Day 46. Wednesday, September 13. Kars to bush camp at Hizirilyas. 113km, with 1,121m of climbing.
Today was just the tonic I needed. Beautiful landscapes, good roads, easy climbs, long descents, jolly chats with locals and fellow riders and a pleasant temperature range of 8C to 18C.
I must admit I needed it. Yesterday evening I looked at the schedule for the rest of the tour and felt rather overwhelmed. Including today’s ride, we have 14 days on our bikes to cover the last 1,700km to Istanbul – an average of 120km a day, with a lot of climbing. And we have only three rest days along the way.
While I’ve been sleeping well and thus recovering well overnight, cumulative fatigue has begun to set in; and my right shoulder still hurts. The pain’s not continuous, thankfully. But when muscles on the top of the shoulder spasm at unpredictable intervals, they send pain shooting down my right arm. I know how to ease the spasms but the pain is something I have to deal with on and off my bike.
On top of that, the constant daily packing and unpacking – particularly when we’re camping – and ensuring I have all the things I need with me on my bike for the day (the list is surprisingly long) sometimes feels like quite a chore.
Of course, the positives far outweigh all of those negatives – the sheer privilege of being here, of having this adventure, of being in good company.
So today’s tonic was very welcome. As I’ve done every day for weeks now, I rode with my quartet of Danish friends – Nina, Jette, Søren and Lars, who are such good company and riding companions – and the few other riders who generally join us, notably Joanne and Warwick from Canada.
This is a photo of the Danes I took this morning, which I hope gives you a sense of the companionship…and also today’s terrain.
The main feature of the morning was the long, steady climb up yet another beautiful valley to our lunch stop at the 69km mark. After lunch we had 3km more to the summit…then a 20km descent. I didn’t turn my pedals once on the way down, I promise.
At the bottom was a village with all the familiar features – and for the first time I paired two of them in the same photo – mosque and geese. We stopped at a shop for drinks. The proprietor and locals sitting outside the next door café were keen to hear where we were from and about our ride to Istanbul.
The last 13km of the day took us up what started as a small side valley but it quickly opened up spectacularly. In this photo, that’s a ruined fort on top of the hill.
Further up the road, we gave this truck driver a big round of applause and lots of thumbs ups…which he and his companion who guided him under the bridge, acknowledged with glee.
And then just 5km later, the vista opened up some more to reveal our camp site for the night – at the far left end of that line of trees in mid-frame, by a small river in the tiny village of Hizirilyas.
As Søren and I were approaching the community, one of the locals rushed out of his garden to engage us in very good English. Suleyman was very keen to hear about our ride and to tell us about his village.
As we were pitching our tents, two of his neighbours came to give us melons…which we ate after dinner around the campfire.