Riding High

We spent a couple of days off doing almost nothing but resting. We came across a launderette which we decided to splurge on, and it’s incredibly tragic how excited we were to have truly clean clothes, and not just ones we rinse every night with shower gel in a sink.

On leaving, we had a few miles of off road cycling, which I found a nice change, especially as we’ve been on some busy tourist sections. It was pleasant to just have some quiet away from the traffic noise. Richard hates this kind of cycling though, so not the best start to the day for him. 

Soon we reached Lake Bafa, and rode alongside the south road. It was a day of amazing scenery, although it’s such a busy road there were limited opportunities to stop much and really appreciate it. The road was mostly undulating and the day was very hot (as usual,) so we stopped at the top of one of the inclines where there was a roadside stall. A woman asked if I wanted water, so I said yes and picked up some bottles from a stack on the ground, but she put them back and went and got some cold bottles from a fridge instead and gave us a seat in the shade.

Round the next bend we bumped into a pair of cyclists, which was a huge shock. We haven’t seen anyone else on the road for ages. One was on his phone and the other waved us on, indicating that he didn’t speak English. But then they both came over and tried to chat using a translate app. They were both from Turkey (obvious anyway by all the flags adorning their bikes!) They are heading round the coast also, but we are diverting to see the lake, so I’m not sure if we’ll catch them up again at some point. The phone guy was wearing a long sleeved shirt, long tights, and a neck buff which also covered his face. He didn’t look hot and it probably very used to the heat here, but if I was decked out like that, by the end of the day I’d be like a banana wrapped in foil and put on a BBQ.

We were heading to a small village which was recommended to us by the guy who gave us a lift to Ephesus, and it was a great detour. We rode through some extraordinary rock formations, with a background of mountain vistas along a road with hardly any traffic, and alongside a beautiful serene lake. We stayed in a quiet little room, where we had the drama of Richard finding a lizard on the wall. He has to deal with spiders, but any other creature falls to me. We were really in need of a good night’s sleep, so were hoping that in such a quiet place that would be a given. But there was a wedding in the village that night.

Another day, another big hill, which will be a theme in Turkey. This one had a surprise tunnel at the top, which was nice as we were expecting to climb another couple of hundred feet. It was pretty well lit and not too long, and the downhill on the other side was joyous as usual. The next 10 miles or so was actually really flat, which made a massive change. We passed through a series of small towns, and exiting one a boy of about 8 or 9 ran to the side of the road and gave us both high fives.

We had a giant brake-busting descent right at the end of the day to a town by the sea which was locked in by hills, so we knew we had a nasty start to the next morning. We got a really early start to avoid the heat, and spent the first 3 miles climbing. A group of stray dogs made a beeline for us, and one of them attached itself by its jaws to a pannier for a bit, but didn’t do any real damage. My chain came off three times, my fault for not looking after it lately, but it did start to feel like a cursed day. We got to the top, where our biking apps and GPS assured us there was small coastal road, but were met will a high wall, a tall barrier gate and a padlock and chain. I felt sick as it sunk in that there was no way round this, and we had to backtrack all the downhill and do it all again in another direction, wasting the early start and all the effort put in.

The ride into Bodrum was probably the busiest yet. Most local traffic and the lorries and delivery vans are no problem to us, but tourist traffic, particularly the coaches, are always the worst. They are unforgiving with space and speed, and often get too close for comfort. We took a short rest to relax in a pool and catch up with washing. We met a lovely British couple (Louise and Kevin) and spent a good evening having a few beers. It was the only time on the trip that we have been a bit drunk, though my friends & family probably won’t believe that!

The next couple of days we followed smaller quiet roads through rural areas. We could go for miles without seeing a single vehicle. Even a couple of villages by some gorgeous coastline were very quiet, and we were able to have some leisurely paddles in the sea. The days were tough on the legs though. We had our biggest ascent and reached our highest point so far. It was through shady pine forests in the morning, and the difference of not having the sun beating down was huge. We stopped at a cafe for something to eat near the end of the day, and the guy serving us filled our water bottles and gave us extra to take with us before we left.

We then had the worst day yet, for me anyway. We had both managed the previous day’s climbing better than we thought, but I found out that a night’s sleep wasn’t enough for my legs to recover. After only a couple of miles of gentle uphill, my legs were screaming and I had a bit of fear creep in that I wasn’t going to be able to do the day we had planned. The next couple of hours of climbing were pure torture. I just had no energy and had to stop constantly to rest. It was the first time I’ve got off and walked some of a hill. I knew there was a flat section coming up, and when I got to the brow of it I was greeted by a man standing in the road, waving a corn on the cob and yelling “CORN!” at me, with Richard off to the side with an armful of figs laughing at it all. Richard had been at the top some time, and corn guy had been showing him round his fruit grove, and then how to spot and pick the ripe figs, which they had gathered for to us to eat (that is how slow I was.) He had a roadside stall where he pulled up some seats, and we sat eating figs and grapes. The man had been a teacher for 40 years, but now lived on his fruit farm and sold the excess produce at his stall. Richard and he had been exchanging the English/Turkish words for the various items, and since then the guy had been trying to entice passing trade with the corn waving and English. He asked if we would like tea. Normally it’s impolite to refuse, but it would have meant going off up a dirt track to his farmhouse some distance from the road, and he seemed quite understanding that we couldn’t leave the bikes and needed to get on. He told us that we had another kilometre of climbing and then some downhill, so we wearily set off again. I’d like to imagine that in years to come there will be a guy at the top of a hill in Turkey waving a corn on the cob in the road and shouting “Corn!” to passing motorists.

