Days 61 Through 70

Day 61

Another one of those rides with rain all day. Of course when you get wet, you get cold. That was especially true today. Still, today I crossed into Bulgaria, and the excitement of crossing into a new country always outweighs other discomforts. As soon as I crossed the border, I saw my first sign mentioning Istanbul. It was a happy sight, as it signified my proximity to Turkey, the end of Europe, the beginning of Asia, and a major milestone in the ride across Eurasia. It was the best sign I have seen on the trip so far.

Shivering cold and soaking wet as I entered Sofia. As with any first day in a country with a new currency, my first order of business was getting some money. Found an ATM, put in my card, followed the instructions on the screen, and then horror struck... The message of death, "Card withheld, consult your bank." Not only did I get denied, the machine ate my card. Of course I planned to bring two different cards with me, but my bank was really late getting me the extra credit card and I had to leave for Europe without it. So I just lost my only card. Today is Sunday, bank is closed. Tomorrow is a national holiday, bank is closed, so I have to wait two days before I can go talk to the bank and see about getting my card back. Had to execute my backup plan, took out my emergency dollars and euros and found a place to get them exchanged for some Bulgarian Levs. Not so happy about that. Anyway, its life. As long as I get that card back, everything will be all right.

Couchsurfer Antonio

Day 62

For the first time on the trip, I  met another biker. Cape Town to England. Needless to say, we had a lot to talk about. It was interesting to hear about someone else's biking style, how they planned, what the brought with them, the problems they encountered etc.

Standard day off stuff. Updating the blog, seeing a bit of the town, planning the next stretch, doing nothing at the hostel. Always fun, especially after a cold rainy day of biking. This place is pretty cool, for 16 bucks a night I get a bed, an awesome dinner, beer, and a super legit all you can eat breakfast buffet.

Below is a video I filmed way back on Day 11, where I described all the stuff I brought on the trip. Its a long video and a large file size, and I finally found a computer fast enough to upload it today. I'll post it here, as well as down on Day 11. Ya, its kind of long...

Day 63

There's a cold-front heading through Sofia. Coming back from the bars last night it was snowing. Of course its not the first time I've seen snow, but it is only time so far the snow has been outside of the mountain towns and summit roads. I was really hoping that spring was going to start up sometime soon... Guess I'll have to wait a bit more.

By the way, got my bank card back, everything is right in the world haha.

Day 64

The road to Istanbul. It's going to be a tough 5 days, with each ride going significantly over my 100 km average. Leaving Sofia provided a really interesting gradation of life; its funny how quickly you can transition from cosmopolitan cityscapes and 8 lane highways to nomadic horse and buggy convoys on barely paved country roads. Today had it all - rich neighborhoods, dilapidated villages, great roads, terrible roads, stray dogs, chickens, random people walking in the middle of nowhere with big sticks. All indications to me that I was indeed on the road out of Europe and into something a bit more exotic.

Steven, the other biker going from Capetown to England

Following the yellow brick road

Day 65

Tomorrow I plan to cross the Turkish border. With the new country comes time wasted at immigration, dealing with money exchanging, getting a new sim card, etc... So I really wanted to get some good distance in today to make tomorrow's ride shorter and life easier. Luckily for me the weather held up alright, the wind blew in my favor, and I was on autopilot for most of the day. I though about a lot of different, really random things, like the upcoming baseball season, time zones, the bus rapid transit system in Lagos, Nigeria, etc... But I didn't really have to think about biking too much. The time flew by, and I made it an extra 35 km past my originally intended stop.

Day 66

The border formalities took some time, but an hour later and 20 bucks less, I had made it into Turkey. I was pretty happy to see the "Welcome to Turkey" sign, the official start of the middle east. As I headed down the road I saw another amazingly welcoming sight, the first blooming flowers of the trip, a sign that spring is quickly approaching. It really can't get here quickly enough haha. I was pleasantly surprised with how fast I got into town for the night. Yesterday's extra work payed off well as I arrived today at like 2:30. Plenty of time to do all the things I needed to do. As I walked around town the call to prayer echoed through the streets, people offered me tea, and I couldn't have been happier to be in Turkey.

Day 67

Woke up today with an ambitious goal, 166 km the longest day of the trip. I keep hearing that the traffic in Istanbul is terrible, and I also fully expect to get lost several times heading through the endless suburbs. Therefore, I wanted to get as far as possible today to set myself up better for tomorrow's mess. Unfortunately rain, a strong headwind, and unfavorable roads made even a normal day of riding hard enough, and I had to scrap my plan to get in the extra distance. Not sure exactly why, but today was not only rainy, it was also incredibly muddy. It was so bad that I was a worried about being able to check into a hotel. That was certainly no problem though, as I am staying at what is by far the dumpiest hotel of the trip. The bathroom looks a lot like the one in the movie Saw. Anyway, its just one night and its hard to beat 7 bucks a night around here.

