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  • Jamie Shannon

Almost getting struck by lightning and somehow surviving the madness of entering Istanbul

As I cycled out into the Turkish area, I had my first encounter with a mosque which was quite thrilling really. Christian Europe had been replaced by a predominantly Muslim country – the first of many I hope.

Onwards through Turkey! Lets go and cycle to Istanbul

I had about 10km’s to go until I would come to Edirne but it would be another 10km’s after that before I would arrive in the countryside once again and thus be able to find a place to camp.

As I was cycling along my nice wide hard shoulder, I said out loud to myself, “fuck me, I’m cycling through Turkey”. It was only then that it hit me. I would soon be leaving Europe behind and entering another continent. It was a strange feeling, a magnificent feeling and I relished it. My trip was becoming a reality right under my feet and I was finally realizing my goal.

When I was making my way through Edirne, I could feel myself cycling along the streets with a smile on my face spread from ear to ear. It was bustling. There were colours everywhere, a vibrant atmosphere that felt alive with music and noise in every direction. People looked happy and prosperous. It was everything that Bulgaria and Romania weren’t. Of course, I had enjoyed these countries immensely but there was just something different going on here. I felt like I had entered another world.

Out of Edirne, and as the road quickly began to slide up and down in monumental shifts, I found the most horrible of places to camp beside the road. I quickly ambled down the side when I saw a break in the traffic and wheeled my bike through metre high long grass. It was going to be dark soon and so I knew I would be okay here. The only problem was, was that I would be spending the next fifteen hours squatting bug after bug which wasn’t pleasant.

I Had two options today with regards to which route to take towards Istanbul. Having read time and time again about the horror stories of people cycling into the city from the west, I had wanted to take the quietest route possible. This would mean taking the much hillier and more indirect D20 to the north. At the same time, I had heard that the D100 I was now cycling on, although infamous and busy with traffic, did offer a wide hard shoulder for much of the way and was certainly less hilly. It was for these reasons that I stayed on this all the way into Istanbul.

I just wanted to get there now and this was the quickest way.

The road undulated throughout the day, as it traversed the rolling countryside. Although some of the hills were super steep, I didn’t really find this a problem simply because of the speeds that I was now doing on the super smooth tarmac. It allowed me to get halfway up the other side before I even had to start peddling. It was great fun too.

There wasn’t much to see along the way and so I passed the day in a blissful mood singing out loud and knowing that Istanbul, ten days rest and Maria lay just over the horizon.

I had heard that petrol stations in Turkey were great places to camp for the night, get water and of course meet some locals and so this is where I stopped off many times. With the tap water not being completely safe to drink here, I was hoping to rely on the kindness of strangers and this happened time and time again. At one point, with seven bottles of water strapped to my bike, I literally had to kindly refuse offers of water.

I became completely disorientated in the town of Corlu later on. Being rush hour, the traffic had increased substantially and so I thought it might be nice to get off the highway and cycle through the city. Big mistake. Hill after hill combined with traffic so wild and numerous that I was literally seething with anger at my decision. It was dreadful but of course I did eventually make it out the other side.

By this point though, the road seemed always to be filled with gas stations and industrial buildings and I was finding it really difficult to find somewhere to camp. In the end I decided to follow a small street off the side of the road that led to a waterpark where I would hopefully find some out of the way spot to pitch for the night.

Alas it was not to be. I asked the guard outside the park if it was possible to camp along the perimeter which he seemed happy with. I then set up my tent, got everything organised, blew up my mattress and finally, completely shattered and stark naked, lay there supping on my coke. Five minutes later, a man came over and uttered the word, “problem, problem, problem” over and over again. Oh my dear lord, I really could not move. I was shattered after close to 150 km’s in this heat and had unpacked everything. I kind of pleaded with him to leave me be but upon seeing him on his phone, I thought it was best to get on my way again.

With a sinking heart, I started packing everything up and left in utter disappointment. I did however find a great place to camp literally 5km’s down the road.

I encountered a thunderstorm of near biblical proportions

My next problem though was a biggie – I encountered a thunderstorm of near biblical proportions. It all started innocently enough with just a few low grumblings popping in the background. As my pasta was cooking however, the grumblings became louder and louder until they slowly began to creep directly over me. Now, like most people, I have only really heard thunder and lightning when it’s in the distance but let me tell you now, it’s a whole different story when it’s occurring directly above your head. The noise is simply deafening and does genuinely feel like the end is nigh. It is simply astonishing to witness as the intense noise vibrates the ground you sit on and the lightning lights up the entire area around you. I had to insert fingers into both ears just to be able to protect my ear drums. I have never heard anything quite like it and I’m not ashamed to say I was literally crapping myself, afraid even to turn on my head torch for fear of attracting electricity.

