Charity Rides, Europe, Touring, Turkey to England

Antalya to Manchester for ASOS! pt1; through Turkey and Bulgaria!

 

An amazing cause we can all get behind!

This is my second ever solo-tour, I’m doing it to help raise funds for an amazing cause! Animal SOS Sri Lanka is an incredible charity operating a huge dog sanctuary in South West Sri Lanka! They offer  safe home to over a thousand stray dogs, almost all of whom would have been considered a lost cause by anyone else. They arrive riddled with diseases or barely surviving road traffic accidents or unfathomable cruelty from the local people! All of the dogs (unless their condition does not permit) are free roaming and naturally organize into packs, this is an approach far better than most western dog sanctuaries where the dogs are kept separate to avoid any conflicts, but this way the dogs can have a much fuller life with the psychological security of belonging and functioning in packs. The managers live on site and provide medical assistance to the animals on a 24 hour basis! All the animals are fed a healthy diet prepared daily, a mammoth task you can only imagine the scale of! Please consider contributing something from the bottom of your penny jar or share the justgiving.org link below, it can make a huge difference for over a thousand dogs and over a hundred cats! Thanks for taking the time to read this!

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/turkey-to-england-by-bike-for-animal-sos

 

Turkey

This is by far the most welcoming country to tour in! Its straight up epic!

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I think on average i was fed by a stranger every other day. Getting free hot water at a petrol station is standard and that makes it really easy to stay in the saddle as long as you want! Hot water+teafilter+10minutes riding and boom! Roadside teabreak; hardly-justifiable caffeine hangup made mega cheap! Bringing an insulated flask on tour has proven to be the biggest hack so far!
Usually when you do the hotwater leeching you get offered some free Çay too, no, really. There also seems to be a 25% chance that the petrol station attendant will feed you cause ‘you must be hungry you nutter’. This was further made comical when i was asked my name as Ben in turkish means ‘I’, answering ‘Ben?’ And ‘Ben’ to the question interchanged meant that we were both laughing before the enquirer finally got that it’s actually my name. I guess this kind of thing is felt most universally if you use a shortened version of your name which will almost always be a root word in their language, a good way to give them a chance to direct the conversation differently than relying on questions (the usual boring touring questions), creating a great opening for talking about them and their culture instead of the fact that your foolishly pedaling further than advisable.


Now before you go cycling across the country beware that there is a massive east-west divide. The west is super welcoming of strangers and will make a real effort to have proper conversation (not the usual questions), they will still think your mad because of the distances but cycle touring is definitely a thing in Turkey. In the East there is much more rigidity and a strong sense a religious tradition-preservation, never fun for an atheist and riddled with  faux pas that can leave you embarrassed.
Ive met more cycle tourists here than anywhere else and they were ALL Turkish. Ranging from early twenties to mid seventies, some of them have been the most inspiring cycle tourists ive met and at the other end of the spectrum they get inspired by what your doing.

 


The food here generally isn’t vegan friendly, ive done my best to stay freegan throughout the tour with some minor and major slipups (the Plovdid hunkering-down; waiting for a rim was a dairy slipup I can’t deny).
Yet in Turkey I have learned a lot about nutrition and how best to stay fed with all your energy needs, protein and nutritional needs! (First shop on left vs how I’m filling the tank now.)

Some notes you might find interesting on stoveless freegan touring at the bottom of the post!

Turkeys massive cycling subculture meant that i had a chance to mingle with sone serious cyclists/caffein heads and even got to fall over a couple of times playing bikepolo with the Istanbul Bike Polo crew, a really surprisingly lively scene there! Hope to see them at tournaments when im finally good enough 😀 And massive thanks for how incredibly welcoming you all are and the souvenir stickers! Awesome!

Camping in Turkey has to be the easiest it’s ever been, great spots everywhere and nobody bats an eye (unless you pitch up in a field of produce, obviously a big nono). Often enough you will find people inviting you in though, probably more often than you realise as language barriers can leave people helpless and walking away after asking a series of unintelligible questions, probably including an offer for accommodation. My favorite random invite came from a local mayor-figure of a little town who gave me a set of keys to an abandoned restaurant to stay in while my knee got better!

