I was on the phone with a friend this morning and in the course of our conversation she said, “You sure picked an interesting time to ride into Turkey.” Three months ago when I was planning this one friend had just returned from a tour of Turkey and another had been there in recent months visiting family. A cyclist friend of mine had been there twenty years before. All of them confirmed that the Turkish people are some of the nicest, most hospitable people in the world. “You’ll love it!” they and others said.
I doubt that the hospitality of the Turkish people has changed at all.
What has changed is that the countries bordering Turkey have become increasingly fragile, unpredictable, and violent. Syria continues to be in a civil war and both Turkey and the United States supply weaponry to the rebels. Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey and live in refugee camps. In June, the Northern Iraqi Offensive went into full force which included the kidnapping of 48 Turkish citizens and 28 Turkish truck drivers near the Iraqi town of Mosul. Ukraine is 350 miles across the Black Sea. Israel and Palestine have once again exploded 650 miles to the south. Phew!
I have a number of people on the ground in Turkey who are giving me their opinion of the safety and the security for an American cyclist in Turkey. So far there seems to be a pattern. Half of those who are not cyclists have concern for my safety and half of them feel like the concerns are overblown and are just reactions to media reports (sort of like a foreigner deciding not to come to New York City because they read about a murder in Central Park.) This has made me very nervous. Yesterday I was feeling a little unnerved by the on the ground reports.
So I also checked out the blogs of cyclists who have ridden through Turkey in the last few months. Strangely there is a completely different story from them. Not a single one so far has mentioned any safety concerns beyond the usual trucks on the highway and wild dogs (which Turkey is famous for). There has been no mention of harassment or nervousness. There hasn’t even been any indication at all that cyclists have changed their routes due to potential security concerns. It just doesn’t show up. What has been mentioned in their blogs is how often they are invited in for tea, how drivers will pull of the road and share bread and dates with them, and how on most nights they are invited to either camp on someone’s property or even share a meal and retire to a real bed in a stranger’s home.
This is a common scenario for me as a cyclist—non-cyclists having grave concerns and cyclists reporting a wonderful experience. Even here in lovely Yachats on the Oregon coast, if I were to ask the local folks if it were safe for cyclists half of them would say, “Oh no, the narrows shoulders south of town and the big RV’s make it very dangerous!” Yet, I have ridden on those roads dozens of times and every day in the summer three or four dozen touring cyclists pass through town loaded down with gear and full panniers.
I think (and I am saying this with some hesitation) that the concerns may be overblown. Still, I am listening very closely and watching very carefully. I have a grandbaby on the way and a whole community waiting for me to return. There is no need to take unnecessary risks. I have a Plan B in progress, if needed.
Please stay tuned.