UPDATE: Didn't get the Iranian visa in Turkey so I've flown to America to cycle NY-LA instead. I've just spent five hours typing everything up and Blogger has glitched and deleted it, plus a few paragraphs that I did during a previous update. To say I'm fuming is an understatement. This blog is now over. Once I have a new blog on a different blog site (not Wordpress because the same thing happened to another blog there), I'll post the link underneath this paragraph. Let this be a lesson to you not to blog on either Blogger or Wordpress. Watch their mods delete this as well now. Read it while you can.

New blog

It will be a few days before I can be arsed to take another five hours off. It's 12th October and I'm fine, Mother and anyone else who frets about me. I'm between Philadelphia and Baltimore.

Introduction
If you've made it here, you have an idea of who I am. That's because you're probably my mum. You've probably also read this, a blog I did on my previous bike ride. This time, I'm riding from the UK (Manchester) to South Korea starting July 2012. Aren't I brave?

This started as a little 3-week tour to see little sister in Malaga. That's in Spain, Americans. Next to Africa. No, North Africa. Up. Yep, there. However, since my uniquely vague skill set is making it difficult for people to pay me to pretend to do stuff in the UK, I've decided to go back to S.K and teach English, what I'm not bad at, and what better way to get there than on a bike? Of course, I can only get as far as Beijing before having to fly because North Korea is closed. All that will come below. Just the one page like last time, which I'll add to to which I shall add every time I manage to get on the internet.


Prep
See 'kit' page for a half-arsed overview of the kit I'm taking. The trip was extended from Malaga to S.K. two days ago and I leave in four, so I'm without one or two things such as bungee cords (lost), rehydration salts (used plenty of them up in S. America), trousers (ripped the ones I took to S.America), and other small and relatively insignificant things you don't care about.

New kit features a little kitchen. I used to be happy to eat cold on the road and still am, but I got sick of not having proper coffee in the mornings and sulking all day as a result. So I've made a popcan stove that burns meths and bought a mini coffee grinder and mug/cookpot that can also manage rice or soup.

New kit also features a hammock to sleep in because I had so many rough nights on the ground in S. America. The hammock can be used as a bivy if there are no trees and it comes with a variety of add-ons to keep me warm and dry, so don't worry. I'll do a little video or something later on to show you what I'm talking about.

Physical prep in the few months I've been back in the UK after S.America has involved a shockingly low number of cycling miles. Instead, I have amused myself by eating. And by learning to brew beer. And drinking it to the point of silliness because I made too much. So I've gained over a stone in weight in that time, and the first few days will have to be winged painfully. Day one over some rainy English hills? #prayforthatcyclingbloke.

Now for a bit of shopping. 

Update: Went shopping. Went as expected. Then the lovely Viv, who doesn't want to appear here photographically because she's so damn fine the interweb would crash, lent me her stitcher and her stitchinz and we came up with this little beaut:
It's a winter quilt for the hammock. If I survive the winter, it's down to Vivvy. If I don't, she gets my porn stash and my Pog collection. Win-win.

Day 1 (02.07) Manchester - Mansfield (62.98mi)

The above prediction was spot on, which it always is because this is England. If you go outside, you get wet. Weather forecasting is the biggest racket on the planet. Nice enough ride, though. Have a look at this:
Just after this bit, the hills start properly.

The last time I came up here was six years ago, whilst attempting to get down to that London to see the gold paving. Why did I not go a flatter route around the hills? Because I'd never ridden more than 20 miles before and I had no idea a how to do it properly.

So I took the bike out after no training. I got my route from the AA route planner, which sent me the shortest route regardless of height. I also thought it was clever to save time by riding until starving, then stopping wherever was cheap, which the first time was a six pack of sausage rolls. That's not science, kids. I ended up 'hitting the wall', as runners put it. No blood sugar left. Fell off. Almost cried.

Since then I've got cleverer and my thighs have got stronger (did I tell you about the time I went to South America? Did I?), so I flew over the hills like a pro. Then it's a nice cruise down into Mansfield via Chesterfield and a couple of pubs, which I had time to enjoy because Phil, who was putting me up, couldn't get out of work early.

I'll miss a tasty pint in a proper pub. This is in a village before Chesterfield:


Phil is a good lad. He came to meet me a few miles from his house to show me a nicer and quieter route than the satnav was pushing for, then fed me pasta and ale. Top day of riding and a promising start.


Day 2 (03.07) Mansfield - Lincoln (39.67mi)
This was designed to be a shortish day because I'd been offered another place to stay, this time with Luke, who does bike fixings for a living and offered Doris some free love. What a gent. Edit: even though he had his dog's balls chopped off. Out of order, that.

More gentlemanliness from Phil as well, who took the day off to ride along, started us off with a fry-up and found us a cracking route along quiet roads and a former railway line with hardly even a dog walker on it. Most of my routes will be along A-roads because A) the satnav prefers it and B) I've tried cheeky scenic routes before with disastrous outcomes. It's only when riding with locals that you can trust that little dirt track shortcut the satnav tempts you with but never dares to route along.

Bit rainy again but a couple of coffee and pub stops put an end to that. That's it, really. Have some piccies:
Following Phil down quiet lanes
Day 3 (04.07) Lincoln - Cambridge (94.77mi)
This is a photo taken late the previous night. Somehow it seemed clever to muck about watching Forrest Gump until after midnight before starting with the fixings.

This carried on in the morning, when Luke spotted a cable that was on its way out. First stop on the way out of town was the bike shop, where we were squeezed in immediately given the astronomical importance of my bike ride. The cable replaced runs under the handlebar tape, so the old tape had to be ripped off and replaced. Allow me to introduce the uninitiated to the concept of 'bants':
Luke: "Go on, mate, get the pink tape. I'll even pay for it if you do". So that's what Doris will look like for the foreseeable future, albeit with a handsomer rider.
Leaving Lincoln with Luke and Phil

Luke and Phil rode out for a few miles before turning off, leaving me the rest of the afternoon to plod along at my own pace while they fannied back home on their skinny bikes. It rained in the morning, naturally, but the weather picked up a bit after Peterborough:
A rare bit of blue sky in the British summer. I got burnt.
 I managed to do most of the distance on B-roads but that added a few miles and a few hills to the day. After a late start, I crawled into Cambridge after 9 and headed straight for this place:
There's nary a better 'bab. When I was at uni, the college that owns this building tried to force the owners out so that students could move in. Uproar. More turned out to protest that than tuition fees.
 I then crawled a bit more to my old mate Derek's place and passed out on his couch. The miles are catching up after a summer of anti-training.
 

Day 4 (05.07) Cambridge-Gravesend (65.34mi)

Thanks to Luke, I've got smooth gearing and brakes to get up and down the rolling hills of Essex - the kind momentum takes you over swiftly when the bike is bare. Loaded, you sink like a boulder to the bottom and have to struggle back up again.

I was joined by Stu from Cambridge to Brentwood, where we stopped for a pint of the tasty stuff before he turned right to that London, where he lives, and I carried on to Tilbury, the most easterly crossing over the Thames, to avoid the London rush hour.
Not even out of England yet and I've been gringoed for the first time, on the Tilbury-Gravesend ferry: "Three quid, is it?" (some other cyclists I met on the dock told me how much they'd paid). "Nah, mate, it goes up 50p this toime o' day". It was 5.20PM, to be fair to the grabbing southern bastard.
I stayed in Gravesend with Tim and Dee, a couple who've travelled so far and wide they can hardly remember where their stories of adventure and mishap took place: "Dee, where was I when I broke down and that fella took me back to the posh hotel he owned, had my bike fixed and paid for my night out? Turkey? Gambia?... Oh yeah, Romania". That was a motorbike but TIm has a nice Thorn tourer in his garage with a swanky Rohloff hub that's far too clean, so he'll be catching me up on the road to China any time now. 


T and D treated me like an old family friend and fed me loads of pasta and wine. Well impressed with that.

Stu will hopefully get his arse in gear soon and upload a couple of the photos he took...
Here they are:
Later that day, Stu went to have a look at this daftness whilst his bike was being nicked outside.

Day 5  (06.07) Gravesend - Dover (45.2mi)
It's 9am on day 5 at the time of writing, and I'm sat in T and D's conservatory while they've gone to work. I'm taking advantage of that to avoid the lashing rain and catch up with the internet. I need to be in Dover by 2pm and find a campsite before me old mate Anna comes to see me off to France tomorrow. I'd better get moving, I reckon.

Update: The nearest campsite to the centre is 4 miles away and they wanted 15 whole pounds for a night in the hammock. Hawthorn Farm Caravan Park can fuck off. It's summer as well (by name at least), so there are no rooms at the inn. Luckily, Warmshowers came to the rescue again:


Antony works as a live-in custodian of a recently-closed old people's home. He let me turn up at short notice and put the hammock up in the courtyard (he offered a bed but I'm beginning to think I sleep far better in the air). He's a teetotal vegan, so I showed up brandishing a pineapple. Beats frankincense and myrrh.


That was after meeting up with Anna for pints and food, which didn't sit so well on the nasty 2 mile hill out of the centre to Antony's. What goes up must come dangerously fast back down, which I'm about to do now after I've finished enthralling my now viral readership (we're up to a sky-scraping 16 hits from Belgium) and stealing wifi from McDonald's.


Calais this afternoon (I'm writing this on the 7th).

Day 6 (07.07) Calais - Longuenesse (about 25mi cycled)
I rode the three downhill miles to the port, paid my 23 quid and lined up for the boat with three other cyclists:
The racks are the kind that support the front wheel and nothing else. With all the weight, a slight tilt would have buckled our front wheels, so we took all the panniers off and lashed the bikes together a bit. If we were French, we wouldn't have had the sense. If we were German, we would have brought our own rack. God bless the practical mediocrity of the English.
Goodbye England:
I got chatting to two of them, Rory and Cameron, who are cycling to Istanbul the straight line way. They're doing it for charity so I'll post a link here if they get back to me on t' face book. 

We agreed to do our first day in France together before I turned right to the south. We didn't get far because Cameron, despite being only 19, developed a dodgy knee. So we stopped in a small town called Longuenesse, looked around a bit for a free camping spot and finally met a nice old bloke who let us use his garden.

France is mainly shut on Saturdays. We originally asked about camping in a park and were told by a chemist who sold painkillers to Cameron, "You'll probably get chucked out, normally, but I'd give you a 50-50 chance of there not being any police about since they don't work weekends".
I provide the kitchen, Rory the cooking, Cam the wiping stuff a bit with some fistfuls of grass.

Rory shows me how to amplify an mp3 player; sticks some Radiohead on. Good lad.

I show Cam how to make a popcan stove. He's impressed that it actually works. I'm impressed he managed to make one at all with our collection of cheap, blunt knives and flimsy, bent cans.
There's a fair chance we'll all end up in Istanbul at the same time.

Day 7 (08.07) Longuenesse-Doullens (49.54mi)
I got cocky and decided I'd do a 100-mile day, despite knowing the road would be up and down as it has been since Calais, and seeing as we got up that I'd be rained on all day. I waved Rory and Cam off, then got about 50 miles south before giving up.
Typical roadside scene since Calais. Notice which way the grass is pointing. I'm going the opposite way. It's only a stiff breeze but it shaves a few miles off each day.
France is mainly closed on Sundays. Not a single shop other than a bakery open. I knew this already but it's worth mentioning to those not used to the French. I tried a couple of campsites before getting to Doullens, thinking I'd be able to wash clothes, charge gadgets and shower as well as hang the hammock. I said to one campsite owner, "How much is it for one person?" "12 euros with wifi". "That's fine. I sleep in a hammock, not a tent, so let me know where's best to hang it". "What do you mean?" "I need two trees about 6m apart and at least as thick as my forearm". "I don't have anything like that". The place was surrounded on three sides by woods. 

I still don't get the French. Walk into their place of business with tourist money visibly dribbling out of your ears and they do their utmost not to co-operate. Walk in smiling and chucking out the bonjours left, right and centre and you're lucky to get a grunt in return. Campsites are shut in summer. Tourist offices are shut in the afternoon. Supermarkets are shut on random days of the week.


But not all the French are bad. The ones who aren't trying to prevent you buying their stuff - those who are just milling about being French - can actually be decent, such as the ones I met in Doullens.


I spied a little copse on the way into the village that was thick enough for stealth camping but wasn't marked private or fenced off, so the plan was to buy whatever the bakery had left and mooch back up the hill to bed. I stopped for a local cider (It must take some skill to make cider with only 2% alcohol content) and got talking to a tableful of smiling (believe it) frenches who ended up inviting me to stay at their house and accompany them to the next village's annual festival. Get in. I was tired and grateful for a bit of kindness.


So I was welcomed, hosted, fed and champagned by Nadège, Philippe, Benoît and Nathalie. Here's a picture of Philippe's home-made bar, where he flippantly shrugs at employment law, staffing it exclusively with neighbours' ten-year-olds.


Day 8 (09.07) Doullens - small village near Beauvais (50.72mi)
First major stop after Doullens - somewhere I vaguely remember being before on a school trip, which involved stomping through muddy battlefields, yawning at Wilfrid Owen and buying cheap but powerful bangers for the teachers to confiscate.
Amiens cathedral. Bar round the corner. Picardy cider 3EUR per half pint. 3.50 if you sit outside. "The whole city has a 50 cent tax on sitting outside", says the owner.
France is mainly closed on Mondays. Even the GPS got into the spirit of things, inexplicably sending me down a gravel track, with the slight advantage of a close-up view of some wind turbines. Facing away from me, which is never encouraging, but impressively large up close. They go wwwwwwoooomf-wwwwwwwoooomf-wwwwwwoooomf, for the record. They might make it into the Youtube video I'm planning to learn how to make.

I gave up on the 50-mile mark again, this time near a little village where I asked the mayor (to avoid later being chucked out) if I could camp next to the chapel at the entrance. It turned out to be a chapel and a cemetery, but nice camping spots are not to be sniffed at:



I'm now in Beauvais on day 9. The weather is grim again and it's sapping my enthusiasm. I think I need a whole day off, maybe in Orleans. Day after tomorrow at best, since it's 1.30pm and I've only managed 12 of the 140ish miles today.

Day 9 (10.07) Small village before Beauvais - Small forest outside small village south of Beauvais (15mi)
I got into Beauvais late morning to type those last 3 days up, then mooched around looking for a bike shop. I've thrown my old SPDs (almost falling apart anyway so took advantage of not being arsed to clean them after standing in dogshite) so I've only got one pair, which mings when they're wet and I can't swap them. But proper strong shoes are hard to come by at a decent price as France is mainly shut on Tuesdays and I'm not in Deutschland, where substance would come before style.

I got south of Beauvais in the rain, looked at some hills before me and sacked it off to get some proper sleep. I was head tired as well as leg tired. Found a little wood (forêt communale) just after Aux Marais and set up camp early. I now feel like a champion after 10 hours' sleep, despite the continuing rain. Have a look at the Blair Witch camping spot:

There's a supermarket on the road south out of Beauvais where I found Langres cheese, the best in France. That made my evening. I'll go toe to toe with any french who claims their food is better than ours, but we can't compete with Langres. We can, however, quote George Orwell's little list of things what we've got what others have not: link

Plus our restaurants are open, so you actually get to find out.

Day 10 (11.07) Small forest outside small village south of Beauvais - Rambouillet (72.9mi)
Time to get back on the bike and post a respectable distance. 'Late' isn't really the right word, but I'm moving more slowly than I'd hoped to. Every day of summer in Europe is another day of winter in Asia. Plus it's not even really summer, as summer is on strike in France. Chiggidy check the following badly-shot pic of the Seine crossing for evidence:

 The good news is that, south of the Seine, the land is a bit flatter and there are fewer of the little hills that soak energy out of the legs. Plus, against all the odds, I managed to find a couple of well-placed little cafés open for gadget charging and coffee, so we'll charitably say that France is only mildly closed on Wednesdays.

I found a forest near Rambouillet and forged deeply and darkly into it for about 100 yards, just enough so that passing joggers wouldn't see me, get pissy and call the boys in blue. Some people are like that, aren't they? "Do you mind if I camp in that wood at the other side of your field?" "You can't. It's private". "But I won't be making a fire, crapping robustly or staying long after sunrise". "Non."

