A cycle tour of 3500Km around (western) Turkey
This is my route in 2 stages. Before the
conference I rode from Istanbul to Antalya, 1400Km in 10 days.
After the conference (and bus tour back north to Bergama) I rode a loop back to Istanbul, 2100 Km in 18 days.
detailed interactive map for Istanbul to Antalya (stage 1) is
here. (opens in a new window)
detailed interactive map for Bergama - Bodrum - Aksehir -
Istanbul (stage 2) is here. (opens in a new window)
Stage 1 - Istanbul to Antalya, 10
Stage 2 - Bergama, Bodrum, Aksehir to Istanbul, 18 days
Route profile from Istanbul to Antalya. You don't
come to turkey to find flat roads. The mountain cycling is
It is time to visit another conference, this time in Turkey. Yes, it is an unusual destination at first thought and dangerously close to Syria and its war. But it is also a country full of mountains related to the collision of europe and africa, with interesting geology and, hopefully, great cycling. However it is not known for its cycling culture or traffic friendliness to cyclists, although it does host an annual Tour of Turkey professional bike race.
Following my usual pattern i rode to Darwin airport and folded the bike and checked it in. The total weight of bike and luggage was just 22kg. After a 4 hour transit of Singapore i was on my way direct to Istanbul. After a 10 hour flight we landed at 7am local time. Istanbul immigration is even worse than Los Angeles and i stood in a line of some 400 people for over an hour. Then i reassembled the bike and tried to find my way out of the airport. As is too common, the airport connects straight onto the freeway and crossing 4 lanes of traffic is a nightmare. Made worse by my choosing the wrong freeway and having to backtrack and change freeways.The plan was to escape from Istanbul immediately by going to the ferry terminal some 20km away, but i managed to get lost on the way. The ferry crosses the sea of Marmara to Yalova which is several hundred km by road from Istanbul so the traffic is less ferocious. The 11:30 ferry left right on 11:00am and i scrambled to board just before it left. Why did it leave early? Then i realised that i had incorrectly reset my watch time. Perhaps the long flight had scrambled my brain.
There were 3 british cycle tourists on the same ferry and we discussed our plans. They were cycling east across Turkey to Kazakhstan and had, like me, decided to use the ferry to bypass having to cycle in Istanbul's notoriously bad traffic, while I planned to cycle west on tiny back-roads to acclimatise to road conditions here. Yalova is a small seaside resort catering to tourists and i rode through the tourist area to reach some urban shops to buy a simple lunch. I found a sleepy pizza restaurant and was surprised the owner spoke english. He was a Turkish Brit who spent summer in turkey and the rest of his time in London. He was extremely helpful and explained some critical road rules for me, helped me buy bananas at the market next door and charged me far too little for the pizza. I sure was grateful for his kindness and introductory guide to Turkey.
At last it was time to cycle off into this unknown
land and culture. I had chosen a small secondary road, but it
was a harsh introduction to cycling on bumps. I swear they have
a factory which pre-fabricates bumps and they then assemble
these to make roads. And despite there being little traffic it
was apparent that the road rules were somewhat optional. As i
transited one small village 2 turkeys wandered erratically onto
the road. Their behaviour could not be distinguished from that
of the Turks driving vehicles on the road. I needed to cycle
defensively here. I arrived at a small village at 5pm. I am sure
it was 5pm as 2 adjacent mosques had a competition to see who
had the most powerful prayer. If Allah lived on the moon, he
would have heard these prayers easily. It took some time and
effort to find the only hotel in the village as no-one could
speak english. I was not expecting much english comprehension,
but this was far worse than my tour in Taiwan. Things might be
tough for me here.
Next day i was refreshed and headed for the mountains. As i crossed through Gemlik i tried to find a bicycle shop to buy some chain lubricant. I did find a shop but it only repaired broken children's bicycles and was of no use to me. Traveling east and south i found small villages with old men drinking tea and a pleasant mountain to cross. The same tractor passed me 5 times over 15km as the driver stopped at every tea stand along the way. His energetic dog ran beside the tractor the whole way instead of riding in the trailer. Perhaps the tea stops were actually for the dog's benefit! The scenery was great, and the road slightly less bumpy and cycling was fun. Now i had to cross some flat agricultural plains. Although the roads were better, the traffic tried to kill me. The numerous trucks gave me clearance, but the oncoming cars insisted in overtaking and running me off the road. Don't ever assume that other drivers will give way.
