ECW part 1 Archived Blogs

This is where you will find the blogs from the first part of the ECW that I rode May 2014. In chronological order and not as in the blog.

 

Decision day was today … Friday  23 May

I’ve been planning the ECW trip since the middle of last year and I’ve had the time blocked out of my travel schedule since before Christmas. However, I’ve already done quite a bit if business travel this year (Ireland, Morocco, Turkey, Chile, Jordan, Vietnam and Thailand.) I arrived home on Tuesday evening and the thought of setting off again on Saturday (24 May) wasn’t too appealing. And I’ve felt completely knackered since if got home. My work commitments are piling up too. More importantly, one of my daughters was quite ill whilst I was in the Far East. So, I’ve been thinking about postponing it. Quite a lot. And then some more.

Decision made now. Flights booked from Manchester to Istanbul a day later now – Sunday 25 May – so I’ve no excuses for not being ready. I’ve booked a hotel near the Yenikapı ferry terminal for my first night and another in İznik for my second night. I then aim to spend two nights in İnegöl and one in Çukurca and I’ll then head for Kütahya for a couple of nights. There’s no hotel in Çukurca so I’ll aim to follow Candace’s advice and do a home stay or in a room of the Mosque. Candace walked the full ECW over 30 days and you can read more about her fascinating trip here: http://www.candaceroserardon.com . Worra a lass, eh?

 

Transfer Day Sunday 25 May 2014

Yesterday I got all my gear ready and boxed the bike up and today I got someone to run me to the airport (yes, lazy bast*ard I know). Check in was straight forward but you can’t pre-pay and must to do it at the airport. The weight limit for sports gear with Turkish Airlines is 32 kg and I do hope their scales are as inaccurate as their arrival times as 24.3 kg was a bit of a shock, even with the packaging.

The weigh in at Manchester

The weigh in at Manchester

That’s 53.5 of those imperial pounds. Am I riding that sucker off road and up all those hills? Am I mad? My mountain bike and heavier road bike weigh more than that combined! The conveying machine (for abnormal loads) that I loaded it onto looked suspiciously like one of the refuse crushing machines at our local amenity centre but the very highly decorated operator (not with war medals but smudged tattoos) assured it would arrive safely at the other end. Anyway, that statement may mark me out as being “tattooist” but I don’t give a pair of flying swallows …

Security was obviously not going to be a problem as all my tools were packed with my bike … except a couple of very small Allen keys … that I slipped in to my hand luggage … at the last minute … Seemed a good idea. A good thing they were freebies and not my expensive hi-chrome ball-ended ones. Now that would have been painful watching them being tossed into a bin.

On the flight I prepared a route card for each day which shows the villages and places I will pass through and a tulip diagram. Similar to what are used by rally co-drivers. These aren’t comprehensive turn by turn direction but give me the main locations which may make things a bit simpler and require less use if the GPS.

Atatürk airport was like bedlam for some reason and my bike was out before I was. Finding a taxi that would swallow my bike box was interesting but one was soon whistled up and around two hours after landing I was checked into the Grand Sağcanlar Hotel. Grand it isn’t and I guess it never was but it is very close to the Yenikapı ferry terminal and that’s what matters. I didn’t really fancy tackling any more of Istanbul’s infamous traffic than necessary. It’s in quite a rough area but I knew that as I stayed here once before on my way to a project site near Bandırma. Anyway, the guys were really helpful and let me build my bike up in the basement and supplied tea and water. Forty minutes later it was all done and stored in a room behind reception. No locks required they said! Now I’m sat outside Kebab Land (yes really!) sated on aubergines and salad. The mosquitos seem quite active though. Maybe shorts weren’t a good idea tonight.

More later …
… and here it is …

I was expecting today to be difficult and it was but for different reasons to those I expected. The resolution of the satellite images between İznik and Yenişehir is very poor and the track and even roads are too blurred to make out that’s on both Google Maps and ESRI. The tracks of the ECW are not shown on the World Top maps. So I was expecting navigation to be tricky but it was actually fairly straight forward. I’d often arrive at a junction in the track and be unsure which one to take but the contours on the Topo map usually gave me the best clue. I did take a few minor wrong turns but I’ve got into the habit of checking my position about 50 metres after a junction (especially if descending!).

