Turkish Black Sea Coast: Our Very First Week of Riding

To avoid what we thought would be a very stressful first day of riding we decided to take a ferry up the Bosphorus Strait past the suburbs of Istanbul. Leaving on a Saturday, we had few options on the public ferry system so we purchased a one-way ticket on the tourist ferry and headed out to Anadolu Kavağı, the last stop.

We had a 500m ride from our hotel in Sultanahmet to the ferry terminal and yet we woke up 3 hours before departure time and sat nervously through breakfast with me wondering if I would even be able to get my fully loaded bicycle up the first steep hill outside our hotel. Too worked up about Istanbul traffic we didn't even pose together for a departure photo as we rode past the Blue Mosque a few meters from our hotel.
Leaving the Agora Hostel in Sultanahmet, Istanbul on day one
A very anxious Emilie posing for the day one photo in front of the Blue Mosque

An uneventful two-hour ferry ride later we were in Anadolu Kavağı cycling up an extremely steep hill, which would be the theme of our first week of cycling. Within an hour Yann was carrying my front saddle bags.

Two hours into our ride we were overtaken by a group of four cyclists, two husband-and-wife teams, Brian and Amy ( from the US and Andy and Rosy ( from Switzerland. Brian and Amy had been riding from Morocco and Andy and Rosy from their front door. Both couples had over 4 months of cycling under their belts so needless to say they were stronger and faster than we were. But they were nice enough to let us ride with them and we set off as a veritable convoy along the Turkish country roads. Day one, meeting four cyclists on the road! (note Yann's bike loaded with Emilie's front paniers)

Meeting cyclists on the road was a total pick-me-up and gave us confidence despite our slow progress on the hills. Knowing that we weren't the only ones finding it difficult, although we were probably the ones finding it the most difficult, was a huge relief. All four of our companions were positive and encouraging and we followed along having to make few decisions regarding our route or our night's sleeping arrangements.

Yann and I had planned on staying in guesthouses for the first week of cycling, but it became evident on our first night that our route wouldn't necessarily be affording us that possibility every night. In a group of six, it is fairly easy to set up camp anywhere, which is what we did on our first night at a lovely isolated spot along the Black Sea coast.
Our first night's campsite, along the Black Sea
  Morning at our first night's campsite along the Black Sea

On our third day of cycling, Yann and I set off with Amy and Brian as Rosy had been very sick the previous night and needed a day of rest to recover. The terrain along the coast of the Black Sea remained extremely hilly and difficult with steep climbs and steep descents (giving no chance to glide up the next hill). But we stopped frequently, refilling our water bottles at the dozens of public water fountains lining the Turkish roads and giving ourselves the time to rest.

A common theme of our first week was the friendliness and helpfulness of the Turkish people. At every village we were given assistance almost immediately. People gave us directions, invited us for tea, blew kisses...

On our fourth evening we pulled into the town of Kandira looking for a place to stay the night. We were escorted through the town, first to the teacher's dormitory (full) then to the town's only hotel (also full) then back to the dormitory where somehow they agreed to make room for us. After securing us a room, the local man assisting us ended by giving us the advice to not even bother staying in Kandira, to cycle onwards to the town of Kerpe (on neither Yann nor Brian's GPS) where we would find a much better place to stay. He drew us a map and stuffed it in Yann's pocket. We were grateful to have trusted him because we ended up in a brand new resort town on the Black Sea with lovely inexpensive hotels and a great beach. This is where we had our first rest day. Arriving in Kandira with no place to stay, this concerned local man drew us a map to Kerpe, the seaside resort nearby

Leaving Kerpe we planned for our first 100km+ day to Akçakoca. This was a slightly ambitious plan and when we arrived in the town (12 hours and 105km later) we were exhausted and it was too late to set up camp and make dinner. As we were stopped on the side of the road trying to figure out where we would stay the night, Gazi, a local math teacher pulled up and offered to take us in for the night (“there are four of us you know?” “yes we have room, no problem”). We readily accepted his offer and he drove through the town with his four-ways on, escorting the four of us to his apartment where he cooked us dinner and set up comfortable beds for us and woke up early to make us breakfast before our departure.
Leaving our host Gazi's apartmet in Akçakoca

The next day Yann and I parted ways with Amy and Brian. We didn't feel too strong after our previous long day of riding, so after 30km we checked into a hotel and basically slept until the next morning.

We rode solo now for the first time since the first few hours of our trip. For one more day we followed the Black Sea coast (to Zonguldak) along the fairly busy D010 highway before turning away from the coast in an attempt to minimize the climbs. The main disadvantage with this plan is that we left the cooler coastal weather behind and so we began our routine of early morning departures (with a 4:30am wake-up) in order to avoid cycling through the intense midday heat.

Eight days after leaving Istanbul we rolled into Safranbolu, a historical  Ottoman-era town where we decided to spend what we felt were two well-deserved rest days. All things considered, a pretty successful start to our year of cycling thanks to the great local people and equally great travel companions. Yann with an adorable crew of local boys in Ibricak, a small town just outside of Yenice (they even washed and filled our water bottles)
  This adorable teashop owner and his son insisted we pull over for free tea (in Karabük a few kilometers from Safranbolu)
  Our week one companions: Amy and Brian (USA) and Andy and Rosy (Switzerland)

Stats for Istanbul to Safranbolu

Days of cycling: 6.5
Days of rest: 1.5
Kilometres cycled: 483
Metres climbed: 4783
Cycle-tourists crossed on the road: 8

The above map was compiled using GPS readings. Since we only took readings every hour it is not entirely accurate but it gives an idea of what we did. 

Partially sponsored by Mountain Equipment Coop  Expedition Support


Lindsay said...

Very jealous of this trip. Will be a few years before I can take on a long trip like this again. Maybe trans-USA in 2015 for my next medium-length trip.

I took a similar route out of Istanbul a few years ago. I well remember the brutal hills. It wasn't the long climbs that killed me, it was the short sharp up and downs, so you never settled into a rhythm.

You'll settle down into it as you get further east. Good luck!

- Lindsay

mom said...

This map feature is great!