I reached a large town where i hoped to easily
find a hotel. After some difficulty i found one after my long
and interesting day. There was more confusion as the internet
connection was broken and it took an hour to convince them that
the problem was in their computer, not mine. But as i walked
around the town it looked remarkably normal. It was noticeable
that there were many small specialist shops rather than big
franchise chain stores. A nice change from the excessive
agglomeration in other nations. I did not feel out of place or
in danger, just comfortably normal. I had traveled east from the
coastal highways to use secondary roads southwards through the
mountains. Now it was time to climb some real mountains, with
passes at an altitude of some 1500m. Although the road was steep
and my progress slow, the mountain scenery is superb. I saw many
water outlets, supplied from springs and they were safe for
drinking. Cyclists do not go thirsty in he mountains here. I
wish we could do this in Australia! Descending into the next
valley was a thrilling fast ride, but i had to be careful
about some of the bumpy road sections at speeds of over 60kph.
Numerous refreshing water supplies in the
mountains, and safe to drink!
In this next valley i saw many earthworks, eventually realising this was a large coal mine with electricity generators. A second mountain pass that afternoon took me to a small town where i had trouble again asking where to find an "otel", despite the fact that the turkish and english words are almost identical. Omar heard me and came to help. He ran a small store selling lpg gas and sat me down to soft drinks and tea and bread while he called his friend and bartered a special price for me at the thermal springs bungalows. And when i asked for help to buy chain oil, he dug around in his shop and found some gun oil, for which he would not accept payment. I was overwhelmed by his helpfulness. That night a rock concert was held right beside my motel, so an early night was inappropriate / impossible. At 10:30pm during the concert a prayer session was held for 10 minutes, then the rock music resumed until 11pm. Rather different to western concerts! This town (Emet) was actually the location of a large Boron mine. I was surprised as this element is usually a waste material rather than a desired product.
Omar advised me to take a road to the east instead of the south, as the southern road was hilly and hard. I respectfully ignored him - hilly hard roads are the best for scenic cycling. It was a pleasant day riding, and certainly hard, followed by another mountain pass crossing at 1500m altitude in the afternoon. I stopped at the bus station where they read a note Omar had prepared for me and after calling him, they arranged a hotel for me and a taxi driver escorted me to the hotel. Everyone was so helpful. While relaxing in a small cafe, Sucha arrived and introduced himself. He was a brother of the cafe operator and an english teacher with a masters degree. He was amazed to meet an australian in his small town in the mountains and we talked late into the night comparing many aspects of turkish and australian education, politics and culture. It seems english is compulsory and taught in all turkish schools, but oral proficiency is poor because few teachers have had the chance to speak english rather than understand written english.
My plan was to meet a cyclist, Adnan, in Mugla in
3 days time, but there were still several mountains to cross.
Next day after only 1 mountain and 100km it was late and time to
stop before my hoped for destination. I would have to cross 2
mountains tomorrow. With help from a taxi driver i found the
unmarked route up the mountain where i stopped only briefly for
lunch. The descent was fast and exhilarating despite the coarse
road surface. The rough surface upset my bike computer which
stopped working and i repaired it in the town in the next valley
during a short rest stop in Odemis. After 35km of headwinds
along the valley i reached the town of Tire at 3pm, still
planning another mountain pass. When i asked for directions
everyone tried to send me west on the new road which bypassed
the mountain instead of south over the mountain. Eventually they
realised i was crazy and really wanted to use the old mountain
road. One person who helped me explained that he had a degree in
economics, but no job. Many well educated people here cannot
find employment. It was now quite late to start a mountain climb
of about 1000m, but i hoped for a fast descent and sunset is
after 8pm, so i proceeded. The climb was strenuous but the views
back over the valley were impressive. The descent was fun and
also scenic, but i was still 20km from a town, and i now had
very undulating roads which i had not anticipated. It was 7:30pm
when i reached a small town where i was lucky to find a hotel.
It was a very basic hotel but the owner was very friendly and
helpful, even supplying a free cola drink, and i was far too
tired to care about luxuries! But it had been a really great day
of cycling, well worth the effort.
It should have been an easy 120km ride on the well made and smooth major road next day, but there was a fierce southerly headwind which had me pedaling hard, even to go downhill. I did reach Mugla, but several hours behind my expected arrival time. If there were more days with wind like this i would need to take the bus to reach my conference in time. That evening i met Adnan, a keen cyclist and english teacher and learned that there is a growing cycling culture in Turkey, but it is still quite small. At breakfast i spoke with 2 french cycle tourists who had stayed the night in the same hotel as me. They were fully loaded with camping gear and very heavy bikes and were surprised at my meager total travel weight of 22kg.
The wind had subsided and the roads were good and
so i made good progress to Fethiye a coastal resort on the
Mediterranean sea. This area was packed with resort hotels and
marinas with extensive urban sprawl. Here they had well managed
waterfront paths and parks, truly a western style development in
contrast to the rubbish littered and unkempt water-frontage in
Istanbul. The british are apparently buying houses here now
instead of in Spain. And english is in common use to cater to
the tourist trade. The russians are also frequent visitors here.