There are usually one or two woods at the roadside that aren't marked private, such as this one near Rambouillet. Have a gander at my anti-mozzie solution:
They can bite through socks, so it's been a couple of painful days for the feet. There are millions of them in the forests so I'll have to buy some DEET. Can you feel the suspense tickling your diaphragm? Will there be a photo of the DEET? Wait and see...
 Day 11 (12.07) Rambouillet - Muides-sur-Loire (89.8mi)
A man said go through Chartres, not Orléans. So I did. Get me with the spontaneity. The road to Chartres is busy, as is the one for a good few miles from there to Châteaudun (et oui I can do accents with my nice Peruvian keyboard), but the only real hill is the one out of Chartres. There I met Philippe, a Parisian in full Tour-de-France fever mode with a shiny new bike and painfully cramping thighs.

We went at his pace to Châteaudun before I turned off to Muides, a little village with a campsite I'd spotted whilst sat nonchalantly surfing (wish I had a beret or some kind of grotty rag to chuck about my shoulders) in Chartres. Thanks to Philippe, without whom I'd never have been able to lift the bike so high, I managed to get this photo:
I'd most definitely fail a piss test and I look a dick in lycra. Where do I sign up?
 Here's us stopping for a bevvy in some village before Châteaudun:
Paranoid, twitching barman: "Watch out for them coppers. Complete set of bastards. They'll stop you when they want and if you're pissed they'll take your driving licence AND your hunting permit. Tic."
 And here's Doris crossing the Loire in the rain.
France is mainly closed on Thursdays, today's highlight being one village whose name I can't remember, where one road through it had been closed off for repairs. As had the other road through it, at the same time. There were no actual repairs taking place. Mayhem and gridlock. I followed a savvy driver a few yards down a mud track to get out. If only they'd indulge in a bit of self-parody and put up signs of silhouettes shrugging Gallicly with spades strewn about the floor.

 Day 12 (13.07) Day off in Muides-sur-Loire
This is what I woke up to. The campsite is next to the bridge I was on in the photo above.

Doesn't come out well in the photo but it's strong sideways rain and I've had to bring one wall of the tarp right down to the ground to stop my stuff getting wet underneath.


I'm having the day off to wash and dry clothes and mooch about with my new German campervanning friends, whose English includes such choice exclamations as, "Jeeeeesus Mouse!". They have German red wine, which is far better than you'd imagine, and I'm sat typing this in the campervan. The fridge in here runs on the van battery, campsite electricity or even gas. Gawd bless them krauts and their Vorsprungs, their Durches and their Techniks.

As I arrived last night, I hadn't washed since Gravesend up there^, so I and my togs were reeking. It turns out that the dryer accepts either tokens from the reception that cost 3EUR, or 10p coins. Shove that one up your arse, Captain Frog.

France is mainly closed on Fridays, especially the campsite reception, which is open from 0830 til 1000, 1217 til 1500 and 1700 til 2100 (but not after 2032 yesterday when I legged the last few miles to make it in time and the guy had gone home. This is a municipal campsite. He doesn't own it: he's paid to be here.

Little sis, I'll be trying hard to make it to yours by the 25th as vaguely promised. Tb bbz x 

Day 13 (14.07) Muides-sur-Loire - Eguzon (100.76mi)
The weather calmed down slightly but still caught me with a few downpours - some whilst in villages with one sheltered bus stop, others that soaked me through whilst in no man's France. Still, things perked up after Châteauroux, where my sun-drying feet are pictured here in an arty shot I'll be charging every reader one million pounds to look at since it beats the living shit out of Tracey Emin and co.:
Feet wot I have slep wiv by Tracey age about 40 from London

As far as the cycling goes, it was a pretty boring day with a timely arrival in mind. The after-cycling bit was much more interesting. I was invited to stay with Alan, father and spitting image of Simon, a fellow cyclist who is soon to actually get paid for his writings and whose exploits you can soon read about here: Bicycle Kicks

Whilst looking for an offering to take to Alan I managed to find a supermarket open in Châteauroux, a shock on Bastille Day, but before you get excited, we're still filing France under 'mainly closed on Saturdays'. I stopped in some shit old man bar in some shit old man village to pay 2.60EUR for a big coffee, and was then told I couldn't have a water refill because the shit old owner's water was metered and “It costs me an arm and a leg” (literally “It costs me the skin of my arse” in French). With all the shrugging and pouting for effect, the prick. There needs to be a massive, bloody, medieval war around here to give this lot the kick up the arse they seem to have forgotten they had not so long ago.

“Ooh but loads of people died and war is bad and you're not being fair and the Nazis and the big bomb and he's only an old man and the ennui and the malaise and the dust and the screaming and you still can't have any water so just get over it”.

Fuck off.

Back to Alan, who is northern English and therefore not automatically set to 'dickhead' (he's a far better bloke than that makes him sound, to be fair), it turned out I was wrong to worry that he might not like the Pineau des Charentes I found in Châteauroux. I grabbed a pineapple as well, thinking he'd at least be able to chow down on that while I got pissed on the wine, fondly and wistfully remembering the last time I gave such fruit to a host. He wasn't particularly arsed about fruit, but we did have a nice few glasses (including a sip of his Breton neighbour's home-made cider), some brilliant but nameless dish scrounged (it IS scrounging, Alan, but I strongly approve) from another neighbour, and a hearty natter about such things as Alan's international rugby career, his ownership and later destruction of a Dawes Galaxy like my dad used to have, his recent two fingers up to a near-death car crash and his plans to sell the house – unfortunately a few years before I have the means to bite his hand off for it.

The house is in a hamlet near Eguzon. The place is so small it's not even signposted locally - not even with black marker on cardboard, both of which cost the skin of the arse. Google maps has a vague idea of there being a collection of buildings in a clearing in a wood somewhere, which allowed me to pinpoint it on the satnav, which for once made me glad to have the bastard thing. Here's the little road to chez Alain, in a slightly blurry photo because I was going slightly fast:
  
Day 14 (15.07) Eguzon - Brive la Gaillarde (108.34mi)
Another long day (starting to fret about a) making it to Malaga before little sis goes back to live in England and b) doing most of this ride with a shrivelled acorn cock in the Asian winter) with more cycling than photography and more off-bike fun than on.

I left Alan's far later than I wanted to, after fretting over the bike that didn't sound right as I was loading it and had far too much sideways play in the back wheel for my liking, which I narrowed down to the hub that I promptly decided I'd be replacing in Spain where things are presumably cheaper than in France, maybe even with a shiny new Rohloff hub and a whole new gearing system. Also to blame for lateness was a gentle recovery from the mix of cider, red wine and more that I should have learnt not to concoct after that night in Madrid when I was a fookin' student that I puked all day after until I had a Subway.

Leaving chez Alain, the weather was thus:
Them's hills. On any given day you can have one of 'no face wind', 'no hills' or 'no rain', I've learnt.
And then I arrived in Brive and was too knackered to ride out the other side, which I could see was hilly, to find a forest to sleep in. So I went to the youth hostel. Not bad all round but you have to buy a membership card the first time you go to a French hostel. Now let me show off a bit: the lass wanted to charge me 11EUR (price for frenches) for the card instead of 7EUR (price for forrins) because my French is getting back to its old shrugging, pouting self and I can be mistaken for one of them, especially at the end of the day when I'm tired and in a French mood anyway with the pouting and the shrugging. OOH GET THE CLEVER LAD SPEAKING FORRIN. Well it won't be like that once I get to Greece, so I'll show off while I can. And if I'm honest, I can be quickly identified as 'not in fact French' after a minute or so of blabbing. I'll wear that as a small badge of honour, actually.

At the hostel, I naively got talking to some Seth Efricans before I knew where they were from. Unlike Americans and Israelis, who are masters in the art of loudly and gormlessly pissing everyone else off without even looking at them, Seth Efricans usually have to be engaged directly before their shit starts to stink. Surprisingly in this case, however, the pre-emptive inward sigh that comes with the announcement that a fellow traveller is Seth Efrican was justified not by a rant about 'the blecks', who, as the story usually goes, 'can't ran a gavamint so I'm going to Landan to live' (apparently Landan has a tolerable minority of blecks), but by a rant about Nutella. 

Neville, as he was called, announced that one of the highlights of his trip was "the opportunity to educate as minny people as possible" (this is verbatim) "abeht the dangers of Nutella". It's made with fake chocolate, you see, and the nuts are not real nuts and the majority of it is margarine. It gets into your heart and it never goes away. Neville also had a top tip I feel obliged to share (pretty much) verbatim with my readership, which by the way now includes twelve whole Hungarians (good luck understanding this millennium's Shakespeare, starvins):

"When you're walking dahn the strit, the worst thing is someone smeking in frant of you while the wind blows the smek right et you and you can't avoid it. Now when you're inside you jast heve to pat ap with it because even though it's disgasting it's all around you. But what I do is when I'm in the strit I carry a bunch of lavender in my pocket and when I notice a smeker I quickly greb some in my palm like this and I take a big sniff - doesn't it smell good - and I drown out the smeke with a nice smell".

For the record, Neville and his entourage, the son of one of whom happens to live in Landan, didn't once mention the blecks. As with the French, there's always the odd diamond who surprises you. Honourable mention, since we're on the subject of rare French diamonds, to the lovely Ingrid, who works at the hostel, takes a real interest in the people she meets and has a lovely smile. By smile I mean arse.

I also met some Belgians and swapped a popcan stove I made for some whisky. In text that sounds like a tale from around the tramps' backstreet campfire but in reality it was a moment of honest, heartwarming beauty.

It should also be made clear that France is mainly closed on Sundays. The hostel, a place that has a steady stream of incomers at all hours of all days, is shut for most of the day every day.

Day 15 (16.07) Brive la Gaillarde - Montauban (87.21mi of which 25.98mi cycled)

I got up when I wanted, put my traahsers on, had a cuppa tea, and thougt abaaht leaving the 'ostel. Not before the breakfast I'd paid for, which was expensive at about 5 EUR but a self-service buffet, so I filled my pockets with the sachets of stuff that makes bread worthwhile. Including something I'd never seen before: single-serving Nutella. Up yours, Neville. Also honey, jam and sachets hiding what appears at a tentative glance to be proper black tea. Ingrid was supposed to keep an eye on me, but now she might get the sack. She can get in my sack.

The first bit out of Brive is a climb spread out over 4 miles but I somehow enjoyed it. There's a lot to be said for a proper kip and a proper breakfast. Then a short, sunny roll later I saw this and almost wet myself:
It's like when Cantona scored that goal against Sunderland or when Gazza shoved it up the Scotch (skip to 9.40). Can he? Will he? Surely not.

Oh my. Oh my oh my. It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.

The hub thought otherwise, and half way down the free 2.5ish miles finally gave in and made that sound that Jim Carrey makes in Dumb and Dumber when he asks the hitch-hiking assassin if he wants to hear the most annoying sound in the world. It is truly on its arse.

It still rolls but I've never had a hub go before, mainly because I've had the same ones for six years and never had a problem. I'm at least smart enough to know that it will eventually fall literally apart and throw the wheel and me into pieces on some similarly fast descent, or at least make the wheel sway so wildly that the heavily loaded bike becomes stupidly unstable with a similar outcome.

At the bottom of the hill is Souillac, a part of France that is mainly closed on Mondays. There's one small bike shop, outside which I waited for two hours. Although it's common for small, medium and large businesses to be closed in France on Mondays (I wish I could admit to lying for effect here but it's appallingly true, as are all my observations of French anti-business), a neighbour said the shop was open but the owners had gone out for lunch. They did finally show up after three other cyclists - all forrins - who waited next to me (one for a tyre, one for a helmet and another just for a browse) had got sick of it and left.

The owner was surprisingly non-French about the situation. A minimum of shrugging and a maximum of honesty: he could fix it on the spot with a new wheel based on parts he had in the shop (hub+rim+spokes) that wouldn't be strong enough for touring and would break under load very soon; he could order bits in but it would take at least a French week (two human weeks); or he could send me to a place in the nearest city where he knew the mechanic would be able to "get me out of my predicament". 

That city is Montauban, which I have now reached on the train from Souillac. Against all the odds, said big city bike shop, which I tried to call whilst on the train, is closed on Mondays. It's now Monday night and I'm in a shit motorway junction hotel because the youth hostel here has been turned into a car park (rather a 2CV than an Israeli), and whatever happens tomorrow I'll be going further south because, as mentioned above, I can't be hanging around.

At least the weather's picked up. Have a couple of photos:
Probably a good thing they couldn't fix Doris here. See that yellow thing hanging to the right of the woman's head? It's a thin, barely shower-proof jacket they wanted to swap for 195EUR.
Souillac station. Look at the bright, bright, bright sunshiney day I was gutted to miss out on out on which I was gutted to miss.
On the train. Rage against the SNCF machine. I'm not prepared to hang a bike by its front wheel.
Day 16 (17.07) Montauban - Montauban (about 5 miles)

I cycled across town to find the shop, where the mechanic tightened the hub to stop it swaying side to side (for now), and where it was confirmed I needed a new hub ASAP (and rims, since they're worn after 6 years of rim brakes, and spokes to complete the order), but the shop didn't have the same quality kit in and could order it only within 5-10 French days. There was, however, a flimsy Ridgeback tourer for sale at a daft price, the wheels of which they offered to take off and put on mine for 150EUR. They would only sell them as a pair and it looked like that was my only option. 

As France is mainly closed on Tuesdays, the mechanics took a two-hour break in the general direction of midday, itching as they were for a good bit of pouting, shrugging and melodramatic moaning, and said I'd be able to come back later to find the new wheels on my bike with my tyres and tubes transferred.

While waiting in the Maccy D's across the road (the only reliable source of free wifi in France), I realised I was being daft and that flimsy wheels would not make it to China. So I called a shop in Barcelona where the mechanic was friendly and helpful (gawd bless them Spaniards) but couldn't get the parts I wanted. Just to see if I could get a decent wheel cheaper than the two poor ones I was about to buy, I called Hewitt in England to see if they could ship me one. They can. To little sister's house in Malaga. These are wheels I trust and, as wheels go, they're not expensive at about 120 quid each shipped to Europe.

I had to pay for an hour of the mechanic's time as he'd done the work by the time I got back, then I had to wait hours while he huffed and puffed and refused to let me undo the work myself (it's an easy, quick job to change wheels, tubes and tyres), but finally got out of there at 5. No point cycling anywhere at that time, so I went a couple of miles and stayed in a horrible but cheap hotel, from which I managed by email to arrange a WS host in Barcelona, meaning three 100 mile days to be on time.

Not a single photo was taken that day.

Day 17 (18.07) Montauban - Carcassonne (88.53mi)
I doubt I'll be seeing much rain for a while. I did see loads of this, however:
Speeding past sunflower fields
And this:
It lies a bit when it's sat in direct sun, but the temperature went up to about 38 or 39 that day.
In this heat and with little wind, the sweat rolls further down the forehead before it evaporates, leaving salt in and around the eyes. At the end of the day, there's often so much of it you can see it like white powder once the sweat has dried. It stings. It's not always as easy as washing it off in a public toilet or somewhere and then starting again, because a gringo like me has a rigid factor-50 sun cream schedule to stick to and can't risk losing any. The salt also builds up on the satnav screen, which sits right under my face, and often has to be scraped off at the end of the day. Oh the hardship.

In Carcassonne I met Mark, a German owner of a shiny lightweight tourer he uses for commuting, who showed me a nice scenic route past this, the citadel, to the campsite.
At said campsite (Camping de la Cité, expensive, avoid), I found out from the unusually large community of cyclists that I should really have gone along the Canal du Midi as they all had, and that the canal went as far as Narbonne but stopped being nice to cycle after Carcassonne. 

One couple on a tandem with their toddler roasting like a suckling pig in a little plastic trailer on the back told me that the towpath got bumpy when they tried it and the trailer had toppled over more than once. So hard not to laugh, which would have been inappropriate as I was only talking to them to ask to borrow an allen key I didn't have to fix the cleats to the shiny new SPD shoes I bought at the bike shop in Montauban. I now have two pairs of shoes again, so I can in theory dry one whilst wearing the other.

France is mainly closed on Wednesdays, today's example being the campsite bin situation. There's one hidden near the entrance of a site that has room for a good hundred tents and caravans. That's it.

