This blog post comes to you from Bafra, a small city between Sinop and Samsun on the Black Sea coast where I am putting up my feet and hiding from thunderstorms.
Coming out of Istanbul I sullied my journey from the outset in the eyes of hardcore tourers by using a bus to get some distance between myself and the terrible traffic constantly flowing in and out of Istanbul. I had started my trip later than I had planned and had been warned of the difficulty of the route I had chosen under the Black Sea, so I allowed myself to skip past the initial area of coast to Bartin, where my journey on the bike begins.
The road from Bartin to here has been filled with stupid mistakes and rookie errors, with some good times peppered in. Among the lessons learned is to never open a knife while inside the tent. You WILL stab something valuable. In my case it was my sleeping bag – a problem I solved with my sewing kit, netball tape and a lot of swearing.
The coastal road from Bartin to Sinop is challenging to say the least. For about 400km it twists and turns almost perpetually, always going up and down, and side to side like a roller coaster. Days passed without me seeing a straight and flat section. On a fully loaded bike this can be hellish, and it was common to only ride around 50km each day. It also rains regularly on the coast and gets cold at night. But when the sun is out, it’s early in the day and you are at the top of a big climb – there isn’t a better place to be.
Bartin is a beautiful little town on the Black Sea coast east of the big city of Zonguldak. After arriving I left my bags in the hotel room and, as I love doing, aimlessly wandered the streets. There was a large market with all sorts of fresh produce for sale, and lots of little supermarkets. I spent the afternoon scoping out the food that I would be surviving off for my ride down the coast, planning meals in my head.
The next morning, with my bags full of snacks and veggies from Bartin I roll out of town and take a detour of the main path to Amasra. The Lonely Planet raved about the beauty of this town, and even though I saw it on a cold and cloudy day, I can confirm it is lovely. If you cropped out the minaret you might think it was in Italy. I ate lunch on the foreshore where I was approached by hungry dogs, inquisitive schoolboys and a lady on holiday who chatted about where I was going in broken English. This routine would soon become very common every time I stopped for lunch.
The Imam above is the saviour of my first day. Here is why;
From the highlight of Amasra my day got worse. While leaving Bartin I passed a petrol station. Knowing that there were hills ahead I decided not to fill my petrol bottle to save weight – after all I had seen a petrol station every few kilometres from the bus! This was an error of judgment. I don’t see another petrol station for the rest of the day. The day became cold and wet and soon it was late afternoon. My fresh legs were tired as I rolled into a village in the middle of nowhere 40km from Bartin. It had eight shop fronts – five of them empty.
I ask a man where I can find petrol. There is none. There is a petrol station in Bartin, that I deliberately rode past, or one 25 km down the road. 25km of huge hills would see me riding exhausted into the night with no dinner. I ask a number of times if he knows where I can stay in the town – if I could sleep on his floor. He says no. So does his friend.
With no food and nowhere to stay I ride on for the petrol station.
Out of town I struggled up a horrible gravelly hill. I crawled up the 10 percent gradient with trucks from a nearby quarry shooting past and kicking dust into my eyes. Twenty minutes later I was on the other side when I realised I wasn’t wearing my sunglasses. I must have put them down in the town. I patted all over my body to be sure, even touching my eyes to make sure I wasn’t wearing them. Expletives were uttered. Then I turned the bike around and rode back up that f*king hill and into town.
My glasses were there. But I’m now even more tired, and even more sure I won’t find petrol today. That is when I see the minaret.
I find this lovely Imam in the mosque and introduce myself in Turkish. With google translate I explain I have no food and ask if I can sleep on the floor of his mosque. He says yes, on the condition I take his picture, above. Then after holding prayers he leaves and I never see him again. I let myself out in the morning and ride up the hill a third time.
I had a toasted sandwich and Doritos for dinner from the local tea house. Lesson: never ride past a petrol station if you need petrol.
I did sometimes get angry with the hills on the Black Sea. They are relentless. After this picture they continued uninterrupted for another five or six days! I got better at climbing them though, and came to realise that 5kph is an acceptable climbing speed.
