Days 71 Through 80

Day 71

Today's mission, fix up the bike. Out to the megamall in the suburbs where I found a discount sports store. Got new brakes, and some super water resistant chain lube, still need a couple other things. I always imagined I would completely overhaul the bike where I got to Istanbul, but now that I'm here, I'm thinking I actually don't need to do that much work. I am adopting the mentality that if its not broke, don't fix it. Tires are doing alright, wheels are staying steady, chain hasn't snapped, the rack is holding in there, so I don't really plan on touching any of these things, at least for now...

Everybody keeps telling me that as I head into the desolate regions of central Asia, animal attacks might become more of a problem. If the recent exponential increase in stray dog encounters is any indication, that could very well be true. So I headed down to the central bizarre in search for some self-protection haha. I was told to just walk around until I randomly found a vendor on the street selling weapons. Sure enough, after wandering around for about a half hour, I found a guy with a folding table in the middle of an ally. Stun guns, tasers, lasers, all sorts of good stuff. Peperspray containers for two bucks a pop, why not take two. No idea if it will work, hope I never have to find out.

A while back, people were protesting here in Turkey for the usually assortment of government corruption and transparency issues. I don't really know the details. Anyway, the police accidentally put a kid in a coma. He just died, and now protests are breaking out all over the country. One of the main protests just happened to be a 5 minute walk from my hostel in downtown Istanbul. Of course I had to go check it out. About half way there, I saw a stampede of people running the opposite way down the street, so I knew this was going to be interesting. I carefully made my way in. As a completely neutral observer, I found it fascinating indeed. One moment the police would be standing around laughing and smoking cigarettes with bystanders and then suddenly the crowd would start getting aggressive and things would turn tense. This was the first time I had ever been in a protest that was not non-violent. It was the police's rubber bullets and water canons against the protester's roman candles and bricks. Don't get the wrong idea, I wasn't in the thick of it, I kept my distance. Decided to leave when the tear gas started getting to me.

Day 72

The Bosporus Straight. Since the initial planning stages of the trip, I've know this was going to most likely be the toughest single part to traverse. There are two bridges, both interstates which are illegal to cross without a motorized vehicle. A friend who speaks Turkish was considerate enough to call the police for me to see if there was anyway they could help me out here. Maybe I could get permission to bike across in the middle of the night, or with a police escort, or along the emergency gangway. Long story short, they said no, no, and more no. So I really needed to figure out a way to do this while avoiding detection. One bridge is several miles long and runs right into the heart of downtown. It also requires being on the freeway for an additional several miles before and after the bridge in order to get on and off it. Pretty sure I would get pulled over before I got anywhere near crossing the bridge. Even if I didn't, I'd definitely have problems getting past the toll booth. Not a viable option. So that leaves bridge number two. Its shorter and farther out of town, so that's a good start. Well its got a toll booth too, but there appeared to be several spots on the map where I might be able to take a side road and then hop a crash rail to access the bridge while bypassing the toll booth. Today I went over to scout it out. I was disappointed with what I found. Not only were there two barbed wire fences around the entire bridge, but there were also several manned police kiosks lining the road. Police cars also drove up and down the shoulders of the bridge patrolling. Why did they possibly feel the need to have so much security on the bridge!? It became apparent that I would definitely get pulled over if I attempted to cross this bridge too, most likely before I even got off the mainland.

For the past several days I've mentioned this challenge of crossing the straight with the people I've met at the hostel, and we've collectively brainstormed some alternative ideas - swimming, kayaking, scuba diving, windsurfing, hang-gliding, the list goes on... Anyway, I've given all of them a decent amount of thought. I have come to the conclusion that none of them are really going to work for the same basic reasons; the current is too strong, and there's too many huge barges and ships that traffic the straight. Not to mention they are all also illegal, and it would be quite probable that the police would stop me...

In my rules I state that if I, "get into a situation where there is absolutely no way to get across a border or river without using motorized public transportation, ... after exhausting every other option, I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do…" Well I've called the police, tried to sneak on the bridges, explored the viability of various transit modes on the water; if there are any other options left to be exhausted, I'd love to hear them. I've got to do what I've got to do, and unfortunately I think that means taking the ferry. So I can take the ferry across without breaking the rules, at least in my opinion. And, lets be honest here, my opinion is really the only one that counts haha. Also, Europe ended at the banks of the straight, and Asia doesn't start until the banks of the other side, so the straight itself is neither in Europe nor Asia, making it possible to completely bike across both continents without biking across the water. Alright, sounds legit to me...

Scouting out the police

More police...

Day 73

I learned something the hard way today; always replace your brake pads before they run out completely. When it rains, you run through the pads really quickly. When it snows, ever quicker. Well since the beginning of the trip I've had a lot of rain and snow, and since the beginning of the trip I haven't replaced the pads... The result is that the metal underneath the rubber break pads has been grinding at my rims and caused some serious indentations on the wheels. Now I have to decide whether or not the rims are in danger of breaking. With a broken rim would most likely come a ripped tire, a slashed tube, bent spokes and a totaled wheel. I would definitely be off the bike until I got all of the above replaced. To say this would be bad would be a huge understatement; this could really screw me up big time. Anyway, I need to decide whether the rims are in danger or not. If they are, I probably need to replace both wheels, as well as deal with getting the rear crankset off. That wouldn't be so fun... Decision on that tomorrow.

In better news, I got my Kazakhstan visa, and, barring the potential fiasco with my rims, I should be good to go the day after tomorrow. Went out tonight, cheap beer, fun times, one last hurah here in Istanbul before getting ready to head out.

