Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Crazy Trip Dispatch #9: Kaman, Turkey

DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh sends in another trip report. This one, by far, is my favorite.
SEPTEMBER 16, 2015
Seven hundred miles into the Turkish portion of our journey we find ourselves slowly running out of things to be surprised by. Take today, for example. We were pedaling through one of the myriad small towns that dot the center of Anatolia when several older, well-dressed men come running to the side of the road, waving their hands frantically, and shouting, “Çay! Çay!” I turn to Kristin and ask her if she wants to stop for tea. There’s not really a choice: to pedal on would not only be rude, but we’d miss out on an opportunity to meet some new people. Which, after all, is what this trip is about.

We swing the bikes around and are soon seated on a bench outside the office of a small town bus depot, having tea with eight gentlemen bus drivers, each in dress slacks and a nice dress shirt. We go around in a circle, making our introductions while stirring the petite silver spoon that comes with every tulip-shaped glass of tea in Turkey. We answer the inevitable question about where we’re from – they guess Holland and Germany, as many Turks do – and are shocked when I tell them we are American. By bicycle, they ask. Yes, by bicycle. Finally, after 18 months on the road, we got around to printing a copy of a world map upon which we’ve drawn our route. I show them the map and watch as eight sixty-year old heads explode. A second glass of tea arrives and, with our shared language skills exhausted, we fall into our own private conversations.

We stand to leave after our second glass of tea is empty and utter our thanks. Teşukkür ederim, we each say. Thank you. Teşukkür ederim.

Spurred on by the supercharged Turkish tea (many Turks actually water the tea down, as it is customarily made very strong) we pedaled on into a strengthening headwind, wondering when our next impromptu tea party might occur. We’ve been invited to have tea with road construction crews, honey sellers, gas station attendants and now a team of bus drivers. It’s no wonder the Turkish-English cheatsheet we were given in Bodrum helpfully explained the pronunciation of Teşukkür ederim as “Tea sugar a dream.”

We went the rest of the day, until dinner, without tea, but there will likely be many more tulip-shaped glasses of tea in our future as we head towards Istanbul. We should be there in seven days, Inshallah. However, contrary to our original plans, we are coming from the east.

When I project into the future and look back on this adventure of ours, I know I’ll often think about the lessons we learned. There will be many, of that I’m sure. But chief among them is the need to embrace flexibility. Seven years ago, when we were busy squirreling away our dollars and eagerly planning this trip, we had come up with a route that we felt, at the time, was brilliant. One of the places we couldn’t wait to visit, a phenomenal place to cycle through according to those who went before us, was Syria. Several weeks ago we took a ferry from the Greek island of Kos to Bodrum, Turkey. Anyone following the refugee crisis will undoubtedly have heard of these places. Suffice to say, we are no longer headed to Syria. The people of Syria came to us, sadly with little more than the clothing on their backs.

From Syria, we intended to cut back across Turkey to the north and continue through Georgia to Azerbaijan and across the Caspian Sea and the Central Asian countries to China’s western border. But now, twelve thousand miles into this trip? I could tell you that the approaching winter weather and political instability adds too much risk or that we’re not sure if we’ll get a Chinese visa for overland entry from Kyrgyzstan, but the truth is we’ve come to realize that another five thousand miles of desert landscape just doesn’t interest us anymore. It’s time to hit the fast-forward button.

We spent eleven days cycling west from the seaside city of Bodrum to Cappadocia in central Turkey and are now circling back to the northwest, to Istanbul. Later next month we’ll retrace our tracks back across the Aegean Sea by ferry and ultimately board a freighter for a 19-day journey to Singapore. Spending the winter months cycling north from Singapore to Bangkok is the exact opposite of our original plan, but as a friend of mine so eloquently put it one day, ”This was never about have to, but about want to.”

And right now we want to skip ahead to Southeast Asia. Together we’ve decided that enjoying these next four months, part of which will be on a ship in the middle of the Indian Ocean, is more important than being able to say we cycled around the world continuously. Because we know the former will be far more enjoyable than the latter. At least for us. The phrase your mileage may vary never seemed more appropriate.

Cycling these distances affords one a lot of time with their thoughts; too much, perhaps. And today I found myself wondering if I would have had the wisdom/courage to abandon the original plan in favor of the cargo ship ten or even five years ago. Would I view this shortcut as cheating? Would I look at the trip as a failure? Would I think myself a quitter? Like a lot of people, I carry a handful of regrets with me through life, memories of less-than-noble decisions and behaviors from my younger years. Times when I didn’t “man up” as folks like to say. I thought about this a lot today and I realized, finally, that there is a big difference between stopping doing something that you don’t enjoy and being a quitter. Twenty years ago? I was immature and a quitter. Today? Seattle to Istanbul is still pretty damn far. I can live with that.

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