Day 18 (19.07) Carcassonne - Le Boulou (93.77mi)
The wind was strong and mostly behind me all the way to Narbonne, which I smugly reached on the double, averaging over 20mph. After that, I turned into the wind and rolled a lot less quickly down to Perpignan and Le Boulou, a little town a couple of miles from the border. The line you'll see on the map is not straight from Montauban to the border, as it parallels the motorway, train lines and later the canal through a valley between the Pyrenees and some other hills to the north that to me are nameless. Loads of warm weather fruit such as peaches were spotted, as well as olive and palm trees, which made my hammock posts for the night.
Camping at Les Oliviers, a site about 3 miles left out of the town centre that I later realised was a pointless detour as the road south to the border is lined with campsites. Tomorrow's climbing in the background.
My neighbours were Dominique and Brigitte, a French couple from Normandy who've retired there in a caravan. Dominique told me all about his Norman cider and moonshine making, his truck driving in England and his ability to recreate an English breakfast to the all-round delight of his French mates. He lost points for not including black pudding and having to resort to German sausages, but won them back by going to the effort of sourcing proper baked beans. The couple let me eat with them and charge my gadgets, assuring me that they are massive fans of les anglais and rewarding my passport status with a pot of Brigitte's home-made plum jam.

So my last experience of the French for a good long while was a positive one, but I've saved time for a small complaint about them in general. Sometimes, when they're agreeing with you, they say 'oui' whilst inhaling sharply. It gets right on my ever-shrinking tits because that's not how to speak.

I went for a pre-bed mooch outside the campsite, looking for a cheeky little bar for a cheeky little beer, which of course turned out to be an ambitious project as France is mainly closed at 9pm on Thursdays. A few hundred yards from the campsite I heard what I thought to be a growling wild boar in the woods over the road, so I turned back quickly. Boars are so rambunctious and spiky-faced that, if I remember right, the boy Grylls had to trap one with a snare tied to a tree and give it a nervous dose of matador ballet before turning it clumsily into his tea, so I was happy with my decision. The boy Mears would have hand-dug it a hole to fall into then dropped a correctly-lifted rock on it, an option I considered before remembering it was a dark and I didn't really need to as I'd had a couple of jam butties.

"Hweh", inhaled Dominique sharply at breakfast, there's loads of them around here. Good hunting".

Day 19 (20.07) Into Spain: Le Boulou - Barcelona (111.9mi)

I chose the easiest Pyrenees crossing open to me, as had the road, motorway and Roman fort builders. Less than an hour's soft climbing (about 300m in total) and you're suddenly over the border into a country that's so open for business there's no passport control:

The road down from the Pyrenees to the coast looks like this and is dotted with facepainted roadside strumpets pouting at truck drivers.
The road along the coast to Barcelona heads into a strong wind, which you're grateful for on a hot day as it at least dries you out a bit, and passes through a lot of resort towns full of English, Dutch and Germans parading their sizzling pig skin pinkly, fatly and near-nakedly about street after street of tat stalls.

In the first of these tourist traps, Malgrat, I stopped for a coffee and a water refill. The coffee is double the flavour and half the price of its French equivalent, and the bar owner in this particular place not only gave me a free refill WITH a smile, but also did so from bottles of mineral water he'd normally charge for because "you can drink the tap water no problem but this stuff tastes much better". Good lad.

The Spanish are much better people than the French, as I had worked out whilst living here before but have recently remembered to my satisfaction. They're not rude. They like talking to you and each other. Their food is richer and cheaper. They're better looking and better dressed. They're helpful and welcoming when you walk into their shops or bars. They feel bad if they can't give you directions and call others into the conversation until you're happy you know where you're going. They talk to each other across bars, cafés and restaurants having never previously met and end up all perched around the same table. They don't shrug or pout. They call you the informal 'tu' automatically rather than formal 'usted', because they're so cool. Their music is better. Although a lot of their shops close for a few siesta hours, they make up for it by opening again, at the time it says on the door, and staying late into the night. The French are dead to me.

I got to within shouting distance of Christina's place, where I was lucky and grateful to have found a bed at short notice, and stopped for a tasty beer (them Spanish just can't stop winning) in a nearby bar whilst waiting for her to come out of work. There I met David, a photographer who doesn't deserve to be out of work as he can do stuff like this. Win.
Waiting outside Christina's flat. That on the back is petrol for cleaning the chain. The petrol stations get fined if they let you fill little pop bottles and such like, but the motorbike mechanic next to one of them apologised for not having any spare to give me and instead gave me an empty petrol-grade bottle to take back to the petrol station.
Once Christina got back, I quickly dropped my stuff, got changed and rode up a hill with her to the open-air film (at this place) she was late for. It was a fairly wanky experience I wouldn't normally go in for as I'm not one for excessive open-mindedness, but I was surprised to find myself enjoying a silent oldie with live soundtrack provided by a pianist accompanied by some kind of tapdance/beatbox/ballet ensemble. I also had some wine.

The hill we sweated up we flew back down, me too fast. Going round a bend I wasn't ready for, I braked probably too hard, the back wheel skidded out and I went into the crash barrier. The bike now looks like this:
The handlebar came off worse than me, don't worry.
And I, after a night in hospital, now look like this:
I'd post more convincing photos of gore but my dear mother hyperventilated just hearing the news over the phone. Gore available upon request.
I've got the above gash on my left side, a couple of missing toenails, a swollen ankle and shoulder, a dead left leg and other cuts and bruises. That's not really a lot, and I know it could have been worse. I had no helmet on and I would have failed a breathalyser test. Yes, I should know better at my age. No, I will not start wearing a helmet.

Whilst I was being patched up, x-rayed, ultrasounded and fingered painfully through the wound to check for extruding guts, Christina and her girlfriend spent two hours wheeling the knackered bike back to hers and up her ridiculously narrow staircase before coming to see me in hospital before going to bed. 

I eventually got out of the hospital and back to hers at about 5 or 6, grabbed a couple of hours on the couch and took the bike to be fixed. Tomás Domingo in Barcelona is a cracking bike shop with honest mechanics. That's why they're busy and can't fit mine in until the 27th, but they don't mind keeping it in the back until I'm ready to come and get it.

That's handy because I've left Barcelona and got the train down to Malaga to recuperate in little sister's air-conditioned and surprisingly clean apartment for a week whilst waiting anxiously for the back wheel to turn up on time. I'm going back to Barcelona on the 27th to pick the bike up and I'll hopefully be getting the ferry to Sardinia the next morning. I'd like to be able to cycle again as of Sunday but that might be optimistic.

The whole thing has cost me 400EUR in fixings and train tickets, so those who know me well will understand that I've learnt my lesson. I handed in my EHIC card to the nurse (we get free (I hope) treatment as at home, as long as it's within the EU) so I'm hoping that means treatment will be as free as it would have been in the UK, despite me having no insurance. No, I will not pay for insurance as nobody will cover a 6-month cycle tour for less than a million pieces of eight or without some other prohibitive clauses I found about when I looked into it for South America, such as "No, you can't renew your policy while you're still abroad. What a silly idea.".

Mum, I'm sore and limpy but otherwise fine. I've been doing the iodine swabs, which hurt but I'm a big brave boy, and I'm knocking back the antibiotics and painkillers. Your daughter has fed me fruit juice. Don't worry.

Day 20 (21.07) involved taking the bike in and getting the train to Malaga, as above.

Days 21-25 (22.07-26.07) Recuperating in Malaga, with a couple of photos here if you're lucky. I might go and see that Picasso museum if I feel the need to moan about something. Modern art's always good for that.

 Update:
Little sis took me to this place, 'La Antigua Guardia de Malaga' (I think), where fortified wines are served from these barrels and the auld blokes who run the place totter about pissed on the same stuff. 1.50 EUR for a glass of sherry or similar is a price I'm happy to pay. And we got a litre bottle filled as a leaving gift to ourselves. Anna, if you do your travel writing in Malaga, your first stop is here.
Have some scenery:
 Have some of what a drip needle did to my arm in Barcelona:
It's turned gangrenous and will have to be chopped off, more's the pity.
Wandering about town we spotted Paul, a Belgian cyclist and former Catholic who's also riding to China but taking a lot longer than me as he's a scenery fan, and took him in for two nights. He went to the Picasso museum with us. He shared little sis' opinion ("This is shit. They're all just called 'Woman Seated'. Look, I could have done that one myself"), commenting, "Disch guy wasch full of schit". He doesn't really speak like that. In fact, his English is impressive and features such gems as 'abruptly' and 'frolicking', which after a couple of days' quick learning with us have become 'abrup'ly' and 'frolickin'.

Paul's blog is in Flemish and English here. Well worth a look at his photos.

Imaginary FM, once I get back on the bike, will be showcasing this britpop classic, thanks to Tino.


Day 26 (27.07) Malaga-Barcelona-Sardinia (Train + Ferry)
I had phoned the bike shop to explain that the new wheel had been sent to me in Malaga and that I'd be showing up with it, wanting them to fix the cassette, rim tape, tube and tyre to it because I wouldn't have had chance to get my tools beforehand. They managed to take two hours to do that but seemed to recognise that I know I could do it myself a lot quicker and I was huffing and puffing about having a girl to meet, so didn't charge me for the work. The girl was Adela, Christina's WS mate who was letting me into the latter's flat, and against all the odds not a date. And then I noticed one of the rubber hoods (just above the brakes, where your hands go on drop handlebars unless you're in 'duck out of the wind' mode) had been ripped. Probably at the same time the handlebar snapped, but I managed to argue it was their fault since it wasn't noticed as I brought the bike in. I blagged a free water bottle out of them as compensation, effectively slashing 5EUR off their 200EUR bill. I'm so cool and crafty and clever that sometimes I lie awake at night, overcome with toss/turn pity for the Untermenschen that surround me. That's not Nazi. It's Nietzsche. LOADS of books, me.

That's a long way of saying I got the train to Barcelona and the ferry to Porto Torres in Sardinia, arriving (in theory, at the time of writing) late the next morning. I'm bored on the ferry and typing this to save a few minutes elsewhere.

Have some uninspiring pictures of the port at night:


This one, I think, is the hill I fell down:

I'm itching to get back on the road. I'll probably regret only having one day's riding in Spain but I'm now a few days ahead of schedule, so less Asian winter to die in. Mother cried, apparently, after I called her to tell her about el accidente. I'm not proud of that. Sorry, mum.

Day 27 (28.07) Porto Torres - Sassari (18.28mi)
Late the next morning turned into tyre-melting early-afternoon industrial-estate tarmac. A short ride into and around Porto Torres revealed one open minimarket, where the checkout girl shouted at me for leaving the bike inside until she realised the Italian wouldn't penetrate my thick skull and left me alone. Then it was couple of hours rearranging bags, locating the drinking fountain (take note – they're usually in public squares or camouflaged against a church wall) and failing to re-attach the handlebar bag. 3pm is a daft time to be cycling in Sardinia in July. An hour into it, I overheated and stopped next to a bus top to throw up the tired bread and cream cheese I'd eaten. Plus side, el accidente didn't seem to be making things worse. I made it to Sassari, shopped, climbed out of the city, and found an olive grove to camp in. I'd gathered from the neighbours that the owner rarely showed up. I saw none of him but the neighbours' dogs barked at me all night. They were far enough away for me not to care. Sleep.

Day 28 (29.07) Sassari – Oristano (80.68mi)
The first thing I saw on the road was a tunnel I realised I wasn't supposed to be in. The main road is *sometimes* a motorway. The GPS doesn't realise it and there are no signs to say I'm not allowed, plus it was Sunday and the traffic was light.

Sardinia looks a bit like this:

The hills are not much worse than the peaks I crossed on day 1 but the heat makes them murderous. I managed not to throw up but I went at walking pace a lot of the time. I still haven't got off and pushed.

Roadkill has diversified – lizards, a red fox (diverse for this heat), a billy goat; also a cat (I whooped like an American going to war) and a dog (I sulked like a Frenchman going to war).

At the Oristano Maccy D's, I found a campsite 3 miles out of town next to a beach. It wasn't cheap and it was full of kids. There was entertainment and shouting. Until midnight. I sulked. I also lost my cheap but useful watch by leaving it in the shower block for somebody to nick and sulked a bit more. 

Busy campsite:
 

Day 29 (30.07) Oristano – Cagliari (76.83mi)
Passing back through Oristano I saw a roadside fruit seller, remembered I hadn't had many of my five a day for a long time, and so barked the Spanish word for 'cherries' and the French words for '100 grams' at her, which worked.

The cherries accompanied me over the road to a square with a drinking fountain, where I washed them and sat in the shade (vital even at 9AM) to eat them. I felt a bit happier about the world and my crap little place in it until an old widow, dressed all in black like the Spanish ones, walked past, stopped, turned to look back at me, muttered 'Ekwensu Ocha' or something, did the chest crossing and the cross kissing, and carried on. “Sod her”, I was almost bothered enough to think. Ah, but then I realised I was sat on the steps of a church. As you were, love.

I got to the main road to Cagliari (the one that goes from north to south of the island), but this time it was a proper motorway with lorries and 'no bicicleta' signs. De-route took me roughly parallel to it and cost me 10 miles or so. The heat is outrageous. 42 degrees.
Illegalissimo entrare bibicletas per favore
Reaching the port of Cagliari:


So I had two nights in Cagliari, which is nice and pretty and perched on a hill that you have to climb if you want to go anywhere nice, so I didn't bother visiting the castle. The hostel is crap and overpriced and the air con is centrally controlled, which means it goes off as soon as one person is too cold and everyone else sweats. There I met these friendly frenches, whose bags hadn't turned up at the airport, and gave them a sachet of shampoo each. Also soap, a razor and some toothpaste. They were English enough about it to get me some beers in return.

Impression of Italy so far: it's shut but they're alright about it, plus I know a lot less of it than France so I'll reserve my criticism. For all I know of the language, all that random shouting might well be about taking over the world. Also they stink. Far too much perfume. Also their food is supposedly nice but I eat out of supermarkets, not restaurants, so I can confirm that their basic food is plastic and overpriced. French supermarkets have much better stock.

Day 30 (31.07) Cagliari
Was mainly spent buying a ferry ticket for the next day and mooching from café to café looking for wireless that was not just 'free' but 'really free' (i.e. free for more than ten minutes and without signing up to something that requires your passport number no thanks big brother slash ID thieves). I also failed in an audacious crack at a waitress.

I speak more schoolboy Latin than Italian but I'm learning the latter quickly. I've learnt the likes of counting, directions, food words, answers to the usual questions (where are you from/going, etc.), “Where is the drinking fountain?” and “Where is the free internet?”. Italian is just French or Spanish with a slightly altered vocab, so once the word goes in it usually sticks. I still commit stupid errors, however, and I take these things seriously, like the time I tried to ask for superglue in France but asked for 'some glue that is super' instead, got loudly heckled by DIY shop bloke and his mates, then shut myself up in solitary, curtained shame for the rest of the weekend.

I'm bored in Cagliari and I can type this but not post it, so have another bit of useless commentary: I haven't been to a foreign country since about 2001 without hearing Coldplay. That Includes Bolivia, Deutschland, Croatia, America (God Bless It), Wales and now Italy.

Mario Balotelli farts in the general direction of popular belief by not being the only black Italian.

What have I not seen for a while? Stray dogs, tramps, an open tourist office, a cloud, The Light Of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Day 31 (01.08) Cagliari – Napoli (Ferry)
Morning spent thinking up more of that pointless crap above to fill this space with more than "I went on my bike and it was hot", afternoon buying beer to drown out other people and their dogs on the ferry (I'd learnt after the last ferry), evening spent watching the sun go down on the top deck as my beer disappeared into some Africans I'd met at passport control and stupidly befriended. 

I'm clearly a prick in many ways but I won't sit and drink beer in front of someone I'm talking to without sharing. I hate myself for that. One of them said I was technically his master because I'm white. I hated him for his lack of ambition. And his racism, actually. But it's alright because God will help him, he says. Really shit chat.
Africans swig my beer
Italy in the distance
I hate other people in general. They put the only toilet for hundreds of people right in front of the room where the seats are, where everybody can smell it. Then other people piss all over the floor within a few minutes of boarding. Then others allow others to take dogs on board said 14-hour boat trip, meaning there's barking all night in the seating/sleeping room and piss and shit left all over the top deck. Others snore like pigs. Others want 6EUR for a small, plastic sandwich and can therefore shove it. Yet others actually pay these prices. Others leave the taps on in the bathroom so the only free drinking water runs out. Others in the bar and restaurant are under orders not to comply.