The rest of the day never seemed to end. We stopped frequently for cold drinks, and an ice cream, but nothing helped give me energy. We spent the last part of the day cycling right beside picture perfect turquoise sea, and it was a nice distraction, but by this point I was struggling with even the smallest undulation. I ended up walking the last half mile, and even that was a chore. We had a big dinner and a great night’s sleep, but I was worried about the next day. It was the longest distance we’d done for a while, but with much gentler climbs. I must just have had an off day, because once we got going I felt good. I was even relaxed about backtracking a couple of miles because I left two of my water bottles at a bus stop where we’d stopped to rest. We had a quiet and flat run into Dalyan, where we’ll take another day off.

When we first started riding in Turkey, we were wiped out at the end of every day, too tired to keep up with chores or to appreciate where we were. The plan to ride a few short but tough days and then rest for one full day has worked really well for us so far. We’ve been able to cope with the heat and hills, give ourselves time to recover and really enjoy being in Turkey. We also are feeling as though we’ve levelled up a bit physically, which is going to come in handy. Ahead of us soon is the Lycian Way and at some point after we will need to cross the mountains if we want to head inland and see Cappadocia.

Here’s my playlist for this ride through Turkey:

Talking Turkey

We had a late start riding in Turkey, after getting a ferry and going through customs and immigration. We’d had two 5am starts to catch ferries, and not much sleep on either night worrying about getting up in time. With foresight we were going to be tired, but the first day’s cycling in Turkey was easily the worst yet. If I’d had an out at some points, I would have quit. There were long hills through barren land, followed by long hills on main roads. At first it was manageable, but then it never seemed to end. We went from town to town looking for somewhere to stay, always with more hills in between, and by late afternoon I was feeling pretty rough. When we finally found somewhere to stop I could barely move.

With hindsight I think I ate something dodgy, and was feeling really awful the next day, so we didn’t get far. Richard went to get a haircut, and I took myself to a tea garden. Some people just have kind faces, and the guy who brought me endless tea while I waited, and offered a seat under an umbrella when it started to rain was one of those. Richard eventually turned up, having had not just a great a haircut, but (thankfully) his ear hair taken care of with a lighter, and we were ushered inside as the heavens opened more. The next day as we were leaving, Richard recognised a man gesturing to us, but couldn’t place him, but I instantly knew that kind face from the day before. He offered us a seat and brought us tea. We knew really that this was a gesture and not a transaction, but worried both that it would be rude not to offer to pay, but offensive if we did. Richard went in to say goodbye, and the guy put his hand on his heart and wished us well. Turkey constantly reminds me that overwhelmingly, people are good.

We stopped off in Selcuk at a lovely little pansiyon, so we could easily visit Ephesus. The guy insisted on taking us to visit his friend who owned a hotel and a shop, who could arrange that for us. Unfairly, as it turned out, our instinct was to be on our guard against being hussled into buying a tour or a carpet. But his first comment was that he would love to show us round his shop, but knew we couldn’t carry anything on the bikes. He then gave us advice for riding to the ruins, a free lift there if we’d rather do that, and a book to borrow about the ancient city.

We chose to accept the lift, because who in their right mind would exercise when they don’t have to? If I ever had a bucket list, then Ephesus would be on it. Even Richard, whose tolerance for this kind of thing is about as low as mine is for football, enjoyed it. There were a few tour groups, but mostly it was very quiet. We got a cab back into town, and a kebab. Being in a Turkish taxi is a bit like watching Carlos Sainz: Fast driving, but you can’t shake the feeling that something will go wrong.

Oh look, another hill.

The hills and the temperature have not let up, but we’ve resolved that if the terrain and the heat are going to be this brutal, then we are going to make the distances short. It’s worked well so far. Even though the climbing has been horrendous, we can stop as much as we want and take our time rather than aiming for some far off destination. The lack of pressure to do really long days and ride ourselves to exhaustion has helped mentally dealing with the physical challenges.

The ride to and through Kusadasi was another tough one, this time because the climbs are on main roads, and the traffic around this area is very heavy. Turkish roads tend to have a very wide shoulder though, usually used by mopeds to keep out of the way on climbs, so we have always felt safe cycling here. We stopped at a pansiyon and campsite with loads of bike paraphernalia, and a great pide place opposite. The next morning, my legs still hadn’t recovered from the ride the day before, so I was hoping in vain that the day would be a little easier. The owner saw us off and asked where we were headed that day. Richard told him, and added that we were expecting some hills. The guy chuckled and said “Oh yes, there are going to be climbs. It will be very hard.” Wonderful.

Turkey has been pretty cheap, so we have treated ourselves to a couple of days off by the sea in a half-board hotel. There are four toilet rolls in the bathroom though, which I don’t think bodes well for dinner.

Here is a playlist for our first week in Turkey: