I've cycled through Europe! 3500 km done
I’ve now cycled through Europe! Coming into Istanbul marks the first major milestone on my trip so far, as crossing the Bosphorus Strait means entering the continent of Asia.
As I left Constanta in Romania, I stumbled upon another cycle-tourist (Willem) on his way to Vietnam. We randomly met at a Restaurant where he had been invited in by a local man. We decided on joining forces and cycling on towards Bulgaria together. The local man at the Restaurant had encouraged us to stop for the night in Vama Veche, describing it as the Ibiza of Romania. Neither of us were up for partying that night, so we cycled on into Bulgaria where we eventually stopped for some rest in a tiny, not so clean guesthouse. The woman at the counter didn’t seem all too happy with our arrival, but we eventually got our room. The next day we started pushing on towards Varna. We decided on going down to the shore to try and follow the coastline into the city. What started out as a top-notch path for cycling, quickly turned into a deteriorating mess of boulders and bushes. We kept on trying progress, and even had to carry our heavy bikes part of the way before we were eventually stopped in our tracks. The condition of the path we had been following was simply too rough to continue. We started backtracking and started making our way up towards the main road again. Times like these would have normally been completely miserable due to heavy heat and steep hills, but the rough going was turned into an enjoyable adventure due to the company of Willem. I discovered the pleasure of having a buddy to cycle with. We eventually made it to Varna before we had to split up. Willem was heading over the Black Sea to Georgia, whereas I was heading down towards Turkey. I ended up resting in Varna for a while before continuing on towards Turkey. I now had to tackle the biggest climb of my trip so far. It was getting late though, and as I was nearing the summit I decided on setting camp in the forest. Just as I was going in to find a spot, I hear a boar grunting around very close to me. Naturally, I headed back out onto the road. I ended up bumping in to a few more boars before I eventually settled for a spot. It was a slightly nerve-wracking night, knowing that the forest was full of these massive animals. I didn’t know at that point, but it turns out boars are pretty dangerous animals to hang out with. I got a few hours’ sleep that night and went down the mountain to pass through the infamous Sunny Beach. Just as I was fleeing the place, I bumped into Harry. Another fellow cycle-tourist on his way to Hong Kong. He is working on a project very similar to mine, raising funds and awareness for CALM, a suicide prevention campaign, in memory of his passed brother. Harry and I decided on cycling together and have been doing so for a week or so now. Coming into Turkey was like entering a different world. The European countries each have their little quirks, but they are in large very similar to each other. Coming over the mountains in to Turkey was a different experience though. The landscape turned extremely tough with massive relentless hills. The main religion is now Islam, which means an entirely different culture. The general feel of the place is just so much different to that of eastern Europe.
Cycling into Istanbul was one of the most intense experiences of my trip so far. The city is truly massive, and a dreaded challenge amongst cycle-tourists. As it turns out, the challenge of entering Istanbul really comes from a combination of a whole range of conditions. For one, the traffic is extremely heavy. At times we found ourselves seemingly stuck between motorways, and even when we weren’t on the main roads, the sheer number of cars and people made for slow progress. On top of that, the terrain in Istanbul is very hilly, meaning that you often had to put in massive amounts of energy all while trying to avoid speeding trucks and cars. Combined with the heat it was truly tiring. Then there was the whole route-finding challenge, which turned out to be really difficult as well. We had purposely avoided the massive D-100 road and gone for a northernly approach. The route wasn’t exactly direct though, so we ended up meandering through a combination of tiny roads and massive highways. Add on top of it a couple of flat tyres and you’ve got a really tough day. At one point we even had gunfire at the side of the road. Just as we were cycling along minding out own business, a guy standing by the side of the highway pulls out a handgun and starts shooting up into the air! He was literally right next to us, so it did freak us out a bit. You do become slightly numb to these sorts of experiences though, simply from the amount of wild stuff that’s been happening over the past couple of months. As it turns out, shooting into the air is a fairly normal celebratory gesture in these parts of the world. Anyway, the challenge of riding into Istanbul was an experience that I will cherish for a long time. That being said, I don’t really want to do it again, so we have decided on taking the ferry to Yalova, from where we will continue in towards the center of Turkey. I was glad to have Harry by my side as we entered Turkey, as it has been a slightly overwhelming experience at times. It’s good preparation for what’s to come though, as riding deeper into Asia will only make for increasingly challenging times.
I’ve really enjoyed having people to cycle with for the past couple of weeks. No matter how hard you try to explain it, there is just no way of communicating the feelings you get from undertaking this sort of challenge, so it’s been an absolute joy to be able to share some of the hardships and good times with people whom you can be confident truly understand. At the same time, each cyclist has a slightly different approach to overcoming the challenge, and so you also get inspired to optimize your own ways of living, cycling, fundraising and so on. It’s just overall very enjoyable to be able to share your experiences with others from time to time.
Cycling through Europe has been a challenge, but mostly a physical one. There has been loads of people to meet and talk with, and so I’ve really enjoyed the trip so far. You do get ups and downs though, and especially when weather and road conditions are rough, the going gets tedious. The past few days in Turkey have given me a slight insight to the sorts of challenges that lie ahead of me. The strenuous nature of riding in the mountains ends up affecting your mental state quite a bit, and for the next couple of months, it’s going to be very hilly and very hot. From speaking with other cyclists, and reading blogs and so on, I now know that the real challenge of the trip lies ahead of me. The remoteness of the middle-east and central Asia will no doubt have a massive effect on my state, both physically and mentally. Spirits are high though, and I’ve prepared myself with a Turkish flag and a good hat for shade. That is sort of what I’m relying on to get me through anyway… I’ve been spending time in Istanbul fixing parts of my setup as well, so I’ll be trying to get back to some more wild camping in the weeks to come. I know that I need to be in Erzurum by the 18th of July, where I’ll be meeting up with a good friend of mine, who’s coming out to join me for a couple of weeks of cycling. That means I’ve got about 26 days to cover the next 1400 km of cycling, which seems doable with the pace I’ve been going at so far.
Quite a few donations have been ticking in since the last post, meaning we’ve now raised over 1000€! I want to give out a massive thank you to everyone who has been supporting the cause so far. The motivation it provides to keep pushing day after day is priceless. So, if you haven’t already, please do consider donating to the cause! I’ve reached a major milestone, and today is the National day of Greenland, so what better time to donate than now?! Once again, thank you!