What was hard and really beat me up for the rest of the day was the off road climb from Dırazali to Mecidiye. On a good day it would have been just about rideable but due to the weight of the bike and kit, and my lack of energy I was forced to push it most of the way. And it was very hot. And I sweat buckets. Near the top it levelled out a bit and there was a good mile or more of very enjoyable technical single track. Then there was another short push up and I was at the top. Only around 600 metres above sea level but it had felt like 6000. It was a bit cooler too and there was some amazing views. I surprised another dog too but this one was a male fox and it looked quite terrified. On the subject again I’ve learnt that sheep means shepherd means sheep dog means shepherd will control sheep dogs so now I approach with caution, speak to the shepherd and everything’s been ok. All the domestic dogs have been quite passive and I’ve ridden by or stopped near to them and sometimes not noticed them immediately. The stray

 

Day 1 Yalova Hersek İznik

Well this was supposed to be one if the easier days. I rolled off the Ferry in Yolova just before 10am and didn’t pull up to my hotel till nearly 7pm. Yowch! My speedo says 54.74miles, 9.0mph, 6 hours 1 minute and 8 seconds riding time. My legs say sit down. My backside says, not on this. The absolute cretin that’s leading this trip set the GAIA App to record the route of the track as he left Yalova but in one if his “battery saving moments” managed to deselect “Location Services” for GAIA (so guess what, nothing was recorded). He then crowned his glory by failing to check it at the official start in Hersek. So there’s no route record until this incompetence was detected which was at the lunch stop at Bağdat restorant.

It was an easy ride from Yalova to Altınova though there was little choice but to take the main road. I used some of the adjacent service roads and most of the way there was a hard shoulder so I didn’t feel too vulnerable. I almost didn’t turn up to Hersek for the official start of the ride though I’m glad I did and had a nice chat with the owner of the cafe. There was some construction traffic on the Altınova Hersek road and a large road workers campsite has sprung at the north of Hersek for a new motorway that’s being built.

I think I must have left Hersek at about 11:30. Once you leave Altınova you are on a beautiful gentle tarmac climb up the valley. At Soğuksu and Çobankale my off-road forays were not very successful due mainly to large undergrowth that made progress slow and then impossible. I had to back track in three places. Also the steep rocky path to the fort at Çobankale was just too difficult with a heavy bike and I dropped down the hill and followed the river on farm tracks. I got directed by three guys to go up the river but the track petered out at the base of a 6 metre high natural wall . I could see I was only a few hundred meters from the road so I waded upstream for about 30 metres. That cool water felt sooo nice! I had a hell of a job finding the road, the path was unrideable and I mistakenly thought I needed to cross the river but once I’d looked at the route properly the road it didn’t take any finding.

I was soon at Bağdat restaurant and enjoying my lunch. The road climb got steeper after here and I decided to miss the off-road sections up to Bayındır as they didn’t seem to offer much variety of scenery and ran roughly parallel to the tarmac road. Also, the roads were very quiet.

Valideköprü Brıdge (later, internet as slow as my cycling …)

Just after Bayındır I found the fork to Mahmudiye and it was decision time again. I could take the tarmac road and be in İznik in a couple if hours or go cross country which would take another hour (or two as it turned out).
Glad I didn’t take the easy option. This section was my favourite part of the day. Beautiful peaceful country side. Welcoming farm workers. Even some semi-technical descents. Glad I came with a mountain bike and proper tyres too.

I had a couple if incidents though. Dogs are a problem in many parts of the world when cycling. I read a horror story of a riding couple being attacked by wild dogs in Eastern Anatolia but thought I’d be ok on this route. I stopped for a drink under the shade of a tree and there was a small flock of sheep about 30 metres away. Then two big dogs ran out from behind them towards me and started barking. Then four more joined them. I thought I was in big trouble. I’d already started screaming at them which slowed them down but they got to within about 10 metres of me. I started throwing rocks at them and this made them stop and a couple turned back. Then the shepherd arrived and sent them back to the sheep. He walked towards me and I said (in Turkish) that I didn’t like his bad dogs. He looked a little sheepish (well he was a shepherd … ) and I couldn’t decide whether he was embarrassed about what had happened or if he thought I was some sort of deranged lunatic. Well, maybe I did over react a little … Further on I met more sheep, shepherds and dogs, and they all left me alone. Obviously they’d phoned ahead to warn them there was a madman on the loose.

The other incident was of a navigational type. Before getting into the detail, I must say that I’m glad I brought a GPS. There is no way I would attempt to do the off-road sections without one. Give me a decent map and compass and I’ll manage. But as there are not even half-decent maps you’d so easily get lost.

I was really enjoying one of the semi technical descents before Orhaniye and as it was clearly the main track didn’t check my location for some time. The track eventually petered out at the top on an Olive Tree orchard. A quick look revealed I needed to back track. When I got back to the route the route took me down a steep overgrown track that eventually disintegrated completely. I had to hack my way through thick scrub and rocky terrain and eventually came across a proper track. This took about 20 minutes. It may be that had I back tracked a bit further there could have been another more defined track. I’m not going back to find out though … The GPS route I uploaded includes lots of approximations and so there is some element of route finding required.

