Going solo

With Maria off to tend to her dad and my best friend’s wedding imminent, I decided my free evenings would be best spent in getting the best man speech started and giving Pip some love. As the days were getting hotter we were getting more work done on the farm, but with plenty of beer and tavla to distract me after dinner I wasn’t getting much writing done, so I decided I’d take the tent and the bike and head for the hills. A few days alone with nature, wine, and no wifi would surely result in some shimmering prose. So under darkening skies and the first few drops of rain I headed west out of Yalova without much of a plan. The weather held as I stopped for some quick snaps of a nearby waterfall and a chat with a local biker, and as I crested a hill and looked down over the port town of Gemlick, the sun finally began to shine.

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As the coast road flattened out and turned inland I started to relax back into the saddle and open up the throttle. The sudden sight of flashing lights and a stern arm waving me down was enough to bring me to my senses and I pulled over, cycling through my few Turkish phrases and coming up with nothing that would get me out of a speeding fine. As it turns out it was just a random check, and luckily I’d thought to bring my paperwork with me so, once I’d explained what I was doing in Turkey they let me go. I was back at the bike and putting away my papers when one of the cops started shouting and beckoning me back. They’d plucked some sour plums from a nearby tree, washed them off, and invited me to share a snack before sending me on my way.

I stocked up on wine, nuts, and chicken and decided to skirt around Bursa to avoid spending the day stuck in a city and I was cruising along a dual carraigeway happily daydreaming when the heavens opened. Within minutes the rain had soaked through my leathers and tankbag and after an hour of futilely chasing clearer skies, I pulled over next to an abandoned onion seller’s shack and climbed in for shelter, lighting up a sodden cigarette and shivering as I stared out at the downpour. Looking across the dual carriageway I saw a slightly bigger shack, similarly adorned with bags of onions, and noticed that I was being watched. A wooden gangway led across the island separating the roads and connecting the two shacks, which were obviously operated by the same guy, and he had soon clambered across to share a smoke and mutter at the state of my soggy clothes.

We had no words in common, but he managed to lead me back across the busy road to his shack where he brewed us some tea as we sat and watched the weather clear up, with the silence ocassionaly broken by bursts of his singing. Eventually I said my goodbyes, left my cigarettes with him as thanks, and pulled my dripping jacket back on.

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There was still plenty of daylight left, but I was keen to make camp while it was dry and since I still had a speech to write I decided to get off the road. A very promising looking track quickly devolved into a muddy path that, churned into oblivion by the recent downpour, promptly spat me off and onto my side in the front yard of a bemused looking farmer’s house. We got the bike upright and he gave me some directions, assuming that I was looking for the main road rather than a quiet spot to camp but since he was pointing up and over a range of hills, I decided to follow his advice. The road I’d been directed to seemed more stable at first but as I climbed to the top of the hill the sand got deeper and my control over the bike gradually slipped away till I was struggling just to keep it upright, let alone have any say in which direction we were going. I decided to call it a day, and used the last of my luck to gun it up a muddy incline and park up under an olive tree.

Food cooked, wine out, time to stare at a blank bit of paper for hours hoping it’ll turn into a speech.

At somewhere around three in the morning, I had long given up on the speech writing and was working my way through a second bottle of wine, when I heard the sound of a car pulling up just outside the tent. Shit! I’m about to be moved on, and I wouldn’t fancy my chances on that road, even if I was in any way sober. I gingerly unzipped the front door, when a young, shaved head poked itself in and started slurring at me in Turkish through a big grin. I squirmed into some trousers and climbed barefoot outside before he could climb in. Four Turkish teenagers stood outside admiring the bike and opening beers – they obviously use the secluded spot for secretive drinking – and they were more than happy to share a couple of drinks while they tried to figure out who I was and what I was doing there. We passed an hour chatting and smoking; mostly me using my few words of Turkish to their great amusement, and they eventually headed off, but not before one of the girls had made a few firm attempts to pull me into my tent while insisting that she ‘loved me much’. Apparently half a bottle of wine and your own portable lodgings go a long way in these parts.

I spent a good portion of the next day sitting in the sun writing and using a beer given to me by last night’s friends to dispel my hangover. Once the midday sun had dried the road a bit I decided to pack up, do some more riding and see if I could find some more inspiration elsewhere. I would carry on the way I’d been going and find the main road that I’d been directed to and as I’d suspected the hot sun had rendered my slippery track quite manageable. I was busy congratulating myself when I hit the bottom of the hill and found all the sand that had washed off the road further up. The bike spun sideways and traveled a few meters further before dropping me unceremoniously onto my ass. I pulled Pippa up, dusted myself off and climbed back on before coming to the realization that I was sitting in a sand pit, with twenty meters of sludge ahead of me (and I had no intention of going back). Balancing with both my feet meant I could move the bike forward at about two miles an hour, but turning the handlebars had no effect whatsoever so it was slow going. After an agonizing half hour my wheels finally felt grip as I pulled onto blessed tarmac and turned towards the nearby town of Mustafakamelpasa.

I was happy to be back on the road, but there was clearly something wrong with the bike. Getting up to speed revealed a horrible whining sound and whenever I left off the throttle I slowed down much quicker than I should. I stuck on the indicator and jumped off to have a look. Pretty simple really; after my adventures in the sand the space between my front wheel and mudguard was caked with sludge, and stones that were stuck in there were skinning the surface off my tire and bringing me to an abrupt halt whenever I stopped accelerating. I fished out a screwdriver to start hacking away at the blockage and within minutes a taxi driver had pulled over to see if I needed help. It was no use explaining that I was taking care of it; his friend Ali was a biker. He would call Ali. Ali would come and help. Soon after, without really realizing how, I found myself in a cafe eating lunch with Ali, as more and more of his biker mates turned up to pore over my map and tell me where I should be going.

It constantly amazes me, the conviviality of the Turkish. It was decided that this foreign biker should be taken on a cruise, so everyone canceled their plans (and jobs) for the day and we headed off on a winding road to a local waterfall. Whilst there, the English speaking member of the group was phoned, and it was decided that I would spend the night with him. We rode back into town and pulled into a carpenters yard, where the local bike club had congregated over tea and cherries and we passed the time looking over each others bikes and laughing at the muddied scars across my panniers. The day was spent in a blur that involved mostly eating, drinking tea and chain smoking. Common language was at a minimum but gestures and banter made up for it.

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A little after midnight I was bustled into a little Fiat Uno (along with seven other guys). I wasn’t sure where we were going but judging by the state of wakefulness and the fact that we were heading well into the outskirts of town, I guessed that it wasn’t to bed. The car screeched into the yard of a stone merchants’ warehouse, followed in hot pursuit by a forklift who’s driver was frantically shouting and waving a red flashing light and if I’d been more sensible I might have questioned my host’s legitimacy. We stopped next to a guard’s hut and piled out of the car, coming face to face with the forklift driver, who was also the site security guard, and another member of the biker club. A barrel fire was lit and some Turkish coffee brewed and we sat exchanging stories in English (and what Turkish I could manage) of their dreams of travel, my plans for the future, and all the things bikers discuss around a fire.

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As the night wore on our mood sobered and a saz appeared. I sat for hours listening to some amazing folk music before we reluctantly called it a night and headed back to town to crash, as the sun began to rise and the morning call to prayer began to sound.

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