Monday, 18 June 2012

The Next Challenge

"The Days After" theme sort of fizzled out, basically because nothing was happening worth writing about. I'm no longer out there riding 60 odd miles a day and having adventures. Nobody wants to know what I had for breakfast, or how long I slept, etc any more. These things did seem moderately important during the ride but they are very mundane these days along with the rest of "normal" life.

I have spent the last two weeks trying to get down to some work again but always finding something more important to do like BBC sport website and the "Tour of Switzerland" on the telly, not to mention every second of Euro 2012 football. I have also been trying to update the blog by adding photos and routes but this is very time-consuming and I haven't really made much progress on either front. I'll keep plugging away though until the work has piled up so high that I have to get rid of some of it. Hopefully the blog will be something like complete by then.

As far as cycling is concerned we do have on the horizon the Manchester to Blackpool on 8th July. I have managed this for the last four years but the ride is logistically very difficult to organize. You have to get you and your bike to Manchester, do the ride and then get yourself and your bike back home. It has only been possible for me to do this ride with an organised group including volunteer van drivers. The group I've done it with in the past are not doing it this year so I think I'll give it a miss myself.

Further down the line is the Manchester 100 on 2nd Sept which is more convenient because it starts and finishes in the same place so it's a case of drive there with bike and then drive home, with a small matter of 100 miles in between. This is easier to organise and more of a challenge so it's a definite for me and I'm going to start training soon - honest. I have done a few short rides on my old road bike, mainly up through the plantations to Haigh Hall with Barney (dog). My tourer is at Robin's in Newburgh for rest and repair. Robin kindly offered to him to put it

Then there is next year. By next spring I will be ready for a major challenge and I would love to ride to Turkey again but I couldn't use the same route, or even go through all the same countries. This year's ride was so unique for me and so special that anything vaguely similar could never be as good and is bound to be an anticlimax. So, the plan is to use a totally different route. At present France, Italy, Greece is favourite although the Adriatic coast is a possibilty with maybe Albania and Macedonia involved. Another major departure from this year's ride would be that I would like to go in a group this time. It has been mentioned to a few friends and they are "thinking about it". The beauty of this idea is that it opens up possibilities for people to fly out and join in for a week or two along the way. If nobody fancies it I may attempt it myself but it's a long way off and too soon to say.

The main thing is - wheels are in motion.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The Days After 3 - 4 Jun

Sunday 3 Jun

I remembered to do my stretches and did a load of random sit-ups as well, first thing. I have lost quite a bit of weight and this was my first (and very weak) attempt at stopping the weight getting back on too quickly. It will eventually return, I am sure, but I am actually thinking that joining a gym may slow it down, although a long bike ride in the near future would give me the incentive to get out and do some long distance training. I need something on the horizon to aim at. Manchester to Blackpool is favourite but there is also a Manchester 100 in September which would be further than I have ever gone - in a day that is. 

Breakfast was porridge and cereal again and I watched a bit of telly before starting the Sunday dinner, the one thing I have missed most of all about life here at home. There was an option for Chinese but I put my foot down like a real man and got my pinny on. It was OK, back in the swing of things, peeling potatoes etc., and the end product was acceptable although I did make loads too much. It will do for tomorrow as they say.

I tried really hard but had a load of biscuits with my cup of tea for supper.      

Monday 4 Jun

I got up at the crack of dawn – Ok the crack of 8.00 - and took the dog out for a jog up the hill in the plantations to Haigh Hall. He loves jogging along as I struggle up the hill but I get my own back on the way down as he is galloping along and gasping for breath. I let him have a drink in the stream if he’s good.

It felt good to be back on the bike again, in this country, I must add, although I did have a couple of ventures out on the bike last week in Calis but only to the shop or the pub.

The afternoon saw us celebrating the Queen's jubilee at my mum's with the extended family, some of whom had returned from Calis only that morning. Tough our girls, or what? I ate loads of buffet but only drank a few cans of cider so maybe willpower is kicking in. It was a good do but we didn't stay late and I got to bed at a reasonable time.    

Monday, 4 June 2012

The Days After 2 Jun

I retired on Friday night/Saturday morning at around 2.00am so, with about 10 hours sleep I obviously didn’t see much of the best part of Saturday morning. I had a huge breakfast of porridge with shredded wheat, which is what I should have had every day on the ride but never mind.

It is my intention now to develop the blog by adding photos and tracks to each post. For a number of reasons, some tracks didn’t record so I will have to try to re-create these on the bike route website and get them on the blog somehow. I may also give photos and maps pages of their own which would mean people don’t have to trawl through the whole thing again to see them, if you’ve got nothing better to do that is. I could not do this abroad for some reason or it would have been organised so I pottered about a bit with the blog for an hour or so. I think I may have finally emptied the suitcase.

I checked the sponsorship account and must confess to being a bit disappointed. I suppose it is early days but I would just ask that if you have promised to donate please do so sooner rather than later because these things can easily slip the mind. Obviously, a big thanks to those who have donated already.

In the middle of the afternoon I set off with my BYW to visit my mum and see the rest of the family. I received a welcome of near-Fethiye proportions and picked up a number of well-wishing cards from other family members containing sponsor money in various forms, which made me feel a bit better. There is a Saturday tradition at my mum’s of all-day-breakfast so I tucked in again, good style. We had a good chat there and got home in time for the England football match. At home, I just couldn’t stop eating and had a couple of cans of cider as well before retiring at a reasonable hour.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

The Days After 1 Jun

Dalaman Airport is not a very nice place, for a number of reasons. One is that you are forced to spend a couple of hours there at the end of your holiday which means the holiday is over. Another is that the food and drinks are a ridiculous price. Don't they realise that if the prices were a bit more reasonable people might actually spend some money. We expect airports to be expensive but 15YTL for a beer is just too much. The staff just sit behind the counters and polish their fingernails and try to look busy while the punters avoid eye contact and try to make themselves comfortable. Also, there always seems to be a delay which makes things a lot worse, and there was one on this occasion. 2.00am is a good flight time for me. On holiday you can often find yourself awake at that time so you shouldn't be too tired at take-off and if you can sleep on the flight 4 and a half hours is a decent flight duration to get some quality zeds in. Plenty when you can top it up at home later. A two hour delay means you get a lot more tired at the airport and must be alert for boarding etc. It was poison for me. I couldn't sleep in the departure lounge and I couldn't sleep on the plane. The delay meant nobody could pick me up but the train was a decent alternative. I struggled on the concourse and up and down a number of lifts with the bags and the bike-in-a-box but got to the airport station OK. I actually used my phone as a wi-fi source and downloaded the blog onto the little lappy-toppy thingy while on the train and got a taxi home from the station in Wigan.

Siobhan made me a cup of tea and some cheese crumpets as I eased back into Wigan life. I emptied the case in instalments while re-associating myself with the workings of the remote controls and nodding off here and there. I decided to go to bed in the afternoon but couldn't sleep at first. When I did eventually drop off I jumped up half an hour later when Tom came in and decided to tough it out. I was delighted to be able to put the bike together and get it looking good again and after a bite to eat we settled down to watch the Wigan youngsters demolish the world rugby league champions, Leeds. After the rugby real beer beckoned and I met Tom and Paul in the Royal Oak. Three pints of nectar later I was home and enjoying a large-ish single malt before retiring, after a ridiculously long day, to my own bed again. I don't know what happened in the next ten hours.  

Friday, 1 June 2012

The Days After 30 - 31 May

On Wednesday I had been invited to make a guest appearance and to make the draw for a raffle at the weekly FIG coffee morning at the Yeni Dunya on Fethiye front. I was all ready for the dolmus at 1020 when Marg and Keith offered to take me in the 'jeep'. They were going into Fethiye anyway to try to sort out their internet connection yet again. We bounced along for half an hour and then they dropped me in the centre and I continued on foot. I realised halfway there that there was no pain of any description in either of my knees. Hurrah! Could it be the jeep jostling? I reached the venue and was plied with coffee and cakes and then with congratulations and then with questions about the ride from various FIG members past and present and from other particiants. It was another pleasant occasion and nice to meet the enthusiastic and energetic FIG members again. I made the draw and had a close one when I drew out a ticket next to one I had bought. The whole event lasted an hour and a half or so and I said my farewells and left to good wishes from everyone.

I realised I had no change for the 'dolly' back to base so I had a drink at the Kemal and brought the blog up to date using their wi-fi. I took my time and realised I was out and about and alone for the first time since the ride had ended, and enjoying it - ominous, or what? I took the water taxi across the bay back to Calis and then wandered back to Zakkum still pain-free.

I went out later for a meal to the Eros with our Marg and Rose and Betty and Megan. This venue was Betty's choice on this occasion and a fine one. I enjoyed a sea bream with too much salad, not enough chips and no rice at all. Do these people not realise my situation? I need unhealthy food to get back out of shape. The sunset was the usual mindblowing spectacle and we wandered back via the Shamrock and the Dawn Beach where Eko was in his usual good form, and then got a taxi back 'home'. We had a drink or two outside Rose's and I eventually got my head down, after watching a bit if telly, at the ridiculously late hour of 3am.

There was heavy rain during the night and, instead of turning over once or twice, I revolved until about 10 o'clock. Keith and I then took the bike around to Ali's and he packed the bike neatly in a box for me. The rest of the day involved slowly tidying the apartment and getting my bags packed. Shaun and Shirley came around on the way to the guitar club and Keith brought a bottle of home brew out, and then another. It was a bit like rocket fuel. I had a couple of glasses and ended up sleeping for two hours in the afternoon while he went off with Shaun. I saw him later and he looked OK. I then found he had been on fruit juice all afternoon. Not like Keith at all.

That time eventually came and I went to the gate to wait for my transfer. The minibus arrived and I stashed my case and the bike in the back and said my farewells to all the family there with me at the gate. At the airport I found out that the flight is delayed for two hours. This means I can't be picked up at Manchester but there is an easy way out. I will take the train from the airport to Wigan and get a taxi home from the station. I just need a key to get in the house. While queueing to check in I asked the Thomson rep what I should do about my bike. She asked if I was the man who had ridden over from England. I said I was and she told me that her mum had sat next to a young lady on a flight over to Turkey last Wednesday who was flying to meet her dad who had cycled to turkey. The young lady was obviously Siobhan complete with pork scratchings and Uncle Joe's. How about that? And was that a week ago?

