Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tekirdağ, Turkey

Friends: Winter has most definitely descended upon Turkey. When I returned to the highway after a slight climb up from the port of Gelibolu yesterday, I was greeted by a blanket of snow covering the countryside. Though the four-lane divided highway was clear, plows were still at work finishing off the job.

Clouds still hovered above, but not the thick, dark, menacing, low-lying, precipitating clouds of the day before. These were much thinner and lighter, giving hope that the sun might make an appearance after a several day absence.

A calm and stillness lay upon the land as well. The road was wet and slushy in spots, but I could pedal away with joy and delight once again. My legs were effortlessly spinning along at fourteen mph. The day before it required an all-out effort to go seven mph. I could spend all day at it with no sites to see or necessity to seek the Internet.

All was well until I came to a 1,200 foot ridge, a three-mile climb that had me shedding layers and also pausing to keep the sweat at bay. It was a perilous descent trying to restrain my speed, dodging the slush and keeping a wary eye out for ice.

It was 42 miles to the first town, Kesan. The clouds contained themselves and didn't force me to seek an early hotel as the day before. The first entry road into the town hadn't been plowed and was a mess. I wasn't desperate for a grocery store. A service station market or restaurant would do, though the only one I had passed so far was without electricity or running running water, its pipes frozen. I joined a cluster of truckers, all smoking, in the unheated cafe to rest my legs and finish off my yogurt and corn flakes.

The second entry into Kesan was relatively clear, so I took advantage of it. In less than half a mile I came to a small grocery store where I could restock my yogurt. A bit further İ picked up a doner kebab, which I ate at a nearby Internet cafe that had heat.

I took off my shoes and socks and booties and put them on the radiator. I was given a pair of slippers and also a small carton of apricot juice. Usually its tea, but the juice was more to my liking. I limited myself to half an hour, just enough time to eat the doner, not wanting to squander a moment of riding time when it was as good as it was, never knowing when it would turn nasty once again.

Despite the cold, these were the best riding conditions I'd had in days and I was determined to take full advantage of them. I hoped to ride right to dark, not wanting a hotel to tempt me. I wanted to camp in the snow, though not on it.  I was hoping to find a forest that had bare patches of ground, or at least snow not so thick that I could brush aside.  The terrain to that point hadn't shown much promise--mostly treeless and covered with a couple of inches of snow. If need be, I would do as Zekeriya and the German cyclist I met, and ask to pitch my tent at a service statıon, which they assured me was accepted practice in Turkey.

I passed the last town for forty miles an hour-and-a-half before dark. It felt great to be fully committed to camping. Half an hour later a billboard advertised a service station 15 miles away. The hilly terrain would make it difficult to reach it before dark, but if need be I could manage some night-time cycling with the bright white snow marking the roadside. I guessed though that there would be others before it, as generally a billboard advertising a servıce station was a clue that there were a couple of rivals preceding it, so those loyal to the one advertising itself wouldn't be tempted to stop at its competitors.

And such was the case on this main highway linking Istanbul with Greece and the rest of Europe.  I came to gas station fifteen minutes later.  I didn't really want to stop. Fortunately it didn't have much to offer and I could keep riding.
Three miles later, just as I hit 70 miles, after nearly seven hours on the bike for the day, a billboard announced a service station 500 meters ahead. It was now less than half an hour to dark. Hopefully I'd encounter a benevolent staff that would let me put my tent down somewhere. Benevolent they were and then some.  They actually offered me a small room with a couch. It wasn't heated, nor could one of its windows fully close, but it was like a palace to me.

One of the two attendants, both about 60, spoke a little French having lived in Paris for seven years. We exercised our minimal French while drinking a couple of glasses of tea sitting in front of a heater that only provided enough heat for me to remove one of my six layers. My two companions were also equally well-bundled, looking as if they were set to go out into the frigid cold.

After half an hour I retreated to my alcove and hung a clothes line with my socks and booties over my candle with my shoes along side. Not a single flake of snow had melted off my bike while I was absent. The room wasn't retaining much heat. My tent would have been warmer and cozier. If the room were larger I might have set it up, though the frigid concrete floor could well have quickly sent me back to the couch. I wrapped my self in my sleeping bag, and sat and read for a while with my headlamp. As barebones as were my accommodations, I felt down right regal after another great day on the bike.

Later, George

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