 

Incase you do have serious tendon problems creep up on you while on tour there are a few things to do to make it possible to continue!

  • RICE (Rest, Ice, Compress and Elevate… and don’t leave it too late!!
  • start to add turmeric and ginger into your meals as they are powerful antioxidants and turmeric is a strong anti-inflammatory!
  • Rub a bit of extra virgin oil or coconut oil on the affected area before bed (this really does get absorbed through the skin and helps lubricate the tendons)
  • if you are using clipless pedals or straps, try not to rely too heavily on the particular tendon affected (in my case I had to focus on pedaling ‘up’ not ‘down’ with my left foot to be able to keep going and not make the problem worse.
  • you can use alcohol based camphor gels which are very powerful and readily available in vet stores… yes it sais it’s designed for horses and dogs, but marathon runners use the same thing packaged for sports people with a premium price… but it’s actually the same thing
  • Bike weight laiden with food 49kg

With those few pointers I’ve been able to carry on touring when the condition I had developed would normally mean I would have to give up on the good cause I’m riding for!
The terrain in Turkey can get batsh1t crazy with snowy peak mountains and relentless up-down hills, mad 15kms with a slight incline and the sort, enough to get your tendons screwed if youv been training unloaded, which is exactly what i did. I figured training on my polobike would require enough cadence to warm my limbs to a tour… Huge mistake. Unforgivably thoughtless hypothesis. Its completely different to ride loaded vs unloaded! Cadence is no problem, great! Naturally the first thing i get leaving Antalya is 4km of uphill, fully loaded. Awesome. No its not, its definitely not. My random touring buddy Tugscan came until the start of the hill with me, a generous 30km+ of riding with great company, then mentioned i should be using clipless pedals if i want to make it up there. Have no fear! SteStraps to the rescue! The strapon your bike always wanted between you and herself but never knew how yo bring it up in conversation.


In terrain id like to include the not-too obvious problem with touring in Turkey in April: ok there are no monsoons per se, but tits the month where (and its an expression ice heard many people say here) ANYTHING can happen, its important to note here that ANYTHING is meant as ANYTHING BAD and can include (and did) 50kmph headwind, around 8c and torrential rain… For days. Ye i know, wtf. Well that was the not so fun part of turkey, that and the kid with a knife that wanted my bike… Oh and the weird street-dog ‘problem-solution’ they have where they just dump them en mass in the middle of nowhere by industrial sites… Pretty scary when you dont see it coming. Huge groups 70+ of malnourished, territorial animals that -for obvious reasons- have run out of trust for people. Needless to say i pedaled mental-fast haha And taking pictures was simply not on the agenda at all! They give up fast and don’t really want to do more than protect their territory…
Normally when dealing with street dogs its very straight forward, look them in the eye and make sudden and very clearly human sounds (easy way is to skat at them) and they get the picture real fast! Never resort to violence as that will only make the problem worse for the next cycle tourist they encounter. Violence is never the answer so stop taking bear spray with you on tour you monster and learn a bit about the kind of body language that dogs understand! Don’t be the oppressor and if you chose to be, don’t pretend it was necessary.
If you feel really scared repeat the above while getting off your bike (keeping the bike between you an the dog), ive never been bit and unless the dog is rabid neither will you, but rabid dogs dont really chase… They stand there in a terrible state and obviously shouldnt be approached, oh and it is important to get immunized obviously, natural-disasters/diseases/wars are not things that care about your intentions/fitness-level or discriminate in any positive or negative way.