So I am sitting here in Dalaman airport and have drafted the blog while fighting off sleep. That feels familiar. I will complete the blog update after I get home and complete my night's sleep in my OWN BED.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The Days After 26 - 29 May

That was going to be the end of the blog but I have decided to keep going until nobody reads it, so it's up to you. If you are reading this there is no excuse.

The ride is over and I am enjoying doing generally nothing with the morning highlights being multiple turnovers and honey nut cornflakes mixed with some rabbit food I have carried halfway across Europe. My knees were giving me a bit of jip at first but they seem to be improving slowly. I just need to get used to walking again. Also, after a few days in the sun the tan lines are beginning to fade slightly but I doubt if they will disappear or even join up.

Following is a brief and quite boring account of the days after the ride ended. You were warned.

After the fantastic reception event on Friday we, that is the family and I, planned to take the water taxi from the front in Fethiye and eat in Calis, apart from Keith and Marg who would take the bike back in a jeep they had access to for a couple of weeks, and meet us later. We found that the last water taxi had left at 5.30 ish which seems a bit early to me. Never mind, we ate in the Kemal Hotel on the front in Fethiye. I changed from my cycling gear which was still a bit sweaty despite the short nature of the day's ride, in the WC. We made our way back to Calis on the 'dolly' and eventually had a beer or two in Brothers.

Saturday was a nice rest day for me. In the afternoon I went to PJ's bar and made use of their wi-fi to record the final blog of the ride. I watched a bit of cricket there and Grand Prix qualifying. We had very kindly been invited to eat at the Monta Verde in Ovacik by the Manager, Barkin, at the reception after the ride. He does a lot for FIG and we were happy to accept his kind offer. Siobhan and Liane and Adam were leaving late that night so we had planned to eat quite early. Our transfer man and good friend, Murat, picked us up in his beautiful new minibus at 5.30 and by 6 o'clock we had been greeted by Barkin and were sitting down to a lovely meal with a few drinks in his really pleasant hotel dining room. He was a really nice chap and we enjoyed his company as we ate. It was quite a busy place, really well set out and nicely decorated. He refused payment so we left a nice tip for the waiters and set off back at 9.30 ish.

On Sunday there was some early confusion over the arrangements for an afternoon party/barbecue at Zakkum. When it was agreed that it was actually to be that afternoon we all set about organising food and drinks. With major input from Marg P and solid backing from everybody else, everything went smoothly and a great time was had by all. The guitar gang from PJ's/Meri Bar performed admirably as usual and everybody holidaying at Zakkum joined in. My personal highlight was the unveiling of a bowl of pork scratchings, the contents of three packets of the originals from Wigan Market Hall which Siobhan had brought over after much pleading from myself. They didn't last long. Keith's home brew seemed to have quite an effect on several participants, including myself. I thought I did well and saw off quite a few of the other revellers but finally I retired well-sloshed and left the hard core to it. Apparently it didn't go on much longer so I didn't miss much.

Monday morning saw me being interviewed by Janet from the 'Land of Lights' newspaper. I think it went quite well but we will see when the newspaper comes out next week. She insisted on a photo of me holding a packet of Uncle Joe's Mint Balls. (they keep you all aglow). Jane has co-written a book on the nearby tourist attraction, the ghost village of Kayakoy and very kindly gave me a copy. In the afternoon I took advantage of PJ's wi-fi again to add my bike to my flight, complete the API form and to book my transfer. I forwarded the emails on to John from the guitar club and he has taken a load off my mind by offering to print the necessary stuff for Friday's early morning flight. I called at the Doga Bisiklet, the proper bike shop near to PJ's and the young man, Ali, agreed to give me a bike box to take my bike home in. He also offered to organise my bike in the standard way for shipping, which was very kind of him and another load off my mind. We ventured out in the evening and had a nice meal at the Chinese Breeze, which was Megan's choice because she had had to put up with the old person's music at the barbecue the night before. We had one of those classic Calis sunsets which we seem to take for granted but you just don't see anywhere else.

Tuesday was a very quiet day. The knees were much better and Keith had a call from John to say the printing was done but it might be best to meet at the Meri Bar for me to check and he could nip home to make any amendments necessary. The printing was fine but we had a pleasant couple of hours drinking in the sunshine and it was well worth while.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

25 May Stage 42 Ciftlik - Fethiye

Dep  3.15      Arr  4.00      Dist  13.2 km      Total
This was to be the final stage of an epic journey, a short, flat ride of 12 km or so accompanied by members of the Fethiye Cycling Club and other groups and various members of the public. It was the toughest day of them all. I was apprehensive all morning and just wanted to get it over with. I am not into speeches and photos and interviews and videos etc, but I knew it had to be done to maximise the income for the charities.

It wasn't that bad. Keith and young Adam took me down the road from where the other cyclists were convening and dropped me off at a petrol station in Yaniklar so that I could ride into the waiting crowd with maximum effect. I had a half hour or so to wait and used the time to go over my speech, hoping that I wouldn't need to make one.

The time came and I set off. After ten minutes I could see them all there and I rode in to warm applause and just the right amount of backslapping. Terry presented me with a yellow tee shirt announcing my achievement and we all set off with a police car in front leading the way. There were pockets of people at a number of junctions cheering and clapping and I actually became slightly emotional once or twice. Horns were honking as we rode into Fethiye and the crowd at the Fethiye Evi was amazing. There was a brass bad playing and cameras clicking and people cheering and clapping. I was stood there with a genuine grin on my face, slightly, no, more than slightly, embarrassed but loving it all the same.

I was ushered to the stage where I climbed onto the podium used for the proper cycling event, the Presidential Tour of Turkey. I was presented with a red and white garland, proper colours. Cameras were clicking all the time, speeches were made, by Terry, by the honourary British consul and then, by me. I think I got away with it. Things calmed down a bit then and a lot of people came and introduced themselves and congratulated me and shook my hand. It was all very pleasant and not really the ordeal I had expected.

While this was all going on we had some excellent Turkish dancers who were actually English and Scottish. There were then two chaps playing instruments and singing very nicely and I had a number of conversations with well-wishers and FIG members. We, the whole nine family members present, were then invited for a meal by the manager of the Monta Verde hotel in Ovacik, which we gratefully accepted and will be taking advantage of on Saturday evening.

It was a great day, a truly wonderful and heartwarming occasion and a day I will never forget but then there have been forty two days preceding this day that I will never forget either.

The deed is done. I have achieved what I set out to do, which was to ride from my home in Wigan, UK to my other home in Calis Beach, Fethiye, Turkey, a distance of approximately 2,500 miles or 4,000 km.

Thank you to everybody who has shown their support along the way. On occasions I felt all of the good wishes behind me in the form of a helping hand pushing me along. There were times I needed a helping hand and it was very much appreciated.

I have finished now and will enjoy a little holiday here in Calis each, but the people who work for these charities, Wigan and Leigh Hospice and the Fethiye International Group, will be out there tomorrow and the day after and the day after that, etc,doing what they do, which is quite simply to give up their time to make other people's lives better. I just hope that anyone who has read and enjoyed this story has made an appropriate contribution which will enable them to continue to carry out their wonderful work.


24 May Stage 41 Ortaca - Ciftlik

Dep  11.15      Arr  3.15      Dist        Total 

Shaun dropped me off where he had picked me up the day before, that is, on the OTHER SIDE of Ortaca. We had figured on the way that I wouldn't be allowed through the Gocek tunnel on the bike and I wasn't really up to going over that hill. Shaun then offered to wait for me by the tunnel and bring me through. The plan was that he and Keith would go for some breakfast and then meet me at the toll booth. They went and after a minute or two I was ready and I set off after them at a leisurely pace. After 20 mins or so I saw the car at the side of the road and saw they were just having their food brought out. Shaun kindly offered me some but I had had my honey nut corn flakes so I declined and said I would just see them at the tunnel. It was a slog and a half up to the tunnel. I thought I'd be there in ten minutes but I actually only got there about half an hour after I saw them at the cafe so I was hoping they hadn't rushed their food. I was struggling a bit maybe because of the premature celebrations from the night before. It was only when I saw the profile the day after that I realised it was a similar length and climb to the famous Saddleworth Moor. The lads hadn't rushed their food and they arrived a couple of minutes after me. We got the bike in and they dropped me the other side and I set off again. There were another three fairly difficult climbs but I took my time and got to my apartment at Zakkum Villas to complete the penultimate stage.

After a fantastic shower in my own place I had an hour's rest and then went up to PJ's to see the lads from the guitar club. They were practising for a 'gig' on Saturday but took the time to congratulate me and offer their support for the final ride in to Fethiye on Friday. I just had one drink and went back for a lie down. I managed another hours sleep and a bite to eat and then Terry came for a chat with Marg and me about last minute arrangements for Friday and about the kind of things FIG do for the local kids and those from the surrounding areas. It was quite fascinating to find out about the days out and visits FIG provide for these children, some of whom are extremely poor and it made me feel particularly good about my efforts allowing them to continue this good work. After Terry went I was a bit knackered but managed another beer before retiring. It is essential I recover my drinking capacity before too long. I have lost about 24 pounds in weight and will enjoy putting it back on - no danger.

Today's track

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

23 May Stage 40 Mugla - Ortaca

I have just been informed that there has been a change to the 'riding in' schedule on Friday. We will all be convening at Ciftlik at about 3 pm and leaving for Fethiye at about 3.30 to arrive at about 4.00 which is an hour later than originally planned.
Nice sunny morning. A few clouds about but no real threat. A bit breezy but I'm mostly downhill or flat today. Breakfast, then off.

Breakfast was the same as yesterday but I managed to make it in time for a boiled egg. Hooray. Today, the jam butties won but the cups of tea ran it close. 6 - 3. I then took ages getting ready and set off just after ten o'clock for my rendezvous with Phil and Pete who had been in touch via the blog and had offered to accompany me down the hill. There was a bit of an uphill soon after Mugla - and it was expected - and soon after, I turned off to Ula where I had arranged to meet the lads. Ula was a nice little place with thousands of old bikes on the streets. I have never seen so many in a Turkish town or village. The asphalt road changed into narrow windind paved streets and there were no signs indicating the way out. I made a number of inquiries and did a couple of laps and eventually made my way out.

