Güle Güle Turkey

My next stop after Erzincan was Kelkit, a city laying between two ranges of mountains.  I had planned on going further than here but the early onset of darkness  had caught me out again.

It was also pretty cold and I didn’t feel like pushing on for the sake of it and ending up freezing on the side of the mountain I knew was soon after the town.
Happily people were very friendly in Kelkit and I’d been invited for tea soon after arrival and the men who bought me the tea also helped me find a hotel and get a good rate.
The upshot of this was that I got a much nicer room than normal which even had a PC in it with the internet.  They also let me bring the bike in the room which is always nice from a security point of view.
With the remaining hours of the day I proceeded to stuff my face with an Adana kebab , two lahmacun, half a kilo of yogurt, some chocolate and some random Turkish pastries.
The next day I was sad to leave the nice room I had been staying in but happy as it was a bit warmer.
The day started with another climb up a mountain.  The views up there were incredible with more snowcapped mountains off in the distance towards Erzincan.

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This was the fouth of five peaks I was expecting to have to crest, the next one I thought I would be ascending was to be a lot higher.

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I set off for this and gradually got on to quieter roads and away from anything resembling a highway until road became a loose term.
I had taken my route from googlemaps and it was supposed to take me up over a mountain and then down towards Sumela monastery and then Trabzon.
 I eventually reached the village which I expected to be at the beginning of the climb proper and the road that my GPS was advising me to take did not look too promising.  I tried asking some Turkish people nearby by pointing at the road and saying ‘Sumela?’.
Fortunately one of them spoke some English and he made it clear that he didn’t think that the road I was hoping to take remained passable for very long.  He indicated that after 10km I would be carrying my bike – I can barely carry my bike 10cm when it is loaded so this was not looking good.  I tried to make sure but he was adamant.  I thought about trying anyway, riding up and seeing how bad it got but the people I had asked were keeping a conscientious eye on me and I knew if I tried riding up that road they would call me back probably for my own good.
As I knew there was another better travelled route to Trabzon over smaller mountains and not passing through Sumela I decided I had better turn back and take that.  Luckily I hadn’t ridden too far from this route and I didn’t lose too much time.
I kept on riding until I reached the town of Torul, where I briefly stopped and was given some pestil and kome to try by a nice lady for free – she also gave me a few apples.
I probably should have stopped here but I figured that I had a couple of hours of daylight left and I should be able to reach a petrol station in that time to camp in.  Unluckily straight out of Torul a big climb started and there tends to be less camping opportunities on the side of mountains.
As I rode I hoped for a petrol station to stop at or something similar.  Eventually as sunset really started to approach I pulled into a big gravelly layby and found a spot on the edge of the mountain sheltered by a pile of gravel and rocks from the road to pitch my tent.  It wasn’t the most comfortable place to camp but at least it was somewhat private.

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I also got to see an amazing vista of stars as soon as night had fallen as well.
Come morning I was woken by howling dogs, which isn’t unusual in Turkey – worryingly they seemed to be getting closer and there was quite a few voices in the pack.  Next thing I could hear them right outside my tent, which I of course cannot see out of, so I had no idea how big or really how many there were.  From their barks I was pretty sure it was not a pack of chihuahuas and poodles.
I tried to shift to reach for my pepper spray, just in case and as I moved and made some noise they started barking more clearly at me – then my tent was being buffeted as they seemed to run past, I heard one of my guy lines ping out and then silence.  Not wanting to move again in case they were still out there I waited a couple of minutes and then I could hear them barking off in the distance so I chanced getting out.  Luckily they had gone, something else having attracted their attention.  On the plus side I was pretty wide awake now and ready for the day.  On the minus I could now see that my bike and tent were coated in frost and ice in places, which meant I would have to stop to air the tent later.
After packing up I started in on the climb I had begun yesterday evening and worked my way up in beautiful sunshine with the crisp mountain air powering me on.  Again there were beautiful mountains off in the distance and I was almost sad when I reached the end of the climb.  Rather than a sign with the altitude this time I arrived at the mouth of a tunnel.  A long tunnel, almost 2km long.  Luckily  I could still see to the end and as there really was not another option I set off down it.  After Albania I was a lot less nervous of long well lit tunnels – it is now the short unlit ones that give me the heeby jeebies!