Istanbul was the highlight of my trip through Turkey, normally I avoid megacities like I avoid violence. Yet there is a powerful charm to this megapolis! (rightly so, the higher concentration of people means you are more likely to come across the terrible And the amazing… on arrival I was faced with a young man brandishing a knife, indicating that my rather nice bike should now be handed over (he looked like he had been roughed up recently and the knife looked new, he had two friends with him as backup)… at this stage there is absolutely no way anyone is going to have my bike. I instantly started laughing at him a proper hearty laugh with a tear in my eye, to the point that I could barely catch my breath, I got my rather smaller knife out as to show it meant nothing, pointed out that hes waaay too short to be able to cycle away on my bike and that there was nothing threatening in what he was doing (at this moment one of his friends left and the other was tugging at his elbow to leave). In this situation this worked fine, thieves are opportunists and the opportunity in the middle of a city like this would be in consent driven by fear… if you don’t respond in that way they are completely disarmed. he settled for asking for a cigarette, I told him he is getting nothing off me unless he gives me a smile. this got him genuinely scared, it was obvious, but he cracked a smile after quickly convincing himself that this would result in some form of victory… so I broke it to him, I haven’t got cigarettes. Sorry.)

It’s divided by the Bosphorus, with ample opportunities to take scenic ferry rides from one side to another! Unfortunately bicycles are banned from crossing the Bosphorus on the bridge, I am told this has a lot to do with suicides taking place using the bridge as a jumping platform. a Terrifying though that sais a lot about the disillusionment of the people in Turkey. There is also a huge market for selling stress relief gadgets on the streets, another clear indicator of high stress among the population… unfortunately Turkish people have good cause to disillusioned.

When I was in Burdur (a place I fondly remember as Mordor, mostly because of how epic the road was to get there, there is an 8-9km stretch leading up to the city that is incredibly well paved, a bit windy and steep enough to hit speeds of 70kmph, which is what a speed radar clocked me at 😀 when I finally reached the edge of the town a car was waiting for me to give me an energy drink and ask where my mad type comes from, it was awesome!) it was the weekend of the referendum, I was aware that this was a very dangerous referendum that gives Erdogan absolute Tyrant+ powers, I was also aware that he has control of the media to an extent that he could easily manipulate the information available to those voting to the point where their votes would be annulled under normal democratic practice… I spoke to a dozen people about the referendum on the day, making sure I ask no leading questions and not voicing my personal opinions. From the dozen people I talked to; only 3 knew about the executive powers the vote was genuinely about… everybody else was led to believe that it was a simple vote of confidence on whether or not Erdogan should ‘stay’. Past events such as the violence in August in Ankara and Istanbul and the fake coup orchestrated to justify the elimination of all opposition were all too fresh in people’s minds…. Unfortunately that weekend marked the death of a Republic and it seemed that nobody was getting angry or loud about it. This turned out to untrue when in Istanbul there were demonstrations almost daily against the situation, especially on ‘childrens day’ which was also the anniversary of the birth of the republic, marked this year with protests against its death.

Apart from the obvious downer in my visit’s timing it was an amazing city to be in, it had a shedload of character some excellent street art and bohemian quarters, the Bosphorus divide creates what is locally called the European Side and the Asian Side. The European side features a lot of the saturated ‘tourist trap’ features that you find in every major city, overpriced and without any genuine character, but some great historic buildings! And the Asian side is where real people are, a much better cross section of real Istanbul is on display here and some excellent bike rides to be had! I was fortunate to spend all my nights in the Asian side with my amazingly hospitable warmshowers.org hosts Belve and Gursel! Gursel was incredibly insightful in how I could develop my diet in ways that make it work for me instead of against me while doing long distance cycling! He was a real inspiration and even allowed me to sleep in his bike shop during my stay for my convenience, making it possible to stay in Kadikoy (the best area of Asian side in my experience)! If you get a chance to visit his incredibly well stocked bike store you are likely to find things very well priced that you might have been keeping an eye out for for years (such as my find of a take-a-look mirror, I can’t imagine going back to all the neck straining again!) His store is also half a block away from the court where the Istanbul Bike Polo crew play on Thursday evenings and weekends! Definitely worth giving the game a go if your in the area!