I eventually came across two chaps with white tee-shirts on clapping as I got nearer and figured out these were my pals for the day. Phil and Pete were from Sheffield and Bristol respectively and lived in places away from what we would all consider as tourist areas. We went on for a bit, chatting away, good style, and then stopped for a most welcome break at what looked like a little farm, for a load of honey and bread and Turkish tea. We then careered down the hill and took a few good photos and then these lads, who I feel will be friends for life, made their way back westwards and I went on to the road to Ortaca.

I met up with my friends there and had a great reunion and am currently enjoying great company with a drink or two and a couple of short stages ahead.

Today's track

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

22 May - Rest day Mugla

I enjoyed waking up this morning at 7.20, realising I wasn't going anywhere and turning over several times. Breakfast finished at 9.30 and I only just made it. It was Turkish breakfast, buffet style which meant four cups of tea and lots of jam butties with the odd olive and slab of cheese. All the boiled eggs had gone. Serves me right.

I went for a wander this morning and changed some money, had a haircut with all the works, and bought a few nick-nacks. I had a chicken doner and a beer for lunch and have been replying to emails and sorting out paperwork this afternoon. I also looked at a few flights home which was a really weird feeling.

I actually had a sleep this afternoon for a couple of hours which surprised me. I felt OK but I must have needed it. I had my tea and a couple of beers quite late over the road. I couldn't be bothered walking any further. Walking isn't for me anymore. I need wheels. Ominous.

I will be leaving at around 10.00 tomorrow and heading for Ortaca. Just after the village of Ula, I will hopefully be meeting up with Phil and Pete who contacted me through comments on the blog. There is a long downhill section then with apparently astounding views. At Ortaca I will be meeting friends who will be accommodating me for the night. I am really looking forward to meeting up with them again. Thursday will see me make my way to Ciftlik where I will stay with more friends at a secret location before meeting up with the entourage for the ride in to Fethiye on Friday which will be a fantastic experience for me and one I'm looking forward to very much, and not just because it's the end of the ride.

I have just been informed that there has been a change to the riding in schedule on Friday. We will all be convening at Ciftlik at about 3 pm and leaving for Fethiye at about 3.30 to arrive at about 4.00 which is an hour later than originally planned.

Monday, 21 May 2012

21 May Stage 39 Cine - Mugla

Dep  9.15      Arr  3.00        Dist  63.8 km      Total  3871.3 km

After taking advantage of the limited blogging opportunity in the noisy internet cafe Christoph and I went hunting for some food. I had sort of had my way with chicken shish at dinnertime so he was understandably insistent on his favourite, corba, which is soup, and we wandered around for a while trying to find an appropriate place. I was a bit knackered and I let the old guy have his way but we just couldn't find a soup kitchen. We actually ended up in a fast food pizza express next door but one to the hotel after a full lap of the town centre (about 400m) I ordered chicken shish with chips and ended up with pide which is a pizaa on bread, and no chips Christoph had the most enormous pizza which he wolfed down. I fancied a beer, surprise, surprise, but there were no obvious outlets so we went to our respective rooms for the night.

It's worth describing our arrival at the hotel at this point. I had my plan sorted. Separate rooms. Chris must have some Yorkshire blood and he actually considered sharing and kicked of good style about there being no breakfast. I've got some stuff on my bike but he's got twice as much, for obvious reasons. Either of us would have filled a double room with the contents of our bags. Anyway, 70ytl for a double, 40ytl each for a single - no contest We just assumed there would be wifi and we took our stuff up three floors only to find there wasn't any. I actually considered loading the bike up again but the proximity of an internet cafe took that out of the equation.

I was sat in the room and it wasn't very late. I still fancied a beer so I nipped down to the shop downstairs and  snaffled a couple of cold ones. I enjoyed them immensely while watching Turkish TV.

I didn't sleep well at all. What's more I found in the morning that my phone hadn't charged properly and Terry was going to text me the address of the hotel in Mugla which he had arranged for me. Tension on it! Chris and I convened at nine at another of the tiny cafes around the tiny hotel and had some pastry with cay and it was a decent start to the day especially since I had already had a packet of biscuits in the room.

The first half hour was a doddle, flat or down with no wind. The rest wasn't. It was a tough uphill grind with an occasional short downhill bit. It started with a steep climb for 5km after Eskicine, then just gradual uphill until another big steep one just after halfway and then another gradual climb up again to Mugla  I knew what to expect because I had seen the profile when I made the first plan and had then frantically looked at other routes but there weren't any. So it was head down push one, push the other, blow the sweat off the nose, you know the drill etc. We stopped for lunch at a posh petrol station place after we had got past half way and Christoph's dream nearly came true. It looked like soup but it was actually a lovely chicken stew, which we had with rice and tons of bread and not too expensive either. We knuckled down and made it to Mugla itself. We found a place to have a coffee and had a last drink and chat and made our farewells. I checked my phone and the hotel details were there. There was only about 10% power left on my phone so it was a close one. Chris had to make progress to get to Antalya for a ferry to Cyprus and then on to Israel for a ferry to Morocco, overland in Africa to Ghana and then a boat to Brazil. We will keep in touch and I hope all goes well for the lad.

I was then left with the task of finding the hotel from the address that Terry had texted me. My phone was on its last legs, battery-wise but, miraculously the text was there. I then asked a waiter at the coffee place and found I was very close. I found the hotel about five minutes later. I got everything plugged in and charging and listened to England winning the test match and then had a monumental swill and ventured out for food and drink. I have had my usual with a couple of beers and actually later found a street with a few pubs in. I had a mini pub crawl of three places. One was a nice garden type place where there were two policemen talking loudly to the staff until they left with a bottle of Jack Daniels - a gift, the barman told me. The second was was a very dimly lit bar which had a lot of women in but strangely none of them had a drink. The third was an Irish bar with not the slightest bit of Irish-ness about it apart from the odd shamrock.

I made it back to the hotel with some crisps and a couple of cans and will have a proper sleep in tomorrow. I can't believe I'm so close after all this time but then I think about Christoph and his adventure, of which I've been a very small part, and the young Korean Jeonghwan Kim who's been 'out here' for a year or more and will be for a lot longer.

Today's track

Saturday, 19 May 2012

20 May Stage 38 Selcuk - Cine

Dep  945     Arr  3.45     Dist  89.8 km      Total  3807.5 km

The link with the FIG event didn't materialise after all. Terry contacted me later and we had a chat. The connection here in the Artemis was intermittent but I still can't understand what happened.

I didn't realise but Selcuk is the modern name for Ephesus. There is a castle - the castle - up above me as I type this in the garden over breakfast. So that's why there are so many hotels in this relatively small town.

Last night I had my fish, with chips, rice and salad. It was huge, and delicious and then went for a nap and emerged later to watch the big game. Unbelievable drama - well done Chelsea.

I'm heading towards Mugla today and hope to get as far as I can to make tomorrow's ride as short as possible. The climb up to Mugla is one of the toughest climbs of the whole journey and I want to make it in one piece. I'll have a day off in Mugla and then finish the job.

The early climb was quite tough and I was 500m from the top when I was joined by Christoph, who is a 63 year old German chap who is on his way around the world. Someone even older than me going further, a lot further than me. It's just not on. We decided to ride together for a while and were careering down the other side when another heavily laden cyclist appeared coming the other way. This chap was quite young and was from South Korea, of all places, and had been away for about a year. He was camping every night and living on fruit from the trees. He actually had no money but didn't seem bothered at all. Humbling if you ask me.

After the initial uphill slog the ride was mainly flat or downhill on decent roads and with little or no wind. There were only a couple of little humps near the end and we made good ground working together like a well-oiled machine. We decided to settle on Cine as a place to stop, mainly because there are no decent sized towns between here and Mugla and, therefore little chance of a hotel further on. There is no wireless in the hotel but we have found an internet cafe and I'm blogging here now. Tough, tough day tomorrow, 700m or so uphill to Mugla. Can't wait.

Today's track

Friday, 18 May 2012

19 May Stage 37 Izmir - Selcuk

Dep 9.45    Arr  3.30    Dist  80.6 km      Total  3717.7 km

I opened the blinds to a nice sunny morning with not a cloud in view so the cape was relegated to the bottom of the bag. I had a look at the route and noticed that Kusadasi was actually a bit out of the way and I could save myself a bit of time by finding somewhere on or nearer to the main road. That place was Selcuk which is quite small but the internet showed any number of cheap guest houses there so that became the new plan. I didn't know if breakfast was included but wasn't really bothered. I just wanted to get going. I had had a serious look at the way out of Izmir and it wasn't going to be easy. Ironically, it was much the same as the dolmus ride I had had yesterday which was a stroke of luck in a way but a real nuisance in another way because of the busy nature of the roads.

I stuck to the inside lane and used the footpath whenever I could although it was very uneven and very slow. Safety was all important and I still had a couple of near-ish misses as cars and vans went across me as they turned off the main road. I had read the route quite well though and, after an hour and a half of nervous riding, I made it out of this sprawling and very busy city into the country and a nice smooth wide hard shoulder. Progress was steady. I called at a petrol station and got some of these fantastic Turkish biscuits for breakfast. I ate a packet straight away and placed the other packet opened in the bar bag for my ten minute treat which reduced to every 5 minutes and then less for some unknown reason. The small towns rolled by and I was 20km or so from Selcuk when it clouded over and the wind got up. I got a bit wet and the last hour was slow progress but I arrived in the town and slowed down looking for a place to stay as I neared the centre. As I crawled along a car stopped in front of me and a man stepped out and asked 'Are you looking for a nice place to stay?' I said I was and he proceeded to tell me, in perfect English, about his place which was 600m back and a bit off the road. It sounded right and I followed him there - and I am here now actually, where I am writing this chapter in the sunshine of his garden while waiting for the FIG gang to contact me for my latest guest appearance. I'm having a Turkish tea but will soon be having a beer or two and Falcus will be cooking me a fish with the trimmings as I watch the Championship play-off and then the Champions League final in his bar if I can stay awake long enough. Nothing yet from Terry and the FIG fundraising event.

Today's track

18 May Stage 36 Yenisakran - Izmir

Dep 9.50     Arr  3.20    Dist  71.6 km    Total  3637.1

Yesterday evening I had just about achieved an acceptable level of pinkness when the sun went down over my little bungalow. Guldem, the lovely lady responsible for this establishment, had recognised my craving for Turkish tea and had very kindly brought me a couple of cups while I was blogging away in the evening sunshine.

