Dashing to the border

It was several months ago that I applied for my Turkish e-Visa, before taking a break over the winter. That meant it was running out of time and I had only seven days in which to cycle the remaining 900km to the border.

I would need to average about 130km a day, but I wanted to start with some long days in case anything unexpected happened to slow me down.

For the first day I therefore set off early and made few stops. The one exception to this was a brief detour into the city of Sivas. As one of the larger cities of the region I hoped to find a bike shop. There was some slight side-to-side movement in the rear wheel, and I wanted to buy some chain lube and puncture repair glue.

I managed to find the glue easy enough, but chain lube was more of a problem. After six bike shops the best I had was some WD-40 knock-off. I bought it, but hoped to get some decent stuff before my old, wet chain lube ran out. The attitude of the mechanics regarding my wheel was a confusion as to why I wanted to do anything if the wheel was still ridable. I gave up on that for now and resumed cycling.

As the sun was setting, I could see a storm brewing to the south. I didn’t want to be camping in that if I could help it, so I cycled on, looking for an abandoned house where I could shelter. As I rode, the sky grew blacker. Lights from distant houses went dark as the storm grew closer and obscured them. Then lights from nearer houses went dark, and nearer.

I could see lightning to the south and as the storm grew nearer I began to hear the thunder. The storm was moving quickly but I could see no signs of shelter as I rode. I turned a corner and saw a small group of houses surrounding a mosque. The mosque had its lights on and I rode over to it. There were a group of men there and I asked if there was anywhere nearby I could sleep. They invited me to sleep in the atrium of the mosque. The storm arrived just as we went inside, and it began to hail heavily.

I set off early the next morning, not wanting to outstay my welcome. I stopped to have breakfast after a few kilometres. While I was eating, a man called Murat came over to give me a cup of coffee.It was another mountainous day, with two passes over 2100m. Apart from another puncture on my rear tyre, the day passed fairly uneventfully.

The next day, the weather took a turn for the worse. It rained heavily for most of the day, causing the river I was cycling alongside to flood.

A couple of cars stopped by me during the day, one to offer a poncho and another driven by a man called Ali who offered me a lift. I stubbornly continued cycling but appreciated the offer.

My bottom bracket was making a grinding sound for much of the day, and at one point it jammed. I managed to get it working again and stopped shortly afterwards – partly because of the rain and partly to have a look at my bottom bracket.

I removed the cranks to get a look at the bearing. Well, there they were… Ball bearings rolling on the floor and shards of metal falling out. That wasn’t supposed to happen! I put it back together as best I could and put the cranks back on.

The bottom bracket really didn’t seem as though it would last much longer. I decided to take a different route, crossing the border at the coast rather than in the mountains. Not only was this slightly shorter but Batumi, the city just across the border, seemed large enough that it might have a bike shop which would stock a replacement bottom bracket.

I set off the next morning, beginning with a climb. A clunking sound accompanied the turning of the pedals and I kept expecting the bottom bracket to fail further. But… It didn’t. I kept cycling up the pass without issue, passing several of what is a common sight in Turkey: 2D cutouts of police cars.

I kept on cycling, over the pass, and then up and over another. I began to feel more confident that the bottom bracket would last. I set up camp shortly after beginning the long descent to the coast.

The next day that descent continued, riding alongside a river in a narrow gorge. Endless tunnels (well, 40+) was the theme of the day.

The descent from an elevation of over 2000m was very gradual, with several shorter climbs along the way. It wasn’t until the second day that the longest tunnel yet, about 5km long, brought me down to sea level.

The road levelled out and I cycled along the coast for my last few kilometres in Turkey. This was quite a change from the snow-capped mountains I’d got used to.

Before long I made it to the border. I was first waved through immigration, then sent back when the customs guy saw I didn’t have an exit stamp. I was then allowed through to the Georgian side, where after a short queue I was given my entry stamp. Hello Georgia, country number sixty!

At the border I chatted with Stefan, an experienced Finnish backpacker now on holiday in Batumi. After a while we said goodbye and I cycled on for an hour or so to get into the city. It took some time to find the guesthouse I’d booked but with the help of locals, one of whom called the owner to come and let me in, I made it there. I settled in for a rest day.

May 2: 197km

May 3: 169km

May 4: 99km

May 5: 159km

May 6: 148km

May 7: 67km

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