It's an ill wind that blows no good....

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What I did
Freeze my tits off

Flag of Turkey  , Erzincan,
Saturday, October 29, 2011

What a day! We decided that the best thing to do was get the hell out of dodge. Ankara was so expensive and such a festering pile of crap that we just didn't want to stay in this country any longer. Unfortunately there was 17 hours (according to the Google-machine) of roads to negotiate between us and Iran. So... I planned a scheme. Erzincan was pretty far at 715km and a projected travel time of 10 hours. What google didn’t tell us was that the temperatures were going to hit 0 degrees and the wind would blast us off the road. It also failed to mention the roadworks, crazy Turkish drivers and the fact that we had to climb 2km above sea level into the mountains.

So we set off from the "hotel". To even call it a hotel was a stretch but you pay as little money as possible and you take your choice, I guess. Last night we went out to dinner and struggled to find anywhere open after 9pm. We ended up walking a mile and a half into a town type place where life was worth less than a carton of fags. We managed to get a place open but they wanted us to eat what looked like washing-up water with bleached chicken parts floating in it. The second place was more promising as there were people still alive in it. I got them to understand I was a vegetarian and that Marcin would anything that had been killed, the more brutally the better. They offered me a cheese salad sandwich by another name which was fine by me. We got some drinks from the fridge. Marcin found some bottles of slime and I commented that it looked and sounded awful but I’d give it a go anyway. It was slightly fermented beetroot and carrot juice with added salt. It was like drinking bile out of a tramps boot. I managed around a third of a small bottle before giving up while I still held on to a shred of the will to live. Marcin managed slightly more but even he gave up.

They served up a kebab roll each but changed it without any fuss to the cheese thing. They even threw in free cakes and tea. Everything here comes with free tea, even illegal parking. Tonight we dumped the bike on the curb while I went looking for a hotel room and when I came back he was sipping complimentary tea.

Anyway.. so this morning we went out into Ankara. Marcin did his usual trying to get me killed in his excitement at the prospect of taking pictures so we struggled to find something worth taking pictures of. That town looks even worse in daylight. Interestingly we past the military headquarters building in the centre of town where young soldiers were playfully pointing Heckler and Kock HK33 rifles at one another. The building was painted pink! I guess you should never pick on the Turkish army. These boys aren’t afraid of anything. It was a relief to be on the road as I knew we had a pig of a journey ahead of us and was stealing myself to deal with it. The town quickly thinned out and we ended up on a carriageway. It was the first clue of what to expect and the road was actually very decent. Slightly odd texture like toffee with gravel in it but it sticks to the tires like glue and for the most part is a pleasure to ride on.

Within 20 minutes a Turk tried to kill me. It wasn’t personal because it wasn’t that he didn’t see me so much as the thought that he should look seemed to not even occur to him. He swung in a bus from the outside lane right through the traffic into me. I saw him and accelerated onto the gravel path and through the bus queue. Marcin asked where he hit me, I guess in his mirror it looked even closer than I thought it was. No harm done and I will never mention Turkish driving here again. If I did I would fill this blog.

So we made time into the freezing cold. The sky was a fixed canopy of grey and if sunlight glinted through it was a very temporary thing. The temperature reached about 7 degrees and it felt freezing. We had had no heat in the hotel last night, everything was broken so our gear was still cold before we ever started. We didn’t get far before my tank ran low so we had to make our first stop for fuel. We’d actually covered around 80 miles by then and the freezing morning had got to us both. We filled up and I was irritated by how few miles I’d done on a tank until it turned out my auxiliary tank was still full. So we had some soup to warm us through. I couldn’t say what was in it, maybe some carrot and potato but there was a hint of coriander and mint. It was nice and it warmed us through nicely. Like everywhere else we enjoyed instant celebrity status because we were bikers, foreign and cold. Everyone asked us where we from or what we were doing. One guy this morning wanted to know if Marcin’s bike was a Kawasaki and if my GPS was a TV. Nice.

So we headed off resolved to ride until my tank went dry again, so in about 125 miles we figured. The scenery switched from the outer city to a craggy, foreboding mass of rocks and mountains and terrain that looked awesomely uninviting. The scenery smoothed out at times and then suddenly, we’d corner and be surrounded by rocks, or hills or rocks and hills. Although there was green coverings to the landscape there was no doubt we were in a desert region and Humans were not entirely welcome here. It stayed cold but to the freezing temperatures we later added high winds. They were not too bad at first, enough to slow us down slightly, or enough to slow me down slightly, the portly KTM weathered it easily while my little single wobbled like a drunk at a funeral.

Along the way we saw our first tumble-weed and our first man on a donkey. Things like that really being home the fact that we’re moving towards the desert. Things are changing and changing fast. People and faces are looking different, people behave differently.

So breakfast perked me up but after about an hour I was feeling a bit tired. The cold was eating into me, my muscles were numb, my fingertips were burning hot with pain and my face was on fire from the constant blast of the wind howling through my helmet. I had a growing sense of fatigue. My chest was burning with every breath as cold air was drawn into my lungs. It passed soon enough but it was a worry for a while.

