These days are just getting more and more extreme. We woke up with snow covering the tents, and finished the night being warned to move on by the local police, as there were bears in the area.
I was awake by 630 and brushing the snow off the tent by 7. It was a really cold start to the morning, and by 745 we were cycling, hoping to warm up quickly. I needed a quick bathroom break, so spying the first service station I hopped over to the other side of the road and waited for Ryan to arrive. While I waited, a wee puppy came running over to me and obviously, I started to cuddle him. By the time Ryan pulled up we were best friends. I jumped into the bathroom, and as soon as I came out started playing with the pup again. The man in the station called me over (I thought he was going to tell me the dog had fleas or something) and presented me with a new pair of trousers. My old pair that I picked up in a Decathlon in Italy had acquired a hole from the sharp rocks of Cappadocia, and despite the best efforts of my friend Emma, the hole had got larger to the point where it stretched from my bum to my knee. They were far from ideal, but people generally got a laugh out of them. My brand new trousers, on the other hand, had no such hole and were a perfect fit. I was so happy at being able to throw away my old trousers I gave the two dogs (as another dog had turned up by this point) a piece of sausage each. This was to prove a bad move.
As we began to cycle away, the puppy realised that our bikes contained food. Considering he was hungry, his logical move was to follow the bikes until he got the food. However, this meant we had a small puppy running across a four lane road, trying to catch Ryan’s bike. As we’d already had a pretty uncomfortable incident involving a dog getting hit by a car earlier in the trip, we did not want a repeat. I picked up the wee puppy, Dumbass, and took a handful of crisps from Ryan. Running across the road, I dropped the crisps, then Dumbass, and pointed his nose in them. As soon as he began to eat, I sprinted back to my bike, jumped on and we were off as fast as we could. Once he was finished the crisps, I imagine he looked up to see us rapidly departing, a single doggy tear running down his face. This was not going to be our only strange encounter with dogs today.
The morning cycle didn’t prove arduous, but it was quite slow, and by 1230 we hadn’t covered much more than 50k. We had much bigger hills to climb ahead of us, so I wasn’t sure we would be able to get our 100 today. As we stopped to think about our options, we spotted a small, deserted canteen on the other side of the road. That looks cheap, we thought to ourselves, so headed over for some rice and chicken. 15TL later, a total rip-off, we were back on our bikes on the climb to Refahiye. There were some pretty substantial mountains standing between us and our destination, and it took us a good few hours to climb them. The gradients weren’t too hard, and there was no real wind to speak of, so it just turned into a few hours of pure slog. The landscape was beautiful, with sheer cliffs on either side and a small clear stream running alongside the road. At one point, I heard the barking of dogs in a small village and saw a fairly fierce looking animal run over to me. I stopped immediately, got off my bike and had a look at it. Here was the fearsome Anatolian sheepdogs we’d heard so much about! Standing taller than an Alsatian, with a collar studded with lethally sharp spikes, these dogs were pretty scary looking. Obviously, they turned out to be absolute sweethearts, and I was soon scratching one of their noses while another one danced about just at the tip of my fingers. A third, I think their mum, looked on disapprovingly from a few metres away, and made no move to get involved. It’s funny that one of my biggest fears on the trip was the dogs, namely the Greek and Turkish sheepdogs, and since meeting them have realised that they’re all just cuddly big softies. Once I waved goodbye to the hounds, it was only another 4k of climbing to the top and once I finally managed to reach the summit, I realised that it was almost 2200m above sea level, and we’d climbed a pretty damn big mountain.
The descent was brilliant fun, and we were more than able to make up for our slow climbing. On the way down I was easily doing 50km/h, and passing lorries every so often – which was a great feeling. Far too soon, the road flattened out and I began to have to pedal a little to keep rolling. Almost as soon as I did, I saw another dog rush out from behind a building and make a beeline for me. I stopped the bike and tried to say hello, but it was far too shy and ran away. Thinking nothing more of it, I pedalled on and this dog started to follow me. 100m on, I stopped, put my bike against a tree and waited. It took a couple of minutes, but Galloper – the dog ran like a dumb horse – was soon nuzzled up against me, getting a good scratch, and I spent some time taking some burrs out of his fur. As I got back on the bike and started pedalling on, it became clear that Gall had decided to come along for the trip, and I cycled for a couple of kilometres with him by my side. It was one of the weirdest and nicest things that’s ever happened to me. He was a beautiful golden lab, a little bit bony due to lack of food, but a very sweet hound. Unfortunately, further down the valley, just after I’d introduced him to Ryan, some of the neighbourhood dogs took a dislike to him and chased him away. I was already dreaming of how I was going to take him with me to Georgia and onwards before the issue disappeared in a chorus of barks.
As the sun started to set, I began to search round for a decent looking campsite, and finding one – a nice southernly facing slope – we began to pedal over to it. Just before we put foot to pedal however, the local Jandirma rolled up, and in broken French, English and Turkish, managed to explain to us that there were reports of bears in the area and we should move to the nearby town of Refahiye. I wasn’t sure how seriously to take this man, but considering the other Jandirma had a rifle and was scanning the treeline, decided that it was probably prudent advice to take.
Where was I before I was interrupted by the Turkish military? Ah yes, bears.
Well, we moved on until we found a petrol station on the other side of some annoyingly big hills and stopped to wolf down as much food as we could get for twenty lira then tried to camp round the back of the station. The local dogs took offence to this, and barked us out of their turf. 200m down the road we found a nice enough spot in among some trees, set up camp and I started typing this up. That is when, of course, I saw the flashing of lights on the tent, then just as I called out ‘Ryan…’. I heard the call of ‘Soldier! Passport!’. I pulled myself out of my tent, handed over my passport and within a minute or two we were told to move on. Five kilometres. Five kilometres. Domus. Okay, we say, thankyou.
So here we are, 830 at night, the snow is falling quite heavily and we’re cycling through the dark trying to find a campsite after five kilometres. It’s pretty hard to find a good spot when it’s light, but when it’s dark and snowing, even worse. Add in that it’s all hills, so we’re climbing up and down these hills, in heavy snow in the dark trying to find a place to sleep. It was not an enjoyable experience.
We get to Refahiye after a number of false starts on the camping, and see the sign for hotel, but on enquiring it’s 150TL a night, so no chance. We decide to camp up in a snow-covered field and I pray we don’t get moved on again. It’s now 1045, way past my bedtime and I really would like a sleep. It’s cold tonight, especially bad as the tent is on fresh snow. Bundling up nice and warm, and hope it’s not too bad.