Ups and downs

Day 4 back in the saddle…

Its been hard getting back on the bike after the time off in Istanbul.

I’m not sure what changed but the bike feels heavier, legs weaker, hills higher and temperature hotter.

We sweated up some long hills every day, often sharing the road with a lot of traffic.

I had a few moments of panic. What are we doing? I don’t like this anymore. Why don’t I like this?

I realised that I had been deploying a few tactics to get me through the first part of the journey, and they had been used so often I thought they had become part of myself. Having put them down for a week I couldn’t remember how to use them, they felt contrived. However, contrived still works sometimes.

We got up those hills. We pitched our tent. We made our food. We got up and did it all again. We’re doing nothing like the distances we were a few weeks ago. But we’re on our way.

Today I found myself grinding up another hill, and was relieved to find I wasn’t really worrying about it. Just getting on with it, looking at the scenery.

The big joy moments happen. There have been extraordinary views. There has been good cake. But the big joy isn’t always at the surface.

Eskişehir old town

Eskishir is a lovely city, different from any other I’ve been to in Turkey. Lively, young, spacious. Fun. Cafes spill on to the street. Rock and roll played late in to the night. Arms bared.

We explored the old city this morning. Pastel painted houses, the book says they are old ottoman houses. The old caravasaray converted to museums with glass blowing, jewellery workshops, a photo gallery. Full of schoolkids.

Weaving our way out we see more unkempt versions of the houses, falling into disrepair.

We ride out of town for a while on the main road. We stop briefly to buy supplies and are befriended by chap who insists on buying us tea and ayran despite his own Ramadan fast. His name is Mustapha and he and Jamie do well conversing in German with a little Google translate thrown in. I follow along well enough, Mustapha is good at sign language.

Eventually we strike out looking for some ruins we’ve read about in the guidebook. We see a sign which seems to tell us we’re heading in the right direction. We reach a fork, and appear to choose the wrong one as we never find the ruins. But the landscape is dramatic, towering cliffs, jaggedy rocks, then some ruling farmland. Thunder is rolling around us. We are drenched a couple of times, then sweat our way up the next rolling hill before we stop to take off the waterproof, then have to don it again a few minutes later.

Beautiful though, and great to be off the main road even if it is slow. We stop to camp at the top of a hill, the next waypoint is 9km off but at our current speed that’ll be another hour and we are both flagging. We get the tent up in time to shelter from another downpour.

All in all a good day.

Having carefully followed guidance from our guidebook yesterday, looking for something, though we weren’t quite sure what, we had finally given up finding it. When the  guidebook’s “follow the track for 2km” becomes 10km easily we decide that even a car driver couldn’t get it that wrong…

So we’d camped up overnight and set off again in the morning, this time towards a different landmark marked on one of our mapping apps.

A turn off on to a very bumpy track makes me grateful for my mountain biking practice in Italy last year. Eventually the weird looking hill on the horizon resolves itself in to a rock formation riddled with caves. In fact two rock formations, the very ones we’d given up on finding.

Bolstered by this find we clambered up the ladder in to the main set of chambers. My mind muttering that you’d never get to do this in the UK, no railings, big holes, massive drops. The view is spectacular. We try to make some sense of what we’re seeing, there’s clearly a number of chambers leading off the main one, and you can see from outside that there are more way up. There are some hand and foot holds carved up the side of the rock too. We’re floundering to make sense of it really, but it’s seriously impressive.

Eventually we leave and carry on down the track, finding – we believe – the turn off we were supposed to find yesterday, though we’re still at a loss to know what it was 2km from.

We’re on a roll now. We start to see the landmarks left and right. A carved rock face, a temple-style facade leading to tombs. We meet a few more sight-seers on the road, we were lucky to be alone at the first spot, clearly Sunday is a popular day to look at the local landmarks.

