Well well, where to begin?
I set off from the Monastery and into Trabzon. Pictures of Erdogan and the AK party were everywhere. Back to the coast, the boring, straight, flat coast. Tunnels abound here, however, for although the road is smooth, the mountains rear up right before the waves and the road, towns, and myself hug the coastline wherever valleys and pockets provide space. The tunnels are all over a mile long, but they are wide and well-lit.
By some miracle, there is a nature preserve perfectly placed along the route and I have an ideal camping spot for the night.
The next day is another long one. I notice mid-morning that my tire is deflated and pump it up with my almost worthless road pump, but soon it is losing air. I extricate the tube and it is just as I suspected: leaking around the valve.
Antony had mentioned back in Spain that he preferred schrader valves to prestas, at which Jaime, the Canadian cyclist who never sent me an email and I looked at each other sadly, in sympathy for the ignorance of Antony, who had only rode his bike to Japan the year before and obviously knew nothing. The first step in cycle knowledge is a preference for presta over schrader, for they hold air better. They are also very delicate, and half the time one gets a flat, it has something to do with the valve itself or where the valve attaches. I am now on Antony’s team and prefer schrader. I even bought a spare tube with a schrader valve… but my rims will not accommodate the girthier valve! So I am stuck. I have three tubes that are spent and I never patched, but all seem to have faulty valves or holes where the valve attaches. Hm.
I walk to the gas station about 30 meters back after an hour of attempting to patch my old tubes.
I explain to the man at the gas station that I need a new tube. He points to the tire shop across the street. No, I say, I need a new tube. He points across the street again, then says if they cannot help me there, the police station is in town center…okay, let’s give it a try. I walk across and ask the man there if, by chance, he has bike tubes. If he does, it’s probably a schrader. He just beckons for my front wheel, but I am pretty sure the valve is shot. Well, he pulls out the tube and immediately inflates it with his nifty air hose, and from there I watched a professional at work. He has a barrel of water outside. He runs the tire through, finds the hole, marks it, dries it, sands it, glues it, applies a patch, and we wait. It dries. He looks at it, holds up a finger and returns to the water barrel, finds another puncture (probably from me rolling my loaded bike over here on the flat tire). Finds it, fixes it. While we wait he beckons me to his office where he has a world map and I point out my route. He only says that there are big mountains to get to China, and suggests Pakistan to India instead, but I only smile.
At this point a car rolls up that needs attention. He reinserts the mended tube into the tire, inflates to my desired pressure, and I am mobile again! I ask him how much and he sends me off, no charge. What a guy! On I go, nearing the Georgian border. It is a pleasant, mellow day from here on out, with more tunnels and interesting scenery- people are harvesting tea on the hillside, clinging to the land like goats as they trim what look very much like decorative hedges. The view is nice, but I am getting worried about the camping situation: there is the sea, the road, and a cliffside, nowhere else to be. Occasionally there is a valley, but it is riddled with houses, of course. Right about time to call it a day, I come across a miraculously opportune gravel road that leads up to an old quarry- lucky! I follow it up and there is trash, which is a good sign that this is a quiet spot. It is a nice little area, but nowhere really to hide. Looks like a place kids come to party on the weekends. What day is it? Friday. Dang.
I figure I will have company, so I scout around awhile. I finally find a nice little spot nestled into the woods above a dry creek bed with a very narrow path running alongside it. I think that perhaps I am being paranoid, but just as I pull my bike into the woods, a car rolls up where I was, and I can hear some kids playing music, probably drinking. Well, perfect timing! They leave after a couple of hours, by which time I am already set up.
Man, I creep myself out sometimes though! Here these kids were, sure that they are hanging out alone up here and I am tucked out of sight fifty feet away! That’s why I call myself the Boogeyman. Hopefully there are not many others like me, and if they are, hopefully they are peaceful… but hey, I was raised in the woods, and I have done a lot of scatter camping in my day. It is a naturally developed skillset.
I suspect rain. It gets dark and the fireflies come out again, little constellations of fairies gliding through the woods. Above lightning flashes steady. I sit on a great boulder in the dark with a cup of ginger-lemon tree and watch these little children of light mirror their powerful counterpart in the sky above us and wonder what more a person could want in such a moment. I sit there pensively for a long time, feeling the woods. After I go to bed the rain starts heavy. It is the greatest storm I have encountered since Portugal: lightning is flashing constantly right in line with my tent door, a column of fire out at sea. Thunder ripples through the clouds, though not so fearsome as the other night in Turkey. The sky opens and water dumps out of the sky in buckets and I spend a while with my sleeping bag on top of me, suspicious that I may soon have a creek running under my tent. I eventually drift off and wake up in the middle of the night, dry and cozy, thankfully. The rain has slackened, but now there is the mellifluous sound of a running creek to lull me back to sleep.
I wake up to sunshine in the morning. The creek is slowed, almost stagnant, though there are deep pools of water from the storm. I can’t believe how much rain came down last night. My eyes are on Georgia now though, I’m only forty kilometers away!
I had been told there were “Kurdish terrorists” East of Erzurum in the mountains. I was told that as long as I was off the roads by evening I would be fine though, and I felt no fear n or indication of any danger. I did see hundreds of 9mm shells along the road for a good 15 kilometers en route to Georgia though, and a heavy military presence, soldiers in full battle gear in a fortified base with a camouflaged turret at one point. I wanted to ask about the shells, but thought better of it.
I just looked up precisely what type of shells they were (I’m not into guns myself), and they were blanks! Probably from military drills. Interesting. The “terrorists” are probably further South anyways, closer to Erzurum.
I hit the border, which was pretty painless. I actually went through a pedestrian tunnel for the first time, squeezing my bike through the chute for foot traffic, to which I was directed. So now I have a stamp that doesn’t have a picture of a car on it! It is midday as I emerge onto the Georgian side after a month in Turkey. The adventure continues!