After some small mountains next day i traveled along the coastal
highway to Kas, another tourist resort town. This section of
coastal highway is very scenic. The great ocean road in Victoria
is really nice, but it is insignificant in comparison to cycling
along this coastline. Put this route in your cycling
destinations list right up at number 1. Kas is a compact tourist
town, but next morning there was a seriously hard climb for 10km
to continue eastwards. At the crest i noticed 6 cyclists
resting. It was a group of dutch tourists on an organized
tour. Raymond, the organizer, provided good information about a
more pleasant cycle route and invited me to ride with them. I
joined in for a while, but on a fast descent i apparently scared
2 of the group as i raced past them, so we decided i should ride
off ahead on my own, as i was much faster than the group. There
were more sections of beautiful coastline riding, punctuated by
a turkey motorist overtaking on a hairpin bend leaving me
nowhere to go but into the crash-rail. GRRRRRR, dont trust
anyone here. Most drivers are OK but there are 1% who are
complete assholes. Now i am just 100km from the conference in
Antalya and on schedule for arrival tomorrow.
Turkey in just 1 week surprised me. The mountains, the Mediterranean coastline and the many times that people have helped me are outstanding. Like everywhere, there are bad drivers and poor roads, so you do need to take care. But you can enjoy cycling here, at least away from the big cities and specifically Istanbul.
Chapter 2. Kingsley relaxes at the conference before stage 2.
I was just 1 day and 100km away from the
conference and there were 2 possible routes. The easy one was
along the coast, but it had tunnels and the traffic would be
heavy. The other route was up over a mountain, so you can guess
i took the mountain route. It was not fast, but i had all day,
and the scenery was great, as were the rock outcrops in the road
cuttings. I realised i was looking at an ophiolite sequence
formed when ocean floor is squeezed up to make mountains. Such
rocks are very difficult to observe in australia, but here they
were fresh and abundant in the many extensive road cuttings. By
mid afternoon i reached the suburbs of Antalya, population over
1 million, so rather larger than Darwin. I expected trouble
crossing the city and finding the conference hotel, but the
traffic was manageable and by asking several taxi drivers i soon
found the Ramada hotel. I rode straight into the lobby, which
caused a stir, and after checkin they stored the bike in the
baggage room for me, where it slept for 3 days.
The conference was a busy 3 day meeting of about
120 scientists many of whom i had already met, but with some new
friends to make also. Everything was provided at the hotel
including all the meals. It was a completely western enclave
within Turkey with no need to go outside the door. A little too
sterile for my liking after my many interesting experiences on
the journey so far. The conference was followed by a field trip
to 3 mines and i had little advance information about it as the
website did not work on my computer. My hope was that we would
have a bus with lots of luggage space to take my bicycle. But we
actually had 2 minibusses, with 1 trailer for all the luggage of
46 participants. I had been allowed to take the bike but this
did compromise the luggage space and packing up each day was a
problem. The tour entailed driving some 1000 km in 2 days
including late into the night. And the bus seating did not allow
for human beings with legs, particularly in the back seat where
i was. After some 800km squashed into a position even a yoga
expert could not manage, and with no air ventilation, the
arrogant and selfish student in front of me deliberately moved
his seat to bash my knee, which resulted in a major dispute
between us. The last thing i needed was a sore knee joint to
prevent me from cycling. It was inapproprite for this western
student to behave so rudely and he does not deserve the
conference travel grant he received, funded in part by attendees
like me. The turkish people have never been so impolite and
perhaps we westerners could learn some better manners from the
I quit the tour early because of these issues and
got back on the bike. Bike seats are infamous for being
uncomfortable, but it was far more comfortable than that bus! I
was now back in north-western Turkey at Bergama, so i headed
south again using different routes. My knee was still sore, but
after a day and 100km, it recovered. But in my desire to
get off the bus early, i had failed to make careful plans and
ended up on very rural backroads up in high hills populated with
giant wind turbines, and did not reach Manisa until after 7pm,
completely tired out. Once again people were helpful and found a
hotel for me. And at the pizza restaurant, the owner made
himself a special pizza and insisted i have some of it with him.
After the bus trip, the cycle computer had stopped
working. I ignored it at first, assuming it was a flat battery.