The final landmark is Midas city. From what I gathered the Phyrgian’s worshipped the mother goddess, Cebele or Kebele, of whom I am a fan. They also were serious plumbers, carving huge underground cisterns, waterways and water pools which must have kept many people in water all year round. Apparently this is the first known example of such water storage. Again, very impressive, and fun to explore.
There were also numerous chambers carved in to the rock, and equally fascinating ones which had been started but not finished – giving a very visceral sense of the work it took to cave them out of the rock. The unfinished work also raised the question of why, what happened that made people down tools? Where did they go?

After spending a good part of the day exploring we took to our bikes and peddled a thirty km or so before giving in to a beautiful view and setting up camp for the night.

We wake and pull ourselves out of bed. As I poke my head out of my tent I register – a little late – the clanking of bells that means that goats are near. Sure enough, they start materialising out of the scrubby forest we’ve camped near. Two or three at first, then ten, then a seventy or spread out before us. A goatherd follows, if he’s surprised to see us he doesn’t show it, just raises a hand in greeting and shepherds the goats around away from us.

We start our morning dismantling routine, while I get the kettle on. By the time the water has boiled the goats and their man are back. We chat a little in broken sign language. We share some coffee. We break out Google translate to ask him some questions about himself. But soon the goats have wandered off and he’s off after them.

Jamie and I ponder whether we’d enjoy such a life over breakfast. It certainly has it’s charms, but I suspect it’s not everyone’s dream job.

We come down off the hills and cycle across the plateau for 80km or so. The road is pretty flat, which is a change, but predictably perhaps we have a headwind. The landscape is strange. In the distance on both sides their are mountains. We see no-one in most of the villages we pass through, though they must be inhabited. On the outskirts of many there are little camps, we suspect migrant workers of some kind. We see some out in the fields, the minibuses signs that these aren’t the locals.

We’re heading east, we don’t have a particular destination in mind until we reach km 70. The map tells us we’ll reach a town in 20km+ and we’ll need water for the night if nothing else, though a hostel would be welcome too. With no mobile network we have to wing it.

Arriving in the town we see many inquisitive and welcoming faces. It’s the end of the day, so there’s a lot of people on the streets and we feel very conspicuous. A car drives past us slowly, and we see we’re being filmed.

We pull off and try to consult the internet, but before we can get very far a car pulls up beside us. A man rolls down his window and I think asks us which way we are going. He asks – using excellent sign language- whether we’d like to come and eat and have somewhere to sleep. We would, so we follow him. He leads us to his apartment block and we are ushered in to his house. I don’t know if his wife was warned but she welcomes us heartily.

We’re given çay and showers while we are waiting for the sun to set. Our hosts are observing Ramadan, which is wonderful news for us – two weary cyclists. Zehiya has prepared a feast – çorba, bread, rice, chicken, lamb stew, salad, dates, watermelon, and more lovely sticky desserts with icecream. We all eat and laugh as more food is piled on front of us. We are truly grateful and humbled by their hospitality and warmth.

After dinner we chat with the help of translate and eat more cherries. We talk about family, work, religion and travel.

We slope off to bed, overwhelmed by another extraordinary day.


Soviet pasts

Through Serbia from the flat lands of soviet cities

With their crumbing apartment blocks

And boarded up municipal buildings


Soviet infrastructure

Now little overseen


The backbone of these countries

Was build by a bloc

Aligned to values

That are in the past


Power lines, roads, swimming baths

All have the marks of another era

Mentality, foundations

That crumbled before capitalism


That all ideologies have flaws


Acacia bloom

Every so often in the landscape

False acacia in bloom,

Before the white drooping

Cascade of florets

The smell, unlike any other


Reverberant in the air

Like a high c in a cathedral

Wisps into the air

Carried on the warmth

Reflected from the earth


The joy of these few molecules

Of scent, transcends the ugly

Odour of the road

Tar and piss and death


To look up to the sky

And breath in…

This angel of the trees


Istanbul had been calling to us from the beginning. Back in March we’d sat round the kitchen table making wild calculations about when we could feasibly reach Istanbul. Wild because we didn’t know how far we’d be able to ride each day or the specific route we’d take.

