Day 44. Monday, September11. Bush camp to Kars. 111km, with 1,342m of climbing.
Ooh, it was cold last night! Minus 1.8C, Erwin, our rider from Bavaria, said with great precision this morning. That will likely stand as our record low for the trip because we won’t camp so high again.
Thus, our temperature range for the tour will be minus 1.8C to 42C, the latter thanks to our very hot early days on the road. The almost 44C range is largely due to terrain and season. But also to our accelerating climate crisis.
I’d started the night cosy in my sleeping bag. But by the early hours of this morning, I was pulling on an additional item or two of clothing every now and then to stay warm in my bag. Each time I woke up to do so, I was surprised how damp everything in the tent was. There wasn’t a whisper of wind to ventilate the tent. I concluded my breath and body heat was generating most of the condensation.
I’ve never been so glad to see the sun. Even its first rays warmed me as I packed up my belongings and tent and then breakfasted.
Riding was an even better way to warm up, so we made a prompt start on the 10km to the Georgia-Turkey border. The downside was the road soon became unpaved, despite it being a major truck route. This is what the Georgia side of the truck queue looked like the afternoon before. And this was only to get into a customs holding compound still some 20km from the border.
Our border crossing was going smoothly and quickly…until I presented my passport to a Turkish official. He pushed it back across the counter. “Change of shift. Change of system,” he said as he exited the booth.
About 10 minutes later his replacement turned up. Failing to get the computer system going, he spent a while on the phone, presumably to tech support somewhere in Turkey. His computer remained dead, so noting we were a bunch of cyclists he asked about our trip. He expressed surprise and admiration for our exploits.
He reciprocated, showing me videos on his phone of his recent holiday in Georgia, such as swimming in an alpine lake and summiting a high mountain.
Meanwhile, a queue of border crossers was building up behind me. “Why won’t they let you in, Rod?” one of my fellow riders asked. “It’s not me. It’s them. Shift change; system change,” hoping my cheery reply would quell their scepticism.
Some 45 minutes later my border official was back online. “New Zealand?” he said. “Do you need a visa?” “No, we’re visa free.” “Are you sure?” “Yes, absolutely. I’ve checked several times.” “OK,” he said as he stamped my passport and let me into Turkey.
Riding away from the border, the wide, smooth tarmac made our first climb easy. Later, we turned off in a small village on to an unpaved road to follow the shoreline of a beautiful lake for some 23km to our lunch stop.
Along the way we saw it is harvest time for field crops, and the land also supports lots of cows and geese. These Turkish villages are quite different in layout and buildings from their neighbours across the border in Georgia. For example, each has a prominent mosque minaret, as you can see in this photo below from our lunch stop.
The vista was glorious but the going hard. The rocky, rough surface antagonised the taught, painful muscles and ligaments in my shoulder caused by my spill three weeks ago. While I’m now scab free, I still have some pretty sore tissue.
As I rode into lunch, I decide to call it a day after 60km, even though we were back on tramac. Better to take the van the last 50km into town and gain an extra half day on our one-day rest in Kars. My body needs maximum recuperation time.
It was a very special lunch stop too. I turned on my phone and was delighted to find my preloaded Turkish e-SIM kicked in immediately…so I gave Lynn a video WhatsApp call to celebrate our 47th wedding anniversary. Only a brief one because Lynn was heading to bed, so we promised each other a longer call tomorrow morning.