But new batteries did not help, and it was very annoying not
having distance information, which made navigation very
difficult. A cycle computer is not merely a luxury while touring
and is essential to ensure you do not run out of food and
limonata (fuel!). I found a pleasant and quiet road along a
valley filled with cherry trees to avoid the nearby traffic
nightmare of Izmir, the third largest city in Turkey. And at a
small city park i found a kofta (a turkish equivalent of a
hamburger) for lunch, with lemonade and tea for free. After
these 2 days i decided i really needed a new cycle computer, but
i was in Torbali, a relatively small town. I found a bicycle
repair shop, but these are just a man with a spanner and you
cannot actually buy things. I managed to ask where i might buy a
computer, but it was across town, so a person rode his
motorcycle ahead and led me to a distant motorcycle parts shop.
Eventually they realised i had already checked the battery and
they dug out a new computer for me. Great, and it was only $12.
By the time i had paid for it, 3 lads from the shop had already
half installed it on my curious-to-them bike. All i could do was
watch as they correctly installed it without reading the
english-only instructions. I was impressed and very grateful. I
tried to give them a small payment, but they refused it. I also
tried to pay the motorcyclist for leading me here, but he also
refused. Once again i received valuable free assistance and
kindness. They also led me to a nearby hotel which i would never
have found without help.
To travel south i had to use a major highway, but
it was well paved with a wide shoulder and safe for cycling. At
Selcuk i found an ancient castle dating back to roman times. I
observed it only from the outside while some kids pestered me to
take a guided tour. This was clearly a western tourist
attraction with many souvenir shops and many people spoke
english here. I noticed that some stone blocks in the roman
castle walls had greek inscriptions, but were upside down. A
case of the romans destroying earlier buildings and reusing the
stone blocks. A few km away i saw signs pointing to the ancient
ruins of Efos and rode in to see them. What a surprise. This was
a parking lot filled with some 50 large tour buses and numerous
taxis and other cars. There was a long alley of souvenir shops
and a jungle of people. Suddenly i had no interest in ruins and
rode straight through to the exit.
As i continued towards the nearby coast i noticed
2 cyclists camped in a small park and stopped to enjoy a long
chat with them. They were Canadians, spending a couple of months
in europe, carrying a heavy load of camping gear. I was again
glad i was travelling light. The nearby coastline at Kusadasi
surprised me. It was wall to wall beach resort hotels and
excessive fun parks as i continued onwards. Then i saw an
enormous cruise ship anchored in the harbour. So that was where
all the tourists and buses had come from! Apparently there is a
cruise ship here almost every day and it is tourist hell for
cyclists like me, so i continued to Soke, a town away from the
coast and its touristic excesses.
Arriving in Soke I stopped at an intersection,
wondering where to go to find a hotel. Someone approached and
asked if i needed help. He was a sociology student back home
during the university vacation. He took me to a tea house and
ordered (and paid for) tea, water and biscuits for me while we
chatted and several of his friends soon joined us. It was a
pleasant and welcoming return to Turkey from tourist
nowhere-land. He then took me to a nearby school of some sort,
which had hotel rooms upstairs. Without his help i would never
have found this accommodation.
On the road to Milas
Next day i continued south towards Milas, avoiding the main road where possible. Back on the main road, i saw a cyclist ahead and it was Rasa from Belgrade. We exchanged stories as we rode together and stopped for tea at a hilltop restaurant. He was worried about a strange noise his bike had started making 2 days ago. It was a good bike, made in Bulgaria, which he had bought to complete a circuit of the entire Mediterranean. I identified the noise and fixed it with some WD40 i had bought 3 days earlier. He was relieved that the problem was trivial, and we continued together for 40km to Milas, where i stopped for the night. Rasa rode on another 50km to Bodrum, but he had to fight the afternoon headwind. I would ride to Bodrum next morning when there was usually no wind. (Rasa and i are of similar ages) Riding to Bodrum was great, with stunning coastline views for much of the way and i even found a decent coffee shop along the way. But Bodrum itself was another tourist trap with a maze of cute restaurants along the marina frontage jammed full with tourist tour boats. This was no place for me, i needed an immediate escape plan! Perhaps i should catch the ferry south to the next peninsula, some 50km away. I found the ferry ticket office and asked when the next ferry was. "Next week" was the answer. Hmmm, time for escape plan B!
