March 19

Last day before Trabzon, and our last day in serious mountains for a long time, probably until the Pamirs.  Woke up at 630 to a cloudless sky, and so we spent some time drying our tents and sleeping bags, heading off down the valley at 830.  Almost as soon as I set off, I was called over by a group of men outside a building.  They were, as normal, intrigued as to what I was doing, so I drank a few glasses of cey with them and tried my best to explain myself.  The funniest part was when the Syrian man asked me if I intended to visit his homeland.  Before I could say, not right now, he mimicked a gun and told me it was a bad idea. I agreed with him, much to everyone’s satisfaction.  Leaving the guys, it was all downhill to Kelkit, on good roads, so we were there in no time at all, and riding through I spotted a nice bakery so jumped in – the guy gave me an enormous loaf of fresh bread and a small loaf of sweetbread for free, so happy.

Coming out of Kelkit, I was climbing for about two hours before I saw two old men by the side of the road.  One was chopping branches, and the other sipping cey, of course.  They motioned me over, and plied me with cey, and I gave them the usual half-english/half-sign language spiel about what I was doing, who the other guy cycling up is, am I a photographer, am I writing a book, do I have a wife etc.  They seemed satisfied with the answers, so after I was done with my cey, I jumped back on the bike, and had one of the most enjoyable downhill rides of the entire trip. 

The first part, with 10% declines, was pretty hairy, and I spent most of the time on the brakes, but once it flattened out a bitI was in heaven.  The sun was shining, there was no wind, and the roads were good.  The landscape opened up as we sped through – tiny little valleys with plot after plot running alongside streams and people waving to us as we went past.

We were in Gumushane very quickly, so we stopped to get some lunch and top up on our internet fix.  I had two chicken durum, a cey and an ayran, all for the princely sum of 5tl – almost £1.20.  This was cause enough for celebration, but just as we were leaving, someone asked to take a selfie with us (I think in case it later transpired we were famous) and soon everyone and their friend wanted to jump in for this uber-selfie.

The road to Torul was again all downhill, with lots of new construction, especially roads and tunnels.  The roads were in great condition, but some of the tunnels were less than finished.  It’s a pretty nerve-wracking experience hurtling down a mountain at 40km/h to be plunged into a tunnel in complete darkness and have to rely on the headlights of passing cars to make sure you know where to turn.  I was able to regain control of my nervous system on the other side and quickly put my front light on and got through the rest without a taste of my own mortality. 

Once we finally arrived at the bottom, we quickly took a side road to get us off the main motorway.  As the night got colder, I thought it was the perfect place for our first campfire, and showed Ryan the rudiments of how to light a fire in the wild.  It was nice, sitting under the stars by an open fire, just gently enjoying our existence. 

Our road will take us to Zigana, a little village in the mountains with a famous monastery and should allow us to have a more relaxed ride over the mountains,  Tomorrow will be a hell of a climb, probably the worst we’ve had so far, but we’ve got all day so there’s no rush.  Plan is to meet our friend Isil in Trabzon tomorrow at 6pm, and we should be there by 2 or 3.  It’s going to be nice to be down at sea level again after so long spent 1000m high, and I hope it’ll be warm down there.  It’s sad that our Turkish adventure is coming to an end, but next we’ve got the Caucasus!

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