We also had to factor in May Day, Levellers Day and Ramadan, so our window of opportunity was pretty short. With this in mind we agreed a date, 8th May,  to meet Ali and Sue (aka Jamie’s parents) for a week in Istanbul.

Anyway, we could always get the train if we needed…

However, with much sweat but very little blood or tears, we cycled several thousand kilometres and sailed in to Istanbul from Bandirma*, negotiated the traffic to arrive on the doorstep of our apartment moments before Ali and Sue arrived in their taxi. Perfect.

The previous week had not been our finest. Apart from the wonderful encounter in Edirne we’d had a bit of a rough time, cycling on main roads in the rain and wind. The scenic route we’d taken – down to Gallipoli/Gelibolu then along the south coast of the sea of Marmara would have been superb had the weather been kinder. However, we made it, if muddier than we would have hoped.

Istanbul was great.
I’ve spent a little time in the past in Istanbul, mostly as a child, and there are massive Turkish influences running through my life. Istanbul is full of those memories and connections for me, much like the city itself in which the past is all muddled into the present.

I was pleased to be able to act as a tour guide, surprising myself with my memory of the mosaics of the Chora Church, or snippets of history gleaned from many tours round the big sites.

We visited some of the famous working mosques – Sultanahmet, Süleymaniye, my favourite little one just round the corner the Sokullu Mehmet Paşa mosque.

We meandered through the grand bazaar, the spice bazaar, through the little streets filled with shop after shop selling the same stuff and things. A whole street selling headscarfs. The next all swimwear. The next full of tutus.

Ali and Sue had done some excellent research so we found some new places, we had a loud but fun evening down in the fish restaurant quarter where musicians stroll up and down the square bustling with hundreds of locals ordering fish from identical menus. Some of the troupes playing traditional music, some playing pop songs to the delight of the crowds.

We took a walk along the old walls, through the residential neighbourhoods, feeling much further from the tourist trail.

Towards the end of the week we braved the public transport system – we should have done it earlier – taking tram, ferry, bus, underground on a little tour of the different sides of the city. Over to Uskudar to eat at a favourite restaurant from my childhood, back across to Istiklal Caddesi to see the grand shopping streets, up to Taksim Square and then back to our flat in Sultanahmet.

We befriended the man who sold baklava at the bottom of the road, encouraging us to devour more treats than we should have. We lingered long over indulgent breakfasts on our fantastic balcony overlooking the south side of Sultanahmet down to the sea of Marmara. In the evenings, when it wasn’t  raining, we enjoyed the lovely sunsets with an Efes before setting out to find a quiet little corner to eat a kebab, some kofte, a pide.

Over the week we rested our weary bodies, we put on a few missing pounds, we basked in the company of our good friends and left Istanbul better than it found us.

In amongst this we had serious business to do. Visas. Routes. Bikes.


We decided to apply for our Uzbek visa in Istanbul, and pick it up in Baku. From all we’d read the Uzbek visa was a pretty simple process. Apply in Istanbul, pick up and pay in Baku.
It was simple, but it took us a long time. Firstly we made the mistake of cycling**, rather than taking the trams. Had we arrived earlier we might have got through the system quicker. As it was we arrived a little before 12 and got away by 3.30. The official bit of it lasted a couple of minutes, standing outside what was basically a shed behind the Uzbek embassy (which is a house on a residential street). The rest of the time was spent trying to get our paperwork to the guy to start processing. He was in another step with a window on to the railings at the front, you needed to catch his eye and wave your handful of passports and paperwork at him through the railings. Queues aren’t really a thing, but my British conditioning doesn’t allow for pushing to the front – and then hanging around on the pavement waiting for our names to be called. We met a nice French exchange student with whom we had a chat.
Checking now it appears our visas have been processed and we’ll pick them up in Baku.
We also applied for our visa for Azerbaijan, which is an evisa, which we were able to apply for and receive within 3 days.
As Georgia and Kazakhstan are visa free for us we’re sorted now until Tajikistan.
The big one now is China. The internet seemed to tell us that the easiest place to get it is Tbilisi. We will see.

