Thursday, October 9 Tekirdag to Kumburgaz, Turkey
(written Friday morning)
Just 40 more kilometers to go until Istanbul. I plan to keep this short today so that I can get on the road. The wind which gave me that deadened look in my eyes two days ago and tossed me around in the afternoon yesterday, is already teasing the coastal air outside my hotel window this morning. I know the longer I wait, the more intense the wind will get and more it will start howling.
My body and soul are definitely ready for the break in Istanbul. Without realizing it I had laced together eight straight days of riding without a break and I sort of feel like my body is in one place, but my soul is two or three days behind. I plan to spend three full days in Istanbul to get everything back in sync and, of course, visit a handful of places that will give me a good taste of this city that truly is where West meets East. The Bosphorous River is the dividing line between Europe and Asia. Istanbul is on both continents and religiously has a deep and conflicted history with regard to Orthodox Christianity and Islam. Remember, this city was once called Constantinople and many of the Greeks still don’t recognize the new name which just means, “to the city.”
I want to share a little bit about danger today. The recent events around the country certainly point to the potential risks and dangers of being in Turkey right now, especially on a bicycle where I am more vulnerable than the average tourist being shuttled around on a bus. While the news two mornings ago was startling and sad to me, I have to say that it has not affected me in any way with regard to feeling that I am in more danger than I was when I entered the country.
One of the gifts of this pilgrimage has been that early on (you may remember!) that I had to learn to live in the moment and trust what was right before me. I had nearly gone into a panic when, at the same time, cell phone issues and computer problems, threatened to isolate me with regard to communication. Over a few day period I worked through those one step at a time to the point that when I arrived in Turkey I felt like an old pro getting my phone data changed over from one country to another.
What I have learned is to just deal with what is front of me while keeping an eye on what is likely to be before me. There are dangers, but they are completely unrelated to the political environment. The real dangers are the same dangers that I would be facing in the U.S. They have to do with being a cyclist on a transportation infrastructure built for cars and the efficient movement of goods and materials.
Yesterday was a good example. For the most part I felt pretty safe. But, the day was spent stopping sometimes every kilometer, sometimes every few kilometers to check my GPS, find another long residential street, look for a bike path, avoid a freeway and thus stay out of the way of the speeding monsters that are heading into Istanbul. I will get there, but I am not playing political dodge ball here. This has more to do with negotiating my way through an urban jungle.
The saddest moment of the trip took place yesterday. I have seen many dead dogs on the side of the road in both Greece and Turkey. The best way I can describe the situation is that there are feral dogs all over the place, even in the towns just sleeping in parks and wandering around town squares. Yesterday, as I was on a long stretch on the main highway where I had a full eight foot shoulder I saw a dog dip under the guard rail from one side of the highway to the other. I watch them carefully because I never know which ones will be spooked by me and go running and which ones will lick their chops and see a great opportunity for a little prey play.
I had just passed the dog, gone another two or three seconds and then “Whoomph!” I heard the sickening impact of a vehicle hitting the dog like the sound of a fist slamming into a pillow. The dog yelped and cried and scrambled around trying to finish crossing the road. The next car and a bus stopped while the dog struggled. Both front legs were broken and he used his back legs to prop himself up and then pull himself forward on his mangled front legs, falling to the ground each time. He finally reached the grassy embankment just off the highway and laid down. We all continued on our journeys.
The spring was gone from my legs and it took a little while to catch my breath. If the dog had owners I am sure the legs could be fixed and he would recover if he also had no internal injuries. But, I was sure that this dog was going to die there in that spot or close by, if not during the day by nightfall as he lay helpless. It was sad and disturbing especially because the car didn’t slow down at all or stop after the impact. I can’t imagine that he didn’t know that he had the dog. I kept wondering, “Didn’t he see the dog? Couldn’t he have done more to avoid the collision?” Of course, the dog was behind me and I had no idea whether the driver was already trying to avoid the dog and the dog just kept coming.
I was a couple of kilometers down the road when the image finally hit me. The dog was crossing the left lane of a two lane, one-way highway. I was taking up the shoulder on the right side. It suddenly occurred to me that the driver may have been trying to thread the needle between the crossing dog and me and not able to, chose the dog rather than me. I suddenly felt very sad and thankful all at the same time. Still, I wished the driver had stopped just out of compassion.
The dangers I am facing are the same dangers all cyclists face in a world built for cars and massive semi-trailers.
The fragile political environment seems to pose no threat to me at all at this point. It is certainly on the mind of the Turkish people. Together we are watching the news in the café’s, restaurants, and hotel lobbies. When I stop, the man selling watermelons is sharing with me his sadness about the war and erupting situation, but it is something we are sharing together as brothers. My U.S. citizenship is not putting a barrier or distance between me and the people I meet. In fact, my bike seems be having the opposite effect. Certainly some are a little wary and puzzled by my presence on a bike, unsure what to make of me. But, most are curious and when they find out that I am from the U.S. and that I am riding from Rome to Konya they smile, shake their heads and laugh and then wave their friends over to join in the conversation of hand motions and charades.
Okay, seriously, I have to go now! Just a little further and I’ll have four nights in Istanbul and can catch my breath. It will be an interesting day weaving through neighborhoods, side streets, and bike trails along parks and the sea. But, I have given myself all day just to find my way through it. At the end I should be in my hostel right in the middle of Old Town enjoying more of the people, the hospitality, the kind gestures and the connection we all share as one person to another.