I haven't been sleeping well in the heat. Still, the point stands. Other people are the worst part of anything.

Day 31 (02.08) Napoli – Benevento (46.37mi)
The floating bin pulled in late morning and I thought it clever to find a hostel and get some proper sleep before any more cycling was ruined by a foul mood. I found an internet place and the hostel, which was a few miles from the port in the wrong direction. I looked out of the window. Tired or not, Napoli is disgusting. The driving is so bad I went past anger to lol. There's rubbish everywhere. The streets are far too narrow for the number of morons packed into them. So I relented and did a few miles.
Near Benevento. There's only one type of tree around here - the olive tree.

It was hotter still than before but you've read that whinge already, so until further notice just assume. I stopped in a park for an hour about 2pm to sit out the hottest bit and almost fell asleep as I sat with my elbows on my knees. Not a good sign. 

I staggered through and past Benevento and camped in a dry little wood at the side of the road. I noticed there had been a fire there in the last year or so as there was a lot of charred ground, but I was too tired not to risk it.

Day 32 (03.08) Benevento - Foggia (55.99mi)
The hills the hills the hills:

Apparently it snows up here in winter
I got my first puncture today. The back tyre was relatively new before the trip began. It's  Schwalbe and there fore theoretically good. I've had a bad time with Schwalbes. Continentals are much better.

In Foggia, bike upside down in the main square, I met two Italian cyclists, Leonardo and Niccola. They'd done a 2000km trip to Elba island to raise awareness for cycling instead of driving, and had bagged sponsorship from all over their town of Bitonto, as well as TV interviews and mayotal handshakes. They were on their way back to Bitonto that night whereas I was knackered and determined to stay in Foggia (Albergue del Cacciatore - cheapest bed in town, still expensive), but they invited me to stay with them before getting the ferry in Bari. Leonardo, whose English is good and who likes to use it incessantly: "My mother is a typical Southern Italian housewife. She can cook, wash your clothes and give you a bed. Come. COME!". Win.

Day 33 (04.08) Foggia - Bitonto (79.27mi)
Left Foggia earlyish and met Kei, a Japanese cyclist, as I was leaving the city. Kei flew into Lisbon, did a bit of a tour of Europe, and is riding back to Japan to get married. His fiancé is tasty, the lucky boy. He's going through Istanbul so we'll probably stick together until then.

I was going much faster than Kei as not only is he on the heaviest bike I've ever seen on the road, but also his back wheel is knackered. The hub needs replacing, the rim is irreparably bent and he breaks a spoke on average every three days. First stop a bike shop in Trinitapoli to have the mechanic do his best. Either through pity or respect for Kei's efforts, he fixed the wheel for free. Good lad.

We called Leonardo to ask if he had room for two - no problem. Slight breeze in our faces to take the worst off the heat, pretty little towns along the coast, company, the occasional ice cold Peroni, the promise of food ("My mother will make you a mountain of pasta" - Leonardo)... win win win win win. I found myself singing "Pasta... paaaastaaaa, PASTAAAA" in my best Pavarotti voice. Kei thinks I'm mental but I'm just constantly hungry.

Leonardo and Niccola met us at the edge of Bitonto and chaperoned us in with their car. Leonardo's mum was on her way out but we still got fed by his sister's mate, Mara. Mara speaks English like a northerner, having lived and worked in Windermere. She can cook pasta like a champion. She has ice blue eyes and a walnut-cracking arse that's made for cycling. She lied and said my Italian was 'actually pretty good'. I asked her to marry me. She said no. Sad face.
Our new mates in Bitonto
Me, Leonardo, Niccola, Kei

Mara, the offer still stands.
Day 35 (05.08) Bitonto-Bari (15mi); ferry to Igoumenitsa
Leo and Nico rode with us to the port where we waited in the ticket queue for an hour as they waited with our bikes like gents. We thought the ferry was at 8pm but no. It was at 1pm. So no time to buy the lads a beer as we finally got hold of the tickets at 12.55 and had to rush to the boat.
Early morning mooch around Bitonto before the ride to Bari

The boat was rammed as it was the weekend. Same story. Dogs pissing all over the place. Also, you have to pay an extra 20EUR if you want a chair to sit on, so we sat on the floor. Fuck Superfast Ferries.

We got to Igoumenitsa at 11pm, a scenario we'd really wanted to avoid because neither of us speaks a word of Greek apart from 'water' and because camping is difficult once it's dark. However, we found a campervan full of frenches who told us there was an abandoned campsite 3 miles out of town next to the beach. Delightful news. So we bought a couple of beers and rode out in the dark to join them, setting up our hammocks (yep, Kei is as smart as me) in their headlights. 

Then it was suddenly 4am and Kei was falling over drunk on the beach. One of the frenches had just come back from Japan with some sake, you see. Rock and roll. At 28 I'm a bit too old to be studenting but nobody present was in the mood to disapprove.

Day 36 (06.08) Stuck in Igoumenitsa
Campsite in the morning:

We forced ourselves up and away at 9, still tasting and regretting the booze. At the service station on the edge of town where we filled our water bottles, Kei wondered why his bike had been rattling and noticed yet another broken spoke. 

Easy to decide to get it fixed before heading out when you're sweating pure sake. The first shop we found...

...was useless. The owner knew less about bikes than me. As he was clobbering Kei's rim with a hammer, I waited outside in the shade and saw the owner's own bike, which had three broken spokes, one wheel the wrong size so that the brakes didn't touch the rim, and no brakes.

We met this lad, Gregory, as we were looking for a better shop. He ended up showing us the way there, calling the owner to persuade him to come back and open at 7.30 since he'd shut for the day, and hung around with us all afternoon, introducing us to the local booze and writing down a few useful phrases for us to parrot out. One of them is "Two big 'babs with everything". Good lad.
Kei doesn't usually drink.
He really doesn't usually drink.
The shop owner, George, had lived in America and spoke like a native. In fact, Loads of Greeks have impressed us with their English. And our initial impression of them is that they're bloody lovely. George confirmed that the wheel needs to be replaced as soon as possible, agreed Kei's bike is far too heavy (it's his first tour so he's brought too much), and charged Kei hardly anything. Good lad.
Some of Kei's gear is a bit... you know.
Back to the campsite.

Day 37 (07.08) Igoumenitsa - Ioannina (62.31mi)
Here's where the blog goes viral. The stray dogs we'd been throwing rocks at all night to shoo them away were still in the vicinity in the morning. One of them was dragging this around. IT'S A PUPPY (click click click):
It thinks my chain is tasty. Lol, dogz r cute.


I found a pretty decent multitool dropped at the side of the road here.
 We'd been told we'd be alright on the new road, the motorway, since there's a big hard shoulder and not much traffic. That's true but there are tunnels with no hard shoulders. A couple were scary, so we got off at the small town of Tyria, had ice cream and pop, kipped a bit, then set out to face the mountainous old road.

The hills were nothing compared to the ones Kei's climbed in Japan and the ones I've climbed in Bolivia, but the heat makes them near impossible. Time and again we had to stop exhausted. Kei pushed a lot. I refused to but I couldn't cycle any faster than he could stumble. A lot of the gradients were over 10%, according to the road signs.

But then it's over and you bomb down into Ioannina, a nice town next to a lake. The lake is in this photo, I assure you. It's ten miles away.
We found a campsite but refused to pay 20EUR just to have kids mucking around and shouting us awake all night, so we sweated up a hill and kipped there in a little forest. Greeks like to go jogging in the woods middle of the night.

A few more days in the hills until we get to Thessaloniki.

Day 38 (08.08) Ioannina - under a motorway bridge (17.47mi)
Well that was a pathetic day's cycling. The morning was spent locating a wifi place then typing up ten days of updates (me) and i-phoning the fiancé (Kei). Then we set out just before midday. We knew it was daft. Silly climb out of Ioannina, silly sunshine as you're by now aware... but we needed to do a few miles.

We did the climb and on the way down I felt shaky. Lack of proper sleep, heat exhaustion, dehydration could all be to blame. Or maybe I'm soft. I suggested writing the day off and Kei enthusiastically agreed. So we followed the mountain road to where it meets the motorway and swerves right towards Mestovo and kipped there. Kei in his tent and me swinging between a telephone pole and a 'turn left for the motorway or right for the mountain road' sign.

Must do better.

We didn't take any decent photos but have one of Kei's leg. He refuses to use sun cream.


Day 39 (09.08) Under a motorway bridge - Grevena (53.9mi)
'Must do better' indeed. Doing better began with a 5.30 alarm clock, a bellyful of sugary stuff and coffee (I can happily report that my little coffee-making kit is the dog's balls, and Kei agrees) and a 6.30 departure. A 1km vertical climb is so much easier without the sun on you. Have a succession of photos I took, each time supremely smug about the distance we'd climbed:
800m altitude - villages tucked into hillsides. We'd come from 500m ish in the top left of the photo.
1000m - non-functional drinking fountatin which we'd been looking forward to as it was marked on the GPS. 9 out of 10 of these don't work in Greece.
1100m just before the lovely little town of Mestovo. Check out the engineering it took to build the motorway off-ramp. Also share our fury at having to go up and over instead of through tunnels.
1,200m - Across the valley, taken from Mestovo. The motorway runs underneath that village on the right.
1,300m - Looking down on Mestovo
1,400m - Looking back at Mestovo. This was taken from a ski station. In Greece. Believe.
Then we got to the top of the climb at 1,500m. There were going to be victory photos but this is the best you'll get:
GODFINGA!
Why is my finger in the photo? I had reason to wobble. That behind Kei is like a pig sty but with cows in it, wallowing in their own shit. As we went past, the flies around them decided we were the better option and started following us. For ten miles. We'd been five days without so much as a puddle spray and were dirtier than Madonna's fanny, so no surprises.

Disclaimer: any jocular speculation of mine as to the location of Madonna's fanny on the scale of pristine to Baghdad is based on literally no factual information, but we were definitely dirtier than it.

Then it was midday but downhill is fine in the heat. We camped next to a wheat field in Grevena, photos of which will be included in the next day's update.

Day 40 (10.08) Grevena - Kozani (34.18mi)
Have said photos of camping in Grevena:
This was actually the day before Grevena in the mountains. There's a notorious problem in Greece. Antelopes everywhere, running rings sround hapless bears. Relax, mother, we didn't camp in bearland. I'll take my chances with stray dogs but I'm not daft.
Little path next to the main road looks promising for stealth camping...
...WIN
We got to Kozani and stopped at an internet place. The usual - plan route, find out what sort of gradients we're facing, email mother/fiancé, scout out forests for stealth camping (the green bits on Google maps, usually). Then Jim came over. He's the manager of the bar we're at, his English is excellent, and he's well connected. Five minutes later Antonis, his mate who runs the bakery across the road, has found out that we like 'tiropsomo me feta' ("Cheese bread with feta" - one of the few Greek phrases we can do), and he's brought some over. Gratis. Did I mention the Greeks are a sound bunch of lads? The Greeks are a sound bunch of lads.

It turns out Antonis is the leader of the Kozani branch of the Vespa Club. I'd never heard of it before but Kei started his enthusiastic nod/bowing and 'aaaaaaahhh'-ing. Here's a link to the British version, since my readership would struggle with the Greek link as much as I did. I've worked out that a 'p' in Greek is really an 'r', but I'm not quite fluent yet.

So the Vespa lads get together now and then in their clubhouse, which is a flat above Antonis' bakery, and there they organise outings on their Vespas. And we're invited to sleep in the apartment for free. Shower! First time in six days! Plughole blocked! Water crept out into the kitchen and flooded the carpet! No problem, says Vespa lad Larry, who runs a graphic design studio downstairs, as long as it doesn't go as far as the fridge and drip down into his office and onto his collection of swish cameras, one of which is from the 1920s!

Good lads, them Greeks.

So we forgot the rest of the day's cycling. We were so excited about the hospitality that we took zero photos, but I've asked Larry to send a couple that he took and I'll post them here as and when...

Here's one of Antonis, Me, Kei and Larry in the clubhouse:

Day 41 (11.08) Kozani - Thessaloniki/Salonika (87.7mi)
The plan the previous day was to get 15 miles out of Kozani to the bottom of a 1km vertical climb, then camp before doing it in the cool morning. Instead, we cycled out of Kozani and got to the hill about 10am, when the sun was already shining. But guess what? It also rains in Greece. Here's a photo Kei took at the top of the climb, which turned out to be easy in the shade of the clouds and the mountain wind.
 After the mountains, it's down from 1,500m to around 200m at Veroia, a busy city we didn't like. There we looked around briefly for a new wheel for Kei but we only found shops that sold little girls' bikes, so no luck.

We did manage to find a bike shop in Thessaloniki, and a cheap hotel where we could stay that night and the next, giving us a day of maintenance. And the wind pushed us at about 20mph all the way until the Schwalbe back tyre did its usual disappointing act:
Fair enough, it's a massive screw and the tyre has had some use already, but all the blurb about kevlar linings and all the cycle tour bloggers would have you believe this just doesn't happen to Schwalbes. Well it does, and this is about the fifth time this tyre has pussied out on me. It takes a lot more than a screw to puncture a Continental Top Touring, just so you know.
It happened on the main road into Thessaloniki. FML LOL.
 In the city, which has a dodgy hooker zone on the way in, some of the most comedy potholes I've ever seen and hectic traffic that's almost as bad as Napoli, we stayed at Hotel Atlantis. I usually only mention hotels if they're crap but fair's fair. If you go to Thessaloniki, stay there. 42EUR for us both including breakfast, bike storage and road/city advice from reception. The breakfast is a buffet (magic word for a cyclist) and it features sandwiches and three types of cake, plus the usual breakfast spread. Very happy with that.

But we were reminded that tomorrow was Sunday, so we had to forget the nice bike shop we'd found. So we only stayed the one night.

Day 42 (12.08) Thessaloniki - Asprovalta (55.45mi)
Kei's turn for a puncture as we left Thessaloniki. We fixed it next to a ceramics shop that luckily had a tap outside it. The owner turned up as we were getting ready to leave and eyed us suspiciously until we'd mimed our story and explained that we were 'Anglicani' and 'Japanesi' (probably not proper Greek) and that we were going to 'Kina' (Greek). So he gave us a sack of grapes out of his fridge. And I mean a 5kg sack. Good lads, the Greeks.

The grapes were spot on but there were too many, so we gave as many as possible to a Spanish couple we saw hitch-hicking a couple of miles later. And another couple of miles after that, they gave us the friendly finger from the back of a pickup. Bastardos.

We didn't care. The route took us past a couple of nice lakes to the coast with a slight tailwind. These are the days you go touring for.

We even found time for a midday nap on the patio of an abandoned roadside café:
 When you hit the coast, the beaches are white and the sea is turquoise. And there's German on the 'Hotel 2km' signs. Yep, it's Turistenland. We are far too cool for the tourist traps, so we cycled a couple of miles out of a town I vaguely remember being called Asprovalta and found a park. Surprise surprise, an old Greek we met in the park spoke German but no English, and I understood from him that the park is closed at 9 every night by the polizei and that camping ist verboten. We didn't quite believe him as he was the owner of a café in the park and he'd clearly filed us under 'liable to shit everywhere and burn everything down with a campfire', but there was no point in provoking him excessively. So we camped on the other side of the park fence, overlooking his café. Smugly.

We could have gone further away but the sun was going down and we liked the water tap in the park, which was good enough for a hobo shower as well as a drink. So this is the best hammock spot I found in the vicinity:



Slept like a baby but got a splinter from climbing the tree and now my hand is mildly infected. Knife and iodine lotion later, I predict.

Day 43 (13.08) Asprovalta - Kavala (56.75mi)
In the morning, we nailed 20 miles in just over an hour. When the sun started to burn, we stopped for self-indulgent contemplation...
 ...and man time.
We caught nothing but left on respectful nodding/bowing terms with the sea.
In one of the tourist beach towns before Kavala, we took shelter from a downpour:
 The tourists (yes I know we're tourists as well but we're cyclists and as such consider ourselves better than the rest) over the road thought they were clever coming in from the beach to this patio but the wind blew the rain all over them. This is them fleeing:
 Later the rain stopped and we followed the coast up and down a couple of cliffs to Kavala, where I took a bad photo of what I assume is an ancient aqueduct:
We did our usual trick of stopping for a pint and finding the first campable place on the outskirts of the city. We camped up a hill on the territory of three wild dogs. They weren't happy about the Anschluss and fled to a distance and barked at us all night from the main road.

