Monday, October 6 Komotini to Alexandropoulis
(written Tuesday morning)
I would be lying if I didn’t say that I was in tough place right now. I hinted at the end of my post yesterday that I found myself searching for planned tours through Turkey. I wasn’t sure what that was about and I spent most of the day searching for its source. I finally landed on the fact that the night before I was surprised to find that I had miscalculated some mileage. Over two weeks ago I took a good look at the two major legs after Thessaloniki. I estimated about 450 kilometers to Tekirdag to catch a ferry to Istanbul and another 420 kilometers to Konya.
When I rode out of Thessaloniki, I could feel my legs driving me homeward. Both of these sections seemed reasonably short. I still had a significant amount of research to determine how best to negotiate the terrain between Istanbul and Turkey but at 420 kilometers (250 miles) I felt like I had the five days it would take in my willpower savings account.
But, I made a little error and it has thrown me. Somehow I got my kilometers and miles mixed up. The actual distance is 700 kilometers between Istanbul and Konya (I hate even writing the number!). I had calculated the miles at 420 and then started calling those kilometers. By the time I had done a double calculation that 700 kilometers was down to just 250 miles. “What a snap! I can ride that with my hands tied behind my back!” I thought.
At the core of this is my need to start coasting into Konya. I am starting to show some signs of mental exhaustion by the daily move from one place to another, determining the best route, finding lodging and locating places where I can eat and buy food. Once I get on the bike every day I am in paradise. I love the cycling. I am completely in my element on the bike. But, I am concerned about arriving in Konya exhausted and not able to actually have enough energy left to fully enjoy the experience.
On top of that I discovered last night that Tekirdag, where I planned to take a ferry to Istanbul, doesn’t have ferries. How that happened, I don’t know. I remember looking at my computer screen at a map of the ferry routes into Istanbul and two weeks ago that ferry was there, I swear! Now it’s gone. Tonight in Kesan, Turkey (assuming I get there) I plan to sit down with a local bike enthusiast and see if she has ideas about how to get into the heart of Istanbul. No one, not even cyclists recommend cycling into Istanbul. Train, bus, back of a pickup? I’m open.
Having said all that, I am not letting those uncertainties derail what I am doing now. Today, I plan to cross the border into Turkey and enjoy a fairly leisurely 80 kilometer (50 miles) ride into Kesan. After that I have some rethinking to do, but before me today is another cool fall-like day that will take me from the coast of Greece to inland Turkey. I am actually looking forward to what kind of questions I’ll be asked at the border.
Yesterday was also a fairly low mileage, relaxed day. There was a little climbing and a section where the quieter road fed onto the busier freeway. But, the shoulder was at least eight feet wide and newly paved and turned out to be more enjoyable than I would have expected with speeding traffic and big trucks passing every ten to fifteen seconds.
One of the striking shifts in the last two days has been that I began to see more spires from mosques after Kavala. At first it was the occasional spire off in the distance in a medium-sized town. Then I began to notice that there were an equal number of Greek Orthodox steeples mixed in with mosque spires. The pattern yesterday was that the smallest villages had mosques and the larger towns had a mix of the two. I have to admit that I was feeling cautious about taking pictures of the mosques in the rural villages. I’m a bit of an oddity going through these quieter, remote villages.
We live in volatile time and I definitely look Western in my spandex tights and fluorescent windbreaker. I am usually mistaken for being German. Yesterday as I rode through one village an older man yelled out, “Auf wiedersehen” and I wasn’t sure if it was “Goodbye. Don’t look back” or “Goodbye until we meet again.” I don’t know exactly how my picture-taking is being perceived, but I do find myself being careful. It’s probably fine, but I think about a bearded Middle-Eastern man taking pictures of a synagogue or a public building in America and wonder about that one unstable, angry person for whom that would be an offense. I am just watching to make sure I am acting appropriately in someone else’s home.
The highlight of the day was the two hour stretch I took in the early evening to stroll very casually around the port where the fishing boats, cargo ships and ferries were docked. Much of the day my head flirted back and forth from being present to the landscape around me to the decisions that I needed to make about the rest of the pilgrimage. But, during this sacred window of time I was able to let future uncertainties dissolve away.
First, I sat down on a very uncomfortable metal park bench. It wasn’t long before my head was drooping and I was fast asleep oblivious to the stares of those passing by. After being startled awake, I then made my way over to the deeper parts of the port where the bigger boats were moored. I sat on the edge of the concrete slabs and watched as fish periodically surfaced for small bugs. To my right six fishermen were casting their poles into the water and displaying a rhythm I had never seen before. The casts were long—nearly 100 meters out. After casting they immediately began this physically demanding dance of pulling the pole back in hard and fast in a wide sweeping arc, then reeling in the extra line, and repeating this over and over again until their line was back on shore.
It didn’t make sense to me. No fish would be able to follow the speed at which they were yanking the line back in. I could only guess that they were going for really large fish–small sharks, tuna, etc.–that would have the speed and the power to charge toward the speeding bait. Only later as I strolled the length of the concrete barriers that made up the port did I understand. They were snagging fish. There was no bait, but just a large three-barbed hook that when pulled hard and fast enough would snag a fish like a rake would a leaf. I watched as a few of them snagged fish and reeled them in.
It was a wonderful two hours (I was only aware of the time when I looked at my iPhone later) as I watched the sun go down in the west, the fishermen reel in unlucky fish, other strollers enjoying the solitude of the port barriers, and a brief time when I had no agenda but to enjoy the time before me. I followed this with a seafood dinner of calamari, some sort of bony whitefish that burned more calories picking out bones than I gained, a very tasty salad covered in pomegranate seeds, and, of course, a beer. The calamari, though, was a taste sensation to remember. This wasn’t like calamari I have had in the States that resembles a deep-fried rubber band. These were thick half-inch slices of oceanic squid with long juicy tentacles lightly fried so as not to hide the calamari taste. Wow! It was great.
By the way, thanks for listening this morning. I am actually in a little better place than when I started this. It’s hard to keep perspective when I am mostly having conversations with myself. I have to play the client and the counselor all at the same time and sometimes the client part of me won’t open up and, at other times, the counselor part of me walks out in frustration. It’s easier when I can just talk and you can listen. So thanks for being there.
I am not going to say that I am out of being in a tough place. But, I can say that I have a belief that today will be good again in unexpected ways and that tonight I’ll figure things out. That is, by the way, the nature of a pilgrimage. It has to unfold one leg, one day, one hour and sometimes, one pedal stroke at a time. It doesn’t mean that it isn’t sometimes hard and frustrating.
Peace, peace, peace, always, peace…