At the very height of this, I heard the loudest, most awe inspiring noise and flash I had ever heard or seen and couldn’t help but sneak a peek outside my now drenched tent. What I saw truly left me speechless. Not thirty metres away, the ground was on fire. Lightning had just struck thirty metres from my tent and now I was shaking like a leaf. It was utter, utter madness.

After an hour however, the noise and light show had died down somewhat enabling me to finish off my food. The wind had shifted the storm east and with clear night skies overhead, I felt much safer.

I woke to a fine day the following morning and was mightily pleased I had survived the night in my little tent. With less than 90km’s until Istanbul was reached, I set off bright and early with the intention of reaching it by mid-afternoon. I knew however that this wasn’t really realistic. With it being the crossing point between Europe and Asia and as it’s located on such a narrow strip of land, the city would no doubt take it’s toll on my mental state and so I steeled myself for the most torturous and painful day of the trip so far.

Cycling into Istanbul along the D100 is not for the faint hearted that's for sure

The closer I got to the city, the more built up it became, and at about 50km’s out, the urban sprawl began in earnest. My wide shoulder suddenly disappeared and the hills became increasingly more difficult. Luckily, along much of the highway, there were service roads that ran alongside which of course I used as the traffic now was getting utterly chaotic.

At 40km’s, the road tuned into a proper motorway and at Buyukecmece, two more lanes merged from the left. Luckily I had my hard shoulder back now but people seemed to view this simply as an extra lane thus I had buses, cars and motorcycles weaving dangerously pass me time and time again.

At one point I had to cross four lanes of traffic to make a turn off which isn’t the nicest of things to do with a bicycle. I simply waited by the side of the road for about eight minutes until I eventually saw a break in the traffic before darting across as if my life depended on it. It was sheer mayhem and having accomplished this small miracle, I then had to fight my way up and around the steepest of hills with cars honking at me from every conceivable direction. This was done in 35 degrees lest we forget.

I finally managed to get off the motorway just before the airport where I found a brand new cycle path running alongside the ocean. I sat down on a bench to take a rest and to get my thoughts back in balance. It was here where upon looking at my map, I found I still had another twenty km’s to cycle. How big was this city I cried!

With utter resignation, I climbed back onto my bike eager to follow the safety of the bicycle path. Even this ended just 50 metre’s later though. I mean if you’re going to build a path for bicycles, why the hell build it for a mere 200 metre’s. It makes no sense.

I then tried to get down into the suburbs in order to try to follow the coast as much s possible but with no clear signs and many, many dead ends, I was forced back onto the highway again. The traffic by this point was beginning to get intolerable and with the added headache of having to watch for cars pulling out and doors flying open, I’m very surprised I’m still here to write this.

With lanes merging from the left and right, I found myself stuck on the central reservation more than once surrounded by twelve lanes of fast flowing traffic. Words cannot describe how I was feeling at this point.

Eventually I did manage to find the main road that ran alongside the coast, and even though the constant beeping and aggressive tactics used by everyone was really testing me, I knew that I would be there soon. I was just so mentally and physically exhausted. I needed this to be over. I needed to be in Istanbul now with a cold beer in one hand and a beautiful lady in the other.

By 5pm, I crossed under the old city walls and knew that I had almost made it.

When I finally arrived in the old town, I located a kebab restaurant and treated myself to the yummiest of dishes and two cans of ice cold coke before making my way around the all but deserted historic area to a hostel recommended to me by the kebab show owner.

Here's the funny thing. I was standing outside the hostel with my bike and I heard familiar voice call out “Jamie, you ba**ard!”.It was Australian Hamish whom I had met back in the hostel in Bulgaria four day’s previously. It is indeed a small world.

I stayed at the hostel for just one night before cycling north through the streets to find my apartment what Maria and I had booked some weeks previously.

The hostel was completely deserted as was the historic district. There was a grand total of two people in my hostel and it was the height of summer. I guess with the recent terrorist attacks on the airport, people just weren’t really feeling it.

Cycling through the city to the apartment was an adventure in itself. Insane numbers of cars, suicidal taxi drivers, scooters, car doors opening, cars pulling out and daredevil pedestrians made the experience unforgettable.

I now had a day to clean myself up before Maria arrived from Estonia. It was time to really get down to business and make myself look respectable. With any luck, she’d be bringing her hair equipment too which meant my wig was in for a cut which it severely needed.

I think that’s a wrap. Nine more days of rest awaits Maria.

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