A car pulls in to the inside lane while we are waiting for our turn at the lights, preparing to navigate through the busy city centre of Zonguldak just as school is let out. The driver’s window winds down. “Where are you going?” To Trabzon. “Why are you going this way?” Its only later when we climb the first of Zonguldak’s hills and glimpse the steep roads curving off into the distance that we understand his confusion.
The second of two big industrial towns we were passing in two days, Zonguldak’s outlying towns to the east weren’t the pleasant places on the coast we had expected. Huge factories, black dust and lorry traffic combined with sharp ascents and both hands on the brakes descents made us wonder why this stretch of coast was marked as scenic and straight on our less than accurate map.
We had been lulled by the ease of our first few days of cycling when we first struck the flat stretch into Eregli a day earlier. The result of the popular Turkish occupation of widening all roads to four lanes meant we rode beside an endless stream of trucks without a hard shoulder for the entire 30km stretch.
Eregli was one of those towns which announced itself well before you arrive and we passed a vast ship building (and wrecking) area and some unidentified factories before deciding that we would try to clear its 100,000 population city and find a free camp. We finally made it out of the suburbs at about 5pm and started climbing, finding a discrete field just as our legs were giving way.
The following day we had four hours of climbing through mist before a poorly sealed descent which was again equally challenging. Just as we were coming to the flat we rolled slowly past a busy restaurant and stopped to eat like only hungry cycle tourists can.
We’d spent a little of that misty hill climbing time making up a back story for the upcoming town of Zonguldak which sounded like a legendary fire breathing dragon to us. The reality wasn’t too different, after the big town himself came the baby monsters, towns covered with a layer of soot which stuck to the roads like sand. People seemed friendly enough as they waved from behind fences and yards but it was still early afternoon so we plodded on.
Our own Grim Brother fairy tale started just before dusk as we finally cleared the coal mining industry and descended into fresher air in Golu. The road curved up again out of the valley but we headed down an access road to the beach. Shivering from the cooling evening, we were invited into one of the off season beach side picnic areas where the sole occupant turned a heater on in front of us and continued watching horse racing on a giant flat-screen television, indicating that we could sleep in the empty restaurant and he would sleep elsewhere.
After another exhausting day it was all we could do to stare at the screen and soak up the warmth, before pulling ourselves out of our zombie state to start talking with him using our basic Turkish while we prepared dinner. Our host offered us a beer and we sat with him and attempted to communicate. We shouldn’t camp on the beach because of bad people, he said. Weren’t we worried that people would steal our stuff?
We wondered about his concern as he continued drinking substantially, his Turkish becoming unintelligible to us, and we suspect to more fluent Turkish speakers as well. When he left abruptly for a second alcohol run after we had refused further drinks and indicated that we wanted only to sleep, Justin and I decided we’d give him half an hour before leaving. Our returning host appeared with another bottle of vodka and more beer but made moves to prepare a sleeping area. Before we could pull out our sleeping bags he abruptly brushed against me inappropriately. I retaliated with some appropriate swear words, and we swiftly unlocked and repacked our bikes and wheeled them away into the darkness, leaving behind only one of Justin’s drink bottles.
By 11pm we had pitched our tent beside railway tracks at the other end of the village, proving that pitching a tent after dark makes you far less picky about the location. We had a restless but safe night listening to the stray beach dogs endless barking and were away early.
We had a chance to enjoy the rolling hills and quiet roads into the sleepy town of Filyos in the chilly morning mist. As we were packing groceries into our panniers a lady waved a cay cup at us through a window. She gave me a huge warm grin and waved us in. We warmed our hands on a pot belly stove and sat in on breakfast with some regulars, talking, me with much improved Turkish. Its 90 minutes before we extract ourselves, our faith in the goodness of most people somewhat restored.
After a flat and easy inland ride to Bartin we take a turning for Amasra expecting an easy ride to the coast. Instead we see the now familiar low cloud rolling in and an ascent that goes directly up into it. We miss any spectacular views of the coast there might have been but reward our mammoth first week back cycle touring by booking into a hotel with hot showers for a few days rest before the next leg.