Eventually I was even able to finish some of them with a smile on my face. This is the top of the climb out of Cide on a beautifully sunny morning.
Planning food stops has been another learning curve. The map may say a town is 5km away, but up a big hill that 5km could take you an hour. Plus there is no guarantee the town has a shop or a restaurant. I rolled into a village at 2pm extremely hungry and expecting a shop, but found nothing but houses.
I see the old lady above out the front of a mosque and with my terrible Turkish explain I am hungry and looking for food. She takes me around the back of the mosque, sits me next to two men who nod at me and she motions for me to wait. I sit with the men, soaking up the rays for fifteen minutes until prayers finish.
Suddenly a crowd of people emerge and file into the mosque, whisking me in with them. The women and men separate and I’m treated to a lunch of bread with spinach, strange Turkish omelette things that I haven’t seen since, and soft drink. They seem totally undisturbed by the sweaty Lycra-clad Australian in their midst, and fill a plastic bag with spare food for me on the way out.
I find the lady after lunch, thank her and ask for her photo. She poses with who I assume to be her husband.
At the top of every climb the Black Sea coast impresses. I found this campsite at 3pm and had no water for dinner. I tried to think of a way to make it work but I couldn’t. I reluctantly ride on.
Instead of the mountaintop I find a sleepy cove attached to the village Akbayir. The beach looks picturesque – and it could have been – but it was covered with plastic trash presumably washed up by the sea. Despite the trash at dusk while eating dinner I am treated to a pod of dolphins bobbing offshore.
The road winds east, the sun is out and I have my first day on the bike with no incident. I’m getting up the climbs, I planned all my food stops, and I’m feeling good.
I took a rest day in Inebolu to contact home, watch Netflix and rest my bum. It’s a fairly normal town with people going about their business. This house stood out to me – there are great old wooden houses like this scattered all about the Black Sea.
I was disheartened to read in my guidebook that Inebolu is suggested as a place to spend your first evening while driving down the Black Sea coast. I had been riding for days.
The road then takes me to Türkeli where I spend the night after riding through a day of thunderstorms. The rain was ok but the Road into Türkeli was under fairly major construction and turned into a huge lane-less mudflat filled with potholes, tractors and trucks passing way too close. My mudguards become clogged with mud from the storms so I stop and fix them. The second time they get clogged I choose to ignore it. Happily, a power washer greets me upon entry to Türkeli and the guys gleefully blast Suzie clean – bags and all.
The rain followed me and the storms continue into the next day. I was on track to make it from Türkeli to Sinop in a single day but at 3pm with thunder cracking over my head my brakes are so wet that they aren’t really slowing me down on descents any more. I decided it’s best to dry off and find a roadside tea house. It’s roasting warm inside and the owner was sitting in a chair by the window watching the TV which for some reason he keeps outside. Together we drank tea and look at the horizontal rain until I mustered the courage to ask if I could pitch my tent in his garden.
He said ‘evet’ so nonchalantly that I asked him a second time with gestures, thinking he hadn’t understood me. As I eventually motion that I will set up my tent, the man lead me instead to a bungalow with a bed attached to the tea house.
I spent the rest of the day in luxury drinking tea next to his coal heater and reading my kindle.
The storms clear just in time for a dazzling sunset while I’m cooking dinner.
The sun came back and the roads became flatter. The terrible climbs turned into rolling hills on my way to and past Sinop. It all started to look very European as the landscape opened onto sprawling farms and lush green grass, with chickens and cows in every yard.
You can tell I was enjoying the riding because I stopped to take the second photo of myself for the trip, having my mid morning fruit snack.
I was hosted through Warmshowers by Elif and Yalçin, two high school teachers in Gerze who live with their two hilarious cats. The weather turned again and it rained for a full day. I sat next to the coal heater, drying my washed clothes, doing route research and being grateful I am not outside.
From here I will sit on the freeway for a while and make some headway towards Georgia. The forecast says sun ahead but it changes every day so I don’t trust it.
I might head inland towards the Anatolian Plateau or continue on the coast all the way to the Georgian border.
Who knows, let’s find out.