Turkey has been incredibly inviting and even though the terrain can be tough at times with the wrong training, it has a tremendous amount of character and a healthy curiosity towards visitors! My negative experience with my knee would normally spell the end of a tour easily, but luckily I was fortunate enough to be offered a place to stay when I needed it for recovery when recovery would have been miserable in a small tent while it rained almost continuously for 3 consecutive days. I almost forgot to mention, Turkey does the whole double-hug thing, it’s great!

Some random stats from Turkey

  • most teas given by a single person in one sitting 9
  • most teas given in a day was closer to 40
  • longest day in the saddle 204km
  • shortest day in the saddle 65km (The day my knee wanted to give up and go home)
  • number of nights staying in someone’s house 4
  • number of nights staying in a bike shop 4
  • number of nights spent in an abandoned restaurant 2
  • total conversations in German approx. 4.5hrs
  • number of knife holdups 1
  • number of packed meals given to me 4
  • number of meals I was invited for 22
  • amount of tahini eaten 2.5kg
  • amount of jam eaten 600g (then I knew better)
  • lentils eaten 1.5kg
  • buckwheat eaten 1kg
  • bulgur grain eaten 1kg
  • coconut oil eaten 600g
  • loaves of bread 7
  • most gross elevation gain in a day 1800m
  • number of street dogs petted 15 (approx.)

 

Bulgaria

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Entering the EU, completely unchecked by border guards, following a 10mile queue of trucks

Bulgaria the land of horses, hills and the greenest of green landscapes imaginable! An excellent low budget alternative to going all the way to new Zealand! They also have the Indian head-wobble on the go! Damn lovable!

My very first experience in the country (after arriving at nightfall) was the realization that internet access was incredibly easy here and when they say free wifi, they really don’t insist on that service only being available to paying customers either! So I went about making some chess moves to catch up on my correspondence games and was approached by a local head honcho who turned out to have lived down the road from me in Salford some years back, we didn’t recognize each other but he led me around his vineyard and gave me a massive glass of organic merlot to kickstart the Bulgaria experience!

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Prices are crazy low for beer if thats your thing, 2l beer at around £1, you can get surprisingly good wine for around £2/2l too, so tempting….
Riddled with free wifi (most petrol stations, cafes or almost anywhere really) and awesome communist era monuments, every town claims to be the capital of something or other, but it all seems to be done in a lovable tongue-and-cheek manner that you can’t help but warm to.

There are a lot of concrete statues dotted along the landscape, a lot of them in the shape of powerful female figures, the older ones were not highly sexualized and so seemed much purer and stronger than their modern counterparts!

Top right is the modern version of these more traditional representations of powerful women. Bottom right is the statue commemorating the defeat of the Russian soldiers in Plovdiv. the local legend is that the Russian soldiers left without a fight, only one remained who drank some bad moonshine and died without a fight…. so this is actually a monument for a lonely alcoholic soldier who was not actually shot. who knows how much truth there is to that story…

Every town (except the speck-on-the-map villages) has at least one marketplace making it über easy to avoid supermarkets (which seem to be tucked away out of sight, the closest ive been to one is 1.8kms away according to road signs).
Everywhere you go there are little real-coffee machines rocking 40cm double espressos (approximately 17pence) making it super affordable to keep up the unhealthy 10 shots of espresso/day that a massive proportion of serious cyclists suffer from), wild camping has never been easier, even windy roads on mountain-sides have a massive variety of small clearings with mostly soft ground available!

Bug was going to be in Plovdiv (that’s him there by the coffee machine 😀 ) so my first real route deviation (and that is always a slippery slope…) was a decision to continue on to Plovdiv 70km in the wrong direction to hang a bit before moving on towards Romania! This turned out to be an essential great decision! I went over to see Plovdiv, a great little city in line to be the cultural capital of the EU in 2019! I stayed the night and set off the next day only to have a catastrophic high speed blowout on my rear tire! On closer inspection it turned out that it wasn’t going to be a simple patch-and-go job. The inner tube had long slashes on it and it seemed to be from the rim side. After inspecting the rim it was obviously not safe to ride and I would have to hitch a ride to Plovdiv and figure out what to do about it.