I’d like to write some more …. but I do need some sleep. And how …

 

 Day 2 İnik to İnegöl

Phew! That’s better. Eights hours solid kip that was very badly needed. Last night I stayed at the Cem Hotel in İznik. Cem is pronounced as gem and it really is a little gem. Could find a translation for Cem so I suspect it is a Turkish spelling of gem. (Post note: actually Cem is the name of the guy who runs the hotel and he told me it means düzenli (organsied, regular, steady). I had a brief ride around parts of the city walls and a mosque but I was too whacked last night for sight seeing. I ate well at the hotel and had grilled fish from the İznik lake with all the usual Turkish accompaniments. They served the best home made acılı ezme (spicey tomato paste) I’ve ever had. Quite bike friendly too and though they could not do my laundry they weren’t fussy about me walking into the room with filthy legs, wearing my very muddy shoes and socks. My bike was kept inside and the owner said there was no need to lock it up. He always leaves the keys on his car overnight!

More later …
… and here it is …

I was expecting today to be difficult and it was but for different reasons to those I expected. The resolution of the satellite images between İznik and Yenişehir is very poor and the track and even roads are too blurred to make out that’s on both Google Maps and ESRI. The tracks of the ECW are not shown on the World Top maps. So I was expecting navigation to be tricky but it was actually fairly straight forward. I’d often arrive at a junction in the track and be unsure which one to take but the contours on the Topo map usually gave me the best clue. I did take a few minor wrong turns but I’ve got into the habit of checking my position about 50 metres after a junction (especially if descending!).

What was hard and really beat me up for the rest of the day was the off road climb from Dırazali to Mecidiye. On a good day it would have been just about rideable but due to the weight of the bike and kit, and my lack of energy I was forced to push it most of the way. And it was very hot. And I sweat buckets. Near the top it levelled out a bit and there was a good mile or more of very enjoyable technical single track. Then there was another short push up and I was at the top. Only around 600 metres above sea level but it had felt like 6000. It was a bit cooler too and there was some amazing views. I surprised another dog too but this one was a male fox and it looked quite terrified. On the subject again I’ve learnt that sheep means shepherd means sheep dog means shepherd will control sheep dogs so now I approach with caution, speak to the shepherd and everything’s been ok. All the domestic dogs have been quite passive and I’ve ridden by or stopped near to them and sometimes not noticed them immediately. The stray dogs I’ve met have been quite docile to.

I got refreshed and resupplied with the spring water in Mecideye and then set off for Çelebi. Without doubt the best part of the day as it was nearly all down hill on broken or smoother tracks across well tended hillside farm land.

I had a brief stop in Yenişehir whist I debated with myself whether to ride the road section direct to İnegöl or use the off road section via Sungurpaşa. By now it was around 30’C as I was back at lower altitude. I spoke to a guy and he said the weather now is more typical of August. I wasn’t banking on that when I arranged it!

Anyway, I set off in the farm roads criss-crossing the fields and fields of crops. The climb up to Sungurpaşa just about finished me off. I asked a few people if there was a pansiyon even though I was sure there wasn’t and so I had to set off on the tarmac road for İnegöl. I’ve more to say but no more saying power and the rest will have to wait apart from the data.

I left İznik at around 9.45am and found a hotel around 6.30pm. My speedo says 47.56 miles 7.8 mph and 6:04:15. I say …. Goodnight.

 

 Day 3 İngöl and environs

I know these posts are littered with typos and spelling mistakes but I’m writing on my phone, often with bleary eyes and a fried brain so I guess it’s to be expected.

Yesterday afternoon I had a few minor cramp episodes which I walked off and I knew these were a precursor to full blow attacks during the night. So despite taking a “crampex” tablet the early part of my night was disturbed by a couple of violent attacks. Not so bad that sudden and uncontrolled screaming ensued. This was no doubt due in part to dehydration as despite drinking as much as I can, I know I couldn’t keep up with my sweat production. Anyway, after that I slept quite well considering the noisy city centre location of the Kaplan Hotel.

It’s quite a basic 2 star hotel but the staff are great and bike friendly. The receptionist is a biker and my bike’s been left on the first floor reception. Again no locks needed (I really do hope).

