Sept 16: Kars to Bush Camp, 108 km, 1,130 m up, 1,670 m down
We climbed steadily for 43 km (to 2,322 metres) through farmland on quiet country roads. The landscape was wide open and gently sloped, a pallet of fall colours with an array of sheep, cattle and grain farms dotted with clusters of bee hives. The one stunningly blue lake that we saw seemed to pop out of the warm gold of the harvested fields.
We delighted in the speedy 15 km downhill ride to lunch, and then a gentler 48 km descent to camp. The terrain changed rapidly; we passed through a cool, dark green alpine forest of tall pine with logging operations ( it might be the first we’ve seen since Kazakhstan!), into lush, smaller fruit farms on the hilly mountainsides and finished in a dryer canyon of picturesque rock formations, where we camped in a field. A great day for most. Unfortunately, one of our clan of 11 full tour riders had to leave the tour unexpectedly today due to health issues, and he will be sorely missed!
Leaving Kars on rolling terrain and quiet roads
Pastoral scene, man mucking out his wagon in the river while his horse patiently waits.
Bee hives everywhere!
Healthy looking herd of grazing sheep
Lake on the ascent: SO BLUE!
The first forest and logging we e seen in a long time, maybe since Russia!
Descending from climb through rich farmland
and through a rocky canyon
to this beautiful varied landscape.
Sept 18th – Bush camp to Yusufeli 104 km 550 up, 1,160 down.
Today was a non-taxing, fun ride through gently undulating, pastoral farmland and then rugged mountain scenery. We cycled for about 25 km along a high reservoir (formed by three enormous dams) in rocky peaks of gorgeous colours reflected in the water. The descent to camp followed a twisting river gorge with numerous colossal open pit mines on a scale I’ve never seen before. We came to a rest in the charming, busy little town of Yusufeli. It is a whitewater paddling and rafting center at the confluence of the marble green Barhal and Ipsir Rivers, where they join to form the Çoruh River. We are at a quirky hotel on the riverbank, where we will perch for our rest day tomorrow!
The 10th century Georgian church of St Mary with its tower and beautifully tiled Dome was 5 km off our path (and a 1000’ climb). Between the 9th and 14th centuries, a large part of the northeast corner of Turkey formed part of the Kingdom of Georgia.
Photo by Virginia, who energetically cycled up to see it in the oppressive heat.
September 19 – Rest Day in Yusufeli
Mountainside town of Yusufeli, soon to be flooded by the downstream dam being constructed.
Park with Statues of Turkish heroes; Ataturk in the middle. He was a revolutionary in the early 1900’s, the first president of the new secular Republic of Turkey in 1923 and introduced an effective programme of revolutionary social and political reform to modernize Turkey.
View from our perch at lunch in Yusufeli.
Praying mantis on the hotel walkway: an agile carnivore with 3-D vision.
Sept 20 – Yusufeli to Coruh River Camp 111 km
Leaving Yusufeli following the river downstream.
The dam being constructed 12 km downstream from Yusufeli. Note Mark cycling in his green jacket bottom right below hydroelectric setup to get a sense of the scale.
Farming community a bit further downstream.
Farmer tending her cows.
One of several castle remnants we saw along the road…obviously a desirable place to live and a strategic location along the river/ trade route.
Approaching a dam already established on the Coruh River in the distance. It’s apparently taboo to take photos of government structures (even here in Turkey), so such photos were hastily taken.
The climb up to the dam. You can see on the right the pale grey of the highway that we followed, snaking its way up and catching the sun.
Closer view of the dam. Man has really carved up the landscape.
Closer view of the same dam.
Rose hips gracing the riverbank at our lunch stop.
The Coruh River above the dam.
A funky house: buildings look more westernized every day.
Flies on a cyclist’s leg before the application of DEET, just to give you an idea of the number we were dealing with.
Sept 21 – Coruh River Camp to Soccer Field Camp 111 km
Curves, hills, sunshine, not too hot, great road surface and virtually no traffic! Who could ask for more?
and a great riding partner, Mark, of course!