Bike repairs

The big issue was always going to be Jamie’s rim. We’d noticed on the run in to Istanbul that it was a bit warped.  The rim had got wider at one point. This didn’t seem like a good sign, so after a flurry of emails to various friends and colleagues we’d ordered a rim from the internet to be delivered in 1-3 working days.
In the meantime we also decided to investigate why Jamie’s Rolhoff was leaking a little oil. We discovered that the gaskets behind the external shifter box were little more than scraps of oily nothing and needed replacing.
Jamie got in touch with Dave at SJS cycles, who informed us that there was a guy in Istanbul who could help, and that there wasn’t anyone else further east who was Rohloff trained until SE Asia.
So we removed the wheel and this time broached the public transport. Tram and ferry then bus took us over to Asia and into Kadıköy. We found Gursel Akay Bisiklet and immediately felt at home. Some bike shops are just like that.

Bike tinkering

Jamie and Gursel tinkered with the hub together over coffee and cake and replaced the gaskets, before we set off back to Europe again.
We got increasingly anxious as the rim itself didn’t appear. Eventually we discovered it was in Turkey in customs. On what should have been our day of departure from Istanbul with the wonderful help of the brother-in-law of our host we managed to pay the customs charge, get the rim released and get them to hold on to it rather than send it out to be delivered – goodness knows what chaos that might have caused. The following day we – on the advice of a local – wheeled our fully laden bikes on to the train and tram (down some escalators, much to my alarm) and then cycled out to the freight depo at the airport. This is not a scenic journey, and not one I’d recommend. However we got it, and cycled off again to catch the ferry from Pendik to Yalova and then up in to the hills to rebuild Jamie’s wheel – which looked like this:

Jamie: I’ve been thinking about the rim and why it failed… And I realised I used this wheel to test whether I could set up the schwalbe marathon supreme tubeless. 

A long story short it doesn’t work very well. The sidewalls are too porous despite what schwalbe say! I think I was having a  issue with the double eyelets stopping the rim tape from sticking properly. 

Anyway I think what did it for the rim and why it crack bed like this was using the airshot on it. I think banging 200psi into the tire repeatedly on a rim which is quite old now anyway (6 years or so) could cause this spreading. I’ve seen it on xc MTB rims before. 

Route planning

With our eyes firmly set on Istanbul we had given little thought of what was to come afterwards. With a few guidebooks to hand and some time off the bikes we were finally able to start planning our route though Turkey. It was (and still is) an incredibly hard decision. What to take in, what too miss? We drew routes that took in as much as we could including Pamukele, the Lycean Way, the mountains in the east, and we considered  the shortest route that hugged the black sea coast.
Eventually we settled on the middle way, heading south east to Cappadocia and then back north east to Trabzon and following the coast from there.

*Arrival by ferry
By all accounts cycling in to Istanbul is horrendous. Too much traffic shoehorned on to massive roads. I’ve read accounts of people doing it, and some have found better routes than others, however we decided to take the long way round  skirting the west then south costs of the sea of Marmara then sailing in to the heart of the city – I can highly recommend this approach. You can get the ferry at three points – Bandirma, Bursa and Yalova, though this last doesn’t take you into the centre but to a suburb Pendik.

**Cycling in Istanbul
It would have been remiss of us not to attempt to cycle in Istanbul a little bit, and so we took to the road on our visit to the Uzbek embassy.
It’s an experience. The traffic in Istanbul is famously chaotic. You need to hold your nerve as cars, buses, trucks, mopeds, taxis negotiate the space with little regard to what we think of as the rules. Everyone just forces their way in to the space – often non-existent space – no-one indicates,  except occasionally at the last minute when they are about to stop in the middle of the road and all the passengers will pour out.

All I can say is thank goodness it’s slow moving. And that it’s not my commute.


Angels in lycra – an adventure in Turkey

The party was in full swing. The house was full of people. Music was blaring. Some enthusiastic revellers had got a fire going at the end of the garden.