I went and got dressed and found a place to eat by the seaside. It was a bit cloudy and cool but looked like a nice sea front. I had chicken kofte and a Tuborg and returned for my high tech link-up with the FIG gang in Ovacik, not Fethiye as I had earlier reported. I think it went well. I don't think I made too much of a nit of myself and allowed people to see that there was really somebody out there.

I came back and phoned home and also rang Nigel from the Thursday night gang, just as he was sitting down to his first pint in the Anvil, or so I thought. He was at home. It turns out that they hadn't gone out at all. This is unheard of. I will have to get home and fix that!

I awoke in the morning just after six to the unusual sound of rain on the window. The sky was very, very gloomy and I did the only decent thing. I turned over and went back to sleep. An hour and a half later the weather was at least as bad but I got up and started the long, slow process. I was making a coffee when I saw a shape at the door. It was Guldem with a tray of Turkish breakfast. The room was a right mess with my clothes randomly dispersed so I was a bit embarrassed. I thanked her profusely. What a gesture. I knew breakfast wasn't included in the price and was prepared to stop to eat after an hour or so. Now, I wouldn't have to stop so early which was a great bonus. I don't think Guldem realises how important that is. Her kind thought made my day so much easier. When I finished loading the bags onto the bike we had a couple of photos and I set off actually saying 'I hope we can meet again' and meaning it. I had really enjoyed my short time in this little holiday camp.

The ride was quite uneventful, mainly because of the rain which didn't happen. I couldn't believe it. There would be dark heavy clouds ahead and I would the veer to the left and so on, several times. The wind was here and there but never a major problem. I caught a few drops of rain in Aliaga and actually got wet in Menemen but soon dried out. My computer was missing bits so I had to rely on road signs for distances and they were decreasing nicely thank you. Menemen is quite a big place itself and the centre is more than 30km from the centre of Izmir so I was amazed to see the end of Menemen followed about 3km later by the sign indicating the start of Izmir, population 3.5 million or so, and there's the rub. An hour later I was still picking my way carefully through the suburbs of this very big city. Carefully is the operative word. I was no longer a novelty. I was a nuisance and it was as if I wasn't there to other drivers, dolmus drivers especially. I soon got to know my place and that was hugging the kerb and not venturing out past the inside lane.

I found the hotel which was like a University campus. It is owned and run by the Turkish Water Board and is used mainly by their workers. This had been arranged for me by Terry through another FIG member who has connections in that field and what a beautiful place it is. The room is so comfortable and clean and modern so a big thanks to Jill, I think her name is. Apologies if not.

There are no obvious eating place nearby so I jumped on a dolmus with the intention of jumping off when I saw somewhere. There wasn't anywhere nearby. There were plenty of places to get new wheels for your car but eat, no.  I found myself 10 minutes later in the middle of a spaghetti junction leading to a highway 3 or 4 miles long with nothing either side. We came to a suburb with a few bars which looked promising but I couldn't get off because I would never find my way back. I stayed on for another 20 mins or so until everybody had gone and the driver stopped and asked me where I was going, in sign language. I explained that I was staying on so I could go back to where I started. He then explained that he was going home for his tea and pointed across the road to a dolmus going the other way. I jumped off and started back and then recognised the 'promising place' so I took a chance. I had a beer and some sausage and chips and the waiters told me which dolmus to get back to the hotel.

I made it back OK but was still hungry and asked at the reception if there was a restaurant. There was indeed in another building and I went and stuffed myself with the old stand by, chicken shish and an Efes of course.

Back in the room now planning tomorrow's ride to Kusadasi which isn't far away. Big check on the weather. I can't be as lucky again, surely?

Today's track

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

17 May Stage 35 Ayvalik - Yenisakran

Dep  10.15    Arr  4.15    Dist  80.6 km    Total  3565.5 km

I had earlier asked Cumhur if I could eat at his little restaurant but he said he only had toast and the town would be best for me. I did some communicating in the room and found that my passport had arrived in Fethiye and would be waiting for me when I got there. Good news and thanks to Terry and the British Consul, no less, for making it happen. I imagined my little friend in Edirne thinking I must be very important to have attracted this level of attention.

When I came down, with the best of intentions, to go to the town for food and a shave, Cumhur informed me that he was, in fact, cooking and I could have fish soup and aubergine kebab with salad. I thought better of it and declined graciously. I set off and realised the town was quite a way and then saw a small shop only 50m from the hotel. I bought a razor for half a lira and went back. I asked Cumhur if I could eat there and he said 'of course'. I had a shave which took ages and hurt and then proceeded to have the most fantastic meal. It started with at least six different types of salad on one plate and all so tasty. The soup was tremendous and the main course was so much better than I had expected. I was actually allowed to drink and had a couple of bottles of draught (yes, I know). The whole meal cost a bit more than I had expected at first but it was pretty special and, with the beers, I suppose I can't complain.

Breakfast was great as well and I ate every bit and eventually got going under a clear blue sky. I had set off under heavy cloud for the last two days and managed to dodge the rain. Would sod's law kick in, I was wondering? It didn't but the wind was against for most of the day, despite a number of changes in direction, and I was quite fed up for the whole of the  ride. I was feeling a bit saddlesore as well, which was a bit ominous, but kept changing position and it eased a bit. One bright spot was when I stopped at a petrol station type cafe after Bergama. I asked for cay and water and the young lad was fascinated by my bike and kept asking me questions in Turkish. As I finished a cup he brought me another. I do love Turkish tea and needed the fluids and sugar anyway. I asked an older chap for food and he apologised and showed me racks of biscuits. I chose two and ate one packet while communicating with the youngster over another cay. I had four altogether. The man refused payment for the Turkish tea so I left a lira on the table when I went. The young lad ran after me and forced it into my pocket. He seemed offended.

I had a couple of choices with today's destination. The planned distance was around 90km which would leave a leisurely 60km to Izmir tomorrow. If I stopped short today it would only make tomorrow's ride a little bit longer and I was knackered. A distance sign then said Aliaga 19km and Izmir 80 km and I was in two minds whether to push on or not. I turned a corner and my mind was made up. The wind hit me harder that ever and almost stopped me dead. The next hotel it is then. There were roadside signs for two 'pansiyons' as I approached Yenisakran and I decided the first one I got to would be the one. I also decided I wouldn't be going far from the main road. The Sakran Pansiyon won. It consists of six little 'sheds' or bungalows nicely set out in a well-kept garden. There is a small kitchen with tea and coffee. I have had a great shower and I am sitting here now, blogging outside my place getting some sun on my white body.

There is a FIG fundraising function tonight somewhere in Fethiye, I think. Apparently I will be featuring on Skype if all goes well. I'm off for something to eat now and will return to prepare for this sensational event.

Today's track

16 May Stage 34 Ayvacik - Ayvalik

Dep  9.40       Arr  5.10       Dist  114.3 km      Total  3484.9 km

I dressed for dinner and when I sat down I was joined by Murat, who was to be my translator for the evening. He said he worked in a bar in Marmaris where they called him Ronaldo because of his facial resemblance to the footballer. Yes, maybe. He was another young man of about the same age as Ulker and the others and described them all as his friends. I couldn't figure out family connections. Maybe they all just live here in the pension. There was no menu so I asked what was convenient and ended up with kofte and cold pasta which was just about OK but I could have done with more. I did what should be done on these occasions and every scrap of bread. I asked for a beer and Murat said they didn't have it. I could buy it at the shop up the road. I was off like a shot immediately and the old chap, who was the chef, said something and Murat shouted after me 'not here please'. So I did without. Water and Turkish tea would have to do.

There was a washing machine in the washroom. Murat had gone off with some of the others and I asked another lad about some laundry. He asked the lady and she had a bit of a Paddy. This new lad explained that it wouldn't be free which I totally understood and accepted and went up to get my washing ready. She came into the washroom as I was stuffing things into the washer and I realised the stuff I had on could do with washing as well. I retrieved my base layers which I had brought to keep me warm in the tent. They had been washed weeks ago and hadn't been worn since. I hoped she understood and would leave while I changed. She eventually got the picture so I did the switch and ran out before she came back and saw me in this provocative evening wear. I heard her doing the necessary and stayed in the room for the night. I emerged later to hang things on radiators and chairs, hoping I would have something dry to wear in the morning.

I slept well and felt refreshed when I awoke. My clothes were all nearly dry so there would be no problem by the time I set off. I had checked the weather and it looked like I was facing another day with the wind against, although it promised to be lighter and the stage was flat following the coast after a couple of early hills.

Breakfast was OK but there was no boiled egg! Unheard of in Turkish hotel history. As I ate there was a steady trail of children of ascending ages in school uniform coming down and leaving. I went up to get sorted and the rain started. I forgot to mention that I avoided the rain yesterday after all the early threats. How miserable would it have been if it had been raining all day? I shudder to think. There were dark clouds ahead and I was heading upwards and towards them. I felt a few drops as I climbed and thought if I can get down the other side sharpish I might get away with this. That's exactly what happened. I got the early climbs out of the way and was freewheeling down behind a big truck that was on its brakes all the time. I heard a pip from a truck behind and some unpleasant sounds from the passengers. I moved over and found it was full of sheep. This guy then took his place behind the first truck and I slotted in behind the sheep - and they stunk!

The sea arrived from my right with the mountains on my left and the road flattened and widened through a series of seaside resorts all along the main road. I got my speed up and that thought was there again. 'If only I could have an hour of this'. I had two and broke the back of the day's ride, bowling along on the flat with no wind. I did a big 270 plus turn at Edremit so the sea was now to my right with a wide plain and mountains to my left. I found the wind was slightly against but it wasn't strong and I was making steady progress. I stopped for some Turkish tea and cheese on toast at one of the many sexy petrol stations they have up here and bought some biscuits to keep my energy levels up. I had the biscuits in the handlebar bag and was munching away, allowing myself one every 5 minutes until disaster occurred. As I reached for a biscuit I lost control of the handlebar momentarily and, in retrieving the situation with my other hand, dropped a biscuit. When dropping a biscuit is a disaster you know you are having a good day.