Day 68

Everybody I have ever talked to and everything I have ever read has always said that the traffic in Istanbul is absolutely terrible, a horrendous place to bike. Everybody was right. The big problem with biking into Istanbul is that there are only a handful of roads which actually go into town, and all of these roads are humongous freeways. As I hit the outer layers of the the suburbs about 100 km away from the city center, the shoulder disappeared and dumped me onto the lanes of the interstate to fend for myself. To make matters worse, the wind was crazy strong. It blew diagonally to me, acting both as a headwind, as well as a force making it really difficult to balance. Whenever I truck went past me, the wind would swirl around cause me to swerve uncontrollably 3 or 4 feet. This was a huge problem, since swerving a couple of feet could easily result in a fatal accident if a truck got a little too close to me. I had to result to biking on the muddy and bumpy earth on the side of the road, going about the speed of a slow jogger, getting pretty dirty, and loosening every screw on the bike in the process. Not fun. I knew that if conditions continued like this all the way in, there was absolutely no chance of me making it to Istanbul today, and probably not even tomorrow. After about 10 km of these hellish conditions, things started to improve a bit, and there were a couple frontage roads to take, but progress was still quite slow. As I got closer to the city, the frontage roads became less like low traffic service streets, and more like continuous on ramps and off ramps. Even these roads were filled with 3 lanes of traffic traveling at highway speeds with few shoulders, not really much different than the adjacent interstates. I spent several hours gunning it, trying to get through the horrific traffic as fast as I could. Constantly listening for cars, looking for potholes, trying not to get lost, and gripping the handlebars to fight the wind. It was a mental and physical sprint. It was one of the most exhausting things I have ever done on a bike.

When I finally made it to my destination, I felt incredible. One of the highs of the trip, I had successfully navigated the traffic of Istanbul. Well at least the western side (getting out of here is probably going to be rough as well). I had made it to my biggest milestone stop of the trip. I was here. Also, despite the early delays which at one point put me about a week behind schedule, I rode into town tonight only one day off, with an excellent possibility of jumping ahead of schedule in the coming weeks. I walked down to the banks of the Bosporus Straight and touched the water to make it official; I have biked across Europe. From my room tonight I can see Asia out the window. One continent down, one, much larger continent to go.

Day 69

Istanbul is the big stop. I plan to be here about a week or so, not exactly sure yet, depends on how long things take to get done. Everyday I'm here I expect to have a task to do. Today was figuring out how to get a visa for the glorious nation of Kazakhstan. Got lost on the bus system for several hours, but finally made my way to the consulate just in time for their lunch break. To kill time I went to get a haircut. Had a difficult time telling the barber how I wanted my hair cut, but the guy next to me spoke English and helped me translate. This guy was really cool. We only talked for a bit, but he asked what I was doing here and I explained the trip. When he got up to leave, he told me not to pay, because it was on him. I contested, but not much I could do.  His only request was that I spread the word that the Turkish are nice people, no problem, happy to do so. Made my day, what a great guy. Anyway, it took all day but the visa process has been started. The time to get this visa is the big wild card on how long I'll be here in Istanbul. I can't leave town without it... Hopefully everything will be ready on Friday. Here's my tentative list of all the things I want to get done while I'm here:

  • Get the Kazakhstan visa
  • Fix up my bike
  • Figure out how to get over the Bosporus Straight (more on this to come)
  • Iron out the details for next couple of legs of my trip
  • Talk to my friend Blake who is planning on joining me in a couple of months and figure out logistics
  • See Istanbul
  • Get a haircut and shave

Day 70

The task for the day was to take care of paperwork. Planning the next several stretches of route, catching up with emails, dealing with graduate school stuff, etc. Talked with my friend, Blake, who is planning on joining me from Shymkent, Kazakhstan to Kashgar, China. He's booking his flight out so I need to make sure I can make it in time to meet up with him. Of course its logistically quite complicated to try to figure out exactly what date I'll arrive in Shymkent, a city 3000 miles away...Sat on the computer all day trying to iron out the details for the next two months. Tedious at times, but I love the planning aspect of the trip, its one of my favorite parts actually. Sitting in front of a map and researching which roads look good, what the climates are like, the elevation ranges, the geographic features, it always gets me excited for the road ahead.