Leaving Istanbul

On the 11th September we checked out of our hostel early, hoping to leave Istanbul at the crack of dawn. Misjudging when this was, we ended up loitering outside the Blue Mosque waiting for enough light to take our obligatory ‘start’ photos. While waiting, a young Turk who was listening to arabesque techno on his car radio before going to morning prayers shared some Turka Cola with us and insisted on giving us a heavy brass ashtray with the Blue Mosque emblazoned on it as a good luck charm for our trip. Neil reluctantly strapped this kind gift on to his panniers and in doing so seemingly doubled the weight of his gear.

At 06:30 we set off, pedalling over the Galata Bridge, then following the coastal road up the Bosphoros for 25kms to Sariyer. It was a nice gentle introduction – the road was quiet, the surface flat, an unsuspecting scooter rider just in front of us incurred the wrath of a pack of dogs which had looked destined for our calves, and we could stop when we wanted to watch the huge cargo ships and the Bosphoros bridges in the early morning light.

At Rumeli Kavagi, north of Sariyer, we turned inland and were soon floundering on a hill as steep and longer than Streatley Hill (the internationally recognised benchmark of hill-toughness). Neil was pushing immediately, followed a few minutes later by Haz. This ability difference was not unexpected. Haz had established her pedigree in 2006, cycling 10kms to work and back for 2 months (before winter arrived and it became too cold), while Neil’s cycling career amounts to about 10kms total, since selling his BMX in 1994. Naturally, the weighty ashtray was made the scapegoat…

At the first petrol station we filled up the petrol bottle for Haz’s new toy – an MSR XGK stove. Asking for 885mls of unleaded caused the attendant some amusement, but it still cost 1.40GBP – more than a tank’s worth of petrol in Iran! We were now all set for some wild camping…

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