 The wind got up a bit near the end and there a couple of little kick-ups of 100m climb or so (ahem - polishes nails on lapel) but I got into Ayvalik which is a lovely little seaside town, not as good as Fethiye though. I was coasting along the prom and there was this beautiful little hotel, the Sozer. I asked Kevin Spacey at the desk about the price which was acceptable and accepted and here I am on my balcony (ahem) completing today's story. I've had a shower in the immaculate and well-appointed washroom and will soon be venturing 100m or so into the town where I will be hunting for a beer and some food and may even have a shave. No, it's no good trying to stop me.

Today's track

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

15 May Stage 33 Canakkale - Ayvacik

Dep  9.45    Arr  4.30    Dist  70.2 km      Total  3370.6 km

I got to bed in the "dorm" and there was nobody else about. There was a lot of street noise and loud music coming from somewhere distant. I was very restless and couldn't get comfortable for some reason. I drifted off and then woke soon after with the sound of someone snoring. I was then woken by a couple coming in giggling. Next thing I knew it was morning. I had a decent sleep after all. Daylight was visible through the window over the snorers head, not sunshine though, just a mass of grey cloud. I lay there and drifted off waiting for the toilet call. The snorer was getting organised and trying his best not to make a noise, slowly zipping bags open and placing items carefully on the floor and the bed. When the toilet call came I was about ready to surface anyway and I made my way past the snorer who turned out to be a Japanese gentleman and not young. It was just before eight, breakfast time, so I did the necessary and went up another floor, the fourth, to the dining room. It was the classic Turkish with everything almost exactly the same as I'd had elsewhere. It was good and I scoffed the lot.

When I'd packed and taken my stuff down the three flights of stairs, two trips as well, there was Hiroshi outside with his bags, ready to be taken to the airport. He was a very nice chap and we had a good conversation as I got the bags and stuff on the bike. Photos were then taken with staff members and he went for his bus.

The rain had started and stopped and started again by this time and the sky was as dark as ever. I pondered for a bit and decided to just get going. I set off through the traffic and slowly made my way out of the town. The sky looked better to my right and I eventually turned in that direction. It was uphill as usual coming away from the sea. Canakkale looked like a nice town but not as nice as Fethiye. The wind was a bit of a pain and I pictured the route map in my mind. There were no 90degree turns like yesterday. No, a little bend about half way but the wind would have to drop or change direction dramatically for it to help me at any time. There were a lot of climbs and I couldn't take advantage of the downhills because of the wind and the road surface wasn't very good. Roadworks were taking place everywhere so there was no hard shoulder for me to cry on.

I won't go on about it. It was just a hard day. I may have been out of energy for some reason but I think it was just the constant battling against the wind which drained me. I stopped for a break near Ezine and bought a load of biscuits and some water. That was the only time I stopped for more than a minute the whole day. My average speed, excluding stops, was less than 12 kph. It is normally nearer 20kph which gives an indication of the difficulty of the ride. Normally there are adverts for hotels as you get to the outskirts of a town but any adverts at the side of the road were for places 20 or 30km past Ayvacik, which were  resorts on the coast. It didn't look promising. It was a very long uphill drag of 15km or so coming into Ayvacik, my original chosen stopping place and it got steeper and steeper as I got nearer. I was very tired as I turned off the main road towards the centre of the town. The welcome sign gave more bad news. 'population 7000' Not that big really so maybe no hotels. The road into the town was another steep uphill and I hopefully asked at a shop if there was a hotel. It appears there was one 4km up the road. I didn't think I could manage another 4km but I set off. After struggling 100m up the hill I saw a sign for a cafe sign which had the word 'pansiyon' in small letters underneth. I stopped and stood by the door as three teenagers argued over ice creams from the freezer. Dad arrived and saw me. I said 'pansiyon?' The older guy mumbled something and an older teenager or twenty something appeared. There is always someone who speaks English. Ilker or Ulker with the dots on said 'yes pension' and looked at his dad who said 'yirmi bes' which I knew was 25. I nodded and shook hands with all Ilker, dad and all the other lads. A girl sprang into action and disappeared. So I have a room for 25 lira which is less that £9. Ulker showed me to my room with all the others trailing behind. He introduced them to me and then gave me his ice cram. 'My gift' he said. The girl finished off makig the bed and here I am. I have had a shower (cold) and will now be off downstairs for something substantial to eat.

Today's track

Sunday, 13 May 2012

14 May Stage 32 Kesan - Canakkale

Dep  9.40      Arr  6.30      Dist  116km       Total  3300.4 km

Last night I went back to the Karavan pub next door to the hotel. The barman had a ponytail as well. I had another beer and a kofte, which turned out to be a load of small spicy meatballs or even sausages in a baguette. Not what I expected but nice anyway. Every beer came with a bowl of nuts so the job was a good one. When I got back to the room I looked at the route and it was the same road all the way which was brilliant. Why couldn’t Germany be like this? I checked the profile and it seemed a lot harder than when I first planned the trip so an early start waas in order.

I woke up feeling good. There was breakfast, of the Turkish variety, which does the job for me. There is always a boiled egg and slices of cheese and olives, tomato, green stuff and butter, honey, jam etc and of course cay, or Turkish tea. The chap clocked I was English and brought me a cup of warm water with a liptons teabag in. I made do and then asked him for a cay. All the staff were eating at the same time and they all burst out laughing, giving him loads of humorous stick. He was obviously trying to be a smart arse and got it wrong, not knowing I’m a real turk, me.

The hotel was the first I saw yesterday and is at the Northern end of the town at the junction of the main D550 road, which operated as a bypass, with the road into the town. I got on the 550 straight away so didn’t see much of the town itself. The bits I saw looked ok but it was easy to see it wasn’t as good as Fethiye. It was up and up, a small down hill and up and up again. Undulating countryside and a decent surface but as I got higher I began to feel a noticeable wind in my face. The wind got stronger and stronger so that even on the flat I was struggling and there was certainly no freewheeling down hill. I had to pedal. Calculations were kicking off in my head. At this rate I’ll be getting there at about 8 o’clock etc. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again. Push one down then the other, then again, then again. The kms were dropping off, but very slowly. I knew the uphills were in the early part but was just wanting to get them over with. I then went over one crest and round a corner and just didn’t believe what I saw. It was the sea. The Aegean or the Med down to my right. I was going rapidly downhill towards it but with care because the surface wasn’t brilliant at this part. I ended up on an open plain with very little shelter and an even stronger wind in my face. I had resigned myself to a late finish. I stopped at a newish petrol station with cafĂ© and shop attached and had two cups of cay and a chicken doner. I then bought a load of Tutku biscuits at the shop. I had a long straight road ahead of me with a headwind and needed all the help I could get. Eceabat was the other side of this peninsula which also meant a bit of an up and down in the middle somewhere. What I didn’t expect was a gentle curve up ahead to the right, which was away from the wind which became a strong crosswind for a while and then an unbelievable assistance as the road curved more. I got over a couple more more ups and downs until I reached Gelibolu on the other side. I then followed the impressive Dardanelles Straits along the peninsula until Eceabat where I took the ferry to Canakkale.

At the port I bumped into a group of Australians tourists who were interested in my ride and we had a good chat. It then it hit me - Gelibolu is known to us as another name - Gallipoli, where so many young Aussies and Kiwis perished with our boys in WW1. It is a special and maybe even spiritual place for those from down under and I can imagine an emotional trip for those people I had met.
I checked into a hostel less than 100m from where the ferry docked. It is known as Anzac House. I thought the price was very cheap until I saw the room which has 10 bunks and 6 or 8 beds in my room. Fortunately, only 4 are occupied, one at each corner. I managed to have a shower and get out for yet another chicken doner and a beer, only with food again.

My passport has very kindly been posted to an address in Fethiye by the kind people at the Isik hotel in Edirne. That is one big problem off my mind.

A shortish day in prospect tomorrow so I may have a sleep in but the weather isn’t so good so a decision to be made in the morning.

Today's route

13 May Stage 31 Edirne - Kesan

Dep 9.00     Arr  3.30      Dist  112.4 km      Total  3184.4 km

When I do the blog late at night sometimes I leave bits out because they may not seem relevant at the time. Another possible reason may be that I’m a bit tired or, on a good day, a bit bevvied. There are things that transpired yesterday which I omitted but which have now become either relevant to what happened today or a bit more interesting on reflection.

So, this morning I sort of realised that ‘my’ Turkey down South is a holiday resort. Here, in ‘proper’ Turkey, people just don’t drink. I had wandered through this town and didn't see anyone at any sort of eating place with a drink in front of them. When I was nearly back at the 'hotel' and asked for a beer at the kebab shop and ended up with the chicken shish last night I realise now that the lad said only ‘with’ eating as opposed to only 'for’ eating which I imagine means that it’s some kind of rule that they are only allowed to sell beer with food. I had to eat anyway so it worked out OK. I had an early night on the back of this situation and got up at 7.30 after at least two turnovers.

Now, all of my clothes were soaked when I arrived in Edirne for a couple of reasons, one being sweat even though it was only a cock-stride of a ride from Svilengrad to Edirne. The other reason was the storm from the day before. My bags keep stuff dry in the rain. That was not rain the other day. I don’t know what you’d call it but it was above and beyond anything I have ever experienced with regard to intensity, direction, wind speed etc so I do forgive my bags for allowing moisture in to my undies and socks. One of the tasks I had set myself after the short day, was to get the laundry done. I asked the nice little chap in the hotel for a ‘camisarhane’ which to me means laundry. He asked the missus and she smiled and gesticulated that she would do it for me. I happened to have in my hand at the time a Morrison’s bag with my smalls in and she took it off me and disappeared. I couldn’t really run after her and say I need all this other stuff doing as well so I did the diplomatic thing and accepted her generosity thinking that I could do other stuff myself next stop.

This morning after my two turnovers, the reception of the building site, sorry hotel, was hectic, even at that time. Full of orthodox Turkish ladies with full scarves and macs on etc, all babbling at the same time and the old guys all posturing, giving different degrees of stick to my little mate at the reception. I eventually got his attention and he wearily referred me to a young lad. I sort of got the message across about the clothes but he had to beckon another lad working at what I thought was an eating place next door. The second lad was run off his feet with these tourists who had been staying at the same hotel as I had been, allegedly for a holiday, which I thought was a bit strange. I thought for a second that I would like see where they came from to regard this as a holiday, or maybe not. Anyway, this lad asked if I could wait and then said “have you had breakfast?“ A most welcome surprise. This place next door was the venue for the hotel breakfast. He brought me my Turkish breakfast (is there anything better than Turkish tea?) and then the first nipper beckoned me. He had located my clothes and they were with my bags at the bottom of the stairs.