Adnan had given me a detailed hiking map of this
area when we met 2 weeks ago. Using this i could follow some
small village roads eastwards without needing to use the same
road i had just ridden. There were some serious hill-climbs, i
was unsure if all the roads were paved and i had to hope there
was accommodation available at a rather small town along the
way. But i did not want to stay in this tourist zoo. Soon i was
on quiet, although rough, back-roads and climbing over the steep
coastal mountain peaks. As i descended the range some 10
landrovers full of tourists drove up the road. This was
back-roads amusement for all the bored tourists from the nearby
club med and other resorts. They should have gone cycling
instead! Another long climb followed and late in the day i
reached Oren, a coastal town not yet infiltrated with western
tourism. I found a nice hotel near the coast with a friendly
owner and checked in. I asked where to park my bike securely and
he put it in the room adjacent to mine, as the hotel was empty
except for me. I hoped the bicycle would rest peacefully with
its own private room for the night. The owner suggested that he
order a take-out pizza for me, which we did and i relaxed as i
ate it on the rooftop terrace of the hotel in the gentle evening
breeze watching the mountains and sea beside me and the distant
mountains across the gulf which emerged from the sea only to
fade into the sky. A large multi-million euro luxury motor yacht
had moored here for the night and i watched the activity on
board. I wondered if those people were as happy as me. I doubted
that they could be after my amazing day of many coastlines and
mountains and superb views from the rooftop as the sun gradually
hid below the mountain horizon. Next day began with another long
climb over the coastal range and i found that behind the
limestone cliffs there was a sedimentary basin with coal seams
which were being mined for use in a nearby power station. The
road eventually followed the coastline eastwards through pine
forests. This coastline was quite different to the one i had
ridden yesterday, but also quite pleasant. Joining the main
road, there was a long steep climb offering superb views back
over the valley below as i climbed slowly to the crest.
Eventually i reached Mugla, a town i had visited a week before
and where i returned to the same hotel. They recognized me
immediately and welcomed me back. Perhaps red and yellow
cyclists are fairly obvious! Here i again met Adnan and made
plans to start my eastward and northward return to Istanbul,
which is another chapter in the making. The cycling is great and
i am still finding surprises and helpful people everywhere to
make my visit to Turkey an interesting and enjoyable experience.
Chapter 3. Time to escape from the tourist coast.
In Mugla i shared a relaxed breakfast with Adnan, who had just returned from a world cycling federation meeting in Vienna. There were 1400 attendees aiming to improve cycle routes and cycling acceptance world wide, but mostly in europe. Despite a late start i planned to ride to Tavas, about 100km east and across a modest mountain pass. But i soon had a headwind as well as the mountains to contend with, and i made slow progress. By mid afternoon i had covered only about 65km and was wearily riding up a long 10km climb, wondering why it felt so hard. A car with a trailer load of wood was parked ahead and the driver waved and spoke as i passed without stopping. But i thought i heard him say "dur", the turkish word for stop. The driver started his car, passed me, and stopped ahead of me, waiting for me to approach. This time i stopped, although i was now on the hillcrest and hoping for a long downhill. But using sign language, the driver explained to me that there was yet another big hill to climb before the next town, and he suggested i put the bike in the trailer and ride with him. I must have looked as tired as i felt, and gladly accepted.
His wife and young (3 years old) daughter sat in the front with me in the back seat. The girl hid silently behind her mother, clearly very worried about the alien creature (me) sitting in the back. As we passed some cows, the mother named them and made "mau" noises, so i made a "moo" noise also. Suddenly the girl spoke up loudly and there was an animated discussion with much hilarity. I presume they were discussing my use of the wrong cow noise because cows don't moo in turkey! I was delivered to a hotel in Kale, some 25km short of my planned destination, but i was tired and very grateful for the ride.
During the ride the bike must have moved on the trailer and now the rear suspension bolt had broken. Normally this would be a serious problem, but this same bolt had broken in queensland 2 years previously and ever since then i have carried spare bolts. I installed the masonry anchor bolt that i had used before and rested for the night. As i walked around this town in a farming district i noticed many small blacksmith and metal-working businesses. They made hand farming implements such as scythes, sickles and hoes. I was interested to note that much farm work is still done by hand and that mega-factory china has not replaced this local tool production.
Next day i rode across vast plains, intensively cultivated but with plots only being 1-3 acres each. Many plots were of wheat and they used large harvesters. It must be difficult to manoeuvre such large machines in such small plots. Many plots of vegetables were being hand tended, mostly by women doing hard manual labour. I soon reached Tavas and continued on with a long downhill ride to Denizli, the location of an important university and geology faculty where Gulcan, the professor that co-organized our geology meeting, worked. She met me later in the evening and we planned a visit to some local tourist attractions for the next day.
Next day we visited the Pamukkale (cotton castle) travertine deposits, along with many hundreds of tourists. This was the site of an ancient roman city, but most people were only there to swim with the "doctor fish" which nibble and clean your skin. I was mostly interested in the cold water travertine deposit which covered the entire large hillside. (OK, i did notice a few of the bikini clad swimmers also!) It was a very pleasant day with Gulcan and her son Emre and i was very grateful for their kindness and company.