We’d taken refuge in the workshop, hanging around the familiar tools and smells and mess of our day job.
The notes had done their rounds, the various members of the Broken Spoke and Agile Collective had all scribbled a goodbye/Good luck message. Now it was time to decide where to put them.
“In the front wheels. They’re bound to get a puncture within a few days”. Kiro mused.
“Won’t that adversely affect the integrity of the wheel?” Asked Sally.
“Nah” scoffed the mechanics in the room.
“Is Jamie going to approve of this? I’d hate us to be the cause of a bizarre misadventure somewhere out there…” Finn interjected.
“What could go wrong? It’s not like they would forget their spare inner tubes, would they?” Meike chuckled. Everyone nods in agreement.
So, with Caitlin and Linda causing a diversion involving mud, blood and bandages, we let down the tyres and slipped the notes in. We carefully pumped the tyres back up to the exact same pressure and scuttled back out to join the throng.

* 6 weeks later *

It has to be the bizzarest afternoon of our journey so far.

We find ourselves riding down the motorway hard shoulder in the dark. We have three lycra clad young men forming a protective guard around us, escorting us to a service station where we are told we can camp for the night.

How did we get here? Who are they?

Rewind five weeks, and we’re having our leaving party. We’ve invited our friends and colleagues. Everyone is having a good time. Someone decides it would be funny/ nice/ sweet to leave us a note somewhere we’ll find it on the journey. A note gets tucked inside the tyre of my front wheel.

Two weeks later a puncture happens and we find the note, though don’t immediately recognise it as such as its become sodden with tyre sealant. It is perhaps relevant that the puncture occurred in the exact same place that the note was found, so we can only assume that the two were related. However, the puncture was fixed, thanks dispatched and chuckles were shared and on we went…

A few days ago we pumped up my tyre having noticed it had lost some pressure. The following day, on loading up the bike we discovered it had gone flat again.
Right – off it comes to investigate the cause. The patch had failed. Jamie scraped away the old patch best he could and mended it, telling me all the while about the time he fixed a puncture with nothing but a knife and some tree sap. Puncture mended, away we go.

A few hours and another country later we are flying down a  sizable hill about 30km north of Edirne. My bike starts to wobble. Oh dear, I think, that’s not good. The wobble gets worse. Oh dear… Oh Shit…
“JAMIE!” I yell, pulling on the brakes, fairly certain that if I pull too hard chaos will ensue.
I manage to stop without careering off the road and look up to see Jamie enjoying the descent in the distance. He’s not going to be impressed that he has to come back up, but there’s not much to be done, he has the repair kit. And my front tyre is very flat.

Eventually he notices the lack of me behind him and in the distance I see him turn and stop. Even at this distance I can tell he’s not impressed.

It is swelteringly hot by now.

Jamie repairs the puncture again, twice.
Why haven’t we just swapped the inner tube you may ask? Because the spare inner tubes appear to be in the UK. Or somewhere that isn’t here, as we discover when we take EVERYTHING out of our panniers to find them.

There’s a bike shop in Edirne, we know because we checked for the nearest when we fixed it in Bulgaria this morning. So we just need to get there, before it closes.

We carefully ride the 30km to Edirne, seriously hot and out of water. We have no money yet nor mobile data. We’re hot and bothered and a little cross. We encounter Turkish drivers properly for the first time which doesn’t help anyone’s state of mind.

However, we get money, find water, have an icecream and sit in the shade for long enough to restore our bright and cheerful dispositions then hunt down the nearest bike shop. It’s a lovely establishment, nuzzled between a couple of kebab shops. Unfortunately they don’t have the right kind of inner tube.

But, on the plus side, there’s kebabs to be had. Kebabs were had.

On to the other bike shop.
It is shut, despite Google’s assurances that it was open till 9pm.
We sat on the steps and waited.
We sent a couple of messages to warm showers hosts.
A woman and her son turned up wheeling a bike. Realising it was shut she made a call. They sat for a while, then wandered off.
We waited a little longer.