On the negative side; the problem of emigration is very serious here, trying to get a wheel built was just as impossible as getting your wheels trued in Dubrovnik. A blessing in a very good disguise as it forces you to learn new skills, after the rear rim failure i was forced to hunker down while another is delivered and set about building one… Id never done this before so I tried to figure out the most Ben-proof way to do it, knowing full well that there is some sort of black magic involved in getting the lacing right. I contacted an excellent no-nonsense mechanic I know for general guidance! Here’s what Rob the giant spanner sent:

Tape the new rim to the old one and transfer one side of the spokes then the other, make sure you get the crosses in the right place. Once you’ve done that tighten the nipples until the thread just disappears on each one, then tighten one turn at a time on each one until a bit tight, then true, ping spokes until they sound similar, true, ping, add half a turn to all, true, ping repeat, with the pinging you might need to loosen one and tighten the one next to it so they sound similar. With truing tighten one side and loosen one next to it to keep tension even With pinging I meant loosen and tighten ones on the same side of the rim.

Which I slightly adopted to this:


Equipment: 2cable ties, some electrical tape, flat screwdriver, spoke wrench, big-fkoff-jar-a-coffee and some grease. Oh and good ears are handy too.

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Taped the last crossovers of the spokes together, marked the first spoke i worked on, taped the rims together at same position and started drinking coffee.

Loosen off all spokes then start removing each one.
The whole thing plops out after what felt like forever and the same in reverse.

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Bring it up to tension (not too high cause it will NOT be true .
Use the cable ties to turn your rear triangle into a truing stand and start truing.
It took ages, probably 5-6hrs including coffee breaks, pondering and disassembly.
This way i couldn’t screw up the lacing 😀

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After the build was ready it was time to promptly leave lovely Plovdiv!

… but a little more on Plovdiv first; the city set to be the cultural capital of the EU in 2019.
Plovdiv is a great town with huge potential, street art everywhere and buskers of all shapes and sizes ready to pluck a string at anyones heart! Bulgaria is also the first country ive been to that thinks a vegetarian is a vegan, brilliant!

I was entrenched in a beautiful flat with a gorgeous cat housemate and the very energetic hosts of clarkandmiller.com, a brilliant English language learning website/blog, an extremely palatable no-nonsense blog utilizing uniquely styled visual aids and a brilliant anarchist-undertone below the surface. Definitely worth checking out if you want to brush up on advanced English

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Plovdiv was shockingly quiet at nights and for a city as large as it is, there was a complete lack of big city problems, sure alcohol is cheap enough to safely assume that a lot of people have an alcohol problem but in the solid week I spent there I hadn’t even heard anyone raise their voice! From the balcony of the apartment you could see at least 300 windows and you would rarely see more than 10 with the lights on at night. It was very unusual! The city clearly makes an effort to embrace self expression with quality graffiti covering most school walls and it even has a hipster quarter…

I kept an eye on my wheel to make sure it stays true, but im starting to feel like a nagging parent as its doing fine after a couple hundred kilometers including 40+km off-road and 3 mountains!
The best of these mountains was the one with Buzludzha perching on the top, a gorgeous ominous symbol of the communist era, unfortunately it has been sealed shut as the roof has collapsed and the sneaky-break-in-entrance that i found out about had been reinforced. Regardless it is a beautiful sight to behold, 1400m high with rolling forests surrounding you in all directions!

Finally arriving at the top of the mountain it turned out that Buzludzha had been reinforced shut yet again, there was a cheeky entrance in a not too obvious place where you could get in in the past to behold the massive hall with Lenin and Marx on the walls, when I got there it was completely impossible to get in, the only possible way in I found was through a manhole… but it didn’t look promising to say the least! The view was completely worth the climb anyway!