Surreal is what happened next. I was working my way through my breakfast and the fully covered up lady associated with the man who won the complaining competition, obviously a very important woman, came towards me with a smile and placed two nice little red tomatoes next to my plate. I said the usual thanks and thought nothing of it until then she appeared with a gherkin and placed it in between the tomatoes. The arrangement looked well on the table there so I thanked her again and quickly put them in the back pocket of my jacket. There may be further comment about this interlude when I’ve figured it out myself. Next the lady who had offered to wash my undies rushed in and with apologies left a carrier bag on the table. She had forgotten to dry them and was a bit upset but I thanked her profusely and she seemed OK after that.

So with all that going on wouldn’t you have forgotten your passport?  

The ride couldn’t have gone better. The other side of the town was a lot more modern than where I had been with immaculately manicured roundabouts with sculptures on and new office buildings and bars with Efes signs outside. It was nice place but not as nice as Fethiye.

The road was fantastic and there were endless people in the fields waving and shouting. Friendly toots from trucks and cars passing by. Turkish tea at a roadside truck stop. Great progress. Bombing along. Spinning away up the countless hills feeling the helping hand of the breeze pushing me along and then freewheeling down at 50kph on the immaculate surface. Clear blue skies for hours without a threat of rain until - a rumbling ahead, surely not. But there it was, as I turned a corner in this beautifully undulating countryside there was rain on the hill tops and I was heading for a hill top. Then a young man, who had passed me earlier with his mate on a moped, waved me down so I stopped to chat with this lad. He was an absolute squirt and he asked me with a really serious face where I was from. I told him and then he said he was Jandarma and crossed his wrists and said 'Euro' as if he was going to arrest me if I didn't pay him. You do not laugh at policemen but he was so pathetic I couldn’t help myself. His serious face got a bit more serious which amused me even more. I didn’t feel threatened in the slightest and just got going again. It was nothing but an unpleasant interlude which could have ruined the day, but it didn't.

Then the rumblings got louder. I was about 8km from Kesan. Surely I wasn’t going to get wet. The uphill policy changed from spinning in the low gears to going uphill like the clappers and I decided I would stop at the first hotel I saw. The roads were very wet as I rode into the town which meant I had missed the storm or part of it and there at the first roundabout was Hotel Linda. They let me check in without a passport and I had a hot shower and a cold Efes or two at the Karavan pub, yes pub, next door, before following the Premier League games here in the room on the internet. What a final day? Is all I'm going to say.

I'm making arrangements to get my passport back and hopefully all will be well. Tomorrow depends on the weather. If it's OK in the morning I will set off for Canakkale and suffer the consequences if it turns smelly later. Now I need to eat.

Today's track

Saturday, 12 May 2012

12 May Stage 30 Svilengrad - Edirne

Dep   1015      Arr    2.30     Dist   33.8 km       Total  3072 km

I wasn't going to blog today. I had a few drinks last night in the company of Kalin and his friends so was going to have a day off in Svilengrad, do a couple of jobs, ie, washing clothes and stitching the pannier bags, and catch up tomorrow. As it happens the ridiculously bad weather on Friday made me change my mind. It wasn't far to Turkey and the sky looked OK when I looked out of the window so I changed my mind and decided to get this small leg over with and maybe stay for a day in Edirne to follow the last day of this year's Premier League.

There was no breakfast at the digs so I decided to get on the road and use my last few Levs at a cafe somewhere. The road was very poor but it joined up with the Sofia - Istanbul highway later on which was a lot better and I bowled along on the hard shoulder. I got some grub at a mini -market near the border, made my way through the ridiculously numerous checks on both sides of the line and eventually reached Turkey, which was a pretty good feeling I can tell you. I made it to Edirne and booked into a place which will be OK when it's finished. I wandered the half a mile or so into the centre in the afternoon and had a beer for 7 YTL which is a lot more than I've ever paid in Calis or Fethiye. I then carted my bags around trying to find someone who could do some stitching, with no luck at all.. I had a doner on the way back and actually did the stitching myself. After fiddling around on the internet for a while I then went out for my evening meal but there was a big football match on and that dominated proceedings everywhere. What's more, nowhere, apart from the place I went this afternoon, seemed to sell beer. I was gagging for a drink but  made do with a chicken shish kebab. The lad said they didn't sell beer but he arrived with a can in a black plastic bag as if he had smuggled it out from the shop over the road.

What happens next depends on the weather. The forecast is OK for tomorrow so we'll see what happens in the morning.

Today's track

Friday, 11 May 2012

11 May Stage 29 Burgas - Svilengrad

Dep  11.10      Arr  6.30       Dist  96.9 km      Total  3038.2 km

All I wanted was a boring day on the road - and that's what I got - until...............I'll go through it in order.

The main priority was to get the bike in order. Last night I had asked the lady at the desk of this super-di-dooper hotel to let me know of any bike shops in the town. She said that she wasn't from this area. I was tempted to tell her that I wasn't either but that may have tested her a bit. I asked her if she could check with her colleagues and she seemed to think that may be a good idea. I went out for a walk and asked people on bikes around the town if they knew of a bike shop. Nobody remembered where they got their bike from. There was a nice pedestrian street with bars all over and I had a beer at one, followed by spag bol and chips which ticks all the boxes with regard to health and stodge. When I got back I asked the same girl and she vaguely remembered me and asked the man with the black t-shirt on.  He was a know-all and dictated the address of a place and said it was only about 5km away and a taxi wouldn't be too much. I got to the room and found a place myself on t'internet that was a lot closer. I think I went to bed then. It all seems so long ago.

All went to plan early on. Up at half seven (0530 in UK), went down for breakfast, which was fantastic but I couldn't do it justice with other preoccupations. I had a big-ish bowl of cornflakes-ish cereal, a jam pancake, two bits of what we call french toast, muddy coffee and fresh orange. I could have had more but just wanted to be out there. I got the bags almost ready and went down and asked a younger black t-shirt lad to open the door where my bike was to get the wheel off. This he did and I took the wheel to the place I had found myself. The lad there was a bit cocky and spoke no English so I was on my guard. I bought a decent pump and some tyre levers and three inner tubes. I asked him to put one on and he said it would be a bit extra. I can't remember the amount but it wasn't much. He did it in a twinkling but I thought I'd check with the pressure gauge on my new pump. He wasn't happy about this but it had to be right, right? It didn't hold, even at 20psi. He discarded the tube and tried again and he said some word that meant finished. The pressure was 30 psi when the writing on the side of the tyre says to be inflated to 90. He couldn't believe this but I pumped away and stood there seeing if it went down. It didn't and I left the shop a bit happier. Velozone it as called - not recommended if you ever find yourself in Burgas. 

I got back, finished the long drawn out process, and got going. As I left the room, the door banged and I thought nothing of it for a second, until it hit me - wind. There seemed to be a lot about but which way would it be? The route out of town went great and there were flurries of wind from different directions as I twisted and turned. The road surface was critical to progress and with this, the wind and the new tyres etc, my bottom was twitching in several different directions as I did the usual climb from sea level to anywhere inland. After the initial uphill bit it levelled out but with a general uphill trend. The road surface was variable but generally good  I really took my time on the bad bits - even if they were downhill, and wondered how long it would be until I stopped being neurotic about the tyres. The wind was certainly not against me so maybe it must have been behind, or had dropped since I left the Black Sea. I made good progress but was out of drinking water so decided to stop at the next available place. There is no logic to this but the next available place was a beautiful little bar/restaurant in the middle of nowhere. Some are shacks, some are palaces. I had a coffee and water but didn't fancy a meal so went for a papachinka, or something like that. I didn't know what it was but it sounded nice. It was a pancake and it did the trick. This place was in a foresty type area, quite high up and very picturesque as much of Bulgaria is. There were rumblings in the distance but no serious clouds around. I got going again and saw the dark clouds to my left and behind. The spitting started and stopped but the threat was there. I knew I could out run any storm if it started. I then saw two other cyclists up ahead, Paul and Ana from Romania. We had a chat and exchanged experiences and emails and I pushed on. The mental calculations, which get me through these phases, then started and I expected to be in Elhovo at about 6.00 which would have been a decent result. The clouds were getting heavier to my left but I was always in front and seeming to turn away to the right every time they got threatening.

I decided to get the cape and boots into a more accessible place just in case they might be needed but I felt a few spots so decided to get proper ready - just in case. I was about 20km from Elhovo at this time and expecting to remove the rain gear soon. The rain, though, got heavier and the wind started to kick in, mainly from behind but also from the side at times. The rain got heavier again and made pinging noises on my hat and a spot of rain actually hurt my hand until I realised it was hail. The road was very quickly transformed into a stream about 3 inches deep and the side wind was blowing me about. There were flashes of lightning every 30 seconds or so but there was no sense in sheltering. I was saturated 10 seconds after the proper rain started and there was nowhere to shelter anyway. Also, I knew that sitting on a bike was about the safest place you could be at such a time. The wind was strong and when it was from behind I was like a sailing boat with the cape on. I was actually on the brakes in order to keep my speed down. Also, there were twigs and branches all over the stream/road and I had a bit of dodging to do.

As we all know, at the end of a storm there's a go-olde-en sky, and there was in this case as I got to about 10km from Elhovo. What I didn't expect was that after the golden sky came another storm, or maybe the same one hitting me from a different direction. This time the hail caused me actual pain as it battered the right hand side of my body but I knew the town and a nice cheap, warm, dry, comfortable hotel was up ahead, getting ever closer. As I meandered past a parked car the driver flagged me down and said he was going to Turkey and he could pack my stuff into his car, a Peugeot 206, and take me further up the road if I wanted. I carefully considered his suggestion for about 0.2 seconds and decided to take him up on the offer. Kalin was going deep sea diving in Northern Turkey and was meeting Turkish friends at the border town of Svilengrad and suggested he could drop me there. He was a very pleasant, knowledgeable and interesting chap. He worked at the moment on yachts in the South of France but had done a lot of other things as well. There will be more to come on this part of the journey but I am here, blogging in the reception of the Royal Hotel in the Bulgarian border town of Svilengrad, having enjoyed the company of Kalin and his friends for an hour or so this evening.

