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The Black Sea Road to Georgia

Posted by on Aug 16, 01:17 AM
Filed under , | Comment [7]

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“There is an uphill for every downhill, and a downhill for every uphill.”
-A Turkish Proverb

A RockMy experience on the Black Sea Coast of Turkey was unlike Randall’s in some aspects. I enjoyed the challenge of the terrain, along with the magnificent scenery that was its reward. From Istanbul to the town of Sinop the highway has not been improved to motorway standards; the road is mostly a simple two lane country road that meanders its way around the face of each hill and drops sharply as it swings inland to bridge a small stream or river, only to grind it’s way back up to 300 meters (900 feet) or so on the other side. It follows this pattern every few kilometers, so one can expect to do Fishing shackwell over 2,000 meters (6,000 feet) of climbing up grades that usually average 12% (that’s steep for a loaded touring bike!) over an 80km (50 mile) day. With the temperature hovering around 30-35C (100F) in the summer and tropically-humid in the mid afternoon, the large patches of tar that have been slathered onto the road will have melted, causing ones tires to squelch and the tread to fill with foul black molasses.

InsideNeedless to say, after a few days I began to tackle most of my riding in the morning and spend the afternoons and evenings eating cheese, tomatoes, olives, cucumbers, bread and ice cream, and swimming at the quiet little beaches of the “Black” (blue) Sea. It was strenuous riding, but I was always able to find a delicious camping spot on the beach. Except in Zonguldak.

Black SeaSome Swiss riders going the opposite direction that I had met said they had gone inland to avoid the town of Zonguldak because they heard it was a “bad” town, industrial and gloomy. It would have cost an extra day or two for me to make the same detour so I decided to brave this place whose name smacks as if it is a suburb of Mordor. I had planned to camp well before this place but there were no opportunities, and as the afternoon became dusk I came upon a beach, rocky and littered heavily with garbage just before the entrance to Zonguldak that looked as though it would suffice in this Sunsetpinch. As I was getting ready to unpack, a brown, thin man with missing teeth and alcohol-perfumed breath brought me over a bite of chicken and expressed concern that my things might be stolen in the night if I camped there. He motioned me to follow him around the pointed cliff to his fishing shack, a real shack of a place amidst a number of other shacks with beer-soaked Turks idling around. Then, he showed me the propane burner so that I could make tea, the outhouse, the bed and where to leave the key Cowsin the morning and did some tidying up before he left. It was infernally hot on the inside and the kitchen reeked of stale beer, but it beat any alternative that I could conceive of and I was happy to oblige the fisherman’s friendly hospitality. In the night I awoke several times to the stray dogs sniffing and making a general racket, and imagined hearing dark people creeping around the place. The morning brought the relief of daylight and I climbed and descended my way through this pitiably gloomy town in the mist, the Turkish Cyclistroad covered in a layer of mud and the giant, rusted coal mining equipment looming through the mist, surrounded by lush, green hills as I was gaped at by coarse-looking faces.

Quietly tucked away in the lush, verdant mountains, the Sumela Monastery has not been active for several decades…

The lovely, 350km stretch from Amasra to Sinop was a sharp contrast to the backwater bleakness of Zonguldak (which I must admit is a morbid beauty) with a few high-end resorts brimming with vacationing Turks (and very few foreigners) and small, isolated fishing towns where cows ranged freely on and around the road. CoveEast of Sinop the road gradually grows to a motorway-grade four-to-six-lane highway and tunnels through the mountains instead of slithering over them. Between the city of Samsun and the Georgian border there are few beaches since the road hugs the water for most of the distance, and the towns lack the charm that I suppose they once had, now more commercialized and cut off from the sea by the highway. We received some hospitality on the way (thanks to Onder of Samsun and Mertcan of Giresun) and Mertcan and Randallgenerally flew through the last several hundred kilometers of Turkey, aided by tailwinds on the flat-as-a-pancake highway. Walking into a bakery one day we were invited to sit in the fragrant place near the wood oven and drink tea. Naturally, the handsome young owner with a boyish grin began to bring out fresh flatbread (“pide”) spackled with Bakery Ownerglobs of yellow margarine, olives and cheese and we had a memorable lunch break with the staff and the owner of the hardware store next-door, none of whom spoke more than five words of English.

Another notable experience was my trip to Sumela Monastery, a Byzantine structure that has survived for 1,500 years or so on the side of a cliff at 1,000 meters (3,000 feet). We were staying with a hip, laid-back young Uyghur from Kashgar, China, named Oktur, in the city of Trabzon. Randall had been feeling Sumelaunwell so I made a solo hitch hike to the monastery. It lies about 45km inland. Both of my drivers were fairly young and animated, and spoke minimal English, but were kind and friendly as are the sweeping majority of Turks in my limited experience. Quietly tucked away in the lush, verdant mountains, the Sumela Monastery has not been active for several decades but is kept up by the Turkish government as a tourist attraction and piece of the nation’s patchwork heritage.

The final couple of days in Turkey saw us under and around more subtropical hills and the vibrantly green tea plantations of Rize and to the border of the petite country of Georgia.

Sumela Inside Jesus Christ Fresco

Comments:

  1. Dear Andrew, gorgeous photographs,
    Smells, tastes, experiences, sounds, smiles, ups and downs
    Muscles aching all words over the Internet as if we’re with you!
    Keep yourself and your younger brother:) …

    As always missssssssssssssssssss

    Love & prayers & hugs & kisses

    Michal

    — Michal.R.B · Aug 18, 02:26 AM · #

  2. I am so jealous. Incredible journey. Keep your RPM’s up!

    Justin F · Aug 28, 04:03 PM · #

  3. Two great men,travelling the beauty… May the wind be with you… :)

    — Mertcan · Aug 28, 10:48 PM · #

  4. Hello there,

    Great work you boys have been doing. Just wondering if you will be coming through New Zealand?

    Cheers,

    John

    — John Ferguson · Sep 15, 09:24 PM · #

  5. Wat up Cuz’s?!
    Miss you guys big time and am SO very proud of ya!!! Keep it up, hang tight and come home safe! I’ve got MAJOR respect for what you are doing— I know how tough it is to be so far from home for so long. We are all prayin’ for you!
    Love you,
    Nat
    P.S. Did I mention I am majorly jealous?:)

    — Natalie · Sep 21, 10:27 PM · #

  6. Thanks again for the encouragement, all of you!!

    John: I really can’t say. I plan to tour Japan in Spring 2012 and New Zealand would come afterward. I doubt I will have any money left by then!!

    — Andrew Leese · Sep 22, 05:54 AM · #

  7. Well if you were to make it to New Zealand the traditionals here would take care of you. :)

    Small country so wouldn’t be hard to see you around it for next to nothing.

    -John

    — John · Sep 24, 01:45 AM · #

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