Serene countryside and green, something my psyche has been missing in the spectacular but dry and often barren steppes we spent so much time in.
Internal dialogue “There is probably room to sneak by, but probably prudent to wait given the way people drive around here!”
Sweeping up the dried ? chaff.
Neighbours working on a garden project. They tried to get me to stop to eat something, but I’d just had lunch. 🙃
Harvesting time in these peaceful villages.
Lots of new construction appearing as we go west
Hay stacks sporting colourful rain garb.
Black area in upper right looks like a grow op!
Just escaped the storm behind us😀
I’m reading a greeting and farewell poem (to the cyclist who had to leave on medical grounds) while being videoed.
Sept 22 – Soccer Camp to Sebinkarahisar 123 km
These large buildings are apparently not what one would assume them to be (apartment buildings), but are multigenerational family dwellings.
Staff trying to stay fit at the lunch spot, waiting for the riders to arrive. They watch us head out everyday for hours of exercise and then eat copious amounts of food, while they take care of our needs all day!
The town of Sebinkarahisar below the castle which dates from Roman times (1st century BC).
Fresh nuts for sale on every street corner.
Public drinking fountain in the town square.
Sleeping dog typical of the many we encounter daily on the roadside, few of whom are aggressive. They all seem to be large, perhaps to survive a mongrel life in a harsh climate.
Path up to the castle.
Still climbing! I wouldn’t want to be doing this in attack mode in full armour on a hot day!
View of the road in the valley from which we came here.
Still going up but getting there!
The castle at the top! Amazingly intact.
The innermost tower within the keep.
The keep from the inside.
Village elders having a chin waggle.
Village men gathered in the evening.
Sept 23 – Sebinkarahisar to River Camp 143 km
Resting by the road.
Fish farm amidst such a colourful palate.
Silky new pavement, smooth as a baby’s bum, in a landscape of velvet.
More fish farming.
Yet another damn dam.
Honey for sale, so much honey, and it tastes so good!
My little donkey taking a break.
Road building in Turkey. I don’t know if you can see it but these excavators are working on a narrow ledge building a very steep road, typical in this area. You wonder how many people have lost their lives making roads and carving up this extreme terrain.
Typical highway. Beats the roads in BC hands down.
Yahoo! Istanbul is on the radar screen😛
Expensive infrastructure: there are miles and miles of reinforced walls like this or made of stone masonry lining the roadways, as the mountainsides are so steep.
Sunset in camp.
Sept 24 – River Camp to Amasya 120 km
Placid lake (formed by dam) in morning light.
Brick and cement factories abound in this region.
Roadside fruit stands also sell steaming chai.
Fisherman statue on bridge in the gorgeous historical city of Amasya.
View of Amasya from the Harsena Castle above.
Harsena Castle built 2300 years ago.
Sept 25 – Rest Day in Amasya
Amasya cobbled street.
Amasya with its European flavour.
Pottery in the works.
Bath house. ( ha am) built in 1495 AD.
Pottery jug and plates.
More pottery ( tiles)!
Sept 26 – Amasya to Osmancik 110 km
Selfie of me and the lovely merchant who took me by the hand to find beer 4 blocks away from her shop.
Sept 27 – Osmancik to Bush Camp 130 km
Introducing the Europeans to roasting marshmallows, a North American institution.
Morning chaos in camp on a cold day that looks like rain.
Lonely toadstool near my tent.
Sept 28 Bush Camp to Safranbolu 125 km
Arriving in Safranbolu (a world heritage city) for our rest day! Looks a lot like Italy, but less hand gesturing during conversations.
Our quaint and romantic room in the very old, refurbished Karelian Konac Inn.
Alluring aromas arise from small cafes that pepper the streets and alleys.
September 29 – Rest Day Safranbolu
The dolmades draped in garlic and yogurt that we had for an appetizer.
A photo insisted upon by this family after an evening meal at their restaurant
September 30 ride no. 113 Safranbolu to Boar camp: 139 km. 1700 m up. 1700 m down.
