I am in magical Cappadocia. I rode here in 5 and a half days, covering 655 kilometers. I opted not to ride through the other side of Istanbul, which would have entailed a good three hours of weaving through traffic. Instead I took a sea-bus to Mudanya, which conveniently departed from a dock a third-of-a-mile from the hostel. In an hour and a half I disembarked on a quiet shore far away from the tumult and excitement that is Istanbul. I set off, feeling strange to be back on the bike. I did not ride far, for it was late, but I worked up a good sweat immediately and began processing out all the beer I drank on the Harmony terrace before finding a lovely little spot to camp in a pine forest.
The next day I rode through the large city of Bursa, which was a tedious ride, but it was flat and I rode fast, soon climbing up through a green mountainous valley. I was getting worried about camping as the light waned when I stumbled on a perfect campsite. It was a little close to the road, but it had water and looked like a popular spot. It was so ideal that I kind of felt like I was car camping. I did about 90 kilometers this day.
Overall, the first few days were uneventful. It felt good to be out of the city and back on the bike. I did not feel lonely either, the good people I spent my time with in Istanbul had recharged me and the quietness was a nice transition. I felt I would see these people again anyways… From the valley I dropped out into open plainlands. The wind was with me and the terrain was mostly flat or at most, rolling. I sang a great deal, for there was nobody around. Turkey has now taken first place as the most supportive country now by the way, kicking Croatia into second place. People honk, smile, wave,whistle. They will get my attention just to smile and wave. My comfort level is 100 percent. If my point of reference is how I felt in the States, it may be 110 or 120- part of this is that useless anxiety has entirely disappeared from me, something has quieted.
I camped in some nice trees near a lake outside of Eskişehir after a long day, happy, but a little lonely after three days. I think a lot about the cycling. It can take a little more effort to enjoy it when the sun is hot and the road is flat and straight all day. I wonder sometimes whether I need any more time on the bike, and question quite openly whether I need to ride alone anymore, but what can I do? It is still the best mode of travel I can think of. I am tired- can you blame me?
From Eskişehir I rode all day and landed outside of Polatli. I knew I had ridden a long, long way. I thought it was the better part of 175 kilometers at the time, but it turned out to be about 166. Still a huge day! It was hard to find camping. It was also pointless to stop riding, for there are nothing but fields out there. Really you can camp anywhere, but you can also be seen from anywhere! There is njot much shade aside from the gas stations. So, I just rode all day with few breaks.
The next day was more riding through the plains. There were some beautiful small hills this day, and there are beautiful flowers on the edges of the fields. The clouds were out in full glory as well- I felt like I was in one of the default wallpapers of a Dell homescreen- how’s that for a 21st century comparison?
I made to the edge of Tuz Gölü, a big salt lake. I had some real close calls this day. I was ridng along, minding my business, when I notice a sheep dog about my size sprinting at me in a perfect interception angle. The dog didn’t bark at all, I had no warning! It was about 20 meters away, and I almost stopped, but decided that I didn’t want to risk getting caught and barely managed to outstrip him. There was a full-grown German shepherd too, which looked diminutive and cute next to this monster. I think it was the smaller dog barking that made me look. I was real tired from the day before, but I found ample energy for this little sprint. The same day I was riding along when two dogs came at me from a field, one from the front, one from behind. I was caught, nothing to do but dismount. These dogs were young, sort of barking because they felt they ought to, but reinforcements were en route. Three huge dogs were sprinting over, the biggest of which had a wolf collar on, spiked to protect the dog’s throat in the event of a fight. These dogs are SUPER riled up, very aggressive, snarling and making darts at me. I am standing on the side of the road with my bike between me and the dogs, waving my stick. I looked them in the eye and told them quite sternly that I would fuck them up if they got too close. One tried to come around the side, but I gave a short yell and he backed off. The dogs calmed down after a minute and then I switched to soothing tones. They lost interest and I walked my bike a ways away before mounting up again. All this while the shepherds, which were far away, had started running to help me, but soon decided I had it under control and left me to it. This was a short encounter, but time felt stopped. In hindsight, I can’t say I felt any fear, but the situation wakes one up. I am glad I have a stick.
There are some hills above the lake, and after some earnest searching, I found an acceptable spot, though not ideal. You can be seen from everywhere! I pulled another big day that day, but I wasn’t sure how far I made it.
From there I rode through the driest, flattest land yet to within 40 kilometers of Goreme and Cappadocia. Again I had trouble finding a good spot to camp. I basically just picked the least obtrusive spot in a field and waited to see if anyone was going to come talk to me. No one did. I ate dinner and as the sun set I set up my tent.
I am brewing tea, when I hear the rattle of sheep bells, and a large herd appears of the hill adjacent. Okay, we’ll see what happens. A shepherd comes over and talks with me, but he speaks only Turkish. We do the usual dance, “Where are you from, where are you going, where you come from?” and I ask him if it is okay to camp here, which he assures me is fine. I thought he told me that he lived over the hill and to holler if I need anything, but I was mistaken- they are camping out here too! I see them roll out bedrolls and kindle a fire. It was not long before I was called over. I join up with the other shepherd, a young looking fellow with a big beard. He has tea brewing and is cooking some meat. He beckons me to sit on his bedroll. I am a little nervous, and try to make some conversation with my translator, but he tells me to relax. So, he cooks and I sit there quietly. I am acutely aware that I need to learn Turkish, eh? I had been taught a few phrases and how to count in Istanbul and I needed it in rural Turkey, but it was time to step it up, and fast. I started pointing and asking what they were, and we entertained ourselves this way while the meat cooked and laughed at the misunderstandings. The other shepherd joined us and the spread was laid out. There were peppers, tomato, bread, cheese, eggs, olives. I asked what kind of meat it was: sheep, of course! Duh. The cheese was delicious and covered in a green mold, which I was told was antibiotic.
Their names are Bayram and Medet, 34 and 37 respectively. We talked about all sorts of stuff, somehow. Medet used to be a welder and had been to America. Bayram had a wife back home. They asked me what I did back in the States. We talked about dogs- Medet had a huge one that was guarding the sheep, only a year old and already quite intimidating. They were about 5 kilometers from the house, they stay out for 9 or 10 days before heading back in, covering about a kilometer a day as the sheep graze. I asked them if they can just go wherever with their flocks, to which Bayram grinned wryly and said, “…yeah.” No fences in Turkey. We repeated a lot of vocabulary and drank tea till about midnight, then Medet walked me back to my tent. I slept hard and woke up at six the next morning. Another flock was right on my tent, and I talked to another shepherd, who asked about Medet’s dog across the way, which was watching his flock. The man was flabbergasted as to how I got into this field, but he was more curious about the dog: “There shepherds over there?” Yes, I say, to which he thanks me and herds his floxk in another direction. Soon I am called over for tea by Medet and I am treated to breakfast! I have some more or that cheese. It is hard to make. After the cheese is made though, they stuff it in a sheepskin and let it sit for three months, afterwhich the mold grows on it. “No doctor. Antibiotic.” I am pretty convinced that I want to be a shepherd, aside from maybe the butchering… I would enjoy making cheese and even shearing the sheep I think though.
These guys, on top of providing me a very genuine Turkish experience and being very hospitable, were just good guys, we were like-minded. We talked about how nice it is to sleep under the stars, how peaceful it is in nature. Bayram was kind and calm, Medet goofy and funny. I was loathe to leave, and watched them load up their donkies before bidding farewell, loading up my own donkey and making the short ride into Goreme and Cappadocia.