Day 44 (14.08) Kavala-Xanthi (31.32mi)
Free water in the morning is free water in the morning.
We did the above distance before 9.30am because we're hard. Then we went looking for a bike shop. I'd finally had a puncture in my front tyre, a Continental I've had for a year which includes my jaunt around South America. It's covered in the kind of fingernail gashes that thorns and pebbles slowly creep into. It's on its arse but I love and forgive it after such solid service. Still, I needed a new one and Kei still needed an entire wheel. 

Mooching around the city (quiet, quaint, another 'qu' word to complete the triplet that escapes me for the moment), we found a sports shop with those tubs of maximuscleproteinpowerbastard in the window that weightlifters drink, so enquired as to the availability of that isotonic energy powder at a low Greek price. There was none, but the owner, Stelios (pictured here with his son Nikos)...
Kei says he doesn't know what he's doing with his leg here.
... sold us both some brilliant gloves at 6EUR the pair that have leather on the palm side and wool mesh on the fist side. They're for weightlifting but they're ideal for cycling and no bike shops stock them. He also phoned around the entire city looking for a bike shop, and found us this one:


 Kostas gave me a new tyre (Continental Cityride - not quite Top Contact but it'll do just fine until my bag of winter kit, including studded tyres, turns up in Turkey), innertube, mudguard and water bottle. He trued Kei's wheel as well as was possible since he didn't have the right parts in to build a new one. He did that for free. And he bought us some fruit juice and beers while we waited. Good lads, them Greeks. In return, I have promised to plug the bike shop. It's called 'The Bicycle Shop', and Kostas and his mechanics speak English. You'll find it on the road out of Xanthi towards Lagos. Go there.

Petros the mechanic doesn't like photos but he does like fixing bikes. I like free help, so I don't mind having the company sticker on my crossbar.
The whole crew and us. Raul on the right is not a man of words but he does the fixings lickety-split.
  And now it's 6.30pm, we've got two hours of light left and nowhere to sleep. Best find a green bit on Google.

Day 45 (15.08) Xanthi - Alexandroupolis (69.36mi) 
We found a green bit on Google and it was a bad move we should have learnt from before. A steep hillside pine forest that's a couple of hundred yards from the road and seems quiet. It's not quiet after, as it's the city's pregnant dog dumping ground and the dogs quickly form packs and fight all-night turf wars there. Kei intelligently left our food bag on the ground underneath his hammock and in the morning it had been raided and strewn everywhere. Arigato, Dickhead-San.

After Xanthi, the region before the border is one that used to belong to Turkey. The crops get cottonier, the churches mosquier and the women frighteneder. We made a mental note not to camp near a mosque as they issue loudspeaker calls to prayer at what we consider ridiculous hours of the morning and night. We don't understand any of the words they sing but I understand them as "STOP...

...Allah time".

Kei didn't get that joke. 

We'd had a bad night's sleep what with the dog noise and so we stopped for a two-hour nap and coffee break after Komotini in the hottest part of the day. That turned out to be a good idea and made the rest of the day more pleasant. The napsite we found is the type we'd passed a dozen times during the day but never seemed to find when we needed one for the night:

 The problem with a nap is that it cuts the rest of the day shorter and leaves you rushing to get to where you were aiming for. In our case, Alexandroupolis. Here's a photo of the road down the other side of the hills you climb to get there:

We got to a suburb before the city and quickly bought food at the only place left open, a convenience store strangely owned by a Danish couple, and used our head torches to find an olive grove off the main road that, unlike the others we'd seen nearby as far as we could tell, wasn't someones garden. An Alsatian in the house next to it wasn't happy to see us but no people seemed to mind. That'll do.

Day 46 (16.08) Alexandroupolis - Kesan (Turkey) (51.8mi)

We woke up early to avoid the kind of confrontation with a farmer that we don't have the linguistic skills to apologise our way out of. Earlier even than the bakers, so we wandered around the main street for an hour looking for a free wifi network whilst we waited for breakfast. When the bakeries did open, it was worth it. Everything we ever found in Greek bakeries that wasn't a loaf had either cheddar or feta in it. Everything. But that's not a complaint. I love Greek bakeries. Kei agrees.

A short trundle to the border later, we found ourselves waiting for hours at the various passport checkpoints. More than one is needed in case people get cheeky and draw cartoon penises wearing fez hats after the first stamping. And Kei got in to Turkey for free whereas I had to pay 15EUR.

There are no proper WELCOME TO TURKEY signs so we didn't get that predictable photo. Instead, have one of an imbecile we saw in the border queue who drives an A4 and therefore wears an A4 hat:



And here's one of Kei with a Turkish flag in the background. There. That proves we're actually here:



After the border, there are suddenly no more trees. It's the same soil and the same sun, but no. They've all been cut down. The slight breeze we'd had in our faces that morning turned into a strong wind. Also, the road is completely straight but that's a bad thing as it just goes over the hills instead of around. Turkish roads are knackering. 

We negotiated our way to the first city, Kesan, past an obstacle course of these pointless things:




And then at the turnoff to the city found a Tesco. God bless it. It's called Kisa in Turkey but most of its stuff has Tesco branding. We bought far too much food, mainly just to try all the new stuff. Kei likes 'ramazan' bread, which we later found out is only made during Ramadan. I like helva, which is cheap if you get it from the right place and is perfect as energy food. Neither of us likes the whoopsie price milk that's actually called drinking yoghurt if you understand the Turkish on the carton.

We bought too much to carry too far, so we quickly found a wood across the road, set up camp, then ate ourselves silly. The food is good and cheap. I can see myself enjoying Turkey.

Day 47 (17.08) Kesan - Inecik (38.28mi)

We decided we might as well take it slowly into Istanbul as it was Ramadan then Eid, so everything was going to be shut. Taking it slowly is easy with the wind in your face and more of those up and down roads. And more afternoon napping:

We may well have committed an offence to the dead by kipping in this roadside graveyard for an hour but it had water taps and shade so we tried really really really hard not to give a crap and it worked.
After a couple of punctures for Kei, we found a little town called Inecik to buy food before bed. This lad, who's had his name tattooed on his arm in case he forgets it...

 
...befriended us, showed us where to find ramazan bread, called all his mates over to stare at the gringo and the chinaman for a bit, then posed for a photo. Nobody involved in the scene had any language in common but half an hour's miming, "You karate?"-ing and "Aah, Manchester United"-ing ended up in the bread being big, fresh, hot and free. My word it's tasty.

Day 48 (18.08) Inecik - Tekirdag (24.02mi)
I've lost count of the punctures already. Here's another one on the way up a big hill before Tekirdag:
This is Heinz, an Austrian cyclist going the other way who saw me mid-fixing, stopped and came over to say hello. "...I disagree for I have had only good times with Schwalbe, which everybody knows is good quality". Fuck off, Heinz. Oh, and my panniers are not just chucked everywhere in a strop. I've tried to lay them out like traffic cones before a crash. We didn't get run over, so we'll say it worked and I'm a clever boy.
A couple of minutes after we'd set off, we saw these three German speed-tourers, also going the other way. One met me in the middle of the road for the usual chit-chat (where from/to, road/wind conditions, campsites, shops, etc.) and told us they were doing a big tour of Europe but only had a few weeks' holidays a year, so were doing it in stages. 
  Nice idea. They gave us a free pen with their website on it, for which they win a free link on my blog. It's in German here.

Since the border we'd been seeing adverts for Tekirdag köfte (I know what köfte is as I'd had it at home), which we correctly guessed to be a special type of köfte from Tekirdag. The thought of it had been making us hungry so we forgot that it was only 10am and went looking for it as soon as we got into the city.

It's average but there's a lot of it.

We had it with this:


Ayran is a watery yoghurt drink that tastes like milk mixed with acid and meths. Say no to it.
The restaurant helpfully had Ramadan and Eid timetables on its menu:


So today was the last day of Ramadan, which is why the restaurant wouldn't serve us beer as everybody, including atheists like us, is a muslim during Ramadan.

We felt fat and heavy after the food so sat about internetting and drinking Turkish tea (nothing compared to Turkish coffee, which is excellent) for a few hours. We considered writing off the day and treating ourselves to a hotel but all were expensive. The tourist office on the seafront contained a woman who only spoke Turkish. She told us there was a campsite outside the city in our direction, then the internet told us it had one dirty shower for everyone and squat toilets with a bucket of water instead of paper.

We're not animals so we decided on the usual supermarket-free camping combo, this time buying a bag of charcoal, wooden skewers and meat to make proper kebabs to make up for the average ones we'd had earlier.

Here's where the winning began. Leaving the city we started to see what everything would be like from there to Istanbul: every single village between the road and the beach is gated and private and the other side of the road is just wheat fields, so there's nowhere to camp. Unless you cheekily dip into the private village we found, where I managed to converse in my schoolboy German with one of the residents and get permission to camp on this cliff overlooking the private beach:
Paying to camp is for amateurs.
It turns out it's a retirement village for former teachers and everybody's laid back and happy to see us. It's also the last day of Ramadan, so everybody's in feasting and generosity mode. Like Christmas in the sun. We were given a whole watermelon and three bags of various food to add to the pile we'd already bought for our beach barbie. So much had we that even after a massive dinner and a massive breakfast we still had to leave a bag of pastries behind as our panniers were overflowing. That must be that famous muslim hospitality I've read about. 

I stroked my faint, patchy little beard and sagely warned Kei that a lucky day is usually followed by a bastard.

Day 49 (19.08) Tekirdag - Silivri (40.2mi)

Bastard. More hills, more headwind, more sun. Nowhere for an early afternoon nap and nowhere to camp. A lot of places were shut but at least we had enough free food for a week, so I shouldn't moan because I've had worse days and there's probably yet worse to come. But I will moan.

Oh and the GPS map I got before the trip is alright in Europe but bad in Turkey. It has the main road but nothing else. It shows the village, or so I thought, of SIlivri as a dot next to the road. Silivri is actually a city that sprawls for miles along the hilly road with buildings right up to the cliffs.

The go-slow plan was still in effect so we'd set off late in the morning, getting to Silivri about 4pm and realising we'd have to go a good few miles out of the city to find a place to sleep. None of the gated villages we poked our heads into had camping spots, the hard shoulder disappeared from the busy road, a campsite turned us away with the shit excuse that our hammocks would damage the trees (they just didn't want foreigners, i reckon), the beaches were all rammed as everyone was on holiday, the mosques were constantly belting out the Best Of Koran-Koran. Fuck you. It's my blog and I can write all the shit, almost-racist jokes I want.

Here's me forcing a smile at a service station wifi hotspot while trying to arrange an address to have a box of winter kit sent to:
Why did I not bring a chair over? Because I was throwing a strop.
We found a public picnic area that we had to pay to enter. After a bit of begging and pleading the guy let us sleep there as long as we bought from the little food hut. Fair enough. We needed a beer anyway.

There was a mosque over the road and a horde of abandoned dogs fighting over the remains of the day's barbecues.

Day 50 (20.08) Silivri - Istanbul (41.75mi)
Back to decent days, we quickly found out that the previous night's campsite was really the only campable spot for the next 40 miles to Istanbul. Towns spread out along the road until the big city begins. I kid you not - it's 20 miles from the start of Istanbul to the centre.

Here's the start of the city. This is taken from the patio a tasty kebab café. See, good cheap food makes everything better:

There's little to report other than ridiculously busy roads. The one we'd been on turns into a 6-lane nightmare from this point onwards, sometimes thankfully with a pavement you can ride on but usually with no escape from the drivers. We could have followed it all the way into the centre but decided enough was enough and took the seaside route thanks to the GPS, which is decent in the capital and has returned momentarily to the friend list.

From said relatively quiet seaside road, I took this bad picture of the centre...

I promise I'm beginning to learn that the camera can't see these things as well as my eyes can.
 ...and this bad picture of the busy waterways:

We had plenty of time and were heading for an area we knew to be packed with hostels, so we stopped a couple of times for coffee. This place is in the centre and has hens and turkeys roaming around and sheep tied to the trees in its little garden. It also has wifi. 'This is where the travel guides start wanking over words like 'contrasting', 'diverse' and 'eclectic'. I'm happy with 'weird'.

We found Nobel Hostel, which is fine but nothing special, and decided not to bother looking further. We also saw a Korean restaurant on the way in and made a note to go later for kimchi, which they didn't have. That's like a KFC running out of chicken.


Days 51-58 (21.08-28.08) Istanbul

I'm waiting here for my winter box to turn up and in the meantime looking into visas for later on, bike fixings (I'm delighted to report I've bought a pair of Continental Touring Pro tyres) and general re-stocking. Kei spent three nights here before leaving on his newly-built wheel. He got it from 'Pedal Biciclet', which is near the south side of the Galata bridge in a little barrio of bike shops. The guy speaks English.

Have some photos of Istanbul, which I'm liking even though I haven't explored properly:

The hostel is a couple of minutes away from this, the Hagia Sofia.

This, the Blue Mosque, is even closer.
Here it is at night, when it becomes the Yellowy-orange Mosque.
Here it is enjoyed from the hostel roof during bike fixings.

We accidentally stumbled into this place. I think it's the Spice Bazaar. Lovely, innit.
 

This lad bloody hates spices.

Behind the spice bazaar are a few blocks full of everyday stuff for sale. I bought a load of bits and pieces, plus a half kilo of helva and a kilo of coffee beans from this chap as I don't know where I can buy them later.

The street below our hostel with the Asian side of the city across the water.

Kei took a much better picture of it at night.

Then he got artier.

And artier.
Why is there always one pair of sullen lesbians in every hostel? They always look German but you never find out where they're from as they don't talk - not even to each other. Such miserable people.

Until further notice, I'm either sleeping or mooching casually around the city, eating all the new food I can find. But only if it's cheap.

Visa update: This looks like the most likely route from Istanbul onwards. It's basically the Silk Road. It avoids the Caspian Sea crossing from Azerbaijan to Turkmenistan because the longest I can get a Turkmenistan visa for is 5 days. That's not enough time to cycle the length of the country from the Caspian Sea to Uzbekistan but it is just about long enough to cross it from Iran to Uzbekistan. I may also have to nip into Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) to get the Chinese visa.

More photos from Istanbul:
Rory and Cam, who crossed the English Channel with me, turned up looking skinny. With them is Pietro, the hungriest cycliest I've ever met. He hadn't even cycled that day but still managed to nail three of the kebabs I've been eating one of per day. And then a banana. We may have spent that afternoon drinking but I can't remember.

The building across the street burnt down. I thought about rushing in to save any women or children stuck in there but nah.

It rained for a couple of days.

My winter kit has turned up. I had it sent to Ekin, a friend of a friend, at the LG building where she works. That's why there's a Korean flag in the background.
 It's now the 28th and I'm setting off tomorrow, the 29th. My legs have been twitching restlessly for the last few days. Also it's now officially autumn. Trees are starting to shed leaves.

Further update before leaving. I was bored so I put all my winter kit on for you to laugh at: 
From this...


...to this. Merino boxers, base layer top (extra base layers in reserve), thick socks, SPD shoes, neoprene shoe covers, double-layer gloves, leggings, motorbike trousers with quilted inner layer, goretex jersey, high-vis jacket, windstopper buff, balaclava, ski goggles. I sweated a lot with all this on. 
 Day 59 (29.08) Istanbul - Tavsancil (42.49mi)
I've been thinking too much about distance recently. My money will at some point run out and I'd rather be cycling in autumn than winter. So I haven't been happy with the mileage I've been putting in. Today's excuse was a late start after waiting for the hostel buffet breakfast and a faff getting across the channel and out of the city. Must do better.

Here's the crossing from the European side of Istanbul to the Asian side:
No bikes allowed on the bridge.
Istanbul is hectic if you follow the main road but less so if you follow the coastal road, which is recommendable as it's scenic and there's a passable cycle lane along the seafront, away from the road itself for the most part. That's only for about fifteen miles until the city ends and it's back to the Turkish usual - a few miles up and down then yet another nothing town stretched out along the road. Repeat and repeat.

Sometimes a low mileage can be blamed on an early finish as well as a late start. I spied this little beauty spot from the road. Seaside? Public? Toilets? Drinking fountains? Hammock spots? Fairly quiet? Not too far from the road? Shop nearby? Check. I would only have got another hour's riding in before camping time anyway, so I took the opportunity.

