Silk Road Adventure

May 9

Amasya to Trabzon

This was a glorious day riding over (I believe) the Caucasus Mountains in Turkey running along the Black Sea - approximately 400 miles of beautiful mountain riding curving through switchbacks with long inclines and descents. The roads were carved out of the side of the mountain with rock ledges overhanging the road. Although the roads were well cleared, there was snow, and in one place a 5' snow bank on the side of the road.

In the Alpine pastures, the houses were boarded up and the windows closed. The snow covers the entire house during the winter, and they are only used by herdsmen in the summers. The roads were built in gorges where the snow run off occurs. There were torrents of water rushing through these narrow canyons. Some of the canyons were as narrow as 20' with obviously deep water - a perfect place for a suicidal kayaker. The streams ran for more than 4,000 ft. in chutes down the mountain with the water rushing through at 25 mph with perilous waves and right angle corners.

I was riding with the two Yves – both Frenchmen, one living in Brussels and the other living in London. We stopped at a nice restaurant perched above one of these wild ravines filled with rushing water. We selected fish from a pool and had freshly sautéed trout and a salad for lunch. The Yves from Brussels has had some interesting motorcycle experiences. Once he was motorcycling with his 21 year old son on the back of a big motorcycle traveling at about 80 mph on a road north of Lake Superior, and he hit a 300 lb. black bear that darted across the road in front him. They both went sprawling and the motorcycle went end over end down the highway. When he got off of the pavement, he saw his son writhing on the side of the road, and it took a fair amount of time to realize that it wasn't his son, but it was the black bear. Yves is a good looking fellow – I wonder what his wife looks like? I'm surprised that Yves did not have the bear head mounted. Marge would have insisted that we hang it in the living room with motorcycle handlebars or a fender in its mouth.

Yves has an amusing accent very much like that of Inspector Clouseau (Question – Does your duug bite? Answer - No. SNARL! GROWL! SNAP! BITE! Question – I thought you said your duug didn't bite. Answer – That's not my duug.) I have had a great time with the Yves. They are both excellent riders, and they have the sensibility to smell the roses, take an occasional nap and frequent coffee breaks. Geneva Yves' wife will be joining us in Uzbekistan.

In the trip through the mountains, it is very difficult to understand how Turkey can afford the enormous infrastructure costs that they are experiencing. There is road construction everywhere; well built roads with deep underpinnings; bridges well engineered and lots of roads where you would not imagine putting a road in the U.S. There seems to be an extremely high value put on connecting the country together. Once over the mountain, we headed east on the main road along the Black Sea. Unfortunately they filled in the land on the shore of the Black Sea to make room for the four-lane highway. They have taken the huge boulders (sometimes only two fit in a 10-ton truck), and they have eliminated the beaches along the Black Sea (even if they were a little rocky), and replaced it with what looks like a sea wall. The road is punctuated with many small tunnels. If they would have used one-half of the imagination that they used in the mountains, they could have preserved the coastline for parks and for recreation.

Trabzon, the eastern largest city in Turkey, has exploded – again, construction everywhere, all tightly packed together. At 9:00 p.m. after our dinner and briefing, I went outside and the streets were packed.

Turkish Economy

Their real gross national product (all the goods and services sold in the country) has been growing at about 8% per year. Traditionally, the U.S. economy grows at something approximately one-half of that. They have a high fertility rate with 30% of their population under age 15. The U.S. has only 20% of its population under age 15. They also have a lower percentage of people over age 60 – 8% vs. 16% for the U.S. According to the Economist Magazine, they have a 98% literacy rate compared to the U.S. of 99% literacy rate. Obviously, that is probably a subjective number, but all the children go to school. In high school all the boys wear ties. The complaint that I have heard of the schooling system is that it tends to be a memorize and regurgitate system rather than one that is more inquiry oriented and that allows children to answer questions to which there is no absolutely right answer. Eighty percent of the U.S. population is considered urban, whereas 67% of the Turkish population is considered urban. A substantial percentage of that urban population is in Istanbul (15 million of a population of 72 million).

I think the source of their growth (and I don't know that much about it) is the high fertility rate linked to the emphasis on education and the government willing to spend money on infrastructural improvements that lead to higher productivity.

Energy

There is an interesting comparison between the energy problems in Turkey as opposed to the U.S. Turkey imports 70% of its energy (gas, oil, coal, electricity, etc.), whereas the U.S. only imports 28%. Some of this energy comes from Russia, which is of questionable reliability. They have made large investments in huge hydro projects in the east part of the country – we have driven by several of them. The energy cost to manufacturers is more expensive than it is in the U.S. but I am not sure how much higher the industrial cost is. It could be more than one-half as much higher, but they conserve energy in a number of interesting ways. Almost all lights are florescent, including lamps in motel rooms. They charge a different rate for certain types of electrical use than other types – for example, energy consumed at off peak periods sells at a lower price on even a residential basis. Commercially in the U.S. these things are commonly negotiated, but households pay a fixed price. Gasoline is $9-$10 per gallon. It costs slightly more to fill up my motorcycle in Turkey than it does my car in the U.S.. The energy consumption per person is 7 times higher in the U.S. and that is due to a number of factors. But it does not hurt to have pricing and tax policies that help conserve energy.

Another energy initiative is wind turbines. The government pays 5¢ per kilowatt subsidy for the first five years for people who install wind turbines. In the U.S. it is only 2¢ per KW. There has been some interest in installing windmills. In the valleys where there are steady reliable high winds that average 20 mph, it is excellent for a wind farm. Contrasting that to Cleveland, a wind turbine normally costs $1-$1.5 million per megawatt, but unfortunately the wind is not reliable and so the wind speed does not give a reliable return on the wind turbine investment because the wind does not blow consistently enough at a steady speed, and during the summer when the energy grid is compromised, the wind blows the least. Putting a wind turbine in Lake Erie would not be economical either. In the 100 year situation, the ice in Lake Erie is 5' thick, and when it moves out it would tear down any tower except something as robust as the crib located ½ mile off of Cleveland's lakefront. The net/net is that wind energy only works marginally where there is a substantial and reliable subsidy in a location where there is constant wind and that the economics of building a tower are practical. Turkey is a country that will eventually need nuclear power, but it is prudent while they still have hydro electric opportunities to invest in hydro first.

Motorcycles – new vs. old

I have the oldest motorcycle in the group, and I am being rewarded handsomely for this. Many of the people bought new motorcycles for this trip, and they are breaking down. I have a BMW GS1150, which apparently can go end over end down the highway, fall down into a ravine, and still be drivable. The handlebars can be bent back. The frame is made of steel – stiff and robust. The new model, BMW 2000GS, has a lot of aluminum parts and has some electronics that look like they are better for parking your motorcycle in front of your house than for adventure cycling. One guy had to return his bike to Ankara in a truck to have an electronic bug repaired that related to the security system for the motorcycle. Doesn't sound like good design to me.

We leave Turkey tomorrow and go on to Georgia, but Turkey will definitely be the standard to which all other Central Asian countries will be compared. It is an extraordinary country with fascinating people, a remarkable history of democracy, and tradition of living in harmony with other religions and cultures. I am glad we toured Turkey first.

That's all for now.

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