May 5-8

Istanbul to Amasya

We left our hotel in Istanbul as a group and maneuvered our way through the old city to the ferry – a high speed double deck catamaran. We cut across a bay in the Sea of Marmara and proceeded through some beautiful switchbacks into the hills south of the Sea of Marmara – beautiful orchards and lakes. My plan was to take a side trip to Pronalkiah – the place where Dad and I landed when we were shipwrecked on the Sea of Marmara. But it turns out that no one has ever heard of the town (no one had ever heard of the shipwreck either). In the 50's my father and I and two others were watching the Mediterranean fleet turn around in the harbor. Dad had built a boat with a reliable US engine on it. The engine block cracked, would not start, and we were swept into the Sea of Marmara and a nasty storm. I wanted to get some pictures, but apparently that will wait for some other day.

Friday Prayers

I was riding with Mehmet Kocer, an old family friend and a former manager of our Connecticut rubber additive facility (his grandmother was my mother's best friend when we lived in Turkey). It was Friday, and Mehmet being Muslim had to go to the mosque for Friday prayer, so I went with him. There are 80,000 mosques in Turkey – 2500 in Istanbul alone. The timing of Friday prayers changes continuously based on the position of the sun – this day it was 1:00 pm. But this arrangement does not appear to hamper attendance. It was crowded, and there were even people praying outside of the mosque. But as we walked in, the congregation spread apart to give us room. The Eman was preaching from stairs on the side of the mosque, and according to Mehmet, was explaining the importance of consideration for handicapped people. He was reading from typed notes provided by the central government. Although Turkey is a secular state, they are definitely involved in religion in a big way. The Eman are paid by the central government. Mosques get electric power at discounted prices, and it is perfectly acceptable to have shops adjoining the mosque drawing on the mosque power meter with the mosque getting a suitable markup on the electricity.

After the prayer, Mehmet and I interviewed some very young Turks to ask about their aspirations. No budding entrepreneurs in this group, one was interested in being a soldier, and one was interested in being a policeman. Mehmet will only be available for two days – I will miss being able to have an on-hand translator.

Riding

At the end of the first day, we arrived in Bursa. In the 50's, Bursa specialized in the best peaches in the world (including Georgia). It is now an industrial town with textile plants lining the roads and two automobile plants. The next morning Mehmet left for the ride back to Istanbul, and the motorcycle group left in two's and three's for an interesting but grueling ride up through the mountains on dirt and gravel roads.

On one of the sharp switchback corners, I dug my pannier (like a saddlebag) into the asphalt and flipped my bike onto its side. Later in the day on another switchback, I skidded off the road into the trees, tore the other pannier off the motorcycle and ended up with the motorcycle on top of my leg. Fortunately, the people behind me lifted the 600-pound motorcycle off and we patched it together with only injury to ego. Riding a motorcycle long distance requires much more attention than driving an automobile. A bike needs to carve the corners, almost like you would when skiing, paying particular attention to the surface condition of the road and to your position on the road. There's sometimes oil in the center of your lane, so you're stuck with two paths to take, if you elect to stay in your own lane. I had been daydreaming, and was a little bit infected by the "A-male-must-go-fast-ego," which so far has been a problem with the entire group.

There was a great deal of variety – mountain roads with forest on either side, switchbacks, much riding at high altitude where there was snow on the side of the roads, beautiful vistas almost like the Shenandoah Valley where you can see six ranges behind one another, big sky country like Montana with mountains in the distance. In all, the ride was 295 miles, but it seemed longer.

Each motorcycle has a GPS with a "breadcrumb" route on it showing the leader's tracks from last year on the same trip (one of Helge's many interesting innovations). The breadcrumbs can be used as the basis for where to go, but do not necessarily need to be followed. Groups divide up in accordance with their interests. There are some young type-A competitors who want to go fast, and there are others (for example, post-accident me) who like to smell the roses, and have a cup of tea every now and then. Then there are others who are interested more in antiquities. But the system of following tracks on the GPS is quite fool proof. It is not even necessary to know the name of a road. If the GPS is set for the largest magnification, you can see yourself moving along a road, and even know when the road is beginning to turn – but it is important to keep your eyes on the road, not the GPS.

Urgup

On the next day we rode to Urgup, better known as Cappadocia, and a bit of a tourist trap. This is the place where Christians were supposed to have hidden from the Mongol hordes who swept across Asia Minor. The Christians carved houses out of limestone and dug caves deep in the ground to hide from the hordes. It is inconceivable to me that enterprising Mongol hordes, who had come thousands of miles from the east, would not be able to dig a few Christians out of their caves, sell them into slavery, and take all of their property. But apparently not, according to the tour guide. There was also an exhibition of the Whirling Dervishes, who were part of a Sufi sect of Islam – as our tour guide said "the hippies of Islam, who perform a trance-like dance." Not many people were impressed with that either.

But what is terribly impressive, on both the trip to Urgup and the entire journey so far, is the enormous friendliness of the Turkish people. If you sit down to have tea in a small town it is rarely possible to pay for it yourself. There is always a stranger, who speaks broken English or no English, who wants to talk.

We had a day off in Urgup for site seeing. I spent the day getting my torn pannier back securely on my motorcycle and making a Silk Road appropriate cover for my knapsack on the back of my motorcycle. I bought a tarpaulin and had a Kalim rug sewn on to it to protect my luggage. Everyone else has rubberized bags (and of course, I wanted to show a little more class).

The following day we drove to Amasya – a distance of 260 miles on mostly good roads. Two members of the group ended up sliding and falling down in a deep puddle (filled with manure). Again, large spaces punctuated with many mountains in the background. Three of us riding together decided to take a nap and were awakened by a herd of heifers and a shepherd. Just what I was dreaming of.

We saw on the way, the ruins of a Hittite colony, part of which was 5,000 years old, but the larger part was 4,000 years old. What amazed me was the scale of the ruins in an area with limited soil fertility, limited rainfall and no nearby waterways.

Tomorrow is a 450 mile ride. Rain is expected. Our destination will be Trabzon – coastal city on the Black Sea, approximately 100 from the border of Georgia.

That's it for now.

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