People are the water of life

I’m in a hotel some 90 km from Istanbul with lousy but working wireless. I left this morning with the plan to stay at a petrol station (which on-line indicated had grassy areas where cyclists could camp). Since I wasn’t quite sure where I’d end up, or the best way to keep water in supply, I carried an extra 1.5 liters of water. I go through a lot of water, and camping in a field is hard when out of water.

The plan for cycling out of Istanbul worked perfectly until it didn’t. Following the water of the Golden Horn north left me on a boardwalk most of the way, and Sunday morning traffic was light. Flipping the GPS on and off to save power, and using the cycle computer to track distances, I readily navigated the twists to get me to the old highway that parallels the new one.


I normally refuse to buy bottled water, but by that point I’d drained two water bottles, was headed onto a rural route, and a liter of bottled water is 1 Turkish Lira (about 37 cents) at a gas station (I’m told because otherwise people would drink the water, and they shouldn’t!).

There’s a certain satisfaction looking up and seeing the new highway, while wandering down the old, unused highway. Suddenly the old highway was barricaded with huge mounts of dirt. I’m on a bike. Now I’m REALLY on an abandoned highway. Each time the old highway gets near the new highway, new barricades. Still on a bike. The sections near the new highway had lorries moving about, covering me in grime, but other than that, traffic-free. Finally I emerged to one interchange with a) a huge number of trucks moving in and out, and b) a guard shack on the entrance to the old highway.

The two guards were friendly. They gave me watermelon (which is big in Turkey). They gave me water. They asked all sorts of typical bicycle tourist questions. They were also quite sure I wasn’t going past them to the site of the new airport under construction. So, onto the highway. A lot of traffic, but a reasonable shoulder. Until the highway went from four lanes to two, with traffic redirected to the other side, the lanes divided with semi-permanent traffic cones.

Now the aggravating thing was the side of the highway I wasn’t on looked great; all the traffic is redirected, the road is paved and marked, but still under construction, so closed. I tried to convince the person redirecting traffic to let me (poor cyclist that I am) stay on that side, but he wasn’t having any of it.

Cycling that way is brutal, right up against a guard rail with no median and narrow lanes. If I sideswipe the rail, it jerks the bike around (and worse case snags a pannier, suddenly stopping the bike). Traffic whips by, mostly dump trucks used for the construction. I can’t get water, as I need both hands on the handlebars. I have to focus intently on the road in front of me to make sure I don’t hit an obstacle, yet have enough time to veer gently away from debris. I’m cycling fast, because I don’t want to be there. I can’t stop, because there’s nowhere to go. Even if I did want to stop, I don’t normally have the strength to lift my bike over two sets of guard rails, and I’m exhausted. At that point a tractor trailer carrying a wide load veered left, crushing a dozen or so of the barriers.

I said previously that the Turks are crazy and aggressive drivers. Perhaps more importantly, they’re awesome. That truck went right around me, giving me plenty of room, and screw the other consequences. The drivers often beep as they pass me to let me know I’m there, and they pass me with more room than I’m ever given in the US. Today I completely missed two cars in a roundabout, and for them missing me was just par for the course. I can’t imagine driving here, because I don’t have the awareness and reflexes of the local drivers.

I see a cyclist ahead, walking up the OTHER (empty) side. I called to him, quickly gestured, and he rushed over and helped me lift the bike across the rail. Blissful calm.

He offered me water, and we got to talking. Aydin is an advocate (attorney), with a wife and three kids. Aydin’s bicycle had a flat tire, so he was walking to the nearest petrol station (and I didn’t have the ability to inflate his Schaeder tire). I decided walking was good for me too. There’s some puzzling involved with the air pump at the station, and by the time his tire is inflated we’ve attracted a crowd of adults and kids. Someone bought us watermelon at a nearby vendor. While eating that, someone else brought us tomatoes, a cucumber, and peppers. Despite my protestations, they filled my handlebar bag.

During the hottest part of the day, I without doubt still needed a break. Aydin invited me to lunch across the street, and with his English, and liberal use of Google Translate, we talked back and forth before going our separate ways. I refilled my water bottles at the restaurant, and Aydin bought my lunch!

The highway is four lanes again, and I’m overtaken by two cyclists (whose names I’ve forgotten), one unladen, the other towing a trailer. They themselves had run into each other earlier as friends of friends. They offered me water, and were taken by my Litespeed bicycle (taking selfies with me and my bike as we cycled along, and showing me photos of other Litespeeds). I’m not sure  why, but they must have said “Litespeed” a dozen times. Litespeed or not, they were wildly faster than I was, and we were going our separate ways after stopping at a petrol station. One of them was returning that day  all the way  to Istanbul, where he too had started that morning (very depressing).

It was then I found out that while the Internet says you can camp at petrol stations, someone neglected to tell the attendants at petrol stations. The two cyclists had said the closest hotel was 10 km completely out of my way. I hate backtracking, and especially hate 10 km more when I’m beat. At that point, at the second petrol station, I saw a sign for the Kassandra Hotel. And here I am. It’s not the Ritz, but for $18 it’s adequate. I’ve had a shower and washed everything.


Because I’m not camping, tomorrow I’ll start with a full load of water.


2 thoughts on “People are the water of life”

  1. It is amazing how you run into such nice people on your trips. Watermelon is good at re-hydrating, so it’s good it’s popular there. According to the Weather Channel, it’s 73 degrees Fahrenheit in Istanbul right now (2:30 am Monday there, 7:30 pm Sunday here), 83 and sunny tomorrow and Tuesday. But you won’t be there by then!

    Love you, and happy to hear from you so frequently.

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