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Wednesday, 6 August 2008

DIA 278 - Fresh (Soggy) Mountain Air

Ispir - Ikızdere Dd = 60 Km Dt = 10526 Km

We knew it was going to be a hard day. The day before we had ridden along a valley rising very slowly but steadily. The road went up and down, up and down steeply, always coming back to the river, similarly to the Aras valley. Today we got up early as usual but were more efficient in our packing up. Off we went at 7am. Sustained climbing this time - we were following a branch of the same river upstream, high into the mountains. The sun shone, the sweat trickled, then poured. Always the rush of the nearby river. Sometimes we were lucky and the steepness of the gorge blocked the sun.

It was slow going: We averaged 6kph. After 20kms we rode into an icy wind, which was great for about 5 minutes because it dried the sweat. After that, the fact that it was a headwind became its primary characteristic. We crawled on, past construction work and hills still patched with snow in midsummer. There were plenty of people in makeshift houses and a Muezzin calling everyone to prayer. Nothing was growing on the hillsides now and the wind was fiercely cold. We stopped for lunch, taking shelter on the leeward side of a small cottage.

When we set off again, the wind was so strong and cold that I was gasping for air (although it could have been indigestion - lunch was rather rushed). We could not stop because the conditions were increasingly uncomfortable. Tendrils of cloud were starting to snake towards us, and within a kilometre the cloud had become so dense that visibility reduced to less than 10m. I prayed that the traffic would go slowly because the road was narrow. The traffic did go slowly, which was a huge relief. Most of the cars had their hazard lights on as well as their normal lights - a fine idea. And never have I been so delighted to see cows on the road...they slowed down the trucks. Funny to see them emerge out of thick fog, and they are quite as silly as kangaroos, clattering along beside us in fright and then making kamikaze dashes in front of us.

Finally, we were at the top. We knew this even before we saw the requisite sign showing the altitude (2640m) because there was a Turkish flag the size of a house cracking and groaning, hoisted above the middle of the road. Angel did not see it until we were about 2m away and yelped in shock at the colossal shape looming above us. Here we were, most definitely in Turkey (let there be no doubt), at the top of one of their three highest mountain passes - well, impassable between the months of October and May. It was a little difficult to enjoy though. I could not remember the last time I had felt so cold, mainly because I was so unprepared - I was only wearing my usual T-shirt under my raincoat. We had ridden to around 2400m in Nepal without experienciıng such an enormous change in conditions. My hands were seızing up and I was completely drenched in cloud.

We started going down. The cloud did not stop. I could not feel if my hands were on the brakes - I figured that they were since I was going slowly. The cloud still did not stop. We thought we would be out of the cloud within 5kms given that we had entered it under 5kms from the top on the other side. It took almost 20kms of downhill to finally escape the cloud and recover visibility. It was amazing the effect the mountains had on the weather: 20kms down the other side we had been sweating like crazy in the hot sun. It appears that East Turkey lies in the rainshadow of those mountains. On the Black Sea side the landscape was so lush and green it looked subtropical. Tea is the staple crop of these parts and was all over the place.
It was drizzling. Our bodies had adjusted slightly to the new conditions, but we were still soaking wet and freezing. A hotel miraculously appeared, but they were charging sixty dollars US a night - more than we had spent in a week. We could not do it and rode on, teeth chattering. In the end, we found a bridge to sleep under. The only problem was a rather large dog who also thought that under the bridge was a pretty nice place to sleep. It ran through about three or four times during the night barking its head off, trying to frighten us away. In the morning it watched us from a distance as we packed up. We called to it and it wagged its tail - not unfriendly, just frightened of the tent.

So, that is the story of how we finally arrived at the Black Sea coast, the verdant soggy Black Sea coast so anomalous with the rest of Turkey. The mountains do a great job of cloud herding in these parts!

1 comment:

demeter said...

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i am happy that i found you!!!