March 18

Physically challenging day today, but thankfully not nearly as crazy as yesterday.  Started off early, at 6am, after a relatively warm night’s sleep.  My trick is lay my towel on my mattress where my head will lay, then fold my sleeping bag under my head so that there is only one tiny area where air can come in – this is where my mouth is.  Maximum warmth and minimum drafts. 

Well, it worked well enough, and after a pretty brisk start to the day – read, it was freezing – we got on the bikes.  Almost as soon as I kicked off, the sun came out and warmed me up properly.  A few kilometres down the road, Ryan pulled into a service station where we bought some fruit and a bit of chocolate.  Just as we were about to leave, I checked to see if there was any wifi, and considering there was we had a couple of ceys as we got our internet fix. 

Soon enough we were back on the road, and within minutes of cycling, we saw a man stopped in front of us in a pure power stance.  As we cycled up, he pulled out a massive smile and gave us each and apple and some chewing gum to share.  He then grabbed a police cap out of his car (it transpired he was a cop) and handed it to me!  We thanked him profusely, but within 20seconds of us cycling on, he stopped us again to hand Ryan some prayer beads.  What a total dude.

Our first mountain of the day, between Refahiye and Erzincan was a little over 2000m.  It was quite a nice slow climb, so not too strenuous, but it took a bloody long time – by 1130 I was at the top, and as Ryan pedalled up join me, he was stopped by a man who, it turned out, worked the snowploughs.  He invited us into the team house, and gave us some cey, before inviting us to come and eat with them.  None of us spoke any mutual language, but we were able to make ourselves understood, and my enormous smile when I was handed a bowl of stew was enough to make them end themselves laughing.  Shaking hands and crying thank you, we headed back off down the mountain and by 1230 we were just outside Erzincan.  On our way to our next mountain, a man named Oran stopped his car in front of us, beeping wildly.  He was an Australian guy who owned a language school in Erzincan and was super friendly.  He gave us his card and told us to call him if anything went wrong, but so far so good! 

Our second mountain of the day, between Erzincan and Kelkit proved to be a much more difficult beast.  The gradients were much steeper, and the height we were climbing was a few hundred metres more, so it wasn’t until 430 that we got to the top, screaming blue murder at the sight of the marker.  The views were stunning, as we were high into the snow line, and we could see the entire valley that Erzincan sat in laid out before us.  Soon the winds had us freezing, so we set off down towards Kelkit, and with the mountains behind us, we made quick work of 25k, settling down in a nice little village and camping up for the night.  Tomorrow we’ll easily hit Gumushane, and then we have to figure out how we want to tackle the 2700m mountain that we need to cross to get to Trabzon.

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