After we visited Cappadoccia there was a heat wave all over Turkey, and during a 400 meter climb the thermometer hit 40 degrees. With no wind and a heavy incline Thea almost collapsed from the heat. She’s always unwilling to stop and rest in uphills, nor places in where there is no shade (that would be reoccurring stupid stubbornness). So she pushed all the way to the top and flopped on the ground like a pancake to rest under the shade of the only one tree that existed there. We camped early this day as there didn’t seem to be any possible areas to camp close to the upcoming city of Kayseri which is a very large one.
At this camp spot we were introduced to the damned insects, earwigs, which would enter every possible nook and cranny of our belongings during the night. Every morning all the way to Iran we’d have to empty our panniers of at least fifty to twenty of them, sometimes more. They like the creases of the folded top of the bags, the buckles, being inside the tent poles, inside the tent, inside every thinkable hole in our bicycles. Basically they were everywhere – not dangerous in any way, just a nuisance. We probably still have some dead earwigs in our bags as of today..
When passing through Kayseri, on the highway, we were stopped by some emergency ambulance workers asking if we wanted çay. Of course we did. We never say no to çay! We had actually planned to have lunch right next to the place we were stopped by the ambulance. Five minutes later they’d order takeaway from the local kebab place, treating us to it in their kitchen of the emergency station.
They knew a little English, but usually relied on google translate to converse, which we’d gotten used to by now. It works really well and is pretty funny, because you have this silent conversation and every now and then you break out in laughter or make a facial expression before concentrating on writing the next sentence in silence on your phone. They showed us some historical places on the map along our way and a good place to camp which we set as our goal for the night.
The following days we were rather bored of cycling the easy, closest highway to Erzurum, but taking another one would double the amount of climbing upwards of 28000 height meters. We opted to take the originally planned shortest route with very good road conditions.
It later turned more and more scenic once we got closer to the bigger mountains so it was finally getting more interesting. Things were turning more lush and green, mountain tops were stretching above 3000 meters and everywhere you looked was just serene.
The Anatolian plateau is definitively amazing for touring and there is three mountain passes above 2000 meters towards Erzurum. They are all different in their own aspects, and the inclines aren’t very bad so you don’t really get exhausted. It felt like a great accomplishment to have cycled the first pass up to 2190 meters! Due to the elevation it’s often colder, and we actually were wearing sweaters and jackets for the first time in maybe two months. It was 10 degrees at the top, icy winds and light rain when we reached the top. There we met some very friendly guys from the Turkish ministry of roads at the top of the pass and they invited us to their workplace for lunch and endless amount of çay. They mentioned the temperature drops to minus 50 in the winter there, so we were glad not to be there in winter. It was a nice break from the icy winds and they had an electric heater going on full blast, which they faced towards the sofa we were sitting in.
After parting with them we had a long 10 km descent from 2190m all the way down to 1400m, and the icy winds froze our fingers numb and cold. Such a weird feeling after having worn t-shirt and shorts since the beginning of Bulgaria.
The following morning, just before starting the second 2000m mountain pass, we stopped at a gas station for çay and snacks. They had this cozy green area/garden next to it – complete with tables, chairs, turkeys and chickens strutting about. A man rolled up in his car and sat down next to Daniel and asked if he was from Norway. Nope, but Sweden. This man was from Moss, just across the fjord of our city where we previously lived in Norway. He had lived there for forty years. He’d actually seen us cycling through Kayseri with our flags hanging on the back of our bikes, four days earlier but was unable to stop on the highway. We were treated with tea and he left us pondering how the world can be so small.
In the second pass we were invited for tea again by the road workers. We sometimes wonder if they ever work or if they just drink tea all day long. The descent of the second pass was a super sweet constant 8% decline, with us reaching speeds that probably shouldn’t be cycled with such heavy side winds. At the bottom of it we stopped at a restaurant to treat ourselves to dinner after climbing this pass. Here we met a family from Kazakhstan who were on a car road trip through Turkey. He asked if we had a gun after we mentioned that we were going to Iran. We laughed and said no, as we thought it’s probably not the best idea to bring a gun when crossing country borders. He gave us one coin from Azerbaijan, Georgia and Kazakhstan for good luck.
In the third pass we officially had very tired bodies but still made it almost to the top, with only 250 meters left. From there it took us one more day to reach Erzurum and our AirBnb host Ghazale, who was actually from Iran so she could answer any questions we had about the country! She was super friendly and helped us with everything we asked for, and was currently living in Turkey to study dentistry.
We stayed 5 nights in Erzurum to get fully rested. It was a nice and cozy city that isn’t too big or hectic. We sorted our Iranian visas completely struggle free in about one hour at the embassy of Iran, and refuelled with some proper espressos and cappuccinos for the first time in many weeks. If it’s one thing we don’t care about the price of, it’s good coffee. We also got to meet some fellow cyclists that arrived two-three days later than us and had a dinner together. Super fun to talk about our experiences and things we all had come across through Turkey.
After Erzurum we had two more mountain passes do conquer before reaching the border of Iran. As we made our way towards the first one on a very hot day, the road quality abruptly deteriorated. Turns out there was going to be road construction for the next 20 km, all the way to the top. They had shredded the top asphalt layer completely and started putting tar on it. All the cars driving past this road had then brought the tar with their wheels all the way down the other side of the mountain pass!
This meant sluggish, sticky cycling, and our wheels collecting every single piece rock and gravel, regardless of size. At some point Thea lost all energy and had to push for the remaining bit. We didn’t realise that it was the start of a heat stroke that would get worse the day after. The descent however was one of the most beautiful places we saw in Turkey.
The next morning we only made it 5 km before Thea started feeling very bad again, we rested a lot and cycled only short stretches before we finally made it to a gas station with a picnic area where we would rest in the shade. They asked us if we wanted to camp and rest there for free, and we gladly accepted since Thea by now had a very high fever and muscle cramps. It was pretty clear by now that she had a heat stroke, so we pitched our tent just after lunch with an army of 40 clucking turkeys observing our every move.
Resting did away with the worst of the fever, but Thea still had almost no energy the next morning. She had also gotten stomach problems again which were quite bad and lasted well into Iran. Luckily the winds were on our side and we had strong tailwinds and relatively flat roads all the way to the final mountain pass in Turkey. With many breaks in the shade we finally made it to the top of it where our cyclist friends had stuck a motivational note at the sign!
We then descended, with a new record speed of 72.6 km/h, almost all the way to the Iranian border, where we would ask a picnic owner if we could camp on his land, just beneath Mt. Ararat – Turkeys highest mountain. This whole area was so beautiful and the soft warm light from the sunset just made everything perfect. It was no problem for them for us to camp there and we had some çay together before we collapsed in the tent.
On our finally day in Turkey we decided to wake up early so we wouldn’t have to wait too long at the border crossing in the heat. Thea now had to start abiding by the Iranian dress code for women – meaning she has to cover her body with long sleeved clothing, and her head with a scarf. So for the first time she cycled in her new outfit she had bought in Istanbul. It’s hot. After a rather dull stretch of road we made it to the border of Iran – the strange country we know little about, but we’d heard so much positive about from other travellers and cyclists. But more on that in the next post!