It was a pleasant, easy morning, twisting our way downhill along the valley floor amidst steep forested mountains. I had fun bellowing out some opera as I whizzed through the 13 tunnels, which are amazing echo chambers.
After lunch the road meandered, mostly upwards, through seemingly peaceful villages with both churches and mosques, a tribute to Ataturk’s secular policy. The housing is distinctly more dilapidated in this region than that which we’ve seen previously, with poorer waste management and copious amounts of roadside litter. Camp was a quiet but lumpy farmer’s field, adjacent to his hazelnut orchard.
Throughout Turkey, long stretches of highway are lined by tall retaining walls made of beautiful stone masonry. I could use some of this expertise at the lake!
Village with Eastern Orthodox Church nestled in the mountains.
Such lush forests are a treat to the eyes and soul.
Village homes along a river.
Typical small Christian graveyard.
The evening gravy train.
Our great chefs, Benedict(left) and Mitchell
October 1 (ride #114, 3 more to go, but no one is counting, of course!) Boar Camp to Kayacik restaurant camp: 122km. 1200 up, 1450 down.
We had several hours of light drizzle in the morning. In the previous 147 days, we had only been subjected to a couple of ten minute showers during the day, and a few downpours while dry in our tents at night. Previous Silk Route tour riders had not been nearly so lucky.
Our first glimpse of the Black Sea.
Riding in the rain along the shores of the Black Sea.
By noon we caught our first sight of the Black Sea, an active fishing and resort area with few tourists at this time of year. Fortunately that night, we had the option of sleeping in a large covered space above a non-functioning restaurant, and got away from the pelting rain, lightning, thunder and wind. It was great to sleep in this refuge and pack up dry gear in the morning!
Seaside venues for, waiting for spring.
Mitch and our local Turkish support person Samil
Many innocent pups like these
Grow into big dogs like these, sometimes, but not often, very menacing. My shrill whistle and a squirt of water in the face was usually enough to deter them.
Threatening sky this evening.
Field at harvest time under a turbulent, electrified sky
October 2 – #115, Kayacik restaurant camp to Sile: 98 km 1600 m up, 1600 m down.
Clear skies greeted us this morning! I decided to take a 50 km detour after lunch to stay on small back roads and avoid the main road. I savoured my last peaceful afternoon on tour, before riding into our final destination tomorrow, the megalopolis of Istanbul! I discovered precisely why the TDA route follows the highway: it was unbelievably steep on the small roads I chose, climbing out of and plummeting into one deep ravine after another. I enjoyed pausing to look at the cornucopia of magnificent autumn scenes with the Black Sea as a backdrop in the distance, and stopping to chat with a few locals. Men were out chopping wood for winter and others gathering corn and the last fruit of the fall. Many houses are made of unfinished wood here in in western Turkey where forests (and logging) are abundant. It is a striking change after the relative paucity of trees and wooden structures between Beijing and the Turkish border. Some of the villages here remind me of our Russian Dukubour communities in BC. where their wood siding is left to age naturally.
I eventually wended my way back to the main road where I bumped into Alistair and Jasper having a cold drink at an outdoor cafe (scattered with foraging chickens, geese, cats and dogs). I somehow managed to get myself stuck in the restroom there until eventually they managed to slip a pair of pliers under the door and I could pry the lock open! Excitement I could live without!
Camp near the Black Sea that night was joyful and lively, with delicious appetizers, a wonderful meal and anticipatory celebration embellished by lots of beer. Yahoo, one more ride and we will have accomplished our goal!
Elaina delighting in Turk with hooka statue.
Men chopping wood for winter.
Jasper (from Holland) relaxing.
Yay! I’ve escaped the toilet!
Typical wood siding on a traditional house.
Jim (from Utah) at rest after a day of steep climbing.
Oct 3 Ride #116, LAST ONE! Sile to Istanbul: 90 km, 1040 m up 1040 m down. The End!