I did today’s ride in reverse of the official route as I wanted to recce the start of tomorrow’s ride in which I know I’m going to get a complete beasting. (There’s about 2000 m of ascent). Also I wanted to try to get back to Sungurpaşa where I cut short the route yesterday as it was quite late. My main objective though was to have a more relaxed schedule and however far I’d got, to head back for İnegöl and be at my hotel for a more sensible time – say 5pm. This plan worked quite well though once I got to the main road I had to head for the hotel and so missed Şehitler and Çavuşköy. This rankles a bit with the “completer-finisher” in me but I certainly put the miles and climbs in today to compensate for that.

The tracks today were undulating with a few decent climbs though less ascent than the previous day which was well over 1000 metres. I’m a bit brassed off that the attempt to record each days track has failed. The App turned itself of yesterday somehow and again today. I can’t work out why as it has a keypad lock on but maybe the GPS chip can’t cope with vibrations or temperature. The GAIA App on the other phone that I’m using for route finding has worked reliably though.

However, I stopped to check my route today and I was sure the GPS was playing up due to the buildings I was amongst. So I checked a few meters down the road to confirm I really had made the biggest navigation error yet. No matter, I had a great chat with the old boys in the little cafe in Dipsizgöl who were surprised to find a man dressed up as a cyclist with a bike up there …

After the tea and the blood sugar injection that gave me, I felt energised and made that the order of the day. Stopping at numerous cafés to the interest and amusement of all.

I’m sure my low energy levels over the last few days have been in part to low(ish) blood sugar. I was recently diagnosed with reactive hypoglycaemia, as sometimes (due to out of sync insulin response) my blood sugar can crash to levels that make me stop whatever I’m doing. It’s like marathon runners “hitting the wall” but I might be just in the office or doing something else unstrenuous. It takes about 20 minutes to get them back in balance with a sweet drink or food. This hasn’t happened on this trip but I suspect I’ve not been topping up my energy intake enough. And I really should know better.

The route today was mainly through farmland where pear, cherry and apple trees were being grown. I was given some cherries by a farmer and after I’d washed them (as he advised, I guess due to pesticides) they were soon demolished and tasted so good. Apparently it’s been a good year so far for the crops with plenty of rain and I guess certain sunshine. There is a lot of irrigation works though, some quite ancient but a lot of modern pipework.

The women seem to spend all day performing hard physical graft in the fields, garbed in headscarfs and şalvar (baggy trousers). The men are driving tractors, operating the water supply systems and on their phones. Just like many parts of East Yorkshire then …

I’ve seen three snakes so far, all on the road. One road kill, one looked-like-it-had-been-hit-with-a-stick kill and one I nearly ran over. I pumped my tyres up really hard to avoid “snake bite” type punctures but I wasn’t thinking of that type. They were all about a meter long and looked like our grass snakes but I didn’t research this topic before trip. My experience with snakes is this: when they hear your footsteps it’s obvious to them you are too big to eat and so they scarper. Maybe not applicable in South America though …

Today’s numbers. Left hotel just after 9.00 am and arrived back a few minutes after 5 pm.
Speedo: 38.79 miles, 8.2 mph average and 4 hours 44 minutes in the saddle. That means over three hours of eating, drinking, sight seeing, taking photos, chatting to strangers and general idleness. Most enjoyable!

 

 Day 4 Inegöl to Çukurcu

Last night’s big internal debate in the Jenkins noggin was the choice of route to the top of the 1500 metre high pass near Kocayayla Geçiti. The road will be hard enough but relative quick. The off-road includes a 1600 m ascent and may mean I have a very late arrival in Çukurca where there’s no proper accommodation and a night outside may be in the agenda. Either that or a detour to Domaniç and the loss of precious ascent that would have to be recovered the next day.

I decided to take the road route up to Kocayayla Geçiti which turned out to be a very good idea. It climbs up through a forest and I rode it all the way though there were very frequent stops for drinks, snacks and rests. It still took me about four hours to do the 20 miles though I had more energy today as I made a better job of keeping my blood sugar topped up.

Apparently, we only have around 5 grams (about a teaspoon full) in the 4.5 litres of blood in our bodies. If it goes up to 6.25 g you are in the diabetic range. If it falls to 4 g you are in the hypoglycaemic range and will feel very week. That’s how finely balanced we are. Knowing that but doing nowt about it on the first two days was a bit dim of me.

I reckon if I’d taken the off road route then I’d have had to do a lot of walking and as it goes even higher the tarmac it would’ve put at least two hours on my day. Maybe more.