Eventually I ran dry and we pulled in for some more fuel. We had made around 130 miles this time and although we were behind the schedule I had set myself it was time to eat and I welcomed the break. Even Marcin was ready for some of the free tea everyone offers and something to eat besides. There was a restaurant next to the petrol station so it seemed a good place to stop. As usual we attracted a crowd. People came out of nowhere and prodded and poked he bikes like they’d never seen one before. We paid the guy who clearly ran the place. He spoke boldly in Turkish and seemed irritated that we couldn’t understand but the fact remained that we couldn’t. We found the restaurant closed but were offered free tea which was pretty lousy but was hot so I welcomed it for that. They seemed apologetic that they couldn’t feed us but could manage to make us bread with cheese and sausage. We were past caring what we ate so we agreed and it was actually really nice. They brought us more tea and treated us like we were something far more special than we are. The owners son seemed very excited like we were the most exciting thing to happen there for ages. Marcin didn’t eat all the sausage and the boy was allowed to have it and got even more excited. In a town with four or five agricultural supply stores and a petrol station there can’t be much money for luxuries. I paid for lunch and was charged the equivalent of a few pounds, bought the kid some sweets and left to a fanfare like we were old friends of the families. So we rode on again until my tank drained down now that it was only going to run for around 120 miles with no reserve tank giving me any extra. We powered on as best we could but the day was dragging. The scenery was impressive but I was impressed 4 hours ago. Worse yet we’d only made it to the halfway point and were already cold and tired. When we’d hit around 130 miles we stopped again to fill up. This time my tank had drained to I could have made it a lot further. Anyway we were cold and Marcin suggested tea. There was none at the petrol station so we went to the restaurant. They had no coffee... I was devastated. Needing a perk I looked for something with sugar in it and got us some things that looked like honey-combs. They were in fact and were very good and gave me a little wake up jolt of energy ready for the next leg. We had about 110 miles left to cover and were told it would take us 3 hours. We headed off and it had dropped to 8 degrees and the sun was setting. We were both shaking visibly while we got on the bike so we knew it was going to be a hard slog. Night came in fast in the mountains, the cold ate me alive. By now the wind decided it wanted to be more than just a nuisance. The blasts were more of a constant push, forcing me off the road. This time even Marin was being pushed and neither of us could hold a straight line. Worse even when a truck passed us in the opposite direction the shockwave hit me and sent my little bike reeling. The darkness was beginning to encroach on the mountains but the scenery didn’t relent. By now we were at 2200 metres and the sunset was casting a red glow in the cloud cover that clung to the tips of the massive, rugged peeks all around us. The temperature was now showing at 6 degrees and dropping and we just went as quick as we could, eating the miles as fast as we could. Seconds were precious when the cold was devouring our senses and reactions, the road ahead offered challenges that would be tough on a good day and we were past the end of a good day and riding into the oncoming bad night. The roads were actually amazing. They snaked through the peaks as they lead us on a powered decent through winding paths on a surface that clung to our tires like an alcoholic to a bottle of meths. It’s funny how the best roads in Turkey turn into the worst with the absence of light and the further absence of warmth. We turned a corner and instantly the light was gone. One minute it was dusk with a warm orange glow behind our heads and a setting sun blinding us in our mirrors and then instantly darkness as a peak cut us off from the light. That was the last we saw of the sun as we began down the pass towards town with over an hour still to ride. We cut a dangerous pace but a calculated risk as the dangers of staying out in the dropping temperature were definite whereas the risks of the velocity were acceptable to two experienced riders who desperately needed some beer. The time dragged on and on as we cut through the blackened night. We virtually had the night to ourselves, the roads were occupied by only a few scattered lorries and idiots in people-carriers risking their lives to go just a little faster.

When we finally saw the lights of a town it was a relief. We headed directly to the centre and set the sat-nav to lead us to a hotel. Any hotel. We had a further 1.3km to go and directly forwards. The town was strikingly modern, clean and immaculately tidy, shockingly contrasting to the disaster that was Ankara. We arrived at the hotel and sadly it was full... except for one last room which was 100 turkish lira. I discussed it with Marcin whose turn it was to pay and he spotted another one. I tried there. They had only one room left as well but it was only 40 and even better they had somewhere we could safely park our bikes... the hotel lobby. I was sold. We turned ourselves around at the roundabout and headed back. We nipped out for some food and I noticed something a little odd. There were no women. None. Nowhere. Not a single woman on the streets anywhere in town. After eating some very decent food which was a bit cheaper than the night before we went and bought some beer and still no women. Not walking on the street, working in shops, buying tampons and perfume. None. Very weird.

So tomorrow we head for the Iran border. I doubt we’ll cross till the next morning. Our other problem is our route takes us to Van who suffered a major earthquake so how far we’ll be able to follow the main roads we don’t know. I guess tomorrow we will see.
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