Friends: It wasn't until nearly midnight last night, after over three hours of randomly biking about Istanbul that Orlando (the English cyclist), Adria (the Spanish cyclist), and Phillippe and Robin (a couple of German cyclists), and I finally encountered three twenty-year old Turkish cyclists that we thought might have been the remnants of the Thursday Night Ride that we had failed to find.
They flew past us on a descent to the Atatürk Bridge over the Golden Horn back to the old city of Istanbul riding BMX bikes like crazed, and possibly drugged, water-bugs, darting amongst what little traffic there was at that late hour, then grabbed hold of a bus on the ascent like New York bike messengers for a free ride up the long climb. It took a hard effort to catch up to them, though they had slowed after letting go of the bus so they could perform their tricks hopping up curbs and then launching themselves back on to the roadway.
We learned they were an independent renegade group and knew nothing of the Thursday Night Ride. They were out for some fun and games on their own. We five touring cyclists were at first a little let down that no one else showed up at the meeting point for the night's ride, but were thrilled that we had all met up, not sure who would make the effort, and had a great time on our own exploring the city in the dark, not always sure where we were and then had it all topped off by meeting this trio of fun-loving, acrobatic, fearless cyclists.
Only one spoke a little English, but that was enough for us to explain ourselves and also to learn a little about them. One of them owned a bike store that sold Cannondales and GTs. He wondered if we knew some famous English BMX cyclist. None of us did. Then he pulled out his cell phone and showed us a youtube clip of a Scottish BMXer and his stunt riding in Edinburgh, the very same video that Robert posted on my blog in the comments to my Gazi Tep entry on Nov. 22. Amazing how much notoriety it had achieved, as others beside Robert and this fellow had brought it to my attention.
This final four hour ride all over Istanbul with such superb company couldn't have been a better conclusion to my four days in Istanbul and two months in Turkey. I was the one who had arranged our gathering, as none of the others had met until this evening. There wasn't enough time for our overload of topics to discuss. Everyone was thrilled to meet others who had been touring for months, and had seen and experienced many of the same things. We gabbed away for nearly an hour waiting for some locals to show up, not upset at all to be delayed. When it finally became evident no one else would be joining us, we went meandering on our own, stopping every half hour or so at some vantage for a little powwow to discuss what we had seen and how we should proceed and also to follow up on various conversational strands. We would get so caught up in talk, we had to remind ourselves to resume riding. It was a fantastic communing.
The two young Germans, like Adria, were taking a year off from university for a long bike ride. They are headed to the Black Sea, then Georgia and Iran, if they can secure a visa, and then on to either India or China. Like Adria, this was their first tour of any sort and they hoped not the last.
After two months on the road they had gained that touring cyclist aura of sublime ecstasy, totally fulfilled with what they had accomplished and not wanting their adventure to end. All were fully self-satisfied, devoid of any need to brag or boast of what they had accomplished or overcome. The conversation ebbed and flowed between drawing out each other's experiences and then sharing one's own similar experiences.
We were all of like mind and consciousness, fully understanding, as only a fellow touring cyclist could, the essence of each other's nature, honed by thousands of miles and months of bicycling, undistracted by the usual petty worldly concerns that have those in the daily grind questioning their lives. İt was a seminal evening, riding and communing with such souls. Everyone had an added degree of ecstasy riding bikes freed of the forty or fifty pounds of gear that normally encumbered them, making the riding truly effortless and free.
Just as the Turkish BMXers, Phillipe and Robin were daredevils of a sort, as they had illegally ridden across the towering Bosporus Bridge to join us. They said a police car tried to stop them, but with the traffic bumper-to-bumper at a crawl there was no way it could catch them. After our ride they would return over the bridge under a full moon. I was sorry I wasn't going that direction myself.
I nearly had a sixth for our ride when I met another touring English cyclist earlier in the day, a young man who had started from the northernmost point in Great Britain, John O'Groats, and was headed to Cape Town at the bottom of Afrıca. He was staying at the same hostel as the two English and one French cyclist that I met three days ago. They had told him about me and he had been hoping to find me. Unfortunately his bike was in a shop getting an overhaul, every bearing regreased, wheels trued, and all the cables replaced, so he couldn't join us.
Prior to our night ride I spent my final day exploring Istanbul on the bike, stopping at parks to read for a spell and then continuing on. I had initially planned on doing my duty as a tourist and giving one of the big palaces a look, but as I stood in the long line waiting to buy a ticket and had various school kids come up to me, wanting to take my picture and shake my hand, not all of them as friendly as one might assume, rather showing off to their friends that they could hobnob with a Westerner, I elected to be true to my heart and spend my day seeing the hidden corners of the city on my bike rather than trudging through an opulent palace, gazing upon objects that only make me glad I'm not possessed by the desire to acquire such things.
So my spirit remained light all day, making discoveries and truly feeling a part of the city. I walked my bike through the narrow streets of the Grand Bazaar for over an hour, truly feeling the pulse of the city. I was sitting in a plaza beside what is known as the Pigeon Mosque for the thousands of pigeons that perch upon it, just across from the Galata Bridge crossing the Golden Horn, when the mid-afternoon call to prayers was sounded and saw the plaza clear out of all its male occupants as they flocked into the mosque for one of their five daily prayer sessions.
I'm down to my final hours in Turkey. I'll have plenty to continue to digest on my 24-hour trip back to Chicago, with an overnight at Heathrow in London awaiting my second flight. I wonder if a Santa will pay a visit to those of us sleeping in the terminal on Christmas Eve.
The weather has been so exceptional these four days in Istanbul, I'm almost wishing that I were continuing on to Athens. Its always sad to see the end of weeks of spending five, six, seven hours a day on the bike followed by a night in my tent. But the weather is about to turn nasty and ferocious once again with the wintry weather that has been devastating Europe.