Great to be back on the road. Delighted that the bike, my real true mate, is feeling better and happy to be that one bit closer to the promised land.

Today's track. The storm occurred before Elhovo where Kalin picked me up and took me to Svilengrad. It made the next day a bit shorter.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

10 May Stage 28 Shumen - Burgas

Dep 1030     Arr 7.30     Dist  29.1 km (bike)     Total  2970.4 km

All went to plan in the morning. I woke early, got partly organised and then went for breakfast which was another self service with two ladies helping me and two businessmen to use the coffee machine. So many staff and so few guests. I had two tiny bowls of cereal and a boiled egg and then toast. or warm bread, with various toppings, cheese, ham and jam. Very nice too. I got a taxi to the bike shop. The taxi drivers are all comedians in this town. The bike was done and ready for the off. I thanked Stanislav and his son Deyan, paid them, rode back to the hotel, got loaded and set off.

I got out of the town ok and made good progress on a poor road surface which was mainly downhill but I couldn't go too fast because of the pot holes and humps and bumps. Occasionally the road surface was good but there were parts where bits of the road had been scarified in patches, ie the top had been taken off, leaving two to three inch differences in level here and there. After about an hour and a half the inevitable happened and I got a rear puncture. I wasn't too bothered because I had made decent time up to now. I took my time and replaced the tube with one I had repaired the other day (and left fully inflated all night to make sure it was sound). I did it all by the book and got going again. I obviously hadn't done it properly and it went again. I was on my last inner tube by this time, another I had repaired. That went as well. I could only locate the problem on one of the damaged tubes and did a meticulous roadside puncture repair. It didn't work and I was very frustrated by this time as you can imagine. I decided to ask for help so stood at the roadside with my thumb out. The road wasn't very busy and I was pumping up one of the tubes, checking for leak locations, when a nice young man, Valentin, in a van, stopped and I explained what had happened. He didn't speak English but we got by. He took me up the road into the really poor little town of Smyodova. The people were all dressed ok but the buildings, roads and general surroundings were horrible. We tried a motor mechanics which wasn't much use but we were directed to a shop that sold everything, even inner tubes, but none the right size. Valentin apologised and told me he had to go so I politely asked him to take me back to the road. I decided to have another go at repairing a tube between waiting for the next car but then realised I had no pump. I must have left it in Valentin's van, or was it by the roadside where he had picked me up? I walked back 400m or so and it wasn't there.

I now had no alternative but to get the thumb out again. After an hour or so a family stopped and I explained I needed a bike shop. Dad said the next big town was Karnobat which was actually my destination for the day, but he wasn't going that far. The car was full of kids and I couldn't have got the bike in anyway. I thanked them and off they went, shrugging. There were dark clouds and rumblings over the hills up ahead but I wasn't far from a roadside truck stop type of place so I knew I wouldn't get too wet if it started to rain. More than an hour later a van stopped with two men in. Again I explained in sign language but they couldn't help. I should asked "how much for you to take me to Karnobat?" Maybe half an hour went by and two lads stopped in an estate car. I said I needed to get to Karnobat and the driver shook his head. "I am only going to the next village" He said, but then added "We have some business there but if you are still here we will see if we can get you to Karnobat somehow" I felt a bit more positive about this chap but didn't see them again because, soon after that, Yuri, the mad Latvian/Russian came along in his big white transit van. This was about 5 o'clock. "Where you going?" he shouted. "I need to get to Karnobat". He jumped out of the van and apologised for the state of the back compartment. We got the bike in and he said he was in a hurry and he would have to drive fast. He was going to Burgas, which was further East than Karnobat but only a little out of the way for me. I decided not to take him out of his way by dropping me in Karnobat, but asked him to take me to Burgas instead, which was a bigger place and would have more hotels and bike shops. Yuri had lived in Dublin for a few years and spoke with a very strong Russian accent with occasional Irish bits. He had been a fisherman off the coast of Africa for a bit at some stage and there were various other bits he described but I couldn't understand him very well and just did the nodding sort of easy way out. The heavens opened and it lashed it down for half an hour in the remotest part of the journey, probably just about where I would have been if the puncture hadn't happened.

So here I am in Burgas, fed and watered. I have the address of a bike shop where I will go in the morning to buy some new tubes and a pump. If all goes well I will be on my way to Elhovo tomorrow, still on schedule. If not, I will have a day off and get this bike sorted once and for all, like I thought I had done yesterday. All in all, a very frustrating day but with a good ending.

Today's track. I broke down at Smyadovo (note the back track) so the remainder of the ride to Burgas was in Yuri's van

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

9 May Stage 27 Razgrad - Shumen

Dep 10.30     Arr 3.30      Dist   56.3 km      Total  2941.3 km

I awoke to the sound of heavy rain battering the window and turned over. When I came round again the rain had stopped but I could hear the cars outside slushing through the water. I didn't fancy starting in the rain so took my time getting ready. I went down for breakfast and all of a sudden Benny Hill couldn't understand my German. He could see my disappointment so pointed to the coffee machine. I asked for change and he pushed a coin towards me and refused my note. I suppose it was only 50 lev (2.4 to the pound) so I wasn't too bothered. I finished getting ready and spent 10 mins fiddling with th e bike before setting off. The road I had planned to take out of town was one way - the other way - and there wasn't an obvious one parallel so I just pushed the bike through the town and hit the open road. It was cloudy but the threat of rain wasn't there. Again, it wasn't too hot and no wind, just right.

Shumen was only 50km away from Razgrad and the next planned stop, Karnobot, was 110km from Shumen with some biiig climbs. I had to decide whether to stop at Shumen and try to get the bike sorted or to push on 30km or so to make the next day easier. This debate occupied my thoughts for a while until I came upon a little roadside shack or cafe in the middle of nowhere with beautiful countryside all around. I went in and tapped on the counter. A lady appeared with a phone to her ear. I gestured for her to carry on and went outside. She appeared soon enough and I made an eating mime. She said something like kebab and my eyes lit up. I said something like cartofi which I thought was potatoes and she nodded. I also asked for coffee and water, big. She came out with my muddy coffee and a bottle of delicious water, never thought I'd ever say that, and then with a plate of sausage and chips which was very tasty. I sat there getting all philosphical thinking, we are all trying to get somewhere but, at times, we should just enjoy where we are, like I was doing. I decided to ring Robin on the hotline to Newburgh and run through my ideas with him. He reckoned the cheap stuff I got in Giurgiu wouldn't last and could leave me stranded again. So, the decision was made to stop at Shumen, which looks like a pretty big place, and find a little bike shop. A friendly, English-speaking receptionist (FESP) would be crucial to my plans.

I knew there was a big hill right in the middle of today's ride butI hadn't expected it to be quite as hard. On the Saddleworth scale it measured at about 8 out of 10. The down bit was fun again though and I got to the Shumen at about three. There were posters for hotels all over the place as I rode into the town. I came across one named Rimini which was over-posh inside and wasn't my type of place (or price). I suspected there were other types of goings on there, nod nod, wink wink. I had written down some phone numbers from the internet and rang a couple for prices and to check on the good nature of the receptionist, who would become a key person in the day's proceedings. The Madara it is then. On the way there I passed the Shumen Hotel which looked very nice. I decided to ask the price and a really friendly English-speaking receptionist informed me I could have a budget room for 50 lev with breakfast and 10% off dinner. That's what I paid that lowlife last night. I accepted and explained my requirements with regard to the bike. She said she would try to help. I put my stuff in the rooom and put things on charge and got changed. I came down and she drew me a map. I rode to the place on the map but all I could see was a door with a few prams and kids bikes outside. There was a sign with a picture of a bike over the door and I thought this must be it. The sop was a corridor with a counter at the other end. I went in and said "mechanic?" which confused a lady sitting there behind a counter. An older man, OK about my age, came and I took hime outside to try to explain what had happened and what I wanted. A younger man, who turned out be Stanislav, then appeared and we made some progress. He went off and came back and handed me his phone. It was his son, Dejan, who spoke English very well. My bike was brought through into a large rear yard which had lots of bikes in various stages of repair. The three of us discussed options and the outcome is that I will go back there at 10 o'clock tomorrow morning and my bike will have decent bits on it and will be serviced and cleaned. Stanislav is a Shimano-trained mechanic and has built and rebuilt bikes for 20 years or so.

I walked around for a bit and got a chicken donner. There was an event going on in a square with speeches and a sort of brass band and then a group of about 40 soldiers ventured forth with fantastic tenor voices - tremendous. I then changed some money and got a taxi to the hotel. I had to have a beer by the fountain in reception, see twitter, and then went up for a bath, yes a bath again. I may have a sauna before dinner. I am confident the bike will be much better as a result of my decision to stop here and Robin must take the credit for that decision.

I need an early night though. Hard day tomorrow.

Today's track

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

8 May Stage 26 Giurgiu - Razgrad

Dep 11.10     Arr 1845     Dist  76.5km    Total  2885km

As expected I didn't sleep well, overtired maybe or a combination of a ridiculously uncomfortable rock hard bed and stuff on my mind. I should really have been grateful I had a bed at all. I had no Rumanian currency left because I had spent it all, not expecting to be here you see, so I had to go into the town at the crack of dawn to get some more to pay for the room and also to pay for any bike bits etc. It was a scruffy and unloved sort of a town, or to be fair, maybe a scruffy part of a nice town. I came back and had a crap (note no comma here) breakfast which consisted of muddy coffee and dry bread with cheese and ham. I was so thirsty I asked for water and he brought me a tiny bottle which evaporated before I swallowed it.

I had to be reaady for the "halb neun" which could have been half eight or half nine, so I went and packed my bags, ready for any eventuality. A small square man turned up just after half eight and spoke no English. There was a new receptionist by this time and she was infinitely more helpful, translating between us. I told hime I needed a new wheel and he said "market" and beckoned me to follow, checking I had money as an afterthought. We wandered through the streets. He'd say something I didn't understand and I'd reply with something he didn't understand, but we got on ok, which made me chuckle a bit. The market was like a bazaar with a two foot wide aisle and stuff hanging from the ceilings all over the place. We walked past two bike shops and found nothing appropriate. Too wide or too small. My mate was starting to mumble. The next place got him excited. There it was. We did the deal and away we went with a wheel, a seven gear cassette and a new tyre for a total of £16. I really wanted him to transfer the cassette from the damaged wheel onto the new one but it couldn't be done for some reason. I insisted but he was adamant. We did the job in the hotel reception which was about all it was good for. I saw him straight and went up to the room to change into cycling gear only to find the room had been cleaned. I made do with what I had on. I just wanted to get going again.

