Tekirdag, Turkey: Turkey really dished it out today — rain, wind, coldness, fog, big hills and nuisance canines. It was one doozy of a miserable day, the kind of day I’d rather forget but will probably vividly remember for a long time.
When I appeared this morning in my pre-daylight hotel lobby the receptionist immediately said “Problem!” and pointed outside to the rain and to the discouraging skies. Problem was an understatement. I took off from Kesan in a drizzle, but 25 kilometers into the ride on the outskirts of Malkara, the skies opened. It poured. I quickly headed for the nearest shelter, a gas station. The attendant welcomed me in from the rain, and I spent nearly two hours in the company of Mustafa and Hasan. They were excellent hosts. Although we did not share a common language, we managed to communicate. To warm me up they turned on the heat, provided me with many a cup of hot tea (chai), and even offered me a hot shower. In return, I shared some of my Clif bars, which they enjoyed. I think they would have been fine if I had stayed the whole day. Every time I tried to take off the clouds emptied in a fury. I wondered whether I would be grounded in Malkara for the whole day. The rain eventually eased to drizzle, and as I said thank you and farewell, I gestured that they will be in my heart. They returned the gesture, and gave me their phone numbers and email addresses.
It continued to rain off and on for the remainder of my ride into the port of Tekirdag, on the Marmara Sea. On two occasions I thought I might actually get a little sunshine, but mother nature was just messing with me. I arrived in Tekirdag cold to the bone, my feet soaked, my body chafed in some delicate areas. I spotted the Golden Yat Hotel in the center of town. It’s much nicer than it sounds, and immediately I made myself at home.
This morning I received some advice from John in Istanbul: “Please be extra careful. The drivers can be careless, inattentive, and display the same sense of social distance (or proximity) on the road as in the post office, bus station, supermarket.” John and I have been communicating on a daily basis for the past week about my ride through Turkey, and he has been immensely helpful in directing me in this last stretch.
“Stay at home….”
John’s advice caused me to think about all the other advice, comments and questions I have received over the course of this journey. Here are my favorites:
“Relax, you’re not going to Timbuktu” said Mr Lee at Flying Ball, my bicycle shop in Hong Kong, after I was spending so much time in his store.
“I prefer to go to Istanbul by train,” said bike mechanic Charlie of the Rad & Tat bike shop in Innsbruck, after riding my touring bike Bubba Too around the block.
“Sometimes it’s good to color outside the lines,” said my cousin Kevin about the Portuguese police reprimanding me for cycling on the highway.
“This is nicht for me,” deadpanned my two-time Innsbruck host Josef, on watching me go through my elaborate morning ritual of packing my bike: four panniers, a camera bag, a handlebar bag, two water bottles, and a tent.
“Wo ist das? (Where is that?)” asked an elderly Italian potato farmer about Istanbul, speaking in German. He spotted me coming down a ridge, and stared and stared. I am quite used by now to people staring in disbelief at the sight of a guy on an overstuffed bike in the middle of nowhere, but this gentleman was different. He was profoundly perplexed. He motioned for me to stop. He wanted to talk. He asked me where I am going, and after explaining my ride auf Deutsch, he just looked at me with wonderment. I explained that Istanbul is 3,000 kilometers from where we are. He continued to stand and stare. I was at a loss of words. Fortunately, a car stopped to buy some of his potatoes and I got rolling again.
“Are you scared” I was asked exactly once. I stopped to validate directions with a group of men standing on the sidewalk in Bar, Montenegro. It so happened that one of the men is a Montenegrin-American who speaks with a strong Staten Island accent and drives a car around Bar with Florida license tags. We chatted about the ride, and he asked this question which no one before or since has posed. “No. Should I be?,” I replied. I had start-up anxieties in Portugal at journey’s start, but I never felt scared until Day 71 and those two frightful dog chases.
“Keep the rubber side down and the chamois on the inside,” advised fellow cross-country cyclist Margo. Very good advice for any cyclist. I have been known to forget to keep the chamois on the inside.
“This is your playground,” exclaimed Hong Kong pal Humphrey as we got out a big Collins map of Continental Europe and spread it over my dining room table, just days before I departed for Portugal. Humphrey cycled from London to Hong Kong two years ago.
“It looks like you are having a great time, we need to add some hail, bugs and 30 – 35 mph head wind to make it more challenging,” kidded fellow cross-country cyclist John. I think mother nature took care of that today.
“You’re missing nothing by being out of Hong Kong at the most sucky time of the year,” wrote my friend Nancy. “We’re getting the usual combo of blast furnace heat, biblical torents of rain and mushroom-growing-in-shoe inducing humidity.”
And my favorite:
“Stay at home,” as an antidote for all our travel mishaps, suggested Dr Dora, a Romanian pediatrician whom we consulted when my son had a tummy ache during my first hiatus.
On a day like today I thought hard about Dr Dora’s reasonable advice, about how nice it would be at home, warm and dry and with my family. I had to dig deep to keep going. But then I realize it is moments like this when life really happens. This day illustrates to my son the meaning of commitment. This day renders truth and fullness to my desire to go the distance for the kids of Yaowawit, in the hope that maybe, just maybe, they might have a shot at a better life.
I am about 140 kilometers (less than 100 miles) away from Istanbul, but if this weather system doesn’t pass, the push to the finish line might be the most arduous of the whole journey.
Day 79: Kesan — Tekirdag, Turkey
Distance: 84.85 kilometers
Ascent: 951 meters
Weather: Enough said already. The big question is, what about tomorrow? The forecast is not promising.
Terrain: Big rolling hills
Countdown to Istanbul:
Remaining Days: 2?
Remaining Distance: ~ 140 kilometers. While I could do this distance in one day, several people have suggested to me that I stop at the edge of Istanbul, and set aside a day for the tricky ride into the heart of the city. Depending upon weather, I also may be grounded tomorrow before continuing on to Istanbul.
TransEuropa 2011 Expedition Summary:
Distance: 5,689.87 kilometers
Ascent: 40,400 meters
Countries: 16: Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey
Incidents: 6: flat tires on Days 45, 53 and 56; police reprimand on Day 2; two terrorizing right-on-my-heels dog chases on Day 71