4 days out on the bike, plenty of snow, a 2300m summit, and I’m back in Erzurum – but no longer alone.
A few days ago I headed out from Erzurum, heading towards the Black Sea, with a plan of catching up to a few other cyclists coming this way. I could have waited for them where I was, but I needed to get out on the bike, as I’ve had too much time off it, in Istanbul, Ankara and Erzurum.
The snowclouds had gone, leaving glorious blue skies, above a snow-covered valley. The road went down the valley for over 50km, on a good, wide, more or less flat road. I was flying along, enjoying life. Later in the day I started heading up a long climb, but realised I was had left it a little too late in the day to make it up and over, and get down with light left. Everything was snow-covered, with very few places available to camp. The locals had also been warning me about the wolves in the area.
I was grinding up the hill when I saw a grubby, unmarked chai-house, with a bunch of trucks outside. They all waved me over, and since I was hoping to try and camp there, I rolled over. One spoke some German, so we could work things out. I explained where I was going, they gave me free chai to warm me up, and then somehow my bike was loaded onto one of the trucks, and I was sitting high and pretty in the cab. The bike was between the cab and the tip part, with only a thin rubber band attached. I was worried about it, but figured that all my gear was in the cab, and so just said a prayer to Allah that the bike would make it.
It was still a long climb up the mountain, and at the top we had outstanding views of the whole ranges, everything blanketed in snow. I thought they were going to drop me at the top, but they said no, no, stay with us a bit longer. So we rolled down the other side. Then I heard “Jandarma, probleme” – the Jandarma were stopping some vehicles a little way ahead. Suddenly the driver got out of the driver’s seat, and the other guy in the cab swapped places with him. At no point did we slow down below 80km/hour. I was just grateful we were on a straight road. Never did quite get to the bottom of why they had to swap, think it was a license issue.
But so we carried on to Bayburt, where we went to a restaurant attached to a service station, that was run by a friend of one of the drivers. All the other drivers had also turned up, and we all sat down to a good meal. Photos and maps came out, and then we did some photos. At the end of the meal, I was told “nichts zu zahlen” – i.e. nothing to pay. I still didn’t have anywhere to stay, so we then sorted it out that I could put up my tent next to the service station.
I then met all the service station staff, and entertained them. Less English/German spoken amongst that group, but we got by. Gave the correct answer to the religion question – Christian. Made the mistake the other day of telling someone I was agnostic, it’s just not worth the hassle of doing that again. Also saw some of the Turks/Kurds thing – they pointed out how one of the staff was Kurdish, and they didn’t like him so much – but they weren’t being very serious. Lots more cups of tea – I don’t even like tea – and we got the tent set up. They were worried I would be cold, and blankets were brought out. As it was I was fine, but it was very touching.
Then slept soundly, knowing they were keeping an eye on me. The next day I felt I should buy something, as I had spent nothing, yet been fed and watered. Got a few chocolate bars and biscuits from the service station – and they wouldn’t let me pay for them. There is something very touching about the genuine hospitality to strangers.
Heading out that day into the drizzle, I met up with Keith, Stephen and Jan, and we turned to head back. Snow started coming down, and so we had a half day. The next day I went back up over the pass, but this time on the bike, not from the comfort of a high cab. Snow was falling, visibility was limited, and things were icing up on my bike. The Windstopper jacket I acquired performed outstandingly though – just wish the same could be said of my legs. But we got over the pass, and I was very grateful to descend out of the snow, and seek shelter in the same chai house, and warm up by the fire.
Then an easy day in the sunshine, and back to Erzurum. Looks like we’ll cross into Iran on May 2nd, which means we should have a little spare time here. Will either do an unladen day ride somewhere, or perhaps will go to the border by a less direct route. Will think about it.
And before I forget, congratulations to my brother and his wife, on the birth of Miah Michelle. The stuff I do is far easier…