Halfway through Turkey (Safranbolu to Samsun)

We spent two rest days in Safranbolu, visitable in about two hours but much more enjoyably visited by slowly wandering through its narrow streets, eating saffron Turkish delights, drinking tea and savouring the local cuisine (fresh noodles cooked in butter topped with goat cheese and crumbled walnuts). In an effort to maximize my relaxing I even tried a hamam (Turkish bath) which may or may not have been relaxing (I haven't decided yet). The only problem with taking a double rest day is the difficulty in starting up again especially when your butt and legs have not yet completely recovered. I had nightmares about sitting on my saddle again. Safranbolu

From Safranbolu, we decided to cut across inland Turkey in an attempt to avoid the brutal up and down climbing of the coastal road. Our inland road would still involve lots of climbing but we hoped it would be more gradual and predictable. 

For a gentle return to cycling, from Safranbolu we rode to Kastamonu, 107 kilometres, 1260 metres of climbing and over 12 hours on the saddle away. Kastamonu is the former capital of the Isfendiyarid Dynasty (13th and 14th centuries) but is now a somewhat nondescript city surrounded by farm land, with a population of about 100,000 (it does have a castle though). We barely had enough energy to drag ourselves from our guesthouse to get food, so we didn't visit.

The next day, we were under the mistaken impression that we would had an easy day of “downhill riding” but it ended up being 120 kilometres (and lots of climbing) to Boyabat, the next town with a hotel. The most difficult part of the riding from Safranbolu was the mid-day heat which slowed our progress to a crawl and drained us of all energy. In the tiny town of Hanönü we stopped for drinks and almost immediately were greeted by the town journalist who wanted to interview us for the local newspaper. Apparently Hanönü has recently been revealed to be a potentially very profitable mining area, so a young English speaking geologist was on hand to help translate for the interview. We had no trouble answering most of the questions (where are you from? how long is your trip? where are you going? where did you start?) the only one that stumped us was “why are you doing this?”. In the 40° C heat, after discovering that there is 45km to your destination (instead of the 20km that you thought)...very good question. The very sweet journalist gave us a short history lesson about the area (of which he seemed to be quite proud) and had us bike in front of the town's historical hamam where caravans used to stop and rest hundreds of years ago. Apparently Hanönü was exactly one day of travel away from Boyabat, so it was a rest-stop on an ancient trade route. We joked that we were travelling at about the same speed as the caravans were. I think the only thing that made me able to continue onwards to Boyabat was the decision we made to take a rest day there. The road between Kastamonu and Boyabat

Posing with the local journalist who interviewed us in Hanönü

Boyabat, like Kastamonu has a castle which this time we made an effort to visit. We were the only ones visiting. We accidentally took the scary, incredibly steep, dark, and bat-filled stairway up to the castle which was completely terrifying. But, we saw it on Boyabat tourism posters later on in the day, so we felt like pretty accomplished tourists. Emilie in the bat-filled death trap leading up to Boyabat Castle

From Boyabat we had two more days of riding to Samsun, our unofficial “half-way through Turkey” point (it looks about half-way on the map), but only one more day of climbing before hitting the flat section of the Black Sea coastal road. It was a pretty tough day of climbing, directly up and over the Pontic Mountains. We also took the wrong road, so we had no idea what to expect, which is mentally extremely taxing. On our planned route we would have begun our descent at the 50km mark, on the road we took we didn't begin the descent until the 85km mark (that's 35km of wondering when the hell the pain is going to stop). The road was virtually free of traffic, which was great, because we needed both lanes to crisscross up the hill when it was particularly steep (which was a lot of the time). Holding back tears

Over the Pontic Mountains

But as a reward for our wrong turn, after hours without crossing a village, we arrived at a country festival up in the mountains. Despite it being fairly late in the afternoon we decided we couldn't pass up the chance to see Turkish wrestling so we wheeled our mountains up the hillside. Passing the food tents lined with sheep carcasses we made our way to the wrestling pitch where we lay our bikes down and sat in the grass to watch the tournament. No more than five minutes later, the wrestling announcer was calling us out onto the field where he introduced us to the crowd (who cheered and clapped for us). We're guessing he said something like “here are two Canadian tourists who have cycled all the way here to see our festival, please welcome them” because when we went back to our seats we were greeted by dozens of people, shaking our hands and saying hos geldiniz (welcome). We were given prime viewing seats (with the women and elderly) before being fed a giant plate of freshly-roasted lamb and continuing on our way.

Listen carefully for our names as we are introduced at the wrestling tournament

We didn't arrive in the the coastal town of Alaçam until shortly before 8pm and being Saturday night on a festival weekend, the two local hotels were full. With some assistance from an English speaker staying at the only waterfront hotel, we were escorted to a beach-side trailer park where we hoped to set up our tent. After being greeted by some pretty shady looking characters we ended up being offered someone's cabin for the night, at a fairly exorbitant price. It was the first time in Turkey when we felt that we were being taken advantage of. We couldn't open the cabin windows, but at least it had a lock. Despite being completely exhausted, we spent the night struggling to sleep through the heat, the sounds of loud music and the drunken yelling. Chips and soft drinks for dinner at our cabin in Alaçam

The next day, our “flat day” to Samsun started out beautifully (faster than 20km/hr!). But within an hour we were battling a head wind that slowed us down to 10km/hr and had us peddling while going downhill. The only thing that distracted us from the frustration of the wind was the scary traffic for the 20 kilometres entering the city (it's amazing the energy that you discover when your adrenaline is pumping). Samsun has a population of over 500,000 inhabitants and is was our first “big city” cycling experience. Emilie battling headwind to Samsun

So we've made it half-way through the country! Another week of tough cycling helped along greatly by the warm and friendly encounters we've had with the incredibly hospitable people of Turkey. At Öz Bisiklet, a shop outside Samsun, where we were warmly welcomed

Enjoying one of many invitations for tea 

Stats for Safranbolu to Samsun

Days of cycling: 4
Days of rest: 3
Kilometres cycled: 419
Metres climbed: 4261
Cycle-tourists crossed on the road: 1

Partially sponsored by Mountain Equipment Coop  Expedition Support


paradiso(angry) said...

10% grade. I wouldn't have bothered to hold back tears. I just would have wept.


mom said...

I could recognize Emilie Richer in the announcement but wasn't quite sure how Yann's name was pronounced.

alex simonelis said...

Can butts get calluses? Stay strong and safe!!