The hammock hung nicely between these wooden posts.
 The downside of these places is the interference. The Turks are obstructively nice. Sometimes I just want to be left alone, quietly, to eat. And arrange my stuff. And do a bit of bike maintenance. And do a bit of hobo laundry at the drinking fountain. And sit and watch the stars with a beer. Maybe type up a draft of the blog and choose a few photos for it. But no.

I know I'm being ungrateful but anyone would be, believe me. The interference started off gently with a request to borrow my knife to hack into a watermelon it was far too small for. My prize was a pile of fruit...

This is a Turkish pear. Massive and sweet.
 ... and a barbecue I just couldn't persuade the neighbours not to share...

 ... even though I'd already eaten. Be French and wave it away sniffily or be English and force it down politely whilst learning the local word for 'good'? English, painfully so. I was also given a packet of biscuits, a loaf of bread (on top of the half loaf in the photo) and a bag of seed mix because why not.

The price I pay for this kindness (and it really is excellent treatment that I've had nowhere else, so credit to the Turks) is hours and hours of the same questions, night after night, made worse by all the miming, guesswork and shouting required to smash through the language barrier. Then there's the poking and prodding at my stuff, the "Can I have a go on the bike/hammock/GPS/laptop?" and the children, creatures I have no idea what to do with. I don't even know whether to pat them on the head or not. This all goes on way past my bedtime until I have to beg to be allowed to go to sleep.

And I'll have to take all this whining back as soon as I find myself stranded with a broken bike or without food or water after dark and someone comes to the rescue. Anyway, other than the free food, the interference brings with it a few small perks. Photo opps, for example:

This is one of my favourite photos of the trip. The lad would get at least two of these sardine things every time he cast his line. He finished with a bucket full of them. It made me wish I still carried my hobo fishing kit.
 There are also opportunities for perving. These lasses posing in my hammock...
 ... were part of the free fruit and meat party. I got a couple of "You handome"-s from the older one (old enough despite her looks, don't worry), whose arse was so peachy it almost brought me to tears, until daddy detected a hint of costly backstreet abortion in the wind and ordered her back to the table. The nine-year-old pear scranner was allowed to hang around. A strategically risky move by Papa given the technical possibility of a noncing as far as he had the right to be concerned (not as far as I was concerned, African-American please), but a move which paid off as neither of his daughters lost any of their honour.

The sprog was surprisingly tolerable company, helping me take photos of the fishermen and showing me a couple of tricks I didn't know my camera could do, like this one:



 But it was midnight before I won my peace from her and other pokers and prodders. I didn't even get to poke or prod anyone in return. I seethed myself to sleep.

Day 60 (30.08) Tavsancil - Düzge (95.11mi)

The day passed in a blur because I was tired. Helva, coffee and the remains of the previous day's fruit bonanza did a good job of fuelling a decent pace despite the headwind that still hasn't shifted since the border with Greece.

Often on days like this, which are uneventful because of the constant head-down pedalling and the samey old road, I'll fill the blog space with a couple of photos to keep my fan happy. Hello, Mother. However, the camera was on its arse. The lens wouldn't come out. That's what you get for befriending a sprog.

I wanted to show you the leaves turning brown and starting to fall into the road. I also wanted to show you the crap camping spot I had to resort to. After Düzce (pronounced 'Dooz-geh', not 'Douche'), there's just nowhere that isn't fenced off. The best I could find as the street lights came on was a scruffy plum orchard that had already been harvested, so I at least felt confident in not being accused of scrumping. The fact it had been harvested meant there was rejected fruit all over the ground and thus all over my bike, shoes and panniers in the morning when I could actually see.

And that's all I can remember of that day.

Day 61 (31.08) Düzce-Bolu (26.36mi)
Just after Düzce is a 1000m climb that explains the previous day's failure to hit the 100 mile mark. I didn't enjoy it much more in the morning than I would have at night and so I sulked back down the other side to Bolu, where I decided I cared more about proper sleep than proper progress. I stopped for a nap in a lovely little park, awaking from which I had the bright idea to give the camera a bit of a slap. The lens now works again for the time being, but experience tells me I'll be buying a new one soon nevertheless.

After the nap, I still had no motivation to head into the mountains you can see in this picture:

Instead, I went shoppng for more helva (rapidly becoming my favourite cycling food) and a couple of beers to enjoy at a leisurely pace before camping in the very same park that night.

The park had a prayer room. The good thing about these is they have foot wash taps, as do mosques and graveyards and probably every place of religion. I remember from school that muslims have to wash their feet before entering as a sign of respect or something. I don't really care what they're for, to be honest, but I do care that they're a half decent place to have a crouching shower. A nice start to the afternoon, aye.

I will only ever learn after stubborn resistance, a remainder from my time spent living amongst the French no doubt. I washed myself and rinsed my dirty clothes, then hung them up to dry in a corner of the park that had a bench to sit on, settling down to enjoy the beer. Then came the interference.

There were signs around the park about not drinking alcohol, which is fair enough as there's no point having a nice park if yobs are going to come screaming and pissing all over it. I considered myself outside the rules as it was only a couple of pints and I'm alone, tidy and quiet. Quiet until the park warden came over and I had to hide my beer. I could tell he was the warden as he had a uniform on. He'd seen me napping earlier and wished me 'salam aleikoum', so I knew he wasn't botheed by my presence. He was friendly enough. He just wanted a chat while my beer turned warm and flat.

Then the local beardy imam came over and did that thing where they shake your hand and keep hold of it for ten minutes as a sign of goodwill. Then three others got in on the act, and all sat around my table for three hours while I nodded or shook my head as I judged appropriate.

Somehow I was free again at about 11pm. I threw the ruined but paid-for beer down my neck, hung the hammock and passed out in it.

Day 62 (01.09) Bolu - Somewhere just after Bolu (9.28mi)
Laugh at me then. Some twat stumbled through the park drunk at about 2am and sat himself on a bench near my spot, singing me awake with shit Turkish pop. Then he left, I went back to sleep, and the sprinklers came on at 3.30 and soaked everything. I hadn't put the tarp up because I hadn't seen a cloud since Istanbul.

So again no more than a couple of hours' sleep and a late start while the quilts and hammock dried. A word on that subject. Autumn is bringing with it chilly nights and condensation. I don't fancy my chances of keeping the top quilt dry all the time in winter. Even if it doesn't rain or sprinkle, the condensation from breath and/or sweat will soak it like last night. Apparently, the human body secretes (insert surprisingly large number I've forgotten) pints of water per hour even under normal conditions. Goose down doesn't insulate when it's wet, plus it stinks. Problem, then. It's alright these days when I can wait in the rising sun to make coffee while kit airs and dries. That's not possible below freezing.

As I was about to leave, one of the interferers from the previous night jogged by and stopped to say hello. It turns out Mesut speaks a bit of English. He offered to let me into his house to use his internet and have breakfast. Breakfast involved tomatoes, fried eggs, chips and other stuff, all home-cooked by wifey or home-grown in the allotment behind the house. That will be filed only under 'shockingly generous' and not 'interference', as I needed it.

Still, he was off out at about 1pm and I wasn't about to climb a mountain at that hour after that time in Greece when the same mistake made me ill. Melodramatic I know, but it shows I do sometimes learn.

The new plan was/is to get as close to the mountain as I could/can be bothered to (currently about five miles and looming large) and try once again for a long, quiet sleep before doing the mountain in the morning. Probably won't happen. Have a picture of the park as I left it this morning:



I did consider another night there but it's Saturday and there's a free concert being set up, plus I've fallen out with the cleaning lady (the warden's wife) by being caught wheeling my bike out of the toilet block after holocausting her nice clean toilet. Other cyclists are nodding smugly right now, thinking, "Yeah, we shit like fucking T-rexes".


 I got to the foot of the climb and slept here:


Day 63 (02.09) Somewhere after Bolu - Gerede (24.8mi)

First stop of the day was a little service station with a couple of tables where I laid out the quilt to dry it. Doesn't it look deflated when it's damp from condensation?


I had a brew, which came with one of these:
Engrish is alive and well.

I got to Gerede nice and late after an acceptably gentle climb into the usual unacceptably strong headwind. Looking at the clock, I saw I could either battle over a few ups and downs to the next town, Cerkes, in time to see Utd beat Southampton. Or stop in Gerede, which looked big enough to have a telly lurking somewhere. Always the easy option. Always.

I found a café with 'satellite TV' or something written on a banner. I went in. The chat went like most of my chats in Turkey: "(Fake large smile because bitches love fake large smiles). Salam aleikum. (Wait for "Aleikum salam" in return). I tourist. (Point at bike). Bicycle tourist. (Ignore things that are being said to me because I don't understand them and carry on with spiel). I England, Manchester. Manchester Utd good. (Point at imaginary watch. Show six fingers to indicate 6pm.) TV? OK? Tea? (mime drinking, mime small glass). Thank you."

Yes, it was indeed OK and there was an open wifi network floating around as well. And a barber nextdoor for while I waited. Alright then.

I got a cut, a shave and a face mask thing that I didn't technically request but everyone likes a bit of pampering plus it only cost me about seven quid total. Here's a bad photo of the mask that shows not so much the mask but how much I look like a smackhead with weight lost and hair cut:


Waiting for the mask to come off and playing with the mirrors in the barbershop, I noticed the baldness creeping.
Best find a wife before it all disappears and it's too late.


After the haircut, the café bloke passed me a phone. I helloed it and it was someone speaking English, telling me that in fact the Utd game wouldn't be on because Fenerbahce were playing at the same time. So I had to watch the game online. This is the level of interference caused by white face+tourist+bike+laptop+spikinglish:


I had to put my foot down and insist on watching the game with my earphones in.

But the interference didn't stop. I wasn't allowed to ride back out of town and sleep in the nice forests I'd seen because a bloke who spoke English, Fatih, insisted on me eating and sleeping at the flat he shares with a few other blokes. Now as usual I was treated superbly and fed copiously but I really just wanted to be left alone.

Fatih and his mates are all seriously-into-it muslims. Despite my protestations - three rounds of them - Fatih insisted on talking to me about my atheism and his Islamism. Before dinner, he insisted that I pray with them but I politely refused and just watched instead. That didn't seem to lose me any friends. Ali, the hairdresser, had his wife there cooking but I wasn't allowed to go into the kitchen and thank her for what was a cracking feed. Maybe because she's pregnant. No idea. There are special Islamic rules like that for women. They're not allowed in the mosque when they're on their period, for example.

After dinner, lots more praying. Also more praying before bed. Every evening when the boys get home from their daily outings, they eat, pray and read the koran and other books that explain the koran. That's all they do. Every night. No wonder they're not married. One of them is 41.

Day 64 (03.09) (Gerede - Cerkes (46.63mi)

I'm asleep on the couch. Fatih bounds up to me like a dog who's heard “WALKIES” saying it's prayer time. "It's 5.30am! We're late!. But don't worry. You can sleep. It's only ten minutes".

It was prayers followed by readings from the koran guide for an hour. They do this in the morning as well. I just watched. I was given a volume of the koran guide in English. It was heavy. Guess where it is now.

Gerede is the biggest producer of leather in Turkey, or some similarly enthralling statistic. Fatih took me to see a leather factory one of the boys works at. It was alright.

Camera wasn't on top form...

The big lad is one of the managers. He took us on a tour...

Later he's only been and gone and went and got stung by a wasp. Here he is sucking his sore finger. He said something to Fatih who translated it as, "That was Allah punishing me for me sins, lol". I asked big lad if he was alright. "Naaaaah, I'm fine. I'm a big lad so a little sting doesn't do me much harm", translated Fatih. Later we went back to the office to drink tea. On the CCTV screen, I spied big lad in the adjoining office sucking his finger for a good hour.

And then it's this bright because we've been cocking about in a leather factory until midday. Here's Ali the hairdresser, a smackhead and Fatih.




The ride to Cerkes was pretty uneventful. More ups and downs syndrome, more headwind. Yawn. I saw a train line sprout up and start following me. I got a train driver to sound his horn and that was the highlight of the day's riding.

Cerkes turned out to be shit, windswept and TV-less, so I'd made the right move the previous day. I popped into it for bread and out again to find a campsite. For once, one of the nice spots I see during the day was waiting just after the town. A planted pine forest hundreds of yards deep.


Day 65 (04.09) Cerkes - Tosya (65.07mi)

A few miles after Cerkes, you beauty:


And then it's been so long since I last updated that I can't remember the ride. I do remember the last miles into Tosya, however, since it's (guide says 'nestling', I say 'Blu-tacked') on a hill that has no right to be there in my way - certainly not with a town on top of it. I crawled up the hill to the centre only slightly faster than the bloke who was dragging a bull along the main road (instantly decided not to waste my time looking for internet or supermarket upon seeing that) and found the town cemetery. The cemetery was quiet and had this little spot with no graves...


Obviously there was a mosque next to it but victory struck when the loudspeaker eeked and packed in just as evening prayer call had started. WIN. 

Scraping the barrel for interesting happenings from that day. This is what my clothes look like after sweat dries on them and leaves waves of salt behind:


Day 66 (05.09) Tosya - Osmancik(ish) (55.33mi) (ish).
I can't remember exactly how far I went that day. I'm starting not to care.

Anyway here's what Tosya looks like in the morning. It reminds me of La Paz, not only because it's on a hill but also because it's a bit scruffy and I don't really want to be there. Did I tell you about the time I went to South America and hated Bolivia? I went on my bike, don't you know.

I do remember seeing 4 or 5 of these on the way out of Tosya. Not as fun as they look because they're followed by tenpercent climbs right after.

Puncture?
Nope, these are new Continentals, remember? I heard a noise, saw after a bit of faffing that it was this flicking the brake block, pulled it out and carried on as normal.

Lots of rice is grown in the area surrounding Tosya, I was thrilled to find out. Here's a field of it:

And then I went to sleep somewhere near Osmancik. Because of rice being grown everywhere, the fields are half-flooded or whatever it's called to irrigate the crops. That means mosquitos breed there. I looked like a pizza for the next couple of days.

To make up for shit blogging, have an observation:

Service stations are everywhere and make cycling easy in Turkey. Some have internet. All have toilets and some even have proper, clean toilets. A small few even have free showers. All have prayer rooms with the foot wash things and the water is always drinkable. All have tea (some free), a little snack shop, stealable sugar for my morning coffee and a few chairs and tables. As a rule, the more expensive the petrol price, the more cars parked outside the adjoining facilities and the more tat shops in the complex, the more likely there's internet.There's never a sign to warn of there being internet, so I stop a few yards before the place, check for wifi and take it from there. So clever.

The disadvantage, as always, is the interference. The pumps are not self-service so there's always an army of boys hanging around in polo shirt uniforms wanting to drop the “Ah, Manchester United” bomb. They always shout “My flend!” at me. Who told the Turks that's how we speak? Well we do now as I've had to add it to my vocab as a way of calling the waiter over.

 Day 67 (06.09) Somewhere - Merzifon (very few miles)

I woke up with the beginnings of a cold - sore throat and sniffles. I really couldn't be titsed with the cycling so I did a little climb, during which a dog not tied to a stick came running at me and avoided the pepper spray only because it ran away scared as soon as I jumped off the bike and went for my pocket, and then I rolled down to Merifon to give up for the day. 

I was tempted to get a hotel room, clean up and sleep all day but no. Too expensive. Instead I treated myself to some of these...


... after washing my clothes at a drinking fountain so as not to waste the day completely. Ortlieb pannier plus soap, nail brush and water. It works:


In the morning I was woken up by some sheep being herded past the hammock. The shepherd's dog decided it liked me more than the shepherd and slacking more than working, so it hung around near the hammock. At first it gave me the 'please don't kick me like that other bloke always does' look...

...but then I gave it some leftover 'bab and it did the 'tickle me on the tum or not - I'm not arsed either way' look.
Then it started rifling through my bin bag so I shouted at it and it went back to work.

I was feeling like death so I cracked and went back into town to find a hotel.

Days 68-71 (07.09-10.09) were spent in Merzifon. In bed. Nothing else happened. It was boring and miserable.

Day 72 (11.09) Merzifon - just before Samsun (38.68mi)

The road is better after Merzifon in that it mostly goes downhill and there are tunnels instead of ups-and-overs. The problem in the tunnels is that there's no hard shoulder, just a raised pavement. I will eventually get round to doing a Youtube video in which I'll show you how fast and close to the pavement the trucks go. I pushed along the pavement instead of riding. That and the post-man flu knackeredness cut the day short before Samsun.