One of my problematic break pads

Day 74

So those rims... I starred at them for about an hour this morning, trying to decide what was up. After reading up, watching several DIY videos on you tube, and conducting a couple simple tests on them, I think I should be ok. At least I really hope so. I doubt they will get me all the way to Shanghai, but I have convinced myself that they most likely won't completely destruct for anytime in the near future.

I had it all figured out, go to be early, wake up early, get out of town and on the way down the road in the early morning. Well its Saturday night... I was about to head to bed when my friend Evan from the hostel said he'd buy me a beer if I stayed up to drink with them. Can't turn down that offer, especially in a country where beer is taxed and expensive haha. Might not be that nice early start tomorrow...

Day 75

Out of Istanbul. If it was anything like getting in to Istanbul, I was going to have a really terrible day haha. Trying to avoid the traffic, I picked a route which seemed to get me out of the suburbs as fast as possible. So, after taking my ferry ride of shame across the Bosporus Straight, I started my long trip across Asia by darting through the east Istanbul in a mad attempt to get the hell out of the megalopolis. Actually turned out pretty well, and after a few short hours I found myself surrounded be trees and mountains. What a relief. Couchsurfing tonight with Radim from the Czech Republic, and  a couple of other exchange students studying here in Turkey. Great guys, cool to hear their perspective as foreigners living here.

Friends from the hostel in Istanbul, Evan and Ingrid

Day 76

Today was really calm. Not much traffic, not a lot of people, just a couple of villages mixed in with a lot of wilderness. What a change from the craziness of Istanbul I had seen just yesterday. Got into town today and within the time it took me to stop and look at my phone, a man came up to me and offered to show me around. It was hard to get a read on this guy, wearing a beat up business suit I couldn't really tell if he worked in an office or was a homeless guy haha. I have met a lot of "professional friends" (people who are friendly just so that can try to cheat you out of money) in my travels, although none so far in Turkey, and it was hard to tell if this was another one. He told me he had some relatives who lived in California, when I asked him which city he looked at me surprised and responded in a matter of fact tone, "California City." Alright, haha I gave him a chance. He showed me a hotel for less than ten bucks a night, hard to beat that. Then was went to eat dinner. Awesome food, tried  a couple new dishes including this the incredible rice pudding stuff. He kind of stiffed me on the change, but overall, I'm glad I got to meet this guy. In general, the people out here are becoming more and more friendly. Every other car gives me a supportive honk, and villagers often wave at me from their houses. Good vibes out on the road.

Notice anything weird here?

Couchsurfer Radim

Day 77

Nice roads, awesome weather, things were pretty good. Today marks the first day of the trip where I was able to comfortably take off the gloves and the sweatshirt. Rode down the road full of greenery, birds, bugs in the air - spring is definitely here, at least for the moment. Over the hilly terrain and into the coastal city of Ak├žakoca. Couchsurfer ┼×afak showed me around. Cool house with a humongous balcony, perfect for the bike haha. We grabbed some food with his friends and chilled near the waterfront drinking tea.

Day 78

The weather today could not have been better, 70 degrees, no clouds. It's impossible to have a bad day in a climate like this. Especially when you spend half the day biking on a flat, smooth road right on the coast. Got into my target town early as a result. I went down the the waterfront, grabbed some food, talked (at least attempted to talk) with some curious locals, and watched the sunset. Awesome times. Spent tonight with another couchsurfer, Mert. One of their friends said I was the first American they ever talked to, and they changed their opinion of the US a bit after meeting me, hopefully in a positive way haha. Great night.

Couchsurfer Mert and friends

Day 79

I elected to take a smaller road part of the way today, nice views and calm traffic, but the hills were crazy steep and the road was in a state of disrepair. I spent 85% of the day going the first 50% of the way on the small road, and then I reached a highway where I breezed through the second half of the ride. Night and day difference. Quite literally as well, since it started getting dark right when I reached the highway haha. Got into town a bit late, another night with another cool couchsurfer, Kemalcan; that's four surfers in five nights, I'm on a roll... Went to a tea house where we met up with a whole bunch of his friends. It was really awesome talking to them. They were all students and all well versed on politics and international affairs. They were excited to hear my opinion on issues, however I did feel a little overwhelmed when they asked my opinion about Lehman Brothers and started recording my response to use in a school project haha. Another really nice night with some really cool people, the wonders of Couchsurfing...

Day 80

I had a decision to make this morning. There are two routes to Samsun, one on a nice highway, inland, in a relatively straight path. The other on a small road, following the meandering coastline with steep hills but most likely awesome views. You might be thinking, well of course, you should take the coastal route, sounds like a fun adventure. Well, if I took the inland route I could go a lot faster and would also have less distance to cover, which meant I could probably shave a valuable day off. Hmm, I thought about it a lot. When I was in Sofia, I met another bike tourists. I've been following his travels since, and he makes a point of going out of his way to find the rough route, directly up the mountain on the unmaintained roads. That's not really my style and the two of us are on different types of trips; but it sounded like he was having fun (or at least an adventure), so in a similar spirit, I decided to take the small coastal route.

Got a really late start out of town today. Add to that the steep hills which started almost immediately as soon as I started, and I didn't get too far before it was dark and I had to stop. So far the road is as advertised, amazing views and horrendously steep hills on not so great roads. There's no turning back now, as the road doesn't really have any junctions for the next couple of hundred miles. For better or worse, this should be an interesting couple of days.

Couchsurfer Kemalcan and friend