I usually have trouble finding my way out of large cities, but next morning i survived the traffic and confusing road signs to head east to Dnar. There were only a few small hills but there was an unfriendly headwind to impede me. These plains were mostly filled with wheat and the plot sizes were larger, but still less than 10 acres each. Having passed by a dry lake-bed, i continued further east to Emirdag on the shore of a large lake. There were some modest hills to climb and the scenery was pleasant. Nearing the lake there were extensive orchards of various fruit trees, irrigated from bores. The lake and undulating shoreline road were very pleasant as i traveled south enjoying the views on the climbs and the speed on the descents. The same car had passed me 3 times and they had shouted encouragement each time. They stopped and offered me a ride as they were also going to Ergdir, which was still 40km ahead. But i declined as the cycling was superb with great views and a decent road. Being a car passenger instead would be a very poor alternative to cycling this road. It is rides like this that cyclists live for, this was a truly spectacular and fun ride.
Lake Ergdir, looking west. (For scale, the barely visible town of Ergdir is at the base of that mountain!)
Next morning i traveled north along the other (eastern) shore of the lake enjoying more great scenery and riding. In the afternoon i would cross a mountain pass to reach my destination of Aksehir for the day. This was just an ordinary pass, probably only 1200m or so high and posed no problem, or so i thought. At the start of the climb there was a sign warning of a bumpy road for 20km. This was lengthy, but not greatly surprising as i had seen plenty of bumpy roads. But they were actually rebuilding the road and had torn up the paving completely leaving loose coarse rocks which threatened to shred my tyres, which are only intended for use on paved roads. It was also steep and i was climbing slowly while trying to avoid the many sharp rocks. It was so bad i resorted to walking for about 3km of he 6km of roadworks. I have never before been so glad to reach a badly paved and bumpy road at the end of the roadworks. But the subsequent long downhill was quite enjoyable. These mountains were quite dry and devoid of trees in contrast to the forested mountains i had crossed in NW turkey.
My plan was to head north to some serious mountains west of Ankara, while avoiding Ankara itself. It is just another too-big city. So i had to cross rolling hills and open fields for about 200km northwards. I ended the day at Emirdag, a large town in a desolate area that seemed to have little reason to exist except for many nearby marble quarries. It was an unexciting dusty town, but a necessary overnight stop for me. Here i planned my route through the mountains. It would be a challenge with a long day with 3 mountain passes between towns where i could find a hotel. Was this challenge too much?
Next morning after 50km i rested in a park in a small village and several people were curious about me and we conversed in limited english. As usual, i was offered tea, but we sat together in silence as we shared no common language. Here I decided that i should change my route and travel westwards instead of risking a potentially foolhardy mountain challenge alone. I noticed some 5th grade farm roads on my map and decided to try and use these as a shortcut. The first 8 km was fine, but then i reached a dirt road and there were no roadsigns. I roamed around and found tiny villages almost forgotten to the world and was concerned i was becoming lost, relying on my compass and guesswork for navigation. Eventually i reached a major road and hoped to find refreshments in the next small village. I was surprised to encounter a mid sized town with an enormous mosque. Apparently this mosque had great historical significance. It was another 50km to reach the too-large town of Eskisehir, where the taxis and traffic annoyed me as i searched for a hotel. I roamed around the very extensive city centre shopping district filled with people merely drinking tea and searched in vain for an espresso coffee. That night i checked my day's route recorded by my gps logger and found i had not deviated from a direct route by more than 10km, despite my concerns.
Another mountain pass, near Aksehir
As i loaded my bike next morning i found that my rear rack had broken in 2 places. This was serious as it was essential to carry my pannier of luggage. I used zip-ties to stabilize it, but this was an unreliable fix. I headed off up into the mountains with considerable concern. I crossed a low pass at just 1200m altitude and proceeded down into a scenic valley. Now i also noticed my rear tyre had a nasty cut caused by the coarse gravel on unpaved roads, another serious issue, although i did have a spare tyre. The day was quite hot and there was no breeze in the valley and the bitumen on the road was melting. This could turn into a bad day. I swapped my front and rear tyres over so that the damaged tyre would no longer be heavily loaded and continued onwards on the now very slippery melted bitumen roads.
I still had another high pass to cross, and the climb was steep and long and the weather was very hot. There was a village somewhere near the top, but it was just a dot on the map and unlikely to be a location to stop for the night. At 6pm i reached the remarkably large and tidy town of Sogut right on top of the mountain pass. I was able to find hotel and glad of the chance to stop here as i was tired after 140km. But how could i continue my journey for another week with a seriously broken rack and very sick front tyre? Perhaps i could get my rack welded, but it was aluminium so special TIG welding was required and i had seen no evidence that this was common in Turkey. Would i have to give up cycling and travel by bus instead? I had many problems to resolve. My cycling epic might be about to end prematurely.
Chapter 4. The tour is Salvaged.
Amazing mountains and valleys are everywhere. This is near Sogut.
