Having a day off in Erzurum turned out to be a good idea, it rained on and off for most of the day including some thunder, not exactly nice weather for riding. I had a little wander around the town between the showers and found a little food. It’s an odd town, feels like it’s just scraping by for the most part, but a couple of areas have had a lot of money thrown at them. I liked it though, still not sure why, just had a nice vibe to it and everyone I met was super friendly.
I’d decided to spend a few more days in Turkey rather than rushing on to Georgia so I was heading South to Van instead of North East on Day 47. I wanted to get back to doing longer riding days again, spending most of my time riding. Some times it’s nice to start late and finish early, the ride can be hard then you can break early, but in Turkey that hadn’t been working as well as it had in Europe.
There’s been a bit of change as I’ve gone along that I hadn’t noticed quick enough. In western Europe a lot of the fun was in the long rides, seeing lots of different towns and scenery in one ride. The towns were all fairly similar to the point of forgetting which was which, the roads were really good which made riding long distances easy. 8 hours of back roads between towns was amazing. Around Slovenia and beyond though it switched, now the towns were the fun bit, the riding in-between not as much, bad roads, bad drivers and hot weather. Not that it was terrible, but now I prioritised shorter days with more stops, Dubrovnik, Durres & Skopje for example, all quite short riding days to get to nice towns.
It switched again in Turkey but it took me too long to notice, I was riding between towns and not really enjoying the towns all that much, the riding was really fun though, despite the bad roads and drivers, the scenery was amazing. So I decided to switch back to some long days riding for a while to try it out. A long day down to Van proved it was good idea. Coming out of Erzurum back on to the wide plains, then into some rolling hills on a nice fast road. Around 9 hours on the road without many breaks and I was knackered but happy. It was pretty surreal making it down to Van. It’s a town that I looked at a lot when my plan was to go through Iran, wondering if it would be too cold in November when I would have arrived. Yes, it would have been freezing, so glad I changed plans in the end. I saw a sign for Iran on the road today, that was pretty weird, knowing I’m that close to something that feels so far away. I’m gutted I don’t get to go through, but visas and political crap got in the way. On the other hand it means I get to go through Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan & China so it might have worked out better.
I rolled through Van and grabbed some supplies and went out to find a wild camp by the lake. Great success. I got the tent up first this time, prepared for the insect attack after sunset, but it never came. Just a lovely evening cooking dinner, watching the sunset and reading. I did spend a while thinking there was a stray dog sniffing around my tent only to find out it was weeds rubbing against the tent near my head. I knocked myself out with a couple of ibuprofen to get rid of a headache and had a great nights sleep.
I woke up the next morning surrounded by sheep at about 6am, the shepherd came over and had a good long look at the bike and the tent before giving me a thumbs up. I set off back the way I came on the farm tracks and back to the main road. I stop for fuel quite often, after 60 or 70 miles and my tank has about a 200 mile range, I was just thinking to myself “I could probably go further and stop less often”, but when I pulled in to a station they were out of petrol. Ah, yep, that’s why I stop often, I remember now. I easily had another 100 miles in the tank so I wouldn’t get stuck anywhere. Luckily proved that to myself before I started do 150 miles between stops and risking it.
Passed through quite a few checkpoints today, and there’s a lot of military on the roads. It’s understandable given how far south I am, not too far from the Syrian border. They’ve all been fine and the soldiers in them friendly, but it doesn’t stop you being worried every time. I try my best not to look dodgy, which makes me look super dodgy. The road is usually blocked off and you get filtered down the side between concrete blocks, tanks on either side of the road with a handful of soldiers scattered around with fingers on triggers watching everyone roll through. Then a guy asks for your passport or driving license or just waves you on, depending how they’re feeling.
I spent most of the day riding along in a trance listening to an audio book. The roads were great, winding through hills all day, with easy stops in towns for fuel and food. It feels a little like wasting a day sometimes not to see much but some days it’s really nice to just ride and enjoy it. There was no huge challenges, no amazing places to see so I just kept riding. Some of it needed more attention though, red lights are now optional, particularly when they’re on the 70mph highway, trucks just plow through them a lot of the time, not wanted to slow down at all. I have to follow the locals and do the same for fear of being rear ended, I’d rather be predictable than follow the letter of the law. Roundabouts have also become chaotic messes where people just make there way anyway they can across them, and people stopping on them to give way, causing a grid lock. People riding the wrong way down a dual carriageway is also common now, not wanting to waste the 2 minutes to go the right way and do a U turn, seeing headlights coming towards you where they shouldn’t be will wake you up quick.
I made it to Kars in one piece and headed for the city centre to find a hotel, I waited out a storm in one hotel lobby then managed to find a cheap and cheerful place for the night. It was already pretty late by the time I got set up so it was a quick walk out for food and around town then off to bed.