Sunday, October 19 Selime to Sultanhani
I am doing well, really well. As I near the end of this pilgrimage I am very aware that this pilgrimage unfolded as a pilgrimage should. I got so me breakthroughs, breakthroughs that I hadn’t even asked for or planned for. I still think back to the post where I wrote in a panicked voice, “If I can’t communicate there is no need for this pilgrimage.” The admission exposed my real and initial intention for the pilgrimage—to launch myself into a new professional career of writing/speaking/consulting. That may still happen, but I had to do a little house cleaning first and look reality straight in the face and come to terms with myself and reality.
The meandering through the museum of the Hellenistic gods in Thessaloniki was the first breakthrough. I had just climbed as high as a bike is allowed to climb on Mt. Olympus and re-affirmed my gift of strength and will and my love of physically feeling the contours of a mountain in my body. This has always been something personal to me, but when I read about a whole culture that had gods that honored physical beauty and strength and tied that to a life of virtue and character, I suddenly had a divine blessing. This thing that I do is not mere hobby or recreation, as we tend to think of it in America, this is spiritual practice!
By the time I arrived in Istanbul after a number of days of difficult headwinds and not-too-accommodating traffic, I had gone from feeling understood to asserting myself in non-apologetic terms. I found myself saying, “I don’t need to hide this part of me. I won’t hide it. In fact, I will promote it and do everything I can to help others discover that passion that sets their hearts on fire.” But, my work was not quite done. Reality began to set in and I realized that while I was getting clarity about who I am and what I do it wasn’t necessarily going to translate into a job or provide a livelihood.
This was the real breakthrough for me. Speaking as honestly, vulnerably, truthfully and authentically as I can is more important to me than shaping my words and twisting my thoughts in order to sound more palatable for a job or manipulating myself to be marketable. I remember the moment in Goreme when I allowed these two awkward dance partners—my passion and a livelihood—to separate and walk away from each other. No more struggle. No more stepping on each other’s toes. No more figuring out who should lead and who should follow.
I will admit that a subtle sadness has followed me the last three days. I was raised in the Presbyterian Church, educated by her in both college and seminary, and have spent most of my working career serving churches in this denomination. Like a child who really wants his parent to “get him” and support him for who he is, I have held out hope that there was some way I could couch my language and share my spiritual values where they would go, “Aha! Now we get it. Why didn’t you say it that way before?”
But, it is easy to let go of counting on my livelihood in the church now. I think even about my posts and how little I even speak of God. I use the language of soul, heart, spirit, and passion much more often. I no longer find the word, God, to be a unifying or even inspiring term for the larger community. There is so much baggage around it and the way you use it can be 180 degrees from how I might use it. As I have said, I believe one world is dying and another is emerging. Even our difficulties with the word God point to that, I believe.
This all makes sense to me now, of course. I received a bachelor’s degree in religion, not because I was looking to become a pastor, but because I just couldn’t stay away from it. Then in seminary (again I only went because I loved it so much, not because I had ambitions to be a pastor) any time I had electives I chose theology classes. Theology just means “the study of God.” This has been a passionate endeavor for me for over thirty years now. And, in my own evolution, I am finding even the language to be a barrier to a deeper understanding of the spiritual nature of the universe. If I speak of God at all it is usually in the phrase, “the God within” which mirrors the more mystical direction that my spirituality is taking me. I am still as passionate as ever about my “study of God” but I am finding new ways to express that Presence that seems to pulsate through every part of life, my body, my loves, my passions.
Wow! Guess what I was thinking about on the bike today? Theology, spirituality, the nature of the soul, and the journey that institutional religion will need to take in order to enter this expanding conversation.
My head and heart tend to go their when I find myself in certain terrains. And today was one of those days. It’s interesting that when I reached Goreme and met with Jon he began setting up a route to take advantage of all that Cappadocia has to offer. I am so glad he did. He also added, “You’re wise to spend your time here because there is nothing between Aksaray and Konya.” Right he was. Where he was wrong was in not understanding me. I love the sweet nothingness of the Wyoming high prairie and the Nevada desert. I love what it does to me inside. The flat and sometimes rolling terrain of this part of Turkey allowed my body to go mindless (if such a thing exists) and my mind to become reflective and contemplative.