Some cunt slowed his lorry down alongside me and poured a bottle of piss on me from the window. It went all over my jersey and head but thankfully not in my face. I challenged him to stop but he bottled it. I keep my chain where I can whip it out quickly in case of dogs and I'd grabbed it ready to batter him, so hindsight tells me it's better he drove off because I'm still not in prison or hospital. That's the end of my patience with Turkey. 

I showered off at a service station and binned the jersey. It was a shit Chinese one from Halfords, so no great loss. Let me find a photo... This one:

I camped in a little picnic area next to a service station. I slept as badly as I have for the last few weeks and woke up shivering and miserable. This is me not enjoying the struggle of getting out of the hammock, walking a few yards to a picnic table and cooking up my coffee:

Day 73 (12.09) Just before Samsun - Samsun (about 15mi)

I saw this in the field behind the picnic area as I was packing up...
A collie pup. It was at work so it had no time to share my kingly breakfast feast of dates, helva and spoonfuls of honey. I wanted to steal it for a bit of company but it was too professional. They don't fuck about, collies.


From just before Samsun to Samsun it's finally downhill all the way. I parked at a wifi place in the city and started looking through Google for a place to buy meths for the stove. Stupid idea as I don't speak Turkish. Luckily the waitress was a Turk raised in Deutschland and she showed me which way to go to find the hardware shops. Nehmen Sie die nächste Strasse rechts und gehen Sie geradeaus, she said. Probably. She pointed, which is the main thing. I took my time about it and had a couple of brews before setting off in search.

Somehow all of the above took until early afternoon and again I couldn't be arsed to cycle. I camped in a park on the Black Sea next to this, the Samsunspor training ground:
I put the tarp up for once because of this:
Well hidden enough, I suppose:


Why have I lost enthusiasm for the cycling? I'm not sleeping at all well. Even before and after man flu. It's not the hammock. It's not the coffee because I only have one a day in the mornings now. It's not stress because I have nothing to worry about. It's my head that won't shut up. I toss and turn all night having weird dreams.

I've had dreams of being laughed at and refused entry at borders, of having to punch someone when my life depends on it but only achieving a mild tickle, of being arrested for things I can't prove I didn't do, of a big war again while I'm somewhere now considered no man's, of one of my brothers hanging himself with his cock out somewhere unglamourous and nobody other than me remembering his name at the funeral, which brother even, what his suicide note said or who binned it, of crippling afflictions that rule out much more than cycling, of dying with loved ones not knowing the passwords to my computer stuff and wondering in tears what my secrets and my last thoughts were, of them knowing the passwords and seeing what porns I like and that pathetic get-rich-and-famous plan I'm working on that will definitely fail, of that girl who probably isn't reading this and wouldn't believe I mean her anyway, of climbing a Himalaya with my bike on my shoulder while everyone else is on the way back down already, of being sent to Norway to fight Nazis in WW2 and accidentally shooting a Norwegian kid who'd only put a Nazi uniform on for a laugh, of being woken up somewhere I'm not supposed to be camping by a gruftier bloke with sharper tools and the police on his side

Mental innit but apart from that last one, days, weeks, months or eternities will go by without a single waking thought in any of the above directions. So I don't know. I wouldn't mind having a bit of dope to shush it now and then.

That was a tad candid, wasn't it? Here's a kitten.


Day 74 (13.09) Samsun - Ünye (55.83mi) 

Black Sea sunrise:

 
Stopped for börek on the way out of Samsun. I've seen it and smelt it and it looks and smells like a cheesy flaky pastry sensation. I've had cheese 'burek' in Croatia and strongly approved. How different can the Turkish version be? Different enough not to be good. Bad food upsets me.

Then I nailed 20 miles into the wind in an angry hour. Angry because of the food. Angry because I'm late because I'm lazy. Angry because my money will run out if I don't speed up. Angry because I haven't been sleeping. Angry because I'm not allowed to hate the Turks because they're so nice. Angry because I'm not getting laid. Angry because it's been a month since the wind last changed direction. It's going the wrong way. On average, the wind here is supposed to be behind me. Angry because if I'm making slow progress now it will only be slower with colder wind, fewer hours of daylight and the need to avoid sweating as much as possible for fear of getting hypothermia when stopped. Angry because on balance I have no right to whinge about anything. I'm fed, healthy, free(ish) and so are the people I care about.

So I demand to enjoy myself more. For once I'm wishing I had someone to ride with. A lass with a strong arse and an alright face would be ideal. Or a collie to run while I pedal and be well-trained enough to look at me like everything I say or do is genius.

20mph is too fast under these conditions so I was exhausted after the first hour. These things help. about 600 calories per bottle:
I did the rest of the distance at a saner pace.

I got here, Ünye, which has these nice green parks lining the seafront, and was all ready to go...
...before the internet brought me bad news. My info on picking up the Iranian visa with a 24h turnaround in Trabzon was wrong. Instead it appears I have to pay a tourist agency to give me a visa authorization code and then take it to any Iranian consulate. That will now be Erzurum, not Trabzon, as the former is closer to Iran and so cancels out a few of the days I have to wait to get the code. With the code and some other bits and pieces I go to the consulate, pay more than others because I'm British and probably a spy, then I get some squiggly writing and a stamp in the passport the same day and I'm good to go.

So I spent the afternoon sorting that out and enjoying the scenery.

And I decided that since I'd found such a nice wifi place and since I might as well take my time getting to Erzurum, I'd have the next morning off and do the blog. So that's what I'm doing now.

Last night I messed around with the camera a bit.
I now have a beard, see.

I slept in a plum orchard that hasn't been properly picked, so rotting fruit is falling from the unreachable branches and has covered the tarp in what's basically wine:

Day 75 (14.09) Ünye - not very far from Ünye (8.13mi)
I'll finish off my internet and visa stuff and ride towards Trabzon. If I can make it there by 4pm Sunday (today is Friday) and find the football ground, I might be able to watch Trabzonspor vs. Sivasspor. Unlikely. It's only just over 200km but there's still wind and hills to contend with. I predict a long, lazy faff in the town today, a kebab, a couple of beers and a realisation I should have given myself longer to find a camping spot. 
After Ünye there's constant civilisation so no obvious camping spots. I started riding on the left, against the traffic, because the beach side looked the more likely to have a couple of public trees. I found a little dirt track with treetops visible a couple of hundred yards away. It turned out to be another plum orchard full of mozzies but it was next to the beach where they don't seem to venture.



I wished I could speak to the bloke just to ask him how he'd been getting on and see what Black Sea fish look like. He might even have given me a couple to eat. But I can't speak to hiim, can I? I feel such a tool when I can't communicate.
I sat and watched the fisherman with the lonely can of warm, plastic beer I'd treated myself to and went to sleep about 7 like a good boy. I woke up at 1, then again at 3 then when I'd set the alarm at 5.30 before abandoning the early morning and sleeping in another couple of hours. I feel a bit better for that. No weird dreams either. Just normal ones.

Day 76 (15.09) Near Ünye - Ordu (43.1mi) 

Suddenly the enthusiasm has come back. I could have doubled the above distance but I've stopped in Ordu to try to watch the football on the internet. Priorities innit.
 
It was about 6 miles to the turnoff at the little town of Bolaman. I saw these signs warning me about the tunnels I'd seen on the map (about 4 miles of tunnels, I'd estimated, which I'd have to walk through)...
 


...so instead of the new road which goes straight to Ordu I followed the coastal road which has a lot of short, sharp climbs but is green, scenic and quiet. Nice riding. Also loads of plums being grown. I'm getting bored of seeing them.


I was also delighted to meet three krauts going the opposite direction and stop and chat to them for half an hour. Nice lads with excellent English. Here's their blog and here's a photo of them:


They were a bit smug, not because they're German but because of the tailwind they were enjoying. The same one I call a headwind. But then who wouldn't be smug? They've also given me the email address of a Spanish lad they spotted a couple of days earlier heading in my direction. I've emailed him to see if he's up for being caught.

I wish I could remember all their names. One of them is called Phillip. No offence if you're reading this, other two kraut friends, but I was just too excited to be able to talk to someone not Turkish for the first time in ages. Name remembrance came a distant second.

Some Turks were nice to us as we were chatting, offering us tea having heard us speaking ein Bisschen Deutsch from their balcony above us. They understood it as they'd lived in Deutschland. The krauts have got their anti-interference technique nailed. “No, sorry, it's really nice of you and we'd love to stop but we've got a plane to catch”. I'll be adding that one to my repertoire.

However, other Turks had been not nice to me an hour before, refusing me tap water for the first time in Turkey even after I'd bought a Coke and a Mars-Bar-alike at their shop. They wanted me to buy mineral water. Gringos gonna get gringoed.

Ordu is nice and European so I've stopped here rather than struggle and rush to find a football-watching spot later. There's a cable car I might have a go on if it's open early tomorrow. It's right next to the park I'll be sleeping in.


Latest Update Day 77 (16.09) Ordu
Nice little kip in the park a few yards away from here. In the morning I took my first policing of the trip. The copper was having a nice stroll around the park at 7ish as I was cooking up my coffee. He wasn't a prick about it and my false smiling, handshake and offer of coffee, bread and honey seemed to soften him up further. I doubt that will work the next few times I get policed. "Problem yok?", I asked him after I'd mimed having slept there and being about to leave after my breakfast. "No problem", he confirmed.

He spent a few minutes asking me (as far as I could tell) where I was going, what I was doing with this ridiculous crap strung up in the trees, where I was from and all the usual questions I get from civilians. I mimed to his satisfaction. He was a bit gormless. Then I saw it occur to him that oh yeah he should be checking my papers. He asked apologetically for my passport so I dug it out for him to flick through. He didn't seem to know what it was he was looking for. He wandered off at the same gentle pace he'd arrived, apparently bidding me whatever the Turkish is for 'a nice trip'.

I actually made to set off after that, stopping at a posh café for internets and more breakfast on the way out of town. But more bad visa news. I had two weeks or more to wait for my Iranian visa in Erzurum, which was only a few days' riding away. So I opted for lounging around the park again instead of cycling. Nice day. Skyped the mother and the sister. Somebody who's written a book said I should write a book. A girl smiled at me. Nobody interfered.

And then I went back to the same spot to camp, only it wasn't as nice the second time. I was sitting under the tarp watching a film on this here raptop with the earphones in. As happens about once per hour in these park camping situations, a bloke was curious enough to come over and give me the questions. Usually this is short-lived if they're alone and even more so when I'm busy and can't be arsed with the chat and pretend not to speak English, Turkish or indeed any useful language. I'm French, I tell them. This one I wasn't too sure about because he'd clearly had a few beverages. From what I'd already gathered, it tends only to be notrights and subversives who drink in Turkey. And me.

I hadn't seen this one approach because he came at me from about 7 o'clock in the dark. About this dark...

The park at night
 ... and the crunchy-underfoot pine forest security system didn't work because of the earphones.

I stood up to field the questions but he wasn't there for the timewasting. He just went straight for the crotch grab. Yep, this was an attempted noncing. 

"Don't fucking Jimmy me jewels", I told him, by which I mean I stepped back shocked, spluttering "Thefuckyoudoin'youknobhead?", then shoved him over and went for my knife. I wasn't about to stab him or queer-bash him, don't worry, but I did make sure he saw the knife and the throat-slitting gesture as he shuffled away. I wasn't up for him coming back with his knob out after I'd gone to sleep. Glad he was a short, skinny nonce and not a big, grufty nonce.

I slept with the knife and pepper spray hanging from the hammock ridgeline just above my nose. He didn't come back. Noncing evaded. Still not been raped. Champion.

Too much text? Not enough piccies? You poor lamb. Here's a piccy.
Ordu at sunset. Noncing ground bottom left.
Deeeeeeh Seventy-Eeeeght (17.09) Ordu - Tirebolu (55.37mi)
Giresun is a nice little city. It's not so far from Ordu and as I rolled through it I felt a good few miles left in the thighs so I didn't stop.

Moving on, have a look at what I'd been looking at for days:
Typical view on the Black Sea coast. Road sardined between mountains and sea; clouds always threatening over the mountains; road barrier always ruining photos.

What a pleasant day at last. Wind mostly hitting at 9 so we'll call it a truce. I went through the town of Tirebolu about 2 or 3pm, mainly to avoid the main road, which turns into a two mile tunnel that goes under the town. I thought the town might be quiet and pretty since it had been bypassed. It surely was:
Cheeky little camp in the old fort there?...
...Nope, no way I'm climbing the steps with the bike and bags.
Since I had so much time to kill before I got the Iranian visa, why not slack off a bit more and stop right here? I cycled up and then back down the main strip of the town to scout out a campsite. The park and beach I'd seen at the entrance to the town it would be. I went shopping. I had a hobo shower at a drinking fountain. The sun was out. Lovely stuff.

But then the interference. Coming out of the shop, a big bloke collared me and we did the questions. He spoke understandable English, good German and native Italian, so I didn't mind accepting a free brew from him and his mates, knowing I'd at least be able to communicate. It turned out not to be interference at all, for once. Rossi, the big lad, and his mates are the movers and shakers of the town. At the table were the mayor and two others who owned most of the street, according to Rossi. 

Language makes a lovely difference but, since I was in anti-interference mode when first collared, I'd told Rossi I was French and so had to keep that one up. That led to tale after tale of the French cyclist who'd been through the town the year before and stayed for a couple of weeks, drinking raki and beer with Rossi and going out kicking footballs, shooting guns and burning things in the forest with some other blokes (this bit was told in German so I'm guessing at most of it).

Free tea, lahmacun and later beer. Invited to stay a couple of nights as well. But Rossi understood I wanted my freedom, plus I'd booked into a hotel in Trabzon for the next two nights, so he didn't quibble when I thanked him for the offerings, winced dramatically at the setting sun and said I needed to get going.
They didn't let me on the bouncy castle.
Me, Rossi, Rossi's mate.
When I was at school, until I was 16 if I recall, Dear Mother used to buy specially printed strips of fabric with my name on them and sew them into every item of my school uniform and sports kit, even inside the football socks until ordered otherwise as she'd put them right where they'd chafe my skin off. This lad is similarly henpecked and must wear a T-shirt with his address on it at all times in case he gets lost. Here he is pictured lost a few hundred miles from home. Adopt an urchin with a bad haircut, anyone?
 If all days could be like that, would it be a boring trip?

Day 79 (18.09) Tirebolu - Trabzon (57.52mi)

Stopping at a service station restaurant for breakfast, this:
Interference #28857: Waiter requests to ride bike despite warnings the chain will dirty his trousers, ignores position of brake levers, almost crashes.
 That kind of interference is particularly annoying as while it happens I'm just kicking my heels waiting to get back on the road.

More coast, not especially interesting. But the bigger the mountains get, the bigger the clouds get:
Free shower today or tomorrow by the look of it.
Then Trabzon. Some days are just this bland.

Day 80 (19.09) Trabzon

In Trabzon, football. The first night the hotel room TV was showing Real beat City, which was enjoyable. Then I slept a lot.

The second night I had to find a bar with the paid channels. I found 'Efes Pub', Efes being that nasty Turkish beer, and got there too late. There were two tellies. Everyone was facing the big screen and the only seat left was under that screen, facing the smaller screen at the opposite end of the pub. The game was Man Utd vs. Galatasaray, which for those ignorant of football is a Turkish team whose fans are known for their stabbiness. Everyone in the pub was Turkish except me. Everyone was not a gringo except me. Everyone spoke Turkish except me. Everyone stared at me except me. Oh, and everybody learnt how to say "Aw Nani behave yourself you showboating twat" except me because I know that useful bit of English by heart.

I avoided all eye contact and nervously swigged a great many pints of plastic beer, raising my voice only at Nani and scarpering as soon as it was over because Utd had undeservedly won. I'd had far too much to drink and knocked over a display of drinks in the little shop I went to for munchables. I didn't make many friends that night.
Day 81 (20.09) Trabzon - Arakli (20.5mi)

Last day on the Black Sea, probably ever. Hangover. Late start because of interference (see below). Time to waste either cycling slowly or waiting in Erzurum. Not a chance I'm riding a long way.