The Gözleme Evi (Pancake House) near the top of the pass was disappointingly closed temporarily but there was a guy nearby selling tea and sucuk ekmek (spicy garlic sausage sandwiches) so that was lunch. I had tea and chatted to the forest workers and trout fishermen for a while. It was very tempting to take the main road down to Domaniç, where I could be in under an hour. But it was too early for that and I really wanted to take the off road section to Çukurca. This involved a bit more climbing then descending on very roughly cobbled forest tracks followed by mixtures of earthen, sandy and hard packed trails. I was certainly glad of my tyres choice. Some of these tracks were very steep, quite technical and progress was relative easy though surprisingly slow. It was not the place for an accident as I never saw a soul between Safa and Çukurca.

The flies were a bit of a nuisance on the road climb but on the decent through the forest they were a nightmare as I couldn’t get enough speed up the out run them. Every time I stopped I was under a cloud of them and then I’d feel the bite of a horsefly on my legs. I really should have brought some insect repellent.

I made a couple of minor wrong turns due to lack of attention though nothing serious. Navigation is really quite easy with a GPS and a way marked route, even if some of the markers are approximations.

I arrived in Çukurca around 4pm and I’d already made my decision to head for a hotel and shower in Domaniç, another 10 km away. I knew I’d lose a bit of altitude in doing this but 200 metres is a lot to regain when you’ve got over 1200 metres on top of this the following day.

There’s only one hotel in the town and it has 12 rooms so if you are thinking of coming you’d better take Sir Fred’s advice and “book early!”

The numbers are:
Left İngöl just after 8:30am arrived in Domaniç about 4:45pm. Wow, earliest yet!
38.54 miles, 6.9mph and 5 hours 35 minutes.
More importantly, I must have climbed about 1500 m today and tomorrow look like a similar punishment.

BTW, is anyone still reading this rubbish?

 

Day 5 Çukurca to Şenlik

I woke early to the sound of rain and a view of black portentous clouds covering my intended direction. That wasn’t in the ride plan.

As it rained, I got stocked up on food and procrastinated over my start by having tea with a group of geologists that were staying at my hotel. They were investigating sites for a copper mine in the area.

The previous evening, the hotel receptionist told me that after I’d checked in, a German cyclist had arrived. I said I’d like to meet him but he didn’t show up at the only lokanta that was open for supper, and neither for breakfast as he was reportedly “resting”. This was a pity as I wanted to know where his routes were. His reclusiveness amused me and I did think that maybe I wasn’t the only one that was getting a good kicking from all the hard cycling to be found around here.

I retraced my route up to Çukurca where I left the officially ECW though I did make a slight detour to visit the fallen and preserved remains of the Cradle Pine from which Osman’ s cradle was allegedly suspended. Now, there are a quite few Osmans in Turkey but this one was the one whose name and dynasty brought about the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman is the Arabic version of Osman which we use. There’s not many people know that you know …

The morning held brilliant cycling conditions as it was cloudy with a slight breeze and I guess the temperature was around 20 ‘C. Most of the days riding was at 900 to 1200 metres above sea level and the weather totally different to the previous days. Though unfortunately this climatic comfort wasn’t to last. Also, the clouds seemed to upset my internal compass and I made numerous navigational errors. I started to have to use the compass (on my phone) for the first time due to the clouds. Some of the tracks to Seydikuzu and Fındıcak petered out in places, some of the turn offs were very easily missed and there was a fair amount of bush whacking and backtracking required. Also it was all off road, some sections were very steep and loose, and I was forced to resort to pushing uphill in many places. On some steep pushing climbs, I noticed that my speedo actually read zero (!) vthough fortunately the odometer was recording the distance. Having said all that, the route took me through some outstandingly beautiful and remote places. The mountain biking was great fun too.

So with all this, I didn’t get to Fındıcak until about 3 pm and this was only at about the third of my planned distance. Woops! Whilst I stopped at the water fountain and refilled I had a chat with an elderly resident who walked up and introduced himself to me in convincing German. (This I found a frequent interaction on this trip and this will no doubt be to the amusement of a certain Mr Smith. However, these welcomes were not for the Teutonic tendencies he accuses me (it’s not stamped on my forehead!). and I think more to do with them showing off their language skills in the hope that this Northern European might be German.)

As we spoke, the sky was black and a storm was about to unleash. He was familiar with the routes and seemed to think it would be easier and faster to take the araba yolu (car road). It was a long detour but my Topo Map showed it as tarmac. I opted for it for some reason, though very little of it was tarmac and even that was badly broken up in places. When I left the village a massive thunder and rain storm erupted and as it wasn’t too cool I elected to press on. The track was made up of loose grit and I was soon caked in wet muck. Then the hailstones came, stinging my face and even ringing my bike bell. When I reached the section of tarmac it stopped raining and I felt a bit more comfortable. Half and hour later a second storm broke and this time I was losing a lot if altitude and I started to feel quite cool but didn’t feel like stopping to put on the very lightweight jacket I’d brought. I had to slow my descents to prevent the wind chill. The route went up and down, and up and down. It was through simply stunning Alpine type scenery which I tried to enjoy but by now I was starting to flag. I’d hoped to get to Kütahya but I had in the back of my mind that there was some facilities in Şenlik though I couldn’t recall exactly what. I’d got quite cool by now and my fingers were white and feet quite numb. My core body temperature was fine though.

