EDITOR’S NOTE: BTF’s Hopa to Hope – Bike4Kids project is underway for two weeks. BTF Chairman, Bulent Ender with his two sons Timur and Kenan, past BTF Director Cemal Unal, ATA-NC President Nihat Cubukcu and Murat Suyabatmaz, head of the Turkish Cycling Organization and local participants are pedaling to raise funds Boots and Coats for 1,000 rural children. They have raised over $12,000 so far. You can donate to support their efforts at: http://www.bridgetoturkiye.org/ride4btf/
Blog Post #1: Hopa to Trabzon (first 2 days)
by Timur Ender
For those who are unaware, we are biking from Hopa, Turkey to Istanbul. We started at the Georgia/Turkey border on 7/6/2014. Yesterday we rode to Rize and today we are in Trabzon. This ride is undertaken in order to raise funds to provide coats and boots for disadvantaged kids in Turkey. Thank you to those who have already donated to Bridge to Turkey Fund (BTF), a non-profit organization. Our mileages range from 50-80 miles per day, the average being about 60mi.
Hopa is the main town in the northeastern border of Turkey close to the Georgia border. We drove 15 minutes east of there to the small border crossing town of Sarp to get prepared and roll out. The start was very exciting and Murat Suyabatmaz, the head of the Turkish Cycling Organization, kept us on time and on track. Murat won Olympic medals in cycling for Turkey back in the 1980s.
After pictures and tire pumping we rolled out from the border with our van and police escort behind us. Figen and Gunes (my aunt & uncle) and Sinan Ertas (my cousin) joined us for the first day; all three of them rode during different parts of the day. When they weren’t riding they were taking pictures and doing other helpful things (like picking up our bikes that came in late from the airline). The riders on the tour are: Cemal Unal (Raleigh/Trabzon), Nihat Cubukcu(Raleigh/Trabzon), Bulent Ender (Raleigh/Ankara), Timur Ender (Portland/Izmir), Kenan Ender (Raleigh/Izmir) and Murat Suyabatmaz (Istanbul).
We’ve been along the water since we started. The benefit is the view and limited intersections. The downside is the wind can be brutal. Luckily, today we had a tailwind! We are eating a lot. Since they don’t have clif bars in Turkey, I get by with almonds and chocolate. We ride as a group and stop for a break once every 15 miles or so.
At night we stay at teacher’s houses (ogretmen evi). This is a concept that doesn’t really exist in the U.S. It is essentially a hotel for public sector employees. The quality is very comparable and the price is a fraction of regular hotels. Due to our non-profit status and organized event, we are able to make use of these wonderful facilities.
The people we come across are very supportive, as can be imagined. The Turkish people are very warm and friendly. The conversation often goes as follows:
Curious individual: What are you all doing?
Us: Biking to Istanbul
Curious individual: Do you know how far that is? Are you crazy?
Us: Yes, we are aware. We didn’t have a choice, there weren’t any plane tickets left! (jokingly).
We then proceed to tell them about the cause and what we are doing. After about a few minutes most people seem to be able to pick up their jaw off the ground! Often people buy us tea, which in Turkey is the ultimate sign of respect. Tea is huge in Turkey and especially popular in the Black sea region where it is made.
Also, its Ramadan in Turkey which means people are fasting from sunset to sunrise. In the middle of the summer heat and long days, this is extremely difficult. Iftaar (when fast is broken) often comes after 8:15, in some places it is after 9pm. By 4:25a.m. it is already light outside.
Since the Georgia border we have had a police escort the entire way. The police are often behind the van; the van is behind us. If there is a wide shoulder, the coverage will be offset so that drivers don’t try to pass on the right in the shoulder. We generally ride on the shoulder and to the right of the right lane.
The police escort is one of my favorite parts of the trip. They are great and often very excited to be there. They happily pose for pictures and throw on the siren to break up the monotony. One of the cops (a man) even gave me a kiss on the cheek at the end of the ride. This gesture highlights the warmness of the Turkish culture and is something that would never happen in the U.S. If I tried to reach in for a kiss to a police officer in the U.S., I’d likely be arrested for attempted assault!
Murat’s contacts and experience is what allowed us to have a police escort. The national system (Turkish police are managed by the feds in Ankara, they are not municipal employees like the U.S.) makes it easier to coordinate logistics of an escort. When riding, I feel like I am in the Tour de France because of the quality of coverage we have from the police. Our van is also equipped with a small red and blue police light, which also ensures wide passing room and slower speeds when passing.
Every 20 miles or so the police car changes when we reach the end of their jurisdictional boundary. We often stop for a picture with both the “new” and “old” police cars. Murat often gives them a low-down of what we are doing and what we need from them. My favorite quote is a police officer asking “do you all run red lights?” Murat: Yes, we do. Police officer: Ok, we’ll use the siren at the intersections then.
In general, the police are very professional and very good at the escort they have been providing. I’ve been very impressed and extremely thankful.
“Those semi’s don’t have brakes” said our driver, referring to the culture of speed.
Riding in Turkey isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It’s the 10% of the road that is a problem. The 10% that is in tunnels or that doesn’t have a shoulder is the issue. Personally, I wouldn’t feel comfortable without a van blocking traffic behind me. Having both a van and a police car behind me makes it super easy. Having said that, the tunnels are sketch, even with a police escort. It’s quite dark and there is the possibility that trucks will cut in right after the cop car. Luckily, since we are going somewhat slower than the fast cars, it hasn’t been an issue.
Traffic was heavy on our way into Trabzon. We passed through a few towns that also had significant traffic. Urban assault in Turkey is one of the best highs you can get. A city bus was stopped picking up passengers and began to merge left towards us. The driver saw us but ignored our presence until the cop behind us put him on blast over the loudspeaker. Following the rules of the road isn’t all that common here but without fail, everyone listens to the cop.
The area we are staying at tonight reminds me of my summers in Turkey. Dense, high rise apartments but quiet streets with minimal traffic. People were out walking and biking after dinner, it feels very safe. Jane Jacobs would be proud of all those “eyes on the street”.
Overall, life is well. Iftaar dinners are very filling and we have found our rhythm on the bicycle. We tend to be consistent and similar in pace so it becomes very manageable. When someone gets tired, Murat literally pushes them along. Life is well here in north eastern Turkey. We are grateful for the opportunity to ride for a wonderful cause and privileged to be able to bike in such a beautiful country.
Thanks to everyone for all the support, we have been overwhelmed!