Many of us rode much of this tour alone, especially on the most challenging days. It is simply more efficient and less tiring over longer distances and big elevation changes to ride at your own pace. But today, many of us rode together, laughing, joking, reminiscing and just enjoying each other’s company. Three of the fourteen full tour riders had had to drop out of the tour earlier on due to illness, leaving 11 of us to complete the whole journey. We were also accompanied by several riders who had joined us for the final section(s). Tonight we would be saying goodbye and heading off tomorrow to our own corners of the world. Although our eccentric group was somewhat disparate, to say the least, lasting friendships were forged during these five months of sharing the multitude of extraordinary experiences.
When we at last reached the outskirts of Istanbul on the Bosphorus, the whole group convened with much hugging, jumping and shrieking with joy. We had done it!
We had fresh grilled fish sandwiches for lunch at the seaside, a real treat after our long inland journey. After a brief photo session, we rode the last 30 km through the city as a convoy to our hotel. Twenty million people now live in this colourful metropolis straddling Asia and Europe, once capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. It is home to the Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern, Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, Sultan Ahmed Mosque, the Grand Bazaar…. to name but a few of the sites of historical importance here. It has been of great geopolitical and economic importance throughout history, and had significant influence on the development of the Christian and Muslim worlds. It was hard to focus on staying safe in the busy traffic of this 3,000 year old city, it was so full of famous landmarks and stunning scenery. Istanbul provided a fitting end for our Silk Route tour with its pivotal role in the exchange of people, ideas and goods between Asia and Europe. In the evening, we took a boat to the Princess Tower to dine and celebrate ! THE END.
I have been much enlightened by my travels and am grateful to have had the physical, mental and economic means to ride and experience the Silk Route. I extend a huge “Thanks” to TDA for ushering us safely from Beijing to Istanbul and providing this opportunity.
Thanks to you for following my trip. I hope it has given you some insight into the experience, despite my erratic blog entries.
I plan to continue to support KEEF in its efforts to educate bright children in Kenya. To this end, I will be presenting slide shows of my Silk Route journey and will post dates and times on this blog and elsewhere. Unfortunately, while travelling I was unable to download the photos from my better camera, and only had those from my iPhone to post on the blog. So, the slide show promises to have better photography as I can now download the greater selection and quality of photos from my camera.
After the Silk Route tour ended, I spent four days seeing some of Istanbul and ten days touring the Aegean / western Turkey with Alistair and Martine, a friend from France, by car.
I’ll post some photos with captions of Istanbul, Gallipoli, Troy, Ephesus, Kuşadası and Pamukkale for anyone interested. Turkey is a safe, friendly and fascinating place that is easy to get around and well worth visiting!
Our “white board” on the last day.
Modern university along the highway.
Mark and Kylie climbing one of the last hills.
Last glimpse of the Black Sea as we head to the Bosporus!
Wood stacked for winter, not something many Asian countries produce on the Steppes.
Reentering civilization, with large man made structures such as this overpass on the freeway. First wave of culture shock.
Cyclists enjoying the group ride on our last day. Better late than never.
Parting shot of a few farm dogs…none of us will miss them!
Hello Bosporus! Can we really be here?!
Kylie, Kees, Mark and Jasper
Kylie, Mark, me and Jasper.
The four ladies who rode start to finish: Virginia(Canada), Kylie (Australia) Els(Holland) and me on her lap.
Enjoying a lunch of grilled mackerel and calamari, fresh from the sea!
14 Our red TDA “lunch truck” , soon headed for the West Africa Tour which begins next week.
Group: a rare opportunity, like seeing a herd of cats together.
Me and my two buddies, Mark from Michigan and my partner Alistair from Canada who joined us in Samarkand.
Ed from Washington state.
Kylie looks happy.
Mark, you did it! Happy to be heading home!
Istanbul harbour sunset.
Mark, Nelson and Kylie celebrating at dinner on Princes Island.
Els and Kees, two happy Dutchies!
Martine and Alistair
View of Istanbul from bridge
Sample of Istanbul traffic.
Vendor peddling hot, roasted chestnuts. Amazingly tasty!
Another vendor with roasted corn, also delicious!