After my much needed overnight rest stop in Sogut on the mountaintops, it was time to try and find someone to weld my broken rack. Gulcan had emailed me a magic word and I needed to find a "sanayi", some sort of repair business. I rode west down the mountain enjoying the amazing scenery on the way to Bilicek, a small town, perhaps too small for me to find a welder. In the valley i crossed the well constructed main freeway and noticed a new high speed railway line. There are many infrastructure projects in Turkey, contributing to a first class transport system. It is just the older and secondary roads i cycle on that remain bumpy. I carried my bike across the older railway tracks to a small village where i rested with yet another of my favourite limonata drinks. Here I showed the magic word to a roadside vendor who could speak just enough english to tell me to go 7km ahead and look on my right. It was a long climb up the valley wall where i found a major town. Bilicek exists in 2 sections, the old one in valley and a large modern section up on the mountain top. As i rode through the town i saw a Burger King shop. I know i should not be tempted by such places, but hey, they often have decent coffee, so i stopped. The coffee machine was broken, a common turkish problem, but a young guy buying an icecream offered to help me. After buying his icecreams he walked with me several blocks up the road to a cafe which had a working expresso machine. And they also had a muffin!! My first muffin in turkey in a month, i was in instant heaven! After this pleasant break I proceeded on the designated 7km and found a cluster of small industrial businesses, which looked promising. The first welding business i stopped at only welded steel, but they took me up the back to another business who looked at the broken rack and nodded encouragingly. I removed the rack from the bike and they indicated it was lunch time and took me to nearby food business crammed with 30 workers from throughout the complex and loaded up a tray full of food for me, and also paid for it. Refreshed after lunch i returned to find my rack had already been fixed. I replaced it on the bike and went to pay them for the good and prompt work and also for the lunch. But they would not accept payment and instead gave me tea as we discussed my cycling tour in very limited english. I was amazed and very grateful for their help and kindness.
Now i could continue my tour without the concern of catastrophic failure of my rack and i continued westwards on small village back-roads for a very pleasant ride through forgotten valleys to Inegol, a town i had stayed in on only my second night in Turkey, about 4 weeks prior. I did not really want to re-visit this town, but it was the only nearby place to find a hotel for the night. I returned to the same hotel where they were surprised to see me again. While roaming around the town centre i found a shop selling bicycles, together with household appliances, furniture and motorcycles. I asked for a tail-light for my bike as mine had broken and was surprised that they had one, as bicycles in turkey never seem to have lights. While purchasing the light for very little money, i was given tea as usual and i asked about the origin of the bicycles he sold. They were made in turkey, even the very common italian brand Bianchi bikes were made in turkey under licence. I also found out that the abundant motorbikes, all with unusual brand names (to me), were also manufactured in turkey. I was impressed to learn that the Turks are so capable and self sufficient for many manufactured products.
From Inegol there were few roads to ride which i had not already ridden, maybe i would ride across the same high mountain pass again. But i received an email from Salih advising that he would have a day off work to go cycling in 2 days time, so i decided to go north to Gemlik and then spend a day riding with him. To reach Gemlik i either had to use a route i had already cycled, or pass through the major metropolis of Bursa. To avoid both of these i used google maps to find a path up over the mountain range through tiny villages on backroads, even though these roads were not shown on my published map. I had hopes of a back-roads ride like i had just ridden. Next morning i started out on the main highway but then took a pleasant and forested backroad through the foothills of the adjacent mountains which still had snow caps in mid summer. This took me too far west into he outskirts of Bursa and i turned back east to find the access road to the mountain villages. A cyclist caught up with me and we compared stories, with a limoanta of course. He was turkish and had just commenced his tour out to the lakes i had visited a week ago. He was only the 3rd turkish touring cyclist i had encountered in my travels. He continued east and i went north up into the mountains.
It was hard to find the correct route, followed by a long slow climb up to the rural villages. There were no roadsigns and when i asked directions i was pointed to a dirt track and told it was 4km to a paved road in the next village. Not ideal, but i could walk that far if the road was bad, which it was. The 4km became 7km before i reached the next village. Here the asphalt had melted and been covered with very coarse loose gravel. The road was paved, but the loose stones and melted tar made it barely rideable. I proceeded cautiously through several small villages for the next 50km and then down the very steep mountain slopes to the coast. This was not the fun ride i had hoped for, it was more of a very hot endurance marathon, but i reached Gemlik and found a hotel and lots of limonata to drink. Here i met Salih and planned a ride for next day.
