Its never a good sign when only a few kilometres into a day of cycling you find yourself pushing your bike up a steep hill. Its perhaps even worse when this particular day is the first day back on fully loaded bikes heading east from Istanbul to Trabzon along the Black Sea coast.
Despite plotting a quiet route out of central Istanbul, the first steep hill away from the Bosporus takes us by surprise as we push our bikes to the top to the amusement of people working out in a nearby park. Restoring our spirits, the next 20km of cycling to the outskirts of Istanbul is on wide roads with light traffic.
Turning off the GPS in favour of our paper map we promptly take an unintended detour onto the scenic road to Sile, which in this case means more hills, some short coastal sections and a whole lot less traffic. After around 60km our lack of winter training shows through and we are both exhausted. We find a nice woodland free camp and soak in the afternoon sun enjoying cups of cay and contemplating the enormity of what lies ahead.
After a relaxed start the next day, we stop for a second breakfast of memenom and tost in Sile, reminding us that cycle tourists need double portions especially for the hills we are heading towards. Stopping at a small cay shop in Teke our bikes stand out amongst the mass of gleaming chrome and throbbing motorcycles parked outside. With typical Turkish hospitality the owner refuses payment from us as she dashes cups of cay to the hordes of motorcyclists looking like armoured knights on fidgety steeds.
We descend back to the coast to Agva and are advised that beach camping is free and OK but despite numerous enquiries we cant figure out exactly where we can camp amongst the cafes, jandarma camp and hotels. A local restaurant gives us space to sleep in a tiny shed in exchange for us buying a meal and some drinks which works for us.
We spend a night hosted with Onur in Kandira. He treats us to a meal in a local fish restaurant and hours of conversation about Turkey. Driving back to his apartment the roads are blanketed in thick fog and we ask if the weather is often like this, to which he answers “Yes” with a wry smile at us in the rear view mirror.
The road is dead flat into Karasu seeing us use gear ratios we haven’t touched since Istanbul as we bypass the bigger settlements as we race on looking for camping options on the densely populated coastal strip. Pulling out after a break at the 80 km mark, we finally see a sign for camping. We are greeted by the friendly owner who to our delight says there is no charge. The tent is up in minutes and we are inside his restaurant with a view over the beach and beers in hands. The owner shows us his upstairs office and entertains us with talk of the ‘crazy sea’, the busy summer season and his views on Turkish politics.
We decide to detour into Akcakoca where there is a modern mosque and quiet waterfront area with views of the flattish coastal road snaking ahead to Eregli. From this distance it looks like quiet and pleasant cycling with views of the sea, but as we should expect by now what you see isn’t always what you get!