Turkish travails

This border felt rather different to the cozy, porous European crossings. I drifted out of Greece onto a bridge with marksmen posted periodically along its span. However receiving my visa quickly and hassle free combined with the border guards easy manner put me at ease.

That ease wouldn't last. It soon became plain that the Turkish highway from border to coast (D110) had zero regard for geography. Long, straight, busy and unpredictable. Turkish roads west of Istanbul were a trial.

It is seen as something of an accomplishment that the Romans built such marvelously straight roads. I say pah! Building a straight road reveals nothing more than a lack of on the ground knowledge and or care for the most suitable route. It's the same kind of detached arrogance that led British and French empire builders to draw the dead straight borders which still plague Africa and the Middle East. Great road building seeks to link valleys and surmount rises in the easiest manner possible perhaps, appreciation the gradient a traveler will encounter. Perhaps providing a switchback or two!

Such human design was entirely lacking from the D110.

This, combined with the unrelenting folds of the earth that characterise much of Turkey, ensured a relentless series of stiff rises and unnecessary descents. Up and down, up and down; straight and straight some more.

A miraculously traffic free moment

For the most part a wide shoulder ensured I was well out of the traffic, but without warning, this space would disappear for kilometers at a time throwing me into the inside line to fight for space and breath with large trucks and coaches.

The Turks take petrol stations seriously. Numerous, well staffed and usually with a good quality restaurant, water fountain, a WC & nice outdoor space. They are a god send for a parched and scorched cyclist. They don't however do maps. Despite stopping and asking at everyone I stopped at it would be another day and a half before I could find one and even then - despite its 1:300,000 scale - it showed only the main highways. 

It was enough to make a man wish for a Little Chef off the M1 if it would mean access to an OS map.

Cartographically bereft I was unable to veer off and try to find a less direct but more pleasant back route and so the hot dusty mogul course continued for the afternoon. I also experienced my first flat tire in Turkey. I couldn't for the life of me find the tear despite going so far as to fill a bowl of water. The wasted time put the kibosh on any hopes I had harbored of making Istanbul the next day.

Instead I settled in a discrete pine growth set back from the road feeling worn but with the sense of satisfaction that comes from entering a new country and negotiation her foibles without major incident and successfully finding a pleasant (and free) place to camp.

Waking the next day the first order of business was to fix a newly flat tire, the second to jerry-rıg my quickly failing cycling shoes.

Even cable ties were starting to loose their effectiveness in the face of such disintegration

Repairs complete it was back to the same implacably straight road.

Road works offered a welcome respite as the traffic was forced to share the opposite lanes while I weaved through bollards and workers.

Still there remained little to recommend this route and the only memorable moments were pleasant encounters with the very friendly and hospitable Turks. I was offered soft drinks by motorists at lay-byes and had water melon shared with me at water fountains. Such warmth in the face of someone without a word of Turkish was very humbling.

One memorable pit stop to drench my jersey the better to fight the heat, led to a long charades conversation with the proprietor and his extended family. The net result was a swap shop where three roll up cigarettes secured me apples, herbs and some cold water.

The day finished upon reaching the sea at Tekirdag which boasts a large concrete waterfront. More than sum of its parts this pleasant seaside town town bustled with families and young lovers enjoying an evening promenade. Negotiating my exit was a little problematic without a map and I got rather lost leading me to cut my loses for the day and make camp in a hidden fold on a clifftop field on the outskırts.

I awoke the next day feeling excited. Istanbul awaits! Famous Constantinople lay within my grasp!

Alas I was immediately confronted by the by now familiar morning routine of packing my panniers onto the bike only to reseal that I had YET ANOTHER PUNCTURE.

Jeez. Between London and Croatia I had exactly zero punctures. Now I was getting multiple blow outs, of all kinds, each day. Clearly my tires and tubes were starting to struggle.

Unfortunately the day continued as it began. The road became increasingly busy, dusty and downright dangerous as the road surface deteriorated. Riding for hours within inches of frantic traffic, mostly trucks, is not fun. Where a hard shoulder did emerge it was covered with glass and gravel or occupied by parked cars.

In total I got 6 flat tires that day including a memorable double blow out. Some of these were due to poorly patched inners but the rest were infuriatingly random. With 40k left to Istanbul I finally lost my rag with the constant white knuckling of cycling the D110 and struck off for a quieter back road into Istanbul.

To my great surprise I found a very pleasant one up and over hilly countryside. Still 20k outside the city and darkness had fallen. With it did my spirits. When my seventh and final flat tire of the day struck I was done. Exhausted and unable to reach my host by telephone to determine how far off I actually was I all but fell off the bike into a sunflower field and was soon sound asleep after a frustrating day.

Not my proudest camping moment.

For the third day in a row I awoke to a puncture. 

Clearly my supply of inners had reached the end of their usefulness but I had little choice but to patch the patches as best I could and move on.

Cycling into Istanbul proper was exactly as ridiculous as you might imagine with sweeping overpasses taking me flying into heavy three lane motorway backed up with traffic. For all that it would have been fine had my phone not chosen this day to run out of battery just as my phone charger broke. 

Suddenly my means of navigating to my Warmshower host had evaporated. Compounded by my lack of quality map I instead had to rely on my memory of the location and a scrap of paper on which I had scrawled the street name. There was nothing for it but to head for the vicinity of this sprawling metropolis of 20 plus million people that I could recall and begin making concentric circles looking for said street. 

I quickly learnt that if you ask a Turk whether he knows where x is he or she will invariably respond with a confident suggestion, even if they don't have the foggiest idea. Fortunately I met a nice maths student who spoke excellent English. (Indeed he was heading to Nottingham University, my alma mater, the next semester.) Without hesitation he left work at his father's shop to walk the streets and help me find the elusive street.

After a further hours search we stumbled upon the street. However, lacking an exact address I was only marginally closer to my goal. Fortunately the local swimming pool randomly had a free Internet cafe so I could message my host Erdıc. A little while later he appeared running down the street just as I was considering giving up and heading for a hostel. 

Good thing he did because naturally I had another flat tyre...

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