It was nearing 5pm as I approached Şenlik and I was about spent. I decided that there was no way I could reach Kütahya before nightfall (around 8 pm) and the thought of riding into the city, on the main road, with only emergency lights filled me with some apprehension. As I rode in to the village it started to rain again and another big storm was starting. Riding towards the Mosque I began to look around for abandoned buildings that would be suitable for my shelter. I only had a bivy bag, sleeping liner and bubble-wrap mat and looking at the sky I really needed some proper cover. I wheeled up to the Mosque but there were a few men praying inside and so I didn’t disturb them. I walked up the street to find two two elderly chaps and I asked them where the village headman was. Bilmiyorum (I don’t know) came the reply. I then explained my predicament and Ahmet took me to a set of rooms opposite the Mosque. By now I was started to feel very cold and uncomfortable. Upstairs were a couple of carpeted dormitories with foam cushions. In joy, I nearly cried! In the room he led me into was a stove and whilst I was unpacking my bike and sorting my kit out Ali arrived and lit the stove. I soon dried myself off and put my spare clothes on. Thank goodness I’d used dry sacs! Within half an hour I felt back to normal and then Ahmet returned with a tray full of bread, bulgur wheat and vegetable stew, and a plate of tomatoes and cucumber. Oh and a massive bowl of natural yogurt. The best meal I’d eaten all week, maybe not for quality but certainly for enjoyment. Whilst I ate we had a good natter. I could understand most of what he said though he spoke quickly, in a very excited manner and I kept having to slow him down and on occasion resort to my phrase book. He is a 64 year old retired bee-keeper though he has heart problems as does his wife who also has diabetes. His two sons have left the village to work in the industrial town of Tavşanlı, one as a crane driver and the other in construction (I think he said) . He then left me to drive to that town to collect a window frame for a friend and would not return until the following morning. So I spend the evening guarding the stove against extinguishment, drinking strong tea, route planning and draft blogging. Worra life eh? What a difference an hour or two can make.

This tough day’s data:
Left Domaniç at 9:10am arrived at Şenlik about 5pm.
38.31 miles 6.4mph and 5 hours 57 minutes.
Today, for the first time, I got the entire days ride recorded on GAIA which gave similar data to the above and a surprisingly low 1,000 metres of ascent. It certainly felt a lot more than that.

Day 6 Şenlik to Kütahya

This was my contingency day in case I hadn’t reached Kütahya – which I needed as I hadn’t. There had been more rain over night and though I had Ahmet’s generous offer of driving me to Kütahya (that really would be defeating the object) , I decided to ride the track to the next village then cycle on the back roads the rest of the way to the city. I just had 3 miles on a track to İshakçılar to get me on the tarmac. This included a bit of up and down, and 200 m of accumulated ascent. Easy eh? As I climbed out of the village the track got muddier and muddier. Within about three-quarters of a mile my tyres became so clogged with mud that had built up around my forks that I couldn’t even push my bike. I had to keep reversing it about a foot and then bounce the bike on the ground to clear the mud. There was no alternative lines to take as wherever I went the clayey mud just stuck to my tyres. This went on and on, all the way to the next village. It started to rain a little too. Then I passed the pack of wild dogs that Ahmet hard warned me about but thankfully they were just inquisitive. To make matters worse I’d not eaten any breakfast. Ahmet said he’d be back between 8:30 and 9:00 and would give me something to eat. I waited until 9:30 but decided to leave. I did want him to arrive and catch me scoffing the left over bread from last night or my reserve pastry and nuts. That would look a bit ungrateful.

