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Unexpected Obstacles Keep Me Going

January 4, 2010


Happy New Year to all readers. I have just woken up in the ‘don’t bother ever coming here’ town of Yunak – altitude 1,300 metres – on the Western Anatolian plateau. A thick layer of snow is being shovelled to the side of the road by hordes of mustachioed fag puffing spade weilders, so I have decided to see what the weather does today before I continue east. If you’re bored at work, take a look at a map of Western Turkey and point at the most deserted part. I am on the western edge of that area now, and it only gets wilder from here, so I’m applying some caution. Three days ago I wore shorts and a t-shirt and my nose got burnt while pedalling out of Eskisehir, so the cold snap has come as a surprise. But it does give me time to reflect on 2009, the festive period and the exciting year ahead.
2009 was a big year for me. It was the year that I managed to realise my dream of trying to cycle to Australia. There is a long way to go before I reach Brisbane, but I am proud of what I have achived in the past twelve months. I would be interested to hear your New Year’s resolutions. Mine, perhaps predictably, is to reach Brisbane in time to see England do to Australia on the cricket field what they are doing to South Africa at the moment (embarrassing them). Reaching Brisbane is by no means a foregone conclusion. Plenty of obstacles await, and I must keep my eye on the prize if I am to make it in time. The Sahara, African and Asian bureaucracy, a couple of oceans and 20,000 kms of saddle time are fair obstacles, but it was another obstacle that halted my progress over New Year.
On 27 December I rolled into Eskisehir, a modern, bustling, relatively liberal student town built on the remains of a Greco-Roman city (I wonder if the Greeks/ Romans liked the local börek as much as me?) Anyway, I was met by my two hosts, Gözde and Deniz at a cafe in town.

Gözde, bike and Deniz


I planned to leave the next morning, but ended up staying for 5 days. While I was there recovering from a nasty cold, introducing the girls to Flight of the Conchords  and cricket (they liked FoC more), and trying to get them to understand my ‘strange British English accent,’ I received an email from my aunt with 50 great and thought provoking travel quotes. In one of them, Tim Cahill muses that ‘a journey is best measured in friends rather than miles.’ I can’t help but think that, although I doubt if young Tim was cycling to Australia in time for The Ashes when he penned it, he is in fact spot on. When I left England I was obsessed with how many miles I covered each day. I still have both eyes on the odometer, but I realise now that it is friends back home with their generous encouragement, and the friends I make on the way who challenge my preconceptions, who will carry me all the way to The Gabba in Brisbane. I called this cycle ride ‘solo and unsupported’ when I was marketing it, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Gözde told me about her first couchsurfing experience, when she went to Amsterdam and stayed with a Dutch man she had never met. Upon arrival, he gave her the key to his house and told her he was off to another city to visit his mother. Gözde and Deniz welcomed me with the same spirit while I was their guest and I am very grateful to them. I tried to repay them by cooking a Shepherds’ Pie one evening, but I served up a horrid mashed potato and mince mess after realising they didnt have an oven. It made for a below-par introduction to British cuisine for them, which was a shame.
After a relaxed night in on New Year’s Eve watching Attenborough, I left on the first day of 2010 to pedal east. I was sad to leave my new friends, but hopeful that I will see them again one day soon.  Since then it has been an introduction to the vastness of Turkey.


One minute I am sporting t-shirt and shorts, the next a balaclava and gloves. Nature rules, and and it can be humbling. After my first day back in the saddle I pitched the tent in the middle of a field, watched the sun set and cooked rice outside whilst writing my diary.

The Cimen Family - delightful hosts!


The next day I took shelter with Ercan Cimen and his family, who fed me delicious home-reared lamb, chai and an abominable soup that I lapped up while doing my best to hide severe disconent. I was very grateful though, as a ferocious storm was raging outside. I left shortly before nightfall as the skies cleared for a while. There are plenty of deserted, windowless buildings in Turkey, and I found one beside the road that evening, pitching the tent in a sheltered corner as another storm swept in and continued all night. I wasn’t alone though. Rats scurried about, no doubt sniffing my cookies.  

A good night's sleep


And then yesterday – perhaps the best day on the bike so far. Awesome is the only word to describe the dramatic sky and the vast sugar cane fields flanked by 2,500 metre peaks. I ended the day in Yunak, and I felt like a eunuch after the 2 hour climb in the pitch black and pouring rain to get there. I did’t see a car the whole time, I had Billie Holliday for company and I really enjoyed it, especially the 4km descent into town. In Yunak I found a hotel for 8 TL (£3.50) a night, but after pleading with the shower head for half an hour was disappointed to learn that there was no hot water. There was a comfy bed though and that was enough. As long as the snow holds off tonight I will be back on the bike tomorrow. I’m prepared for more vast landscapes, more Billie Holiday and possibly more snow.
I leave you with another quote I like. I will bear it in mind as I travel into the unknown in 2010:
‘When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.’
Clifton Fadiman
If you enjoyed this blog then please subscribe here. Join my facebook group here. Subscribe to my ‘tweets’ here. And please donate to my chosen charities on my website. Please also bear in mind that as I travel further away from Europe it is becoming more difficult to respond quickly to emails. I love getting them though so keep them cming, it just may take longer for me to get back to you! Ta. Bye.
16 Comments leave one →
  1. January 4, 2010 4:29 pm

    Can’t believe you were served bad soup by a Turkish family. The Turks are the champions of soup making! Weather sounds pretty grim for you now. Take care.