 

At first glance it seems like a massive mountain detour, but a slightly rough and very quiet road connects it to the main road towards Veliko Tarnovo (the ancient capital of Bulgaria) definitely referred to as high on the list of places worth visiting! The massive influx of EU money for regional improvements means that there are lots of old main roads left from the communist era that are incredibly quiet and beautiful, but still made with sparing inclines!

Veliko Tarnovo itself was not my kind of town, it had similarities to Dubrovnik, but there seemed to be 5 pubs, 5 cafes, 5 pizza places, 5 sex shops and 5 souvenir shops on EVERY street… it was very much saturated to tacky gifts and everything had a massively inflated price tag. I much preferred Plovdiv, it was just much more real and alive!

Bulgaria is a brilliant place to explore, with every town trying to get themselves on the map with their own niche, there’s always a sweet quirky hype about each town you visit! It’s quite popular with cycle tourists (although I wasn’t really in high season, so I only met 2, in one go) and it’s a rare treat to visit a country renown for it’s natural beauty that does not take it for granted. They seem serious about preserving both their history and beautiful biosphere!

And last but not least, the second component failure of Bulgaria, the humble bipod, which was completely irreparable and a bit of an unnecessary luxury. So it received a fitting burial, around the corner from the best dinosaur fail of Bulgaria that I came across!

 

And now it’s time to move on. Onto Romania! I will miss the TechnoPolis billboards, like a strange moonlighting gig for tiny robots….

QUICK NOTES ON STOVELES EATING DONE RIGHT!
a little bit of research goes a long way, I’ve gathered that buying dried foods is a great way to save money and drastically reduce the amount of weight you carry while still being able to take several days worth of quality nutrition. it takes a tiny bit of organisation (nothing compared to cooking) to make sure your eating better than normal on a tour.
I’ve cut out ’empty carbs’ to maximize my nutritional intake and eliminate bunking.
high protein and high fiber go hand in hand for a happy touring stomach, so i try to focus on a 50/50 mix of pulses and grains (like red split lentil or whatever is cheap locally and buckwheat or bulgur grain. but over eating uncooked bulgur grain can lead to inefficient digestion and strain on your kidneys because of some ant nutrients present, but this is only really problem if you rely on it for a dramatic proportion of you nourishment) topped with loooaaads of tahini and some virgin oil (coconut is awesome if its cheap where your touring).
the energy density of fat and protein is around 7cal/g compared to around 4cal/g for carbs and often enough packing carbs is completely nutrient deficient and will leave you malnourished at the end of a demanding tour.
after my negative experience bombing it through Europe (i lost what little upper body mass i had as it was the primary source of protein for my body… a nasty and completely avoidable situation, ive looked into how much protein is generally a good guideline for not having problems. increasing your intake to a little over1g/kg of body mass is a good way to ensure you have all the intake you need and a bit left over that will be used for energy.
the pulse and grain mix is partly good because of its nutritional value, pulses and these two grains generally are around 10-17g protein/100g, they ae also packed with a number of essential vitamins while both pulses and buckwheat have full amino acid chain profiles.
eating fat this way also conditions your body to burn fat for energy, a handy trick for losing stubborn fat around organs if you have some to spare.
i take two spices with me because of some amazing (and fast acting) properties; ginger and turmeric. turmeric as you know is a natural anti inflammatory and has some powerful antioxidants.

the last extremely difficult sacrifice was not bringing an aeropress with me, all the time spent making coffee is better spent in the saddle, or even better stretching! so i optedfor an insulated flask and teabags! it turns out greentea is actually good for lubricating joints while still giving the caffeine buzz your after! getting your flask filled with hot water is as easy as finding a public toilet! so dont fret, also you can cold steep your greentea and it tastes a little better. winning, all your food and drink prep time can now be spent pedaling (or sleeping more, reading more or whatever you want)!
morning dried fruits are still a good idea as it takes longer to access the energy from fat and protein than carbs. dried fruit is also a good way to supplement nutrients (dried apricot is magic because its a great source of magnesium!

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