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Once through the tunnel it was one long epic descent which I knew would last for over 40kms in total.
On the way down I reached the town of Macka which I knew to be the usual route for reaching Sumela.
Stopping outside a post office where I sent off some postcards (drop me your address if you want one), aired my tent and was given tea by one of the guys working there, I tried to decide whether to go to Sumela or not.
If I did it would be a 34km round trip involving a climb of about 900m which is not something undertaken lightly.  I figured that having set off early I did have the time to make it and I would probably regret it if I didn’t. Having seen the pictures of the monstery it did seem like something that was worth viewing: Sumela monastery.  So off I rolled and it was not long before I was climbing.  Luckily to start with it wasn’t too bad.  As I rode I looked at my altimeter and became slightly worried as it seemed that I wasn’t really making enough height to reach the 1200m I knew the monastery was at.  Then about 3km away I realised why as the gradient went from about 10% to what felt like 25%.  I could barely get up it with my loaded bike and I was stopping about every 100m in order to rest my legs which were screaming like banshees.
Eventually I did get there and thankfully it was worth it.  The location of the monastery being truly amazing as it hangs almost suspended off the side of a sheer cliff in beautiful lush greenery.

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After I had finished looking at the monastery I got back on my bike and descended the rest of the way nice and easily down into Trabzon. I was back at sea level for the first time in almost three weeks and already it felt a little bit warmer than at the same time in central Anatolia and in the mountains.
Trabzon did not immediately impress as while it was warmer it also felt a lot more polluted than the places I had been staying in recently.  I quickly found a reasonably priced hotel which I’d got from the internet. There was also a nice Byzantine church.
imageAnd Atatürk looking like M Bison
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In Trabzon I had arranged to meet up with Rubina another British cyclist.  Ivica, who I had stayed with in Croatia had said to me that she might be in the same area so I had dropped her a message via warmshowers on the off chance our route and timings would coincide.
I’d been cycling pretty much solo since Albania except for a day with Emre so I had thought it would be nice to try travelling with someone.
Luckily Rubina was still in Trabzon and did not seem averse to some company on the road so we arranged to meet up and ride out in a couple of days.
Strangely enough Rubina had grown up in Northampton, the closest large town to where I had grown up and had lived in London for a number of years as well – so we would at least have that in common.
Rubina was kind enough on the first evening to invite me to dinner with herself and a couple of flatmates she was couchsurfing with.  This was great as it meant I got a chance to have dinner with a group of Turkish students.
This was very nice as I hadn’t met a group of Turkish people like this – young and mixed for example.
The next day we headed out for Rize, which was a short 70km ride down the road.  It turned out it was really short as the roads were very very flat and very smooth, we ended up stopping for a swim so we didn’t end up in Rize too early.  Well Rubina had a swim, I just ate extra lunch and skimmed some stones instead.
Our speed was good in spite of my attempt to sabotage myself by buying some Trabzon ekmek (bread).  This is probably the largest heaviest loaf of bread I’ve seen and I had to buy one.  It must have weighed about 5kg and my bike certainly didn’t feel as responsive with it strapped on the back.  Turkish people said it would last for ages and it became clear this was true as no one would share any of mine even though I offered almost everyone we met on the way!  This continued in Rize where the people who were hosting us seemed to change the subject whenever I suggested having some of the Trabzon ekmek with dinner.  (I finally ditched it on the next day we rode, fed up with the weight and the now dry taste of it).
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When we arrived in Rize we were lucky enough to be hosted by Burak, who had hosted Rubina at about three other places along the black sea coast.  Even more fortunately Burak’s mother was there visiting as well so I got to try some fantastic Turkish home cooking.
Rize was a pleasant place to spend a day and Rubina and I took a walk up into the hills behind the city where there were some lovely views and where apparently women live in trees.
imageThey also grow a lot of tea here.
imageAnd have tempting zip lines for transporting it.
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After two nights in Rize we set off on another easy ride to Hopa the closest large town to the Georgian border.  This was a little further at just under 100km but again we flew along on the flat and made very good time into town.  Not much of note happened on the ride apart from quite a few long tunnels, we must have spent about 6% of the ride in them.
In Hopa we had arranged to be hosted by Yusuf, another host we had found from couchsurfing.  We met him at the university he teachesat for a few days every month (the rest of his time spent studying in Istanbul), so we were lucky to catch him in Hopa.
Yusuf was another in a long line of incredibly hospitable and generous Turkish people I had met.  He took us out for a delicious final dinner in Turkey with some great Pide and Lahmacun.
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In the morning he was kind enough to head out and get us a delicious breakfast as well with about four kinds of cheese some borek and some special delicious honey made from bees that used the pollen from chestnut trees.
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I was definitely going to be sad to leave behind Turkey and all the incredible kindnesses I had experienced there.
Come the morning though it was time for us to go and off towards Georgia we headed.image
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