  2. Annie permalink
    January 4, 2010 4:36 pm

    “No one realises how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” – Lin Yutang

    Enjoy every moment pops, England can wait for your return (although Mum & Dad – I’m not so sure they can!)

    Glad you’re back to health and on the move. Love xxx

  3. January 4, 2010 5:59 pm

    hey maaan 🙂 you know that we are following you . and i like the qoute ;

    ‘a journey is best measured in friends rather than miles.’

  4. January 4, 2010 6:00 pm

    heey you forgot to sign out ?? 🙂 sorry , i wrote to you with your account , i got it now . i am signing out now 🙂

    deniz 🙂

  5. Dad permalink
    January 4, 2010 7:01 pm

    I can also pass on a quote that I know inspires you: “Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail” Emerson

    Our thanks to the lovely Gozde and Deniz for taking you in – you seem to be lucky with your choice of hosts – long may it last!

    Take care and enjoy. xx

  6. January 5, 2010 9:47 am

    I hope the tremendous guilt that goes with letting you down with regard to my Istanbul connection goes soon, as I love reading about your journey but still cringe a little. It sounds like youre doing fabulously well, and thanks for the link to my photography website.

    Should you find yourself twiddling your fingers someplace due to snow, ummm the site linked to is my old photography site. This is the new one: (How ungrateful does that make me?)

    Travel safe and thanks for posting the quotes. We have snow here in Belgium and I’m back in Berlin Sunday … to more snow. Ready for summer now.

  7. kate redman permalink
    January 5, 2010 10:23 am

    It always amazes me that anyone could not enjoy traveling. I agree it’s a different mode when you’re couch surfing, than bedding down to fit in with that culture. I’m assuming you don’t have that sort of time on your hands. But, whichever way, you must be learning a shed load about other people and places. I wonder, will London be small to you when you get back? We’ll probably be chasing your tail-light for quite some time, I imagine.
    Keep up the good work and all our love for 2010! You leaving from Lords feels a lightyear away – quite nice, in some way, for you to have left it behind in another decade. (in case you didn’t feel the journey was long enough already!)

  8. Max Southall permalink
    January 5, 2010 10:54 am

    You old battleaxe – you’re blog updates are giving thousands of people cheer oli broom stick at it as you peddle on. Forgive the weakness of this chat too but I think you’re in for a book writing career when you return, I cant wait to read each update, it beats H Potter hands down. Keep going pal and really look forward to witness the progress this year ! Maxwell

  9. January 5, 2010 11:07 am

    I’m going to send you a book of 50 synonyms for awesome (after giving it a thorough read myself)!

    Amazing that Tim Cahill finds time to be a provider of profound travel quotes in between lung-busting bursts of midfield goal-getting…

    Hang in there…

  10. Rhino Rob permalink
    January 5, 2010 11:51 am

    Hi Oli,

    Great blog, love the quotes – especially about measuring your journey in friends. Keep going through that vast landscape, really like the look of the route you have planned. What a dream to fulfill.

    Take Care

  11. Chris A permalink
    January 5, 2010 12:23 pm

    Here’s a quote for you, but I’m not sure it fits in with the ethos of the other quotes…

    “I’m beginning to think the only place actually ever worth going to is Bristol. Everywhere else is populated by savages.”

    It wasn’t penned by a Greek philosopher or in fact by anyone of any intelligence, but by my mate Ben when he was trying and failing to find a pub in Cornwall that was showing the Autumn International rugby games in November.

    Anyway, happy new year, good luck and keep up the brilliant blogs. There’s loads of people following you back here and we’re all sending our best wishes!

    P.S. You might want to amend the bit about England ambarassing South Africa!

  12. January 5, 2010 3:59 pm

    Once again I finish reading your latest blog and feel just as I do when I have just finished a good book – a little lost and awaiting news of the new title from the same author!

    Glad you liked the quotes. One of my favourites is on the sames lines as the final one you picked –

    “There are no foreign lands. It is the traveller only who is foreign.” by Robert Louis Stevenson.

    But it is obvious from the blog that you have great respect for the people you are meeting, however they live. Except perhaps the lorry drivers!

    love Viv x

  13. George Calvo permalink
    January 5, 2010 4:22 pm

    Chin up through bandit country and don’t let the buggers get you down – the Greeks would have found a lovely Kleftiko to replace the filthy soup but no matter, every day brings the border closer! Keep up the good work and the eloquent writing.

  14. stuart Sandy permalink
    January 5, 2010 10:33 pm

    Hope you havent got as much snow as has just arrived here,it will give a whole new meaning to the quote “leave only footprints,(bike tracks) take only memories( photogrphs). Hope your snow tyres work!! LOL S and S

  15. Marian permalink
    January 6, 2010 9:08 am

    Truly inspiring blog as always. Sitting here watching the snow falling and hoping you haven’t got as much as us. You are constantly in our thoughts. Stay safe.

    L of l Marian x x x

  16. James Taylor permalink
    January 6, 2010 6:30 pm

    great blogging oli.
    happy new year to you too and we all look forward to your blog updates.
    you seem very adept at sourcing hosts/hostesses. well done. jt

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