The Elevation Challenge- | Istanbul and beyond: the road across Turkey
The Elevation Challenge. From the lowest to the highest point in Europe, fully under human power
Elbrus, Elevation Challenge, Big Change, Ben Treasure, Erin Duffy
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04 Sep Istanbul and beyond: the road across Turkey

Istanbul is a stunning city, and whilst we didn’t have nearly enough time to explore it fully, we did manage to visit a few of the many highlights.

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Our time in Istanbul was supposed to be a restful few days. A well earned pause in the middle of the adventure. Some sightseeing, some food and a lot of relaxing… But it was not to be. The results of a month on the road had began to take its toll on our our immune systems, and with a massive dose of bad luck, food poisoning struck. Ben became really ill and we were forced to take an extra three days in the city for him to recover.

DSC02756The bikes enjoying their view of the Istanbul sunset 🙂

Whilst Ben was in bed, Erin was putting the extra time to good use by getting in some much needed research into crossing Turkey. It can be a formidable challenge with the hills, heat, and change of culture, and we were lucky that there was a lot of information to help us plan our route.

We decided we wanted to stay as far away as possible from the southern border regions with Iraq and Syria. We spent a lot of time researching the security situation; getting the most up to date advice from the Foreign Office, and also from journalists who were on the ground and knew the area. The advice was all the same, stay north and we will be fine, but it is not safe to go to the southern regions.

So we planned a route that cut north east from Istanbul towards the Black Sea coast, and then followed the coast line into Georgia. The only problem was that to get to the coast, we first had to cross the mountain range.

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Out of Istanbul, we had the chance to stay in the old historic town of Safranbolu. An ancient city restored by the Ottomans, it was stunningly beautiful.

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One thing you get used to when cycling across Turkey is lots of Chai (Turkish Tea!) from service stations, to groups of old men on the streets playing backgammon, you would hear the shouts of ‘Chai’ and beckoning us to join. One family invited us for Watermelon, Chai and Baklava on the roadside and Ben joined in the family photo.

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The road from Safranbolu to Kastamonu was tough. The heat was a major problem. And the hills were no longer rolling but  steep.

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By the late afternoon we were far from Kastamonu and progress was slow, but we continued on determined to make up some ground. Ben did not have his strength back from the illness, having lost a lot of weight, and he was in a bad state. We made it late and tired into the city.

We continued from Kastamonu, through what we can only describe as the mountain desert. A canyon across central Turkey, the terrain was unlike anything we had yet encountered.

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The temperature hit 40oc+ and frequent water and cooling breaks became essential to avoid serious dehydration. The roads at some point turned to gravel, and without shops for miles we had to knock at the locals door to fill up on water.

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By the time we rattled into Boyobat, we crawled into bed after some food, our bodies exhausted from the ride.

But we did rescue a tortoise 🙂

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In Boyobat, we took the decision to change our route slightly and head straight to the coast. Whilst the mountains were beautiful, we knew they were slowing us down, and we knew we could make much better progress along the coast. After one last hill, we made our way down to Gerze. After the heat and hills, at first sight of the sea we jumped in and cooled off.

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We basked in the beauty of the (flat!) coastal road for the rest of the afternoon, until we arrived in Yakakan and bedded down for the night.

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The next few days were a cyclist’s dream.

The beach was to the left of us, the mountains to the right, and there we were stuck in the middle with the bikes!

We made our way up to the coast with ease. The results of 6 weeks on the bike had improved our fitness levels and we were able to make 140km a day without too much trouble. We raced down the coast, stopping at Unye, Giresun and Trabzon.

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Approaching the border at Hopa, we we sad to leave turkey. The people had been overwhelmingly friendly to us, and the scenery had been spectacular. We were beginning to see why many cyclists list Turkey as one of their favourite spots.

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From Rize we headed across the border into Georgia. Whilst the queue for cars stretched back mile after mile, we filtered straight through and within half an hour we were into Georgia!

Luckily, we had crossed the border just before a viscous storm had caused landslides all along the road. It was really smashing it down, and we were lucky to make it to a hostel before the worst of it.

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With Turkey behind us, we looked ahead to Georgia. It was our second to last country, and the final obstacle to reaching Mt Elbrus. Within seven days we would be looking up at the highest mountain in Europe.

 

The Adventure continues..next stop Georgia!!

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