The bikes thankfully fired up without problems, and with no real plan we started following smaller rural roads west towards the coast.
Thirty miles away from our campsite, at a dusty crossroads in the middle of nowhere, Seven’s engine cut out and just refused to start.
More bike problems! And at this rate we really weren’t getting very far. Anyway, the familiar routine: off with the luggage, out with the tools, and a cigarette to cool off before getting stuck in. We checked the ignition coils and spark plugs as an old couple brought us out some cold cokes and tried to chat. I rolled them a couple of cigarettes (it’s the only thing people will take from us, and it makes me feel slightly better having something to offer in return) and got on with our work.
Within a half hour an enthusiastic audience had gathered and things were starting to get hectic. There was that unmistakable feeling I think familiar to anyone travelling in Asia, that bit by bit your control over the situation is slipping away. A van was procured from somewhere or other and Maria and Seven were loaded into the back. I just about had time to pull my helmet on before I was racing after a dust cloud through winding gravel paths.
The house we stopped at belonged to the mother of a member of our audience. She spoke German, and her husband’s brother knew something about fixing bikes, so he’d been called and was on his way round. We were ushered upstairs and into the sitting room for cay and cigarettes; it was the first day of Ramadan, but it had been decided that for the benefit of the travellers fasting would be postponed for a day. Maria and I quietly ran through a checklist of possible causes and when we’d finished our cay, made our way downstairs to work a bit on the bike before the inevitable crowd got involved. First thing to check was the fuse box and wouldn’t you know it, she’d blown one. Simple as that, the bike fired up just as our appointed mechanic pulled into the yard.
It was made clear to us that we wouldn’t be allowed to leave without eating something, so we all filed back upstairs where a spread had been laid out on the floor for us. Soup, pasta, cheese and watermelon (to be eaten together) and coffee with baklava. We sat digesting and answering the usual questions about where we were going, how we could afford to do such a trip etc. all being translated from English to German to Turkish.
Somewhere along the way, my explanation that I was an architect was mistranslated as ‘archaeologist’, and suddenly everybody got very excited. They had an old coin they wanted me to look at, hoping I could tell them something about it. Thank Christ for the language barrier then. The face on the coin looked kind of Greek, so I said it was probably Greek. When I scratched it it looked coppery, so I said it was probably a bronze alloy of some kind. Then I was out of things to say so I just tried to look wise and knowledgeable. This must not have been quite enough for them, as they started talking about taking me down to the site where it was found. Maybe I would get a better understanding of the coin’s origin from that? Not bloody likely. Excuses were made, watches pointed at, and I managed to get out with the last slivers of dignity intact.
It was decided that Ahmet; the mechanic, would accompany us to Edremit and despite fervent protests, we were given a package of bread and cheese for the road. We hadn’t even managed to eat our free tomatoes yet! Ten minutes down the road Maria had blown two more fuses, and it was clear that there was something more serious at fault so we stopped for a cay and to decide what to do.
The best option, we decided, was to ride back to Balikesir where Ahmet’s workshop was and try to find the problem. After several hours there, following wires and opening connectors we were still none the wiser and the workshop was closing up, so we stashed the bikes in Ahmet’s front yard and called it a day. The evening was spent cooking, hanging out and chatting in German.
Ahmet’s flat was tiny: A single bed and small couch formed an L-shape that occupied one corner. The kitchenette and shower room took up the other two walls, leaving just enough space in the middle for a coffee table. Despite that, the doors were opened for us and we were given a place to sleep on the remaining floor space, with never an intimation that we were intruding and the next morning, the three of us, coffee in hand, were happily tinkering away again.
We stripped Seven down to her guts and worked our way inch by inch along the clusters of wire, checking for any sign of a short circuit, and finding nothing. Two schools of thought were starting to emerge: Ahmet was sure that the short was being caused by turning the handlebars, and was insistent we check everything on the instrument cluster. We weren’t so sure; according to the wiring diagram nothing from that area was on the same circuit as the blown fuse, and since things only seemed to go wrong a few miles into a ride, we thought something must be overheating and surging. Anyway, with the problem refusing to reveal itself, all we could do was coat everything in WD40, insulate any wires that looked like maybe they were a bit bare, and try for Edremit again.
There was still a niggling feeling that the ignition coils might be at fault so just to be sure, we swapped coils between the two bikes before leaving (and if Pip started spitting out fuses, it’d mean that was the fault). The problem seemed to be solved though. The bikes were running fine and our only stops were every ten miles or so for cay and cigarettes; it’s the only way Ahmet will travel.
Once we’d reached town and had a final cay, it was time to fill the tankbag with cold beers, say our goodbyes, and head out to find camp. Our first venture off the road led us to the centre of an olive grove. There were still a few people about, but it seemed a promising spot so we hopped off the bikes for a bit of recon on foot.
The road was horrendous; deep sand only giving way to the occasional mountainous pile of rocks and deep tractor ruts. We were considering giving up and looking for another option when we spotted the telltale cluster of poplars up ahead. It’s a good marker and it didn’t let us down. The road was crossed by a little stream that meandered off past a shaded patch of land just big enough for the tent and the girls.
We walked back, climbed on the bikes and began the gruelling descent. I love rides like this. Exhausting and challenging; you’re forced to put your faith in the bike and push your own riding ability. Round the last corner and down the last incline, I shook the sweat out of my eyes and focused on my chosen spot under the tree. I swung wide, buried my front tyre in a patch of sand and fired myself over the handlebars like a drunken trapeze artist. So much for my ability. The bike lay on its side facing downhill with both wheels in the air and I had no chance of lifting it myself. All I could do was wait for Maria to arrive and help me to get it upright and under the tree.
She’d stopped at the top of the hill because she has a well-developed common sense, so we walked back up to her bike and I rode it down for her; carefully this time. We stashed our beers in the cooling stream and went for another wander to check out our surroundings.
Further downstream was a little gravel clearing, encircled by the meandering river and a shady thicket of trees and hidden on one side by a steep rock face. It was perfect. I got back on each bike and rode them as close as I could to our new spot, then we trudged back and forth till we had all our gear in the little clearing, and we made it a home.
Just enough daylight left to gather some firewood, then we sat drinking beer and whiskey by firelight and contemplating the events of the past few days.
We woke up hung over, tired, and listening to the frogs chirp and the river trickle past, and decided we’d stay put for the day. A little ways downstream the river opened up into a little pool.
The sun had warmed the water, a tree on the bank had covered the surface with pink blossoms, and miniature fish darted between the shadows. No better spot for a dip and a scrub. We spent the rest of the day washing clothes, collecting firewood, reorganising panniers and writing.
The kind of day where a half hour’s work merits an hour’s nap.
Another night of fireside whiskey drinking followed, and by then our batteries were fully recharged.