I thought it was going to be a much more difficult day given the weather predictions. It was cold this morning, but not quite as cold as was predicted. But, when I emerged from my hotel it appeared that the storms were about 12 hours ahead of schedule. As I looked west (where I was going) I could see patches of sun here and there. As I looked straight up, the dark ominous clouds were just passing and would only be posing a threat to the land I cycled on yesterday.
At one point I even toyed with the idea of riding all the way to Konya in one day (just over 110 miles). But, those thoughts only came when the sun was out and I had a tailwind. As the afternoon arrived so did the wind and because the temperature wasn’t rising at all (it stayed mid 40’s all day) it began to get pretty cold. I was glad when I reached Sultanhani, the only town between Aksaray and Konya reported to have a hotel.
Actually, I was pretty lucky that way too. As I entered town a man puffing away on a cigarette in a little white Renault waved me down and discovered I was looking for a hotel. He drove down the freeway at my bike pace with his flashers on in order to escort me the one mile plus distance to the hotel. But, it wasn’t the hotel I saw in the pictures and this place looked pretty dumpy to me. I went in and surveyed the room and then said I would ride around town and decide what I wanted to do. They wanted to know I wanted the room and was coming back. I tried to say again that I would ride around and then decide, but it wasn’t coming through. In the end I lied and said, “I’ll be back after I see the town.” What I really wanted to do was find the hotel I had seen in the pictures that looked rather modern. Actually, it’s not modern that I want. It’s consistency. With so little time each evening even small surprises can be exhausting. Like last night! I survived but my dinner ended up being my leftover bike food.
I ended up riding another three miles west of town before spotting the hotel that was on booking.com. They had closed up for the winter and sent me back to the little dumpy hotel in Sultanhani (actually they don’t call this a hotel; it’s “camping and pansions” which means camping and rooms.)
The most embarrassing thing is that the closed hotel got on the phone to the dumpy hotel to tell them to look for a guy on a bike looking for a room. I tried to say that they didn’t need to call as I knew exactly where it was, but they persisted. Being the conscientious person I think I am, I was slightly worried I would arrive back there and they would scold me for lying with something like, “We don’t lie to each other in our country!” But, when I arrived they were glad to see me.
By American standards it is a little dumpy. I have had to play with my light switch a few times as the connection is not good and it goes off occasionally. The towels remind me of ones that my grandmother would give us, thin and stained, but clean. But, to make up for it all the son in the family asked me what I wanted for dinner and personally ran around town picking up chicken, baklava, and beer. He did all the cooking and had it ready exactly at 7 p.m. as I had asked. THEN, after dinner he came in my room, lit the wood stove in the center and I have been enjoying the heat that you only get from stoves that cut right through and take the chill out of the body.
Two other vignettes worth mentioning. I have had the occasional vehicle beep nicely when they go by in days past, mostly in Turkey and some in Greece. But, today dozens of drivers beeped little honks of encouragement. It’s always hard to know exactly what is intended, but I can tell the difference between an annoying “Get off the road” beep, the courtesy “I am coming up behind you” beep, and the “Atta boy” or “Way to go” or “Keep at it!” beep.
And then today I did something uncharacteristic. Up to this point when people, vehicles, or children asked me to stop, I did. It always resulted in a nice conversation, fun pictures, or help with directions or food. But, starting yesterday the children who have stopped me immediately go into a “Money, Money” chant. Finally after three of those encounters, some young boys stood right in front of me waving me down and I didn’t slow down, but just waved, and made an arc around the boy furthest into the road. I didn’t expect this to happen, nor did I expect that I would have that reaction.
Well, if all goes well tomorrow I should arrive in Konya. It will be a long day, just about the longest of my pilgrimage at 70 miles. The good news is that it is very flat and I am an old nationally-ranked time trialist and the flats play to my strengths. The bad news is that it is still cold and if the wind plays havoc with me, 70 miles is a long distance to be that uncomfortable and working that hard. But, as I said at the beginning, “I am doing well, really well.” Wind and cold can’t change how peaceful and warm I feel inside.