In the middle of all that on a high section and where I could actually ride for a short spell, I had my first mechanical breakdown. Until then I’d just had to tighten my headset (three bolts on the stem of the handlebars to loosen then retighten, for the uninitiated) and the clamp on my long bottle cage. This was not surprising given the hammering the bike had taken on many of the long, rough descents. Whilst riding I felt a couple of hard clunks through the pedals. Didn’t like the feel of that! I was wondering if there were stones under the sprockets (unlikely, but the mud, grit and stones was that bad). Then I felt a loud clunk and lost all my drive. Didn’t like that at all! For a split second I thought my Alfine hub gear had broken. They are supposed to be very reliable! Then as I looked down I could see my chain was off. Surely it hadn’t broken? No, just dislodged but that shouldn’t happen on an Alfine – if the chain’s tensioned correctly. And that was the problem. It wasn’t. The chain had elongated slightly due to the heavy loads on it and a simple quick retention sorted it out and I was soon away. Phew! A good bike mechanic would have noticed the chain was a little slack when he’d lubed it that morning but there did appear to be one on this trip. That was two slack things …

I eventually arrived in İshakçılar where a couple of sheep farmers walked down to meet me. We had a chat and they were well amused by my predicament. Pushing a bike that was unrideable and barely pushable in a place where they’d never seen a bike before. Mehmet and Husseyn set too and helped me to clean all the mud off my wheels and transmission and I was soon back on tarmac and on my way again. I can’t tell you how good that felt. Riding my bike and making progress. That three miles had taken me one and half hours!

As I descended it got warmer, the sun shone and I stopped for my pastry and some snacks. This was more like it! Whilst I followed the quiet back roads into Kütahya I could see the city was in the middle if a big storm. So I trundled along steadily hoping it would pass. In Kızılcakaya I was checking the route on my phone when a small car stopped near to me. I assumed he wanted to help me but he asked me for directions to the main road. That was a first – and I could tell him as I’d just crossed it! The view ahead cleared and I stopped at a petrol station for bikers fuel of chocolate and cherry juice. The attendant was pig ignorant and gave only gestures or single word responses to my polite requests. He even put my change on the counter rather than pass it too me. This was the first and only time I encountered any rudeness on my whole trip. Anyway, I may have looked like a sack of sh*t but he did come outside to check my ride where I completely blanked him.

Looking to where I’d come from I could see another big storm heading in and I set off with the futile idea of trying to outrun it. Of course, the heavens soon opened on me and there was no shelter for about a mile. At the entrance to an orchard I pulled in to put my jacket on and my mobile in a dry case, which of course I should have done at the petrol station. As I was about to set off, I saw another recreational cyclist heading towards me. His yellow day-glow top was a bit of a give away. Thinking it may be the German I failed to meet in Domaniç or a guy with local knowledge I waited till he caught me and I got a nod of acknowledgement as he passed. I set off after him but (here’s the excuses) he was a fair but younger than me and was unloaded and so I couldn’t catch him! After a mile or so I gave up trying but it was still raining and he pulled into a bus stop to shelter. I stopped and after the usual pleasantries (he was a local) I asked him if he knew of a good mountain bike shop in the city. He did and gave me very brief directions. I set off and after a few minutes there was another downpour that Noah would have been impressed with. I guess it was only about 12 ‘C and I was not feeling very comfortable at all. The rain subsided to normal proportions and I got to the city centre. I only had to ask a couple of people for final directions and I was soon chatting to Nuri at Gönen Bisiklet who agreed to clean my bike up, remove the required parts for transport and box it up. It would be ready the next day. Result! I then walked off to check into a hotel I’d just passed (though walking by the Hilton I was tempted by that). I had a hot shower and was directed to a lokanta across the road where I filled up on lentil soup, chickpeas, bulgar wheat, stuffed peppers and …. fried potatoes. Well, I needed something to put the salt on …

Feeling much more the part I spent the rest of the afternoon checking out the very interesting historical part of the city. There’s a lot of restored and dilapidated Ottoman architecture. These include mansion houses, hamams and of course many mosques. There is a very early 20th Century law court and other public buildings. My find of the day was a haman that has been turned into a restaurant. It looked like a bit of a tourist trap but was very well and tastefully appointed. I ordered lentil soup and a lamb shis kebab. The soup was also served with gozleme (pancakes), açıl ezme (spicy tomato paste) and an aubergine meze. The kebab came with roasted tomatoes, onions and capsicum and another piece of unleavened bread (lahmacum). As tempted as I was, I skipped the wine and went for cherry juice. The lamb was tender, not a bit overcooked and really very tasty. Quite a different flavour to Yorkshire lamb but just as good (and that took some saying …). The waiter invited me down into one of the old bathrooms which have been converted into private dining rooms. All very elegantly appointed. He then produced a red Ottoman robe and large round hat and asked me to put them on. Then he requested my camera and started taking photographs of me. All cringingly embarrassing. All the other guests had left and for a moment I wondered where this was all leading! He then gave me some of the history of the place. He was trying so hard that I couldn’t work out whether he was being friendly, lining me up for a favour or something more sinister. Especially when he asked me if I had a “fadgey-buk”. Hmm, I hadn’t seen that term in any of my phrase books. I got him to write it down for me. The Turkish speakers will have understood where this is going by now. It was Facebook. The letter c in Turkish is pronounced as a soft g (like the g in general). This must be a huge source of amusement for Turks when they hear English speakers trying to pronounce Turkish words. It works the other way too of course. When I once asked a guy on a site I was visiting what was in the yogurt and he said “jujumber”. I knew what he meant but had to hold myself that time. Anyway back to the hamam. It seems he was just being very friendly and when I paid the bill it came to 20.00 lira. Less than I’d paid for lunch in a basic lokanta. Amazing.