A kid rolled up on a road bike, clad in vibrant blue lycra.
“It’s shut” we told him.
He flipped out his phone and started chatting away in Turkish and we carried on waiting.
A moment later he handed the phone to me.
The man on the phone explained to me that the bike shop owner was in Bulgaria till Sunday. He said he knew of a campsite we could stay at for free. I said that would be great, but that really we were looking for some parts.

“Give me the kid”.
I gave the phone back to the kid, who received some instructions then announced “I’ll take you to the campsite, just wait a minute for my friend'”
We wait.
The phone rings again. Fatih, as we discover he’s called, answers. It’s handed back to me.

“Ok, I called my friend at the campsite, that’s ok. Now what do you need to fix your bike?”
I explain.

“Ok,  give me the kid”.
Fatih receives more instructions.
His mate arrives on a fast looking road bike, in the Edirne road-cycling team strip. He introduces himself as Ömer. I’d guess he and Fatih are about 15.

“Ok, we go to a shop”, Fatih announces.

We mount up and follow Fatih back in to town. Ömer takes a protective position beside us,  sitting between us and the traffic.

They are clearly used to riding in a group, though Fatih is called back by Ömer when he takes off up the hill at speed, forgetting for a moment that he’s escorting two old heavy weary cycle tourists.

We pull up to another bike shop and are met by another member of the cycling club, Mert, and the lovely bike shop owner Mahmoud. Mahmoud and Jamie go into the depths of the shop and a little while later Jamie returns saying he’s got one inner tube and there are two more coming.

“Coming how?”
Jamie shrugs.

Our party grows as Mert joins the fun. We set off back across the city again. The streets are busy,  and the guys have us surrounded now. When a gap opens between me and Jamie the boys stretch their protective bubble around us like pros. We stop for the lights.
“Drivers are idiots” Mert explains. “He’s an idiot, he’s an idiot. He’s an idiot.”

Suddenly we pull in to a bus stop. I have no idea what’s going on but the guys seem comfortable. I ask Jamie. He has no idea either.

A man appears and hands us some inner tubes. He smiles and pats us on the back, exchanges a few words with the boys and then waves and disappears.

I ask the boys if they are sure they are ok coming to the campsite. We can find it,  I explain. They look non-plussed. Ok, let’s go.

Ömer takes the lead, I pull out to follow and  oops, I’m on the floor, bike on top of me, foot awkwardly still clipped in. I’m fine, just a bit surprised and feeling a bit embarrassed. Though not very. Maybe I’m too tired to have pride left to be damaged.  I can tell without looking my tyre is flat again, it felt like it just rolled under me.

It’s not completely flat, we decide to just pump it up and hope. It’s dark now and surely these guys have a better way to spend their Friday night.

They look worried, so I make them laugh by showing a few of my other way wounds. I’m not sure this puts them at ease.

We try again. If anything they are even more protective now. Ömer keeps a very steady pace, and gestures at me to slow down when I try to up the pace a bit.
We cycle through the dark, keeping to the hard shoulder of the duel carriage. It’s a busy road, but they show us that in Turkey you just need to own the space.

A little part of my mind wonders what we are doing. We don’t know these guys and we are cycling in to the darkness with them. But really I know it’s fine. I trust them. I feel a strange mixture of protective of and protected by them.

Eventually we pull in to a shell garage, and we see one of the garage attendants face light up. We’re here.

The boys hang around for long enough to see that we’re ok. We exchange stories and contact details and we try to thank them. They laugh us off.

They take their leave of us, I think keen to ride at a pace more suited to a road bike.
I’m sorry they aren’t coming further with us.

Erdem treats us like honoured guests. He shows us where we can camp, he helps us set up our tent. Once we’re set up he takes us through the back of the shop and shows us the shower.
When I come back through I notice he’s pinned up paper on the glass window so that no-one might see me passing in my towel.

