And so it was time to turn south and away from the Black Sea and begin the 360km hike up to Erzurum. Now when I had left Istanbul this road was still closed due to snow, but (most of) the locals seemed to say it was possible by bike. I was given a great send off from the coastal town of Tirebola. Locals gave me food and vegetables and the old boys in the cay (tea) house examined my map and pointed out the towns I would be passing and rated them between "cold" and "cold,cold,cold,cold". And so most of the next 5 days were spent climbing. It wasn't very steep (never more than 5%) but it was consistent. It was time to put the altimeter to use.
DAY 1- 0M to 322M
It felt good to start climbing. A sense of upcoming adventure. The road to Erzurum had played on my mind long before I had left Ireland and now finally I was here. Straight away the scenery was incredible. The road followed a fast flowing river through densely forested mountains.
DAY 2- 322M to 1250M
The legs were strong and I was eager to get places so today I climbed an altitude higher than sea-level to the summit of Croagh Patrick. The terrain was no longer as green and the snow capped peaks of the coming days came into view
DAY 3- 1250M to 1660M
The temperature had now noticeably dropped. Today we went over the first (1875M) of 2 passes on the road to Erzurum. But the definite highlight of the day was meeting 3 boys from Clare (Paul,Mike and Brian) who were pedalling home from Bangkok. http://www.thaireland.ie/ . The last thing you expect to meet coming around a bend in the back end of Eastern Turkey is 3 Irish lads free-wheeling down to the Black Sea. I told them I'll hopefully be landing in Shannon about this time next year and I'll head north for Clare before continuing east for Naas.
DAY 4- 1660M to 1706M (with a pass of 2302M)
Today was a day of serious climbing. We were crossing over one of the biggest passes in Turkey and biking over the highest altitude of the trip so far. Friendly truckers stopped and offered to chuck the bike in the trailer and drive me over the pass. My plan was to pedal all the way (but that didn't stop me from grabbing on to the back of the slow moving trucks to help me along). Generally if they don't want you holding on to the back they'll give either an angry blast from the air horns or else "wag the tail" (steer the cab from left to right, which causes the trailer to shake). One friendly driver of a yellow Scania even stopped for a few minutes to shake my hand, welcome me to Turkey and to give me a chance to put on my jacket and gloves as the temperature was dropping. We were at an altitude now more than twice the height of Ireland's highest mountains. It was seriously cold (ie"cold,cold,cold,cold") and either side of the road was a wall of snow.
DAY 5- 1706M to Erzurum (1950M)
And so we finally made it Erzurum. Today's ride was mostly across a barren steppe landscape similar to the kind of terrain you would expect in Central Asia or Mongolia. I'm presently chilling out against a warm radiator in a cheap hotel in town and I think I'm due a rest day. Tomorrow will be a relaxing day