It was a long round about way out of town to the bridge over the Danube to Ruse in Bulgaria and it was a sad way to see the last of this country and my old mate the river. Scruffy buildings, dirty streets, junkyards with snarling dogs, people standing around or shuffling about. I did though see enough good parts of the country over the last week or so to have overall very good lasting memories of Rumania.

Bulgaria started badly although the road was the old E70 again. It was a long uphill drag out of Ruse and into the countryside. I wasn't happy about the bike for some reason. I know they were cheap parts and maybe shouldn't expect too much but I decided there and then to find a proper bike shop down the line and get it sorted. I probably hadn't realised at the time that I had been climbing since I crossed the river. The bike did seem to be performing better later on but I'm still not sure. The road went through no towns or villages for an hour or so just wide open countryside which became undulating with the associated ups and downs. Unfortunately, the ups were long and the downs were short. Remember me complaining about the boring, flat countryside of Hungary. I take it back. I was short of food and water and decided to stop at the next eating place. I plodded on and on until I came to a small and pretty little town named Tsar Kaloyan. I did stop at the first cafe I saw and ordered spaghetti bolognese with an extra portion of chips. I sat with my kindle and learned a few Bulgarian phrases which I tried out on the waitresses, much to their amusement. The food was great and I felt well rested but as usual the last part of the ride dragged. There was a bit of spitting rain but I could see with my now vast experience of Central and Eastern European weather that it wouldn't develop and then I came to a big downhill and didn't pedal for 5km. The town came soon after that and I cruised around until I found a small nice family hotel with a Benny Hill impersonator explaining everything to me in German. I got all the batteries on charge and had a great shower then wandered over the road for a beer. I came back to the digs and realised they had a restaurant and asked for a menu. It was a bit surreal but it was Chinese. I ordered chicken and potatoes, delicious. Back in the room now watching Liverpool do what they should have done the other day.

I spoke to the FIG representative, Terry, today and have finalised the arrival date at 25th May which is a Friday.

Today's track

Monday, 7 May 2012

7 May Stage 25 Rosiori de Vede - Giurgiu

Dep 11.00   Arr 8.30    Dist 86.6 km (bike)    Total 2808.5 km

How can I describe today? I think it's best if I do just that, ie describe in order what happened and include my thoughts at the time for what it's worth.

Great kip for a start. I woke up and my phone was on charge in the bathroom so I played that game. No, not that one, the one where you lie there and guess what time it is from the sounds around etc. I plumped for 7.30 and was disappointed, when I eventually had to use the bathroom, to find I was 3 minutes out. I went and had another lie down and planned the day. Breakfast was another help-yourself but with a few negatives. There was cereal, honey nut loops, but the bowls were tiny and there was no milk. I mentioned this to the lady and she brought me a cup of warm milk. Cereal just isn't their thing, I suppose. I managed three bowls. The rest was great. Loads of coffee and the usual bread with delicious ham, cheese and jam.

I went back up and was amazed that I actually managed to repair the three punctured inner tubes within half an hour. Little did I know that this would have an effect on future progress. I then got myself organised, got the bags sorted and made my way out. This 'getting the bags organised' by the way is a tortuous process. Things have to be done methodically and in strict order depending on the priorities of the day. An hour usually sorts it. An important part of the procedure is checking the route for the day. I had no printed maps so wrote down the towns I would be passing through and the road numbers. It wasn't a complicated route but seemed a bit round about. I made my way out of the town of Rosiori de Vede and joined my old mate the E70 which was not as smart as in other parts of the country but still good for cycling. There were the usual roadworks here and there and a little hill or two. I passed through a couple of typical villages and then came across the amzing sight of Buzescu which I have found out since is a village or group of houses built by rich gypsies, all trying to outdo each other for lack of taste. After Buzescu I got to the city of Alexandria in decent time. There was no rush. I noticed the rear brakes were rubbing on the tyre rim again and loosened the brakes a bit more. They still worked ok so I didn't pay too much attention to it, knowing that this is a problem that would get worse and would need attention sooner or later. I actually rang Robin the West Lancs cycling guru and after a brief chat he warned me no to attempt fixing the buckled wheel myself. I do like a challenge but also respect good advice from people who know what they are talking about so didn't interfere.

Just past Alexandria I saw a sign saying 504 Giurgiu 40km. Now this was a lot less than I expected so I decided this would be the route for me. I rode on looking for the turn until the original chosen turn off was only a couple of km ahead so I checked my location on my phone. I had missed the 504 turn off. So, should I stick to the chosen route or go back and find this 504? As I pondered a chap appeared from nowhere and smiled and asked for water. I offered him my blue bottle which had had milk in yesterday. He had a swig and pulled a bit of a face. It wouldn't have bothered me. I nodded and smiled but felt a bit uncomfortable with him sizing up my stuff so I eventually turned the bike round and made my way back. I found the 504 and could easily see why I had missed it. It was a dirt track with cornfields either side as far as the eye could see. The surface wasn't too bad and it would be shorter than I had expected so I went for it. After a km it got a bit worse and then after another it got a lot worse. It looked like it had only ever been used by tractors and only in wet weather. I checked on my phone and it looked like the town of Cernetu was about 10km away. I just got my head down and got on with it. I had to really concentrate about the line I was taking and that was making me sweat more than the effort. An hour later I rode past a graveyard which meant some sort of civilisation and then what looked like a tip but it was just a random field full of rubbish. There was an old lady with some goats stood by a stagnant pond with some sad ducks on it and I mentioned the name of a town which was on the way to Giurgiu. She nodded and pointed ahead and I heard the word asphalt in there. I checked with a younger lady up the road and she pointed straight ahead again. I turned a corner and there it was - the black stuff. What a relief.

I belted along up hill and down dale and round this corner and that for half an hour or so until I realised that the road on the map I had seen this morning was dead straight with no bends at all. I checked again on my phone and found I had missed a turning again. To be fair to both ladies they didn't have the chance to explain maybe that they were pointing the way for the asphalt route. Now, I could stay on this road and meet up with the original route (which may be tarmac but then again may not) - we don't want to do that do we? Noooo. We went back and there, after retracing my tracks, was the sign 504 pointing to Giurgiu. It was another dirt track, better than the first. It didn't deteriorate but still wasn't that good. My brakes were rubbing again which severely reduce the efficiency of the bike. I adjusted them further and found that the rear wheel rim had a split where a spoke joined. It was becoming cooler by this time but it was nearly 5.30. I checked relative distance on my phone and reckoned an hour would get me to the next village. An hour later I was still in this really remote landscape with endless cornfields both sides. I heard a "ping" as I rode and checked the back wheel again. Another split. This was only going to get worse and fast. There were telegraph poles alongside this track for as far as they eye could see and not a town or building in sight. Another hour went by and the wheel had become so distorted that the tyre just came off. I was then reduced to walking along with the bike. I was knackered and could have stopped and rested and maybe kipped in the cornfield but there were no vehicles using this road and I would only have to get to a village tomorrow if I didn't make it tonight so I had to go on. Then, a building in the distance, a farmhouse maybe?

As I got closer it became obvious it was an electricity station with nobody about. Then I heard a vehicle coming from miles behind me, a farmer perhaps on his way home? What happened next is just the best ever result anyone in my position could ever have expected. As the car slowed down I stood there looking as pathetic as possible, no acting necessary. "Are you OK?" the young man asked, in English. I explained my position. A lot of welcome conversation took place after we had packed the bike and me into the car, such as. "Would you like a cold beer?" George and Sorin were from Alexandria and were going fishing. They had a chat between them and decided that George would drop Sorin off at the lake and then take me to Giurgiu to a hotel. I just can not possibly do justice to this interlude at the moment so will finish for now by saying here I am in a hotel in Giurgiu, fed and watered and so happy to have met these two fantastic lads who made a very unlucky day, compounded by a few bits of bad judgement on my part, into one very happy one. I will tell the full tale about these exceptional people some other time.

I didn't make it to Bulgaria today but I am so happy to be here in this town of Giurgiu.

(written next day)

Just a bit more on the circumstances of my amazing “ rescue” last night. The vehicle was a Hyundai 4x4 type with a big space at the back. Unfortunately it was full of fishing stuff just thrown in, including an inflatable dinghy, fully inflated. We manipulated stuff and got the bike and bags in the back and thought that was job done until we then noticed there was a dinghy on the roof! A bit more fiddling got me and the dinghy in but I was squeezed on the backseat perched so high that my head was touching the roof. Don’t get me wrong. I am not complaining. When Sorin handed me a beer from the cool box I was so high up I couldn’t get the angle of elevation on the can to have a decent swig, which is just as well because it would have gone down in one.

It turns out Sorin is a professional photographer and George, the driver has an amazing occupation of organising hunting expeditions in various parts of Rumania for people all over Europe including many English clients. I was amazed to find they have bears here in the hills and wild boar, chamois and a number of types of deer. So if there’s anyone out there fancies a bit of that sort of stuff, George is your man. I have to give the man a plug. His website is The fishing area was beautiful in the evening as the sun was going down. I felt really guilty depriving George of a bit of this special time but by the time he got back Sorin had probably done all the hard work setting things up. Anyway, friends for life, or what?

The Vlasca Hotel in Giurgiu was a very poor excuse for a hotel, a sad old place. The woman on the desk said she didn’t speak English but she understood what she wanted to. I had a lukewarm bath and did a bit of blogging and then realised it was 10 o’clock, end of restaurant time. I rushed down and a gentleman watching the telly assured me in German that all was OK and shouted a lad to sort me out. This he did nicely thank you. I asked this boss man in German if he knew of a bike shop or a mechanic who could help me. I knew I needed a new wheel but where to get one? He told me someone would come tomorrow at “Halb neun”. In German that means half past eight. Don’t ask me why. I finished with a bottle of Rumanian beer - Skol.

I went back up to the miserable room with the uncomfortable bed and followed the football scores. What a result for Wigan Athletic. Europe next year?

Today's track - note the backtrack near Cernetu. I was picked up near the dotted line by Izvoru. The track is vehicular after this point. The lake is Gogosari. My phone battery went before Giurgiu.

Today's route