Salih and I on the Gemlik seashore
Next day Salih and i rode 55km east to Iznik, site of many ancient Ottoman era ruins, and returned 65km west, circumnavigating the large lake. It was a pleasant, fast ride as i did not have to carry my luggage, rock samples and other stuff today. Salih is actually a professional mountain bike rider and will compete in the Turkish mtb championships soon. I doubt i was really a good riding partner for him, but he was very polite about my riding speed (or relative lack thereof). Back in Gemlik on the seashore we drank limonata and met his friend Cenkay, who was test riding a classic 1970's era race bike he had been repairing. Later in the evening i went walking along he pleasant seashore path and again met Cenkay. We walked together and discussed the classic Motobecane race bike that we wheeled along with us. As we passed over a small bridge a photographer was taking photos of a newly wed bride and groom. He borrowed the bicycle and had the bride pose with it, though i doubt she had ever even contemplated riding such a bicycle.
I now had 3 days remaining before my return home, but i was close to Yalova, the place from which i would take a ferry to Istanbul. This meant i had very few options for riding as i had already ridden most of these roads, or there was heavy traffic on the others. So i rode just a short 50km to Yalova, where i returned to visit the pizza shop owner who had helped me when i first arrived. We spent a friendly time discussing my adventures. I needed to clean the bike to comply with australian quarantine laws, so i purchased some materials and went to a local petrol station that had a pressurized water blaster, used for car washing. The washer operator watched as i soaped up the bike and then he squirted the bike where i pointed and together we cleaned the bike. I doubt he had ever been asked to wash a bicycle before! When i offered him money, he declined and pointed to the office. OK, i should pay there instead, but he then escorted me to the office and sat down with me and supplied tea. I was not allowed to pay for the bike wash!
After a relaxed afternoon and evening during which i finally found a cafe which actually knew how to make a proper "long black" coffee, i caught the ferry to Istanbul next morning. It was sunday, so the normally busy road i would travel on was quiet enough for me to feel safe as i rode 40km west to stay at the university for the last 2 nights. On the way i noticed a proper bicycle shop, only the second one i had seen in turkey, so i stopped merely to see what bikes they sold. They were interested to hear about my touring and to see my bike and spent some time adding brightly coloured and reflective safety materials to my bike and bags for free. Yet more kindness and helpfulness.
Some 10km further i experienced the full horror of Istanbul traffic as i was trapped on an extremely busy and complicated 8 lane freeway that is the only road for some 3km. Cyclists have good reason to fear the traffic here and i took note that i did not want to repeat this route section on my trip to the airport soon. After a day spent in discussions at the university and a pleasant evening with Nurullah, one of the conference co-convenors, i headed off for the last 20km to the airport. I managed to avoid the worst of the morning rush traffic and only got lost once on the way. I wheeled my bike into the departure area where they insisted i put the bike on the x-ray belt for security checking before i folded and packed it for checkin to Darwin.
Summary:It had been a great tour with some 3500km of cycling and discovering many mountains. Turkey is a country you can cycle in as most people are kind and helpful. Most truck and intercity bus drivers are very considerate of cyclists, just don't ever trust car or local minibus drivers, they have their own set of road rules, which do not include bicycles! And don't cycle in Istanbul itself any more than absolutely necessary. There are amazing mountain roads to explore and coastal scenery to inspire you. On the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts there are numerous ancient archeological remains from Greek and Roman occupations to ponder, if that is your interest. Further inland you can find remnants of the great Ottoman empire era. You can find very western sunshine and beach resorts filled with tourists, restaurants and villas with only a feint taste of turkishness in westernized enclaves. Or leave the coastline and discover the complex and interesting geology of the closure and uplift of the Tethys sea about 20 million years ago as Africa and Eurasia collided. And in the smaller towns you can find the friendly Turkish people farming as they have for centuries before with extensive marketplaces of fresh produce. Turkey has so much to discover and I had only ridden in the westernmost quarter.
I experienced a great deal of kindness and help from the Turkish people in so many places I visited. They always tried to assist despite our language differences. But don't expect a completely smooth western experience. Turkey is still under construction! Loose wires will hang out of the ceiling, the water will either leak or not flow at all, the bathroom door probably will not close, not all the roads are smooth and you should drink tea instead of coffee. Just remember these are really minor issues and that Turkey is managing to build itself without resort to Euro loans or IMF loans, which is a significant achievement. You will also be rudely awoken by the 5am morning prayers frequently, just get used to it and remember that the church bells in France and other parts of europe are similarly annoying. But western dress standards, including for women, seem to be accepted here. I rode all the time dressed in my normal lycra cycle wear.
And for cyclists, practice this VERY important word: HOOOSHT When chased by dogs, shout this at them. Whatever it means in Turkish, the dogs stop immediately. You may need multiple applications of hooosht for some less obedient dogs. Most dogs are actually too sleepy to chase you, but there is always an exception.