I stared through the trees. Sunlight twinkled between the green summer leaves, from side to side, as my hammock swung gently against the warm breeze of the forest. I’d stumbled across an abandoned woodland park near Lake Sapanca, four days from Istanbul on the first bright days cycle that year.
My rides had been growing shorter. My focus wavering in the constant rains and I felt overwhelmed, hesitant. Each day I rode out with a vengeance only to stop after an hour and sit by the road or ponder the journey ahead in some lay-by cafe. I was just delaying the inevitable.
It was as if I were on a great cliff, looking down over a beautiful new world, unseen and undiscovered lands spread out far below – deserts and mountains, sand and snow. From the hammock in this English feeling forest I just wanted five minutes longer to ready myself for the jump.
Turkey moved quickly from forests in the west to open country and windswept, mountainess farmlands in it’s centre. A week from Sapanca, on the morning I’d woke in the bed of that roadside restaurant, I found myself cycling through scorching sidewinds that rushed in from the open fields, slicing the highway as I pressed on along shimmering tarmac towards an uninspired horizon.
Stunning pastures spread out from the road like green deserts and it was impossible to tell if you were moving fast or covering distance. The overwhelming feelings I’d been having multiplied in a matter of hours on this day, to the point where I could barely cycle a kilometre without stopping. I was out of my depth. I’d only been riding two weeks out of Istanbul. I wanted to hitch a lift – that’s all I could remember thinking. Let’s jump a truck. The urge became so strong that I refused to cycle at all and pulled into a petrol station to see if stopping lorries would take me onwards.
There, in the station office, I met a man. He spoke little english but gave me food and tried to help me get on a truck. After three hours I was still sat there, waiting. With only one week left to reach the border I was beginning to panic over distances. I was frustrated that I had stayed so long in Istanbul and now the road just seemed too long and I couldn’t seem to find the drive. Perhaps I couldn’t even do this journey. Perhaps I just wasn’t strong enough. The man kept saying a word to me in some Turkish dialect. Over and over, pointing at me as he said it. Kahraman. He typed into the keyboard of his computer, struck his finger in the air and announced proudly in English… You are Hero. You are Adventurer!
He was smiling at me – amazed at my journey. A proud look on his face. Almost in awe. Kahraman! I remember the word to this day and it dawned on me then… this was no simple bike ride, this was an epic adventure. There would be no more hostels. No more beaches by the coast. No more bumping into travellers each day. This was a journey full of long, empty roads and vast hillsides through prehistoric wastelands. I had always imagined it to be that way. Only I’d forgotten that this day would come.
Three hours of dusty orange roads later I was surrounded by mountains, the rain lashing down once more and lightning whipping the skies above me. I was soaked to the bone, hungry and had finally decided that I I couldn’t make the border in time. A light appeared through the night storm. A gas station at the base of a dark rise. I pulled in. A bus followed shortly after and before I knew my bike was stuffed into the undercarriage and I was staring into the storm from one of the seat windows, headed over the mountains to reach Sampson.
I’d cracked, for a brief second, but I’d bought myself some time. The bus had only taken me seventy kilometres further along and, when it dumped me on the outskirts of the city at two in the morning, I still had to wild camp behind a shopping mall. I felt like I could now make it though. I’d needed that bus ride. I’d been called an adventurer and then got on a bus in reaction! But in those couple of hours, listening to music in that warm chair, I breathed one final time.
In the morning I was on the Black Coast. It was the National Day of Turkey. I was 700km from Trabzon, an Iranian Visa application form and the entrance into the Middle East. I knew what I wanted I. I wanted to eat nothing, sleep nowhere, cover vast distances, cross through complete emptiness, just cycling, just getting there, across deserts and mountains, not showering, no maps, into the wild and out the other side. Not a tourist. Not even a photographer. I wanted to become the Kahraman. From Sampson I flew, faster and stronger than ever before.