He ushers me to a chair behind the office desk and carefully lays out paper towels on the desk as a tablecloth. He soon lays it a feast for us – çorba, yoghurt, bread, tomato stew, borek. We eat till we’re stuffed.
All the while Erdem is asking us questions about or trip and our life, using Google translate’s speaking function. Sometimes with entertaining results.
He shows us photos of his life, family and adventures. He shows us other people who’ve been to his cycle friendly petrol station, of which he is so proud. He is really keen to help any cyclists and asks us to share in with our friends.
He gives us advice on our route, and advises us not to take the back roads through the villages, as ” the village roads are made of tea”, a phrase I suspect will be a running theme for some time to come.

Eventually we call it a night and crawl into our tent.

We’re a bit shell-shocked by the whole thing. Such generosity shown, and such willingness to help total strangers. I don’t know how many people were involved in the whole operation, 8 at the least but possibly more. We are humbled by it.

The following morning, after a fitful night’s sleep caused by an overenthusiatic cockrel,  the petrol station owner’s daughter stops by to say hello. Sarah is half Turkish half Mancunian, she received a phone call late the previous night from Erdem excited to tell her that some of her people were here. I told her the story of yesterday’s adventure and how touched we were by the kindness we received.

“That’s not so unusual”, she laughed, “this sort of thing often happens in Turkey “.

Bulgarian climbs

The absolute highlight of Bulgaria was the beautiful climb from Velinko Taverno over the mountains, riding south towards the border with Turkey.

Apprehensive of climbing in the heat of the day we managed to start early, setting off by 9. Climbing up out of the town was hard enough, legs not warmed up and the road surfaces all over the place. Town planners had decided to resurface all the roads all at once it seems.

Afterward a few km on the main road, the climb started proper, winding up though the trees. We crept up slowly, not really getting faster than 9km/hour – my phone chirping every time we went over 10 km/hour as the dynamo would give enough power to start charging.

There were a few steep sections but mostly we just able to spin up, slowly but not out of breath.

We made the first summit in time for second breakfast, and sat on a meadow looking down across the valley to the lake. The sun was warm but not so warm to make us seek shade.

We started the big climb.
Slowly, slowly spinning up. The trees were glorious. The road quiet.

At 1 or so we break for lunch, a bench under a shady tree on the edge of a field. Not far from the road but it will do.
We cook lunch together, then take turns to have a bit of shut eye. A cup of tea, and then off we go again.

It’s hot. We’ve kept out of the sun for the hottest bit of the day, but the heat coming off the road is intense. But the mountain is closing in around us and the road is switching direction back and forth. The trees give occasional relief, and then moments of blissful cool as we pass under rock faces that have shaded the road all year.

The heat doesn’t last too long, we keep going up and the worst of the heat subsides. Up and up we go. Stopping to refill water at springs built at the side of the road.

A vista opens up and we take a detour to another meadow overlooking miles and miles of forested mountains. As far as you can see the hills rise and fall, greens turn to blues as they greet further and further. It’s heartwrenchingly beautiful.

It’s hard to leave, but there’s more mountain to climb.

The switchbacks start, climbing up them like a staircase, the mountain side is steep you can look down and count the levels we’ve climbed below. The road itself though never gets too steep.
As we near the top you can feel the difference in the trees, the sky opens up, there’s more space and suddenly there it is, the trees part and you are flooded with sunshine.

My hair stands up as the sunlight hit. I am so lucky to look at the world like this. We stand and soak it up for a while, the view is spectacular. I am flooded with appreciation for it all.

The last little climb and then we begin the descent. It’s cold coming down, envigourating though. The different pace shocks the system. Suddenly it’s all about the ride. There’s no more time to appreciate the wildflowers and the caterpillar crossing the road, listen too the birds or notice the patterns that the shadows of the leaves make on the road, or the changing quality of light as the day draws on. The descent is fast, your attention is focused on the road, the surface, the bend ahead. stay alert. Try to relax. It’s late now though, unwise to try the full descent, so we pull off the road and find a little quiet spot to lay our heads.