Finding Adventure in the Unexpected
Recently I’ve put a lot of thought into what defines ‘adventure.’ It could be anything that you don’t normally do – staying in a hotel for the weekend; exploring parts of the city that you’ve never been to; backpacking through Africa; climbing Everest without extra oxygen. Really, an adventure is anything that puts you out of your comfort zone, an extraordinary experience. To me, an experience really becomes an adventure when plans change and unexpected things start to happen. Well see how our Bike trip became an adventure.
Literally from the minute we pushed our bikes out the front door, we were faced with unexpected plan changes. To begin with, we’re both not bike tourers. So we did our best to plan our first ever bike tour, giving ourselves a pretty specific route (about 1000km) and a pretty generous amount of time in which to complete it (2 weeks).
Monday morning our bikes were all packed and ready to roll, and we were up at 6:30 preparing ourselves for our 130km day through a high mountain pass. But as I said, things didn’t go our way from the beginning, and it took about 10 seconds of Colleen walking her bike down the stairs of our apartment’s hallway to realize her back tire was flat. Turns out it had a tiny hole, so when I had pumped it up the day before, it didn’t leak air fast enough to notice. After about half an hour struggling to get the tire off (these were new road tires), we finally got the new tube on and were off once again! Only to realize once we got out of the building that the rack on my bike was rubbing against part of my back brake, so that it wouldn’t release when I would let off the brake. By the time we got the rack/brake issue fixed, we were way behind schedule so we decided to postpone our trip until the next day.
Day 1 (or technically day 2), things started quite a bit more smoothly for us, and we were out the door by 7:30 with no issues! It was a little chilly but we had the sun with us and a nice big shoulder on the newly-paved highway, so not much to worry about. Most of the ride was flat but there was a big killer uphill in the middle of the day. We gained about 1000m of elevation, but got to ride downhill after that for quite a while! Needless to say, we were exhausted by the time we rode into Bayburt and very relieved to find a nice looking restaurant to eat at. Bayburt is a beautiful little city, with a river running through it and restaurants and hotels lining the waterfront, as well as ancient ruins up on a hill in the middle of the city.
The next morning (Day 2), after a classic Turkish breakfast, we began riding in a slight drizzle that soon turned into downpour. According to a very helpful taxi driver, it turned into snow further down the road. So we were able to flag a bus down and hitch a ride into the nearest village to drink tea with some new friends while we waited out the rain so that we could ride back to Bayburt. Our total distance ridden that day was about 50km, before finding a bus that would take us to Trabzon via another road that wasn’t snowy. The drive to Trabzon was again full of lovely scenery and mountains.
Day 3 of our trip saw us riding along the Black Sea all day, which was beautiful. What wasn’t beautiful, though, was the highway full of trucks and buses and the abundance of ugly buildings along the whole ride. We again had painted the wrong picture in our minds, expecting something more like the highway along the Oregon/Washington coast, and this was nowhere near it. The riding was stressful and pretty sketchy at times, going through tunnels and super narrow shoulders with trucks/buses whizzing by us every 10 seconds. But we made it! We had lunch at a nice little café on the water in a nice town called Of, which was our planned destination for the night before (if the snow hadn’t turned us in a different direction). Eventually we made it to Rize, and found the cheapest hotel possible. Maybe this wasn’t the greatest idea; we were a little nervous about sleeping in those sheets…
Day 4: This was the day I was most looking forward to, as we would be riding part of the way through the tea fields and villages of the North end of the Kackars. And was it ever beautiful! We had one uphill slog before a long downhill ride along winding roads that took us through beautiful fields and villages. And then we got to the highway. The beauty of our surroundings never ended that day, but the downhill riding sure did! We only had 60km to ride, but it took us almost as long as day 1, due to the whole highway ride being a long steady uphill ride. In total that day, we gained about 1400m.
Another reason I was looking forward to this day was that, instead of having to look for the cheapest hotel possible, we’d be rewarded with a beautiful thermal spa hotel in a town called Ikizdere! Well, let me tell you, I felt like a donkey chasing a carrot hanging in front of my face. For whatever reason, our GPS was giving us false information about the elevation plot; it kept telling us we would have downhill breaks, but there were none to be seen. And to make things worse, when we finally got into Ikizdere, we learned that the hotel was still another 6km uphill past the town! I know, 6km isn’t that much. But after riding uphill for 60km already and not being in ‘biker’ shape, we were almost ready to plop our tent down on the side of the road where we were standing. We somehow mustered up the energy to get up the hill (well sort of… we walked up parts of it), and finally made it! It was beautiful. The hotel itself was nestled in the valley with a roaring river running along the parking lot, and a big buffet dinner awaiting us.
I haven’t talked about our daily evening discussions, which were pretty much along the same theme every night. Every night we would discuss our soreness and pains and how we’re not tour bikers. By now we had developed some sore legs and sore butts. Each day we had decided to just push through it, but looking at the route for the next day really got us thinking. We would have 80km with over 2000m of elevation gain through a high mountain pass in on-and-off rain/snow. The snow finally determined our decision. We weren’t prepared to continue this trip through the snow and it didn’t look like it was going to stop anytime soon. It would be a long bus ride, but better than biking up huge mountains in snow.
After our buffet breakfast and morning session in the mineral pool and sauna, we were packing our bikes for the last time, getting ready to ride down the hill that had almost been our demise and into Ikizdere to wait for our bus. And let me tell you, the ride down was great fun! I’ll be honest, I much prefer riding a bike downhill (preferably on a dirt trail, but road is good too) over riding uphill. So after our joyride, we hung out at a little restaurant on the side of the highway, and what had started as a very slight drizzle soon turned into another downpour, and eventually the restaurant owner told us that the highway was closed higher up due to snow. Great! We called the hotel and eventually they came down with a shuttle to pick us up and bring us back. Our only option was to stay another night. Poor us, stranded in a thermal spa hotel! Anyhow, it started snowing at the hotel by about 7pm and by the next morning we had about 16 inches of powpow. It was at this point that we began to loathe bike touring even more, wondering why we were out here with these pieces of metal when we should be in the mountains with our skis/snowboard! But we had no choice unless we were gonna go cut down a tree and carve some skis, so we made do with what we had and spent most of our time in the spa. Once again we arranged for a bus to take us home, this time it would be going the other way, back the exact route that we had taken to get to this winter wonderland.
At around 1pm, the bus came and took us to Rize (which is the first place I’ve seen it snow amidst palm trees), where we got on our next bus that would take us through Trabzon and eventually back to Erzurum. Well, this was the snowstorm of the year, it was snowing like crazy the whole way back and the Black Sea was pumping out some nice, surfable waves. It was like we could’ve been doing any sport we loved right now, and we were stuck in a bus with our bikes. By about 11:30pm, we arrived back in Erzurum and I think this was the first time it felt good to be ‘home’! We were home by Day 6 of our 14 day trip, so what do you think we did? You got it, we started planning a climbing trip where it would be warm and sunny! But that’s a whole different adventure for another time…
Moral of the story: good stories aren’t always made from following the plans.
Nick and Colleen