Leaving the hotel as late as the sign in my room said I was allowed to, I bumped into another cyclist as I shuffled out of the lift with all my gear. This one was a Swiss bloke in his fifties who'd flown in to Trabzon and was planning to cycle to Georgia. I can't remember his name but he had a greasy, grey ponytail. We'll call him Swiss Pony. He's the first Swiss I've ever disliked.

Cyclists take time to talk to each other, swap advice, lend tools, share amusing anecdotes and all that. Swiss Pony took time to examine and appraise every bit of my equipment. I'd taken a quick look at him and his kit and filed him under 'fat bloke, cheap bike with filthy chain, two week holiday, not such a serious cyclist but whatever - each to his own and nice to meet you, Other Cyclist'. He'd taken a long look at me and my kit and out of nowhere had mistaken 'serious bike, serious lycra, serious thousand-yard stare and seriously meaty arse' for 'completely and utterly useless amateur'. I found that somewhat rude.

Swiss Pony: “You should better buy a frame like mine. Mine is not a round tube, you see, it has an elliptical shape so it absorbs shocks. Also mine is one piece. It is not velded like yours. Yours vill break soon. (Rubs front rim with thumb and tuts) Zis is very old. But you can't buy a new one now so you hef to go to all ze vay to China viz it (chuckles girlishly). Are you happy vis your handles? Ze shape? I could not ride like zat. I prefer mine (points proudly at his butterfly bars, which are as uncool and pointless as socks inside sandals). Vy did you get 700 veels? Vy do you cycle on ze main road which has too much traffic? I prefer ze quiet mountain roads (like tits you do, you chunky funster). Vy do you use Presta walves? I made larger holes in my rims to fit ze vider walves and I can inflate zem at service stations (smug grin). Vy such a big pomp? You vill probably die in Kazakhstan, I sink. Zere are no trees for your hemmock and only van place in ze vorld, in Norvay I sink, is colder (erm, bollocks). I hed a hemmock in ze chungle vere it vas good for ze mosquitos but it is crazy to hef van in vinter (chuckles girlishly). Ah, I see you hef Ortlieb bags like me. Zey are ze best, I sink, but I prefer my type vis the top part zat I don't hef to roll. You hef too much eqvipment, vich is vy you cannot close ze bags easily. Vy do you not have a stand for ze bike to awoid putting it on ze vall?"

To answer your last question there, Pony, it's because I had one, a Swiss one in fact, supposedly the strongest you can buy in fact, and it broke because it was too weak to support a heavy bike in fact. Piece of shit. 

Despite his pompous wrongness, Swiss Pony importantly agreed that Schwalbe tyres are appallingly bad and that Continentals are far better. Even idiots have their moments of correctness. But now I'm worried that this lad is the only cyclist other than me who dares to question the Schwalbe doctrine. Am I as much of a dick as him?

No. I'm probably right. I'm probably always right. It's a habit I've inherited from Mother.

20 easy miles to Arakli but something strange started happening after Trabzon. People are still generally alright but there have been more and more "What the fuck do you think you're doing here, gringo?" looks on top of the harmless "Ah, funny gringo, welcome to my town and come here next to me because I want to know what a gringo smells like" ones. Teenagers are getting ballsier and shouting what I can only believe to be insults. A few have thrown pebbles but none have connected so I haven't retaliated. The curiosity is more hostile and the interference is more aggressive. I'm not liking this new side of Turkey. It's been explained by a Turk, however, as you'll read about below.

Encountering heavy enemy interference in Arakli, I quickly discarded the plan to buy charcoal and meat because it would have been a nightmare to battle through the crowds that would have gathered if I'd tried to find out where to buy skewers to make kebabs. So I made do with pastries, pears and helva and made for the river, where I'd seen rows of picnic huts that looked wide enough diagonally to hang the hammock. There's one in this photo, just about:
Facing away from the Black Sea towards the mountain I'd be climbing in the morning. The road follows this river until it's just a tiny wee trickle.
 It didn't take the local scrotes long to start swarming. I had ten of them around me within an hour. In the end I gave up hope of being left along so I packed up and went to a hotel.I at least escaped a final free feast for the mozzies before I start floating above the magic 1,500m mark. They made a vindaloo of my feet in Trabzon, where I had to leave the hotel window open to get some air to my drying clothes. I ran out of bug spray long ago. It didn't make a huge difference anyway. Jesus Maus, if you're reading this, I am nevertheless grateful for the gift. It made my feet smell nice for a short while.

Day 82 (21.09) Arakli - Bayburt (about 40mi by bike; about 30 by mountain rescue)

I'd had a look at Bikeroutetoaster and the GPS. Between them they came up with several possible routes from Trabzon to Erzurum. Basically the shorter the route, the higher the climb. Have a look at these:

Erzurum is just out of shot here to the SE.There's a reason I've left it at this zoom level without Erzurum on screen, as I'll explain later.

Route 1 is Trabzon-Gümüshane-Bayburt-Erzurum. Most road traffic goes this way, as I later found out. I should have followed suit.
Route 2 is Trabzon-Caykara-Bayburt-Erzurum. GPS didn't have this road marked. Instantly distrusted it. Suspicion confirmed when zooming out one notch on Google Maps as this road disappears whilst the others are still visible.
Route 3 is Trabzon-Iyidere-Ispir-Pazaryolu-Erzurum. Steep climb to 2,700m. No, thanks, but a shame to miss the easyish riding on the coast.
Route 4 doesn't appear at this zoom level for the excellent reason that, despite it being the GPS' preference and despite the roads being marked yellow as opposed to white or grey on Google, it's barely passable even by 4WD. Here it is marked out on Bikeroutetoaster:
The turn-off is at Arakli. It's tough climbing after about 20 miles and the road gets ridiculous at the edge of that oval I've drawn on the screenshot.
I should have done more homework. Route 4 starts nicely enough...
"Right, bring it on."
"Right, bring it off."
 ...but it turns into a sweaty one. I'm still alright at this^ stage, reminding myself not to be soft because I've done tougher climbs, crawling along at below 10mph, keeping an eye out for hammock spots in the hope that this scenery will be exactly like the scenery further up the mountain so I'll know what to expect. Going along so slowly, it's not every five minutes you pass a valid candidate.

A few decent campsites but...
They're all on the other side of the river. Never more than knee deep but rapid and best avoided, given it's a choice between a soaked pair of shoes or a comedy crossing in flip-flops.
 Not only are the people a bit hostile around here, they're also a bit thick:
Turkish bants: "Let's build a mosque right high up so it's difficult for some to get to and impossible for others. Let's also not build a proper path to it". The white thing, top left, in case you're confused.
 I got to around 800-1,000m and found a little hamlet where the café wasn't crowded with interferers. Just a couple of auld fellers giving me the old "Whatever next", look, which is tolerable enough. Good time to stop for a brew as I'd made the schoolboy error of sweating too much, which was becoming a problem as the temperature drops rapidly with altitude and the wind makes things worse.

I made to turn off for a brew and a wardrobe adjustment but some prick steamed in, cut across me in his pickup and screeched to a halt a few yards ahead. I had my hand on the weapon pocket as he reversed to confront me. The prick turned out to be not a prick at all but a rescuer. First few words with driver in Turkish brought no man joy, then the passenger had the bright Idea to ask if I speak English, which I ding dang do.

Verbatim: "Where are you going?" (Up there. Bayburt then Erzurum.) "Look, mate, I'm not letting you go up there on that bike. It's too dangerous. We're going that way so you'd better come with us or you'll be sorry".

Your average Kurdish rebel terrorist kidnapper I've been warned about, but this can't be one of them. It's a regional English accent (Stoke mixed with slightly north of Manchester, to be precise). It's denim. It's pop on the radio. It's a trustworthily white tone of skin. I'm easily convinced.

I put the bike in the back and climbed in, shivering already after only a couple of minutes stopped sweaty in the wind. The passenger turns out to be Ali, a lad raised in these mountains who's been wheeling, dealing and breeding in England since he was 18. He's travelling on a UK passport (he even got the 15EUR gringo slap at the border like I did) with his two brothers, present, and they're going up the mountain to the village they grew up in, where their family still farms cows and whatnot.

We climb for a few miles. Ali tells me they saw me a while back as they were stopped for tea. They saw they'd need to help me but not before I'd "earnt it a bit more". He's learnt our sense of humour, this one. "Fair play", I lol, "but what did you mean by 'dangerous'? I'm grateful for your help and I'm knackered but I don't mind going by bike." "You'll see in a while but we're stopping here for lunch first", he says. Magic words. I put up no resistance whatsoever.

'Here' is a mini plateau with a restaurant and a load of those picnic huts where I definitely would have camped that night. It took us 15 minutes in the pickup but it would have been a couple of hours for me on the bike. I still cycle like a beginner at times but I've learnt not to pass a good campsite, especially when knackered and cold. I would have eaten at the restaurant as well, but not as well as I did with Ali and his brothers because I don't know the words for the good stuff, do I?
Ali claims the best seat while the smoke blows in his brothers' faces. LAD.
 These lads treated me to a barbecue. Alone I would have managed to ask for "Food...?", which usually earns me 'tost'. Hot sandwich, that is. Lingo lingo lingo.

Ali tells me why the road is dangerous. "It's not paved up there. It's not worth paving because it's closed for half the year. It snows a lot up here. In fact you might not have been allowed up here if you'd come a bit later. Have you seen all those overloaded trucks coming down the mountain? That's families who spend half the year at altitude then take their animals down to the coast for the winter. Plus the road has been dug up recently because it's being widened. They're digging a tunnel under the the highest point and the whole thing will be widened and paved to make it the main route from Trabzon to Iran, but that's not for a couple of years yet. For now it's difficult to get to the top even in the pickup".

He also tells me why people are looking at me like I've pissed on their mosque. "People are backward here. They're not used to tourists. To them you're just an outsider and they don't trust outsiders. They think you're dangerous. Or stupid".

The road turns to nastiness as it tilts upwards. The 4WD struggles and at one point the back wheels skid out dangerously close to the ledge. I brick it, Ali laughs at me. I doubt I'd have been able to do anything other than get off and push through about ten miles of it. "Oh yeah", he remembers as we get to the summit, "everyone has a gun round here as well":
The altitude sign is riddled with FUCKING. BULLET. HOLES. "What happened? A war?", I ignorantly enquire. "Not in the last few years. People just mess about with their guns sometimes. They have them mainly for FUCKING. BEARS. AND. FUCKING. WOLVES. (my emphasis again), but I'd advise you not to piss people off. Hehehe. Everyone has to carry a gun or lose livestock. We have them as well".
 Ali is on holiday and his brothers are council workers based far far away from the farm. One of them as far afield as Turkish Cyprus. What the bastard are their guns for and where did they even get them? But I ask no further out-loud questions about firearms. I'm just glad Ali isn't a nonce like that other bloke. Oh, and that's me in the photo still sweat-soaked and rampant rabbiting.

"You should probably get a gun", Ali suggests, "in case the gays try to rape you again. Ah, but you've to go over borders. Probably best not, then. Just... ehhehehe... just... ahaHAHAaAAa... frighten them off with your pepper spray!"

Cunt.

We drop 100m or so to the family village, where it's decided they'll take me all the way down to Bayburt after all because I'm such a brilliant bloke.
Ali's family's summer village. Poor bastards. It's properly bleak up here.
There's always water in Turkey. Mosques and service stations have it without fail and wherever there's a 'middle of nowhere' there's one of these. Ali says this is not tap water but spring water. Drinking it hasn't killed me yet.
Ali: "That used to be a supermarket. I used to buy sweets there when I was a kid. Then the bloke died".
We stop for a brew in Bayburt and the brothers ask me where I usually sleep. I tell them I try to avoid big towns (Bayburt is big enough to have a university, so at least a five-figure population), instead going through them and out the other side to find the woods. "No problem", they tell me, and we drive around to look for the suburban shrubbery.

Behold, just outside Bayburt on the road to Erzurum:
Apart from the obvious 'Erozyon Kontrol', the only word I know on this sign is 'Ormani', which means forest. Yep, this here is a forest. A municipally-owned one at that.  And at 1,550m it's at least my rigid cock above the mozzie line. Cue fanfare.

 And back up to the summer village they drove. The Turks are still in the moral black with me after this episode. It was almost worth getting showered with piss and near-nonced in return for the bail-out.

However, it could be argued that I've cheated. Forgetting for a moment how terribly, wickedly and unforgivably rude it would have been to refuse Ali's help, I could have made it over the hill on my own. It would have been two or even three days to Bayburt, plus a lot of pain and falling over, plus a question mark over food and water, plus a lot of pushing where the bike's current skinnies would have had no purchase...
This plus 15% gradient is not for skinny tyres. Must do more research.
 ...but I'm supposed to be manning up. So get your comments in via your usual channels, dear 32.4 average-readers-per-day. If you think I've cheated, I'll do some forfeit miles. I've got the time for them because...

Day 83 (22.09) Bayburt-Erzurum (78.86mi)
 ...I've made it to Erzurum, not sure what to do with myself while the robots make my Iranian visa.

Although I missed out on a mountain badge yesterday, the higher pass (by about 150m) was between Bayburt and Erzurum today. It was a painful one but the clouds disappeared before they had a chance to rain on me. I still haven't had to ride in the rain since France.

I haven't been sensible or bothered enough to check what sort of hills I'll be climbing further along the road, so I'm guessing this will be the highest point of the trip.
A bit scenic as well. It's a nice few miles out of Bayburt, about ten, until the climbing really starts.
Why have they put that house all the way up there? Also, plenty of those tall thin trees about despite the empty soil. I think they're poplars. They're used as wind barriers, They look alright for hammocking as well.

The land is mainly bare up here but, on top of the man-made rows of poplars, there are these inexplicable forests dotted around. I don't know how or why. There are few-to-no trees in the bit wherre the little stream flows, the valley there, and yet elsewhere there are trees. But there's barely any rainfall. These matters trouble me. Also, nice autumn colours. See?

This bloke is Ataturk. Famous for being in charge of the Turks during a war they won, I think. Also for making Turks write in letters instead of squiggles, I've just learnt today. Most cities I've been through claim to have his house, birthplace or deathplace in them. Samsun has a little pier on the Black Sea with a statue of him on it because he got off a boat there once. One town I can't remember has a massive poster made out of a photo of him shaking somebody's hand there. I once met a famous bloke in Bury. Timmy Mallett. True story.
Ataturk is at the top of the mountain, just after which the pain goes away for ten solid downhill miles. I covered them six times as fast as the ten previous I'd climbed. That was fun.
I like these hilltop guessing games because I can't play I Spy on my own so I have to make do. Photo taken from the road. It disappears down into the valleys. But whurr does it gurr?

 But the fun stops after the town of Askale, after which it's another 400m climbing over the course of about 35 miles. That sounds like nothing but into a windy plain it's a struggle. So I didn't quite enjoy this scenery as much as I'd have liked...

 ...especially as I was rushing to get to Erzurum before sunset:
Look over shoulder. Nice view. Remember to take photo for blog. SHIT THE SUN IS ABANDONING ME MUST GO FASTER. No more photos. This has happened almost every day of the trip.
 I checked into a hotel because I was too tired to mess about. I saw a mile of accessible forest on the way into town, which appears to be part of the university campus, so when I decide I can't afford a hotel any longer (Hotel Bey, a good one with a nice owner), I might buy stuff for a barbie and take it out there.

Days 84-?? (23.09-??.??) Erzurum

One day here so far, spent pitifully F5ing Gmail for visa news, being taken out for tea, snacks and the Utd game by the hotel owner, writing this, being taken for dinner by the hotel owner, writing this a bit more and probably sleeping a good 12 hours.

I've probably got a week at least to wait. I can't afford this hotel for that long (60TL per night), much as I'd like to stay here and much as it's worth more. The beds here are the best I've had all trip. Even better than the hammock. The breakfast is copious. The internet is crisp and fragrant. The owner, Emin, speaks English and has taken me under his wing. Even though this is a large hotel with a breakfast room the size of a football pitch, he's spent about four hours entertaining me today and his chat is most listenable to. It would be rude not to stay a bit longer.

I might get sick of it and ride towards Iran and then, as soon as the visa's ready, leave my bike somewhere safe and come back to the consulate here on the bus. That way I'll have saved a few days' cycling later. But that effort can wait for now.

And it's cold here. Erzurum is the coldest city in Turkey, they say. Lowest temperature 3C today, about -35C in winter. That's only outside, though.