exception the further east I get and every time I have thanked my impromptu hosts for all they that had given, my thanks was received as almost unnecessary. Rather, it was nonchalantly waved off by a simple explanation: “you are our guest”. That little title, which I wouldn’t say means that much back in the UK, has been the basis of all the unbelievable generosity of the people here in Turkey that made it near impossible to reach my daily distance target.
So on that final day I had way too far to cycle thanks to some rather fantastic experiences mixed in with my own stubbornness to break from the plan made all the way back in Istanbul. Although the result was a soaking, hard ride to reach my destination for this stint of my trip, that bitter pill was sweetened by the memories of time spent with some incredible people along the way. They don’t half take up your time, though.