Generally in Turkey we have stuck to roads marked as white, yellow or orange on our map, but after a small amount of misdirection we embarked on our first grey road (very minor) with some trepidation. The grapes we had been given at breakfast were safely strapped on to my rear rack and I hoped they wouldn’t end up as wine.
The first six kilometres or so were blissful smooth tarmac before a steep climb out of Uludere saw us emerge on top of a lonely plateau with only clouds and marmot holes for company. Stopping mid-climb to fix Emma’s slightly broken drink bottle holder with a dash of glue, we saw our only vehicle of the whole thirty kilometre stretch. Inside were three very surprised park rangers who, after determining we didn’t need help gluing the drink bottle holder, offered us a lift in their truck. We declined with big smiles and thumbs up symbols so shaking their heads in disbelief they drove off.
As we climbed higher still the road gradually turned from asphalt to gravel providing the perfect dusty but warm bathing spot for a number of tortoises. My request to photograph a woman washing her carpets in Ortaca was met with a beaming smile and more disbelieving head shaking as we checked the road went through.
We lunched in a tiny patch of shade beside the gravel road watching it snake its way into the distance both wondering how much further we had to go ten kilometres, maybe twenty? We passed shepherds, farmers wives, barking dogs and lonely houses as we picked our way through the gravel and potholes. Suddenly with no warning we rounded a corner to a stunning vista looking across the Sundiken Dagari range of mountains. We were at around 1000m altitude and felt like we were on top of the world. The valley below stretched away to our left and right and we understood why the few locals we had passed chose to live in such a remote setting. Our descent on the gravel road put our well worn Kool Stop brakes to the test, but this was nothing on the kids in Samri who for lack of brakes on their bikes used their feet on the rear tyre while riding side-saddle alongside us at breakneck speed.
Back in the Sakarya Nehri river valley we quickly realised the innocent curving yellow road on our map was going to be a very hilly ride through to Nallihan – we eventually climbed around 1600m over two days of cycling. Our first night in the valley we managed to locate some much needed food supplies including bread straight from the oven of a bakery swinging into action as the sunset marking the end of the daily Ramadan fast. While Emma was shopping, a local cafe owner brought me grapes wrapped in newspaper which we added to my rear rack alongside the remnants of the mornings grapes.
Our campsite for the night was well hidden and only metres from the roaring river. With a fence of branches and an existing fireplace, it looked like a well-used picnic spot. After the previous night’s canine and human visitors we were glad to feel invisible and a little protected.
Rising early the next morning we decided washing of clothes and bodies was in order and despite the icy cold water we both braved a dip in the river. The morning cycling was rolling small hills as we followed the riverside and a belt of green fields alongside. After a stop in Mihalgazi for more supplies we were glad to have washed as it was market day in Saricakaya and everybody was wearing their Sunday best. Stocking up on nuts and baklava we couldn’t resist stopping roadside to snack and before long a local guy on a scooter had stopped for a chat and to share yet more grapes with us. I wondered silently if it was possible to eat too many grapes?
Our afternoon riding was uneventful until we encountered a very steep and unexpected hill which saw us climb from around 300m to 900m over ten kilometres. With aching legs we passed a forest camp where local wood chopping families lived and emerged on a high grassy plain with no trees for miles and few camping options. Feeling weary (by now the sugar rush from Baklava had worn off) we cycled on through an unmarked and quiet town stopping to talk with some local boys driving a tractor off to milk the cows by hand. Finally we found a suitable campsite and ate dinner as the sun set trying to follow the road into the distance and figure out where it would take us next.
Our morning ride is further hard long climbs as we pedal towards Nallihan (the first major town since Bilecik) and the hope of a hot lunch. The town square holds the usual men talking in groups and young boys with endless questions for us. While Emma shops for food I fend off the questions and smile at the talking men who shake their heads. Giving up on a hot lunch in favour of market goods we eat at a not quite open gas station, where we enjoy our first hummus in Turkey. After lunch a gentle hill climb (for a change) sees us stop at the top staring in wonder at the landscape ahead. A mix of desert colours, wild west flat top hills, straight roads, blazing sun, bright green irrigated fields alongside dusty ones, our eyes feel over-filled with so much to take in.
Thankfully, the road is largely flat towards Beypazari. Just before Cayirhan we stop for water and are given olives and cheese by two truck drivers who insist we also finish their bottle of Fanta. After the town, the road is busy with road works making finding a camp spot difficult. We finally settle on an out of use quarry around 500m from the main road but in plain sight of the highway. We wave at a farmer in his tractor creating dust clouds the size of real clouds before cooking dinner using the olives from earlier in the day. We drift off to sleep hoping for another dog free night before we head into Beypazari first thing in the morning for a much needed hotel room with shower, comfy beds and absolutely no threat of disruption by dogs.
We arrive in Beypazari early and begin our hunt for a hotel room. While I’m getting prices, Emma chats to a guy who cant believe we camp “in the wild” without a gun. After a quick tour of the hotels available we settle on the first one we visited (as we did in Edirne) and rush for the shower and some email checking. Wandering the town later in the day we stop for some lunch and admire the many well-maintained Ottoman houses before deciding to visit the town’s only big supermarket about a two kilometre walk away.
As we walk I begin to feel a bit weird and dream that maybe the market operates a free bus service or something. After we have shopped I’m feeling decidedly unwell and even discovering their is indeed a free shuttle doesn’t help. We head back to the hotel and I fall asleep on the bed only being roused to eat chocolate mousse Emma brings back for dinner. Next day we decide to cycle on despite my upset stomach, as I feel a little better and we estimate its only two days ride to the next big town of Polatli.