Troubled skies

A storm was coming. The darkest yet and I was riding into the heart of it. Three weeks had passed whilst I’d lay dormant, moving only sixty kilometres between two towns. Epic clouds formed across the skies the day I rode from Komotini. A more wishful person may have seen something in those skies, they were so unusual, swirling around me like a halo. I have never seen formations like it before, with a small patch of blue directly above.

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Rainbows followed and, later that evening, long past sunset, I reached a campsite, by the sea. Completely empty, though open. and pitched up amongst piles of fallen, wet leaves. I was glad to be back on the road.

Civilization seemed to vanish once I’d passed through the last Greek city Alexandria. Just farm houses and motorways and fieldless lands, muddy and wet and barren between it and the Turkish border. I reached the crossing late in the night, cold and covered in dirt. I pushed my bike through all six rigorous checkpoints, buying my first visa of the trip so far. There were no smiles. No friendly welcomes. Just stiff-jawed, grim-faced border patrol officers. In all it took an hour to get through, though I was the only person there beside truckers.

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On the other side, and not only of the border but the great river that divided Greece and Turkey, a river which was apparently full of dead immigrants who’d tried to swim across it, the land was desolate. Even in the dark of night I could make out the change, larger open spaces, longer, straighter roads, less populated. I found a hotel on the other side of that river in a random border town and, on the fourth floor of the rundown building, I crawled into bed and pulled the blankets around me. The wind howled. The rain began to fall. The final storm had arrived.

The streets were flooded. Rainwater gushed between them far below my hotel room. Everything grey. The sky. The buildings. The walls around me. I sat and watched raindrops beat the window pane, driven by the howling wind.

I was stuck up in the hotel, locked away, unable to cycle for a couple of days. Eating bread. Drinking some Turkish cola drink. Just staying warm and dry. I’d entered the town and the country in darkness. I had no real sense of position or place. The name of the hotel and the town I never knew. From the apartment window, only fog could be seen beyond the fields and through the rain. I had no idea what was out there.

The storm dried out, but the wind increased. I rode into that wind the next day. Wrapped up in thermals, hood down. It was icy, biting and my bike was getting blown about the road like a carrier bag. I could manage only forty kilometres in ten long hours, battered by the gales along straight roads and barren landscapes dotted with only small, clay house villages. It was far more basic than I had imagined. The petrol stations of Turkey helped me along the road, always with cafe’s selling cheap bean dishes or soup and bread.

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It was a day before Christmas Eve and, in a quiet pine forest, icy and layered with white frost, my first days ride in Turkey came to a close. There, I thought of England. I had cycled so far and yet the world around me looked like it could have been any English winter forest. The trees creaked and cracked as the wind brushed across their peaks. On the ground all was still and the final storm of Europe was passing.

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