Snow Riding

Wilderness

On the way out of Kayseri we spotted an M&S. İn a rare moment of genius İ suggested we stop and see if they had some thermals to keep our crown jewels warm during the impending winter. Half an hour later and weighted by an additional pair of sexy long johns we peddled off smiling. These have already proved to be a wise, if not fashionable investment.

We found a restaurant that afternoon to camp at and set about eating everything on the menu. We got talking to İbrahim, the owner and after much banter he invited us to sleep inside. Grateful once again to avoid the sub zero temperatures we quickly accepted. At 10pm the cafe closed, İbrahim, his son, Apache, Andy and İ then sat around and ate some snacks. İbrahim suggested we get some raki from next door. Andy and İ looked at each other and given it was Friday night agreed this was a good idea. İ went to the ‘restaurant’ next door with Apache. This name is slightly misleading as he was about 70 years old, 5 foot 3 and hunched over almost at a right angle. We climbed through the window of the ‘restaurant’ and procured an expensive bottle of raki. İt was at this point İ noticed that the restaurant was filled only with men. This is not necessarily that unusual in Turkey except that there was only one ‘waitress’ working the tables; in a short red dress and high heels. This is very unusual.

Back at the table with İbrahim we tucked into the raki and food. As the evening progressed İ poked some fun at İbrahim. At this point he lifted up his jumper to reveal a large hand cannon that Dirty Harry would have been proud of! Andy and İ looked at each other stunned, turned back to İbrahim and just smiled. He chuckled at us and nothing came of it but being close to guns always makes me uncomfortable.

Cycling along the next morning we encountered some friendly road workers who flagged me down and gave us some freshly grilled bread and çay. 200 meters further down the road we stopped to buy some supplies. Clutching a bag of bread, tomatoes, cucumber and peppers they refused my payment and insisted we take it for free. Amazed by the endless kindness and curiosity we encountered we cycled on smiling.

Later that day after putting in a lot of miles we rolled into a small town not much bigger than a village. The sun was setting and the cold began to infiltrate our bones. We asked a couple of locals if there was anywhere we could camp. Looking confused they hailed some passing Jandarma. These guys are effectively military, holding their AK47 İ smiled
nervously at them. İn truth they were just young guys and were curious about us and very friendly. They hoisted our bikes into the back of their van (İ was not going to argue too hard with a man holding an AK47) and shot off with a flimsy bungee rope holding our precious steeds in place.

Ten minutes later we arrived at their barracks. We went inside and met the head honcho. He was affable but spent a while checking our passports and writing down our route. Eventually he asked if we were hungry and in unison we said yes. We spent an hour or so playing ping pong, eating dinner and chatting to the twelve or so army guys. They were

great lads and İ think we provided a refreshing change to the order of events for them. We were then told we had to leave and were going to be given a lift to Sivas. We tried to explain that we did not want to get a lift and must cycle but they had received orders and their hands were tied. Saddened but resigned to this after a couple of attempts to explain our position we jumped in the vans. Ten minutes later we arrived where they had picked us up from and told us we were to stay in a guest house there. Relieved that we could continue our unbroken line of cycling İ walked into the building to be greeted by fifteen local Turks in a single room watching a football match. Several cups of çay later and after much banter with these confused locals we were introduced to Abdul Aziz, the local Sheriff. İt turned out that he owned the room we were sat in which is used as a gentleman’s club by the locals (the only woman allowed in was to do the cleaning!).

An hour or so later and with an ever changing cast of locals İ began to fall asleep in my chair. We had endured a long day and İ could stay awake no longer. At this point we was still unaware we would be sleeping in this room but as everyone began filtering out İ got the picture. Andy and İ enjoyed a toasty nights sleep and felt revived the next day. We were woken to banging on the door. Abdul had a tray full of breakfast and all three of us greedily tucked in. As was the case the previous night lots of locals began filtering in and out saying hello. We set off thanking everyone and marvelling at our fortune.

We arrived in Sivas later that day to be met by Ercan, a gregarious local who had agreed to put us up. Following an email exchange with Ercan it was clear that he was extremely generous and we were not let down. He welcomed us into his home and said we could stay as long as we liked and was there anything we needed help with! We spent the evening

talking, eating (of course!) and walking around Sivas with Ercan. İt was clear he was a thoughtful, intelligent and deeply religious. Andy and İ decided to take the next day off. We met a very interesting man the following day, Mr Turham, honorary consul to Germany in Sivas. İn his impressive office he told us many stories and gave us a tour of his prised possessions.

The next day we left Ercan behind again humbled by the hospitality we had received. We spent the next couple of days climbing up to 2,200 meters (our highest point so far) and during the course of the second day Andy and İ lost each other. To cut a long story short he went back to find me after İ had unwittingly passed him whilst he was in the loo. Getting in contact later that night we agreed to meet the following day in Erzincan – our next destination. The next morning İ woke to find the world before me had been covered in a blanket of white. Setting off in the snow a wide grin spread across my face as İ began to think how adventurous this felt. İ did enjoy the challenge over the course of the day but not the numb hands and feet İ suffered with.

Arriving in Erzincan İ let Andy know where İ was and settled in to wait for him. Several hours later and unable to meet up İ jumped back on the bike in the pitch black and icy cold in a last ditched attempt to find Andy. A few miles later and still unable to locate him İ found myself in a car repair shop asking if there was anywhere İ could camp for the night. After negotiations with hotels and the police, Umit the extremely kind shop owner offered for me to sleep in his office upstairs. İ jumped at the chance as this was perfect and İ could agree a place to meet Andy in the morning. After about twenty minutes though Umit changed his mind and said that İ should sleep in a hotel and that he would pay!

This made me extremely uncomfortable. Herein lies the problem. Ultimately İ could pay for the room myself but over a prolonged period this would eat up all my money. This is hard to explain to someone especially via a language barrier. İ explained to Umit that İ would much rather sleep upstairs but he insisted it would be too cold and İ would have no shower (he clearly had no idea of my hygiene habits!). İ was overwhelmed by this generosity but after repeated unsucessful attempts to change his mind İ relented on the basis İ could pay for us to have dinner. Later on, after we had eaten he refused to let me pay. İ pulled some money out from my wallet to beat him to it but he simply shot me a look that said it would insult him if İ paid.

After dinner he picked up a couple of friends and his son and took me to the Hamam (Turkish Baths). İ only knew we were going as we rounded the corner to the baths and he asked if İ liked to swim. We spent several hours enjoying saunas, swimming and the jacuzzi. As İ swam up and down the pool İ wondered what right İ had to be there. İmagine walking into a shop in London asking if there was somewhere to camp and the owner promptly paying for a hotel, dinner and a social evening!

He dropped me back at the hotel and İ thanked him profusely. He arranged to pick me up in the morning and take me back to the car repair workshop to pick up my bike. İ snuck out early the next morning and bought him a box of Baklava. This cost nothing near what he had spent on me the previous evening but it was a gift to express my gratitude.

İ met up with Andy again and shared my story and caught up on his adventures. Finally it was time to say goodbye to Umit. İ thanked him for his kindness but it did not feel adequate. Then Andy and İ jumped on our bikes and set off for Erzurum where the temperature was -16 degrees….

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