Scoreboard:
Left Şenlik around 9.30 am and arrived in Kütahya about 1.30 pm.
26.42 miles 9.5mph and 2 hours 47 minutes.

For the six days that gives a total of 244.36 miles (391.6 km), over 31 hours if riding and an average of 7.8mph

This might not seem very impressive but you’ve got to factor in daily accumulated ascents of up to 1500 m, a lot of off-road climbing and descending and some harsh weather. Plus a heavy bike (~30lbs), gear (~20lbs) and more importantly an “engine” that is about knackered …

So that was it, 240 miles of the 650 mile route completed. I’ve already started planning the second part!

 

Return Transfer Sunday night 1 June

There is only one flight to Istanbul from Kütahya per day and that leaves at 11.10 pm so I had the whole of Sunday to explore the city. This was definitely worth while. My schedule had been a tad ambitious and I’d not done as much sight seeing as I’d hoped and it was time to put that right. Not the prettiest if cities for sure but a few gems were worth exploring. I visited the archaeological museum and the porcelain one. I also walked up the hill to stroll around the castle walls. As I neared the top I had one of my low blood sugar episodes and had to take refuge in a cafe where I refuelled on cherry juice, tea and hazelnuts. A short snooze in the sun was in order which is not my usual habit but I’d had quite a broken nights sleep due to the hotel’s noisy location.

My hotel was not particularly impressive. It had a central location which was convenient but it’s quite shabby, run down and had I’d reviewed it in Trip Advisor I’d have given it a bit of a slating. However, the guy who owns and runs it was very helpful and made a few phone calls when I needed some information about my transfer. Previously I’d called into an agent for the airline to confirm my flight and baggage arrangements. The guy told me there was a strict limit of 15kg per person (despite what it said on my ticket) and I wouldn’t be allowed to take my bike. What?! I had visions of having to take an overnight bus to Istanbul with my bike. That wasn’t on the agenda. Back at the Erbaylar Hotel, Vehbi (Erbaylar) made a couple of calls and confirmed everything would be ok. He didn’t speak any English (neither did anyone else in the city for that matter – apart from one guy who came over to assist me when I’d arrived and was asking for the location of the bike shop). So this was all carried out in my broken Turkish which was good fun. That was the the only minor hiccup I had with my travel arrangements.

In the afternoon I went to collect my bike. All the mud had been cleaned off and it was in a box but left unopened for my inspection. I asked for a little extra internal packing and we sealed it up. When I enquired whether one of the shop lads would give me a lift over to the hotel he ran out of the back and reappeared up the side of the shop with his car. We bungeed it onto the back of the open boot (which of course would not close) and I was soon back at my hotel. When I ordered the job he said he’d work out the price when I collected it. In some parts of the world that’s the prequel to extortion but not here. He only wanted 5 lira and no matter how hard I tried I could not get him to take a kuruş more. He was a true artisan and when I arrived I was mesmerised to watch him set to and nonchalantly build up a bike wheel up from scratch, threading spokes through the hub, as he served two customers simultaneously and rattled off instructions to his mechanic and helpers. Brilliant! He had quite a large nose with what looked like a long scar down it. I asked him what had happened and he said nothing and then I realised it was dirt and we had a good laugh about that.

On the way to the airport I remembered that I hadn’t lowered my tyre pressures but the bike was boxed up and sealed now. This is recommended as at low atmospheric pressure the tyres can explode which is an expense I could do without (and would have been a disaster on the way out). At the airport there was no baggage handling facilities and the only place I could get a knife was in the cafe. He handed me a large carving knife with about a ten inch blade and nearly had a heart attack when I started to move away from the counter with it. I soon had a couple of slits made in the box, located the valves and released the air. I regret not getting a photo taken of me with that giant knife in an airport.

Check was even easier than Manchester and (I liked this) they didn’t even charge me extra baggage.

A slight concern arose at arrival in Manchester as the box looked like it’d been stood somewhere wet and the base of it had opened up. It had since been inverted to keep everything in. I’d made sure all the bags and my helmet were all tied together which paid off as nothing was lost. Phew!

So that comes to the end of the little escapade. More on the Reflections page.

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