Harrogate to India cycle: Latest from Georgia

Tom and Rhys teaching at a Turkish school (s)
Tom and Rhys teaching at a Turkish school (s)

Harrogate friends Tom Cartledge and Rhys James set out from Hookstone Drive in March, aiming to cycle from Harrogate to India.

They are raising money for charities The Railway Children and St Michael’s Hospice.

The Harrogate Advertiser is keeping up-to-date with their progress. The pair have reached Georgia, and sent this report.

I would like to stretch my open regards to you all and say Merhaba (hello) from the north eastern Turkish city of Trabzon, which lies on the old Silk Road.

An old important port city during the Ottoman times, now it is the place for travellers to pick up their Iranian visas or in our case a short stop over to see the Sumela Monastery before making a move on Adjara, Georgia and the stunning southern Caucasus region.

The road from Istanbul has been challenging us these past few weeks and truly drained our bodies but has also paved the way for some fantastic memories.

We knew that getting out of Constantinople would be harder than escaping from most cities and much more infuriating that getting in to the city.

The city wants to hold you in its grasps suck you into its tourist traps and doesn’t want to let you go as we found in this episode of escape from the city!

Looking into the origins of the place name Istanbul actually includes two route verbs of the Turkish language Istmak and Bulmak: to want and to find which correlates well with the old Greek and general Arabic meaning of Istanpolis which means ‘to the city’ however there is nothing mentioned about getting out of this mayhem!

Before leaving the city we managed to research a few different routes on Google maps with the mind of getting out quickly and efficiently and heading towards the coast.

This wasn’t at all what occurred in the end, as is if it ever would be.

It took us a few hours of crossing bridges and major roads just to locate the Bosporus Bridge area.

This was our intended exit point from Europe and our warm welcome into Asia.

We had picked it because of its mighty statement on the city.

Little did we know that crossing the bridge on bikes was a ‘no no’ and that the only boats crossings from this district were elusive water taxis – which were bound to be uber expensive.

Frustration started to kick in before we had already left the city.

When we finally managed to climb onto the bridge we noticed what appeared to be a walking route, which would appear normal to most of us bridge crossers, however in Istanbul the Bosporus Bridge is only open to automobile traffic and our entrance was blocked by the police.

We protested emphatically, slipping further into frustration and asked for alternative crossing routes.

They answered ‘that we should take a bus’. ‘No way – the bikes won’t fit’ we said!

This stirring attracted a group of local bridge workers with a tiny, open backed, van.

They were seemingly allowed to cross using the ‘pedestrian’ crossing and so offered to give us a hitch into Asia! The police agreed and finally we were bundled onto the back of a small workers truck, limbs sprawled everywhere in between bike parts and holding on for dear life as we were driven the 200 or so meters into Asia.

Thank you bridge workers of Istanbul – we salute you!

Upon arriving in Asia everything seemed to work smoother.

The traffic appeared steadier even within the city, nonetheless within a short expanse of time we were separate of the city surroundings not knowing when or if we would ever return to Istanbul again.

It had been a great week, but neither of us felt particularly relaxed.

The city had its lasting effect on our bodies more than anything and Rhys was starting to fall ill with cold.

Not what you particularly crave when sitting upon the saddle for hours and hours every day.

We were both more than jolly to be heading out of the city for the seaside with the sun on our faces and the wind in our hair.

Here started the glorious rolling hills again, rolling on and on and at some points turning into never ending mountain passes until reaching Samsun much further along the coast.

Little did we know that after leaving the beautiful Turkish seaside resort town of Sile we would be bounced all over the place on a rocky road of adventures, from camping on the top of a mountainous island in Amasra, chased by wild ‘salivating for cyclists’ packs of dogs everywhere, escaping from a live army firing range, welcomed into the homes of many Turkish people of all ages, bought breakfast, lunch and dinner by others and converse in so many languages that our heads haven’t stopped spinning.

It has been one of the most adventurous and friendly places that I have ever managed to visit and something that I wasn’t expecting at all from Turkey.

One only tends to think of southern Turkeys tourist establishments and Istanbul’s merry markets but not of the northern Black Sea beauties.

After Sile we made a conscience decision to take the small back roads out of town to avoid the traffic and enjoy the coast line as best we could.

We used our normally trustworthy and courageous iphone Google maps application which has taken us into some interesting but amazing situations before, and decided it was time for another interesting adventure!

While dismounting the bikes due to the ruff muddy road surface and following the track which lay ahead past confused looking cows, through stunning flower covered forest floors we pulled up into a fenced off area noticing livestock to one side and commenting that it was strange to fence cows in with such a high barrier.

We then saw the D020 road which we wanted to cycle on to the top of the hill and hauled our bikes through bramble bushes and over strange things which looked like (hopefully) animal bones until reaching our desired destination.

This is when ‘the crazy’ then dawned on us. The cows weren’t fenced in, we were! We rambled around the area looking for a break in the fence so that we didn’t have to back track 20kms and after about 20 minutes we found our glory hole, managing to pass our bikes, equipment and selves through only to notice a warning sign on the other side which read something like: Forbidden access – Live Military Firing Zone!

Oh my lord – how the heck to do we ever manage to get ourselves into these hectic situations?! Adventures come to Adventurous I suppose.

Accommodation has been provided to us in some of the most stunning and hospitable forms imaginable in the past few weeks.

For the whole of the north coast we decided not to organise any forward accommodation through couch surfing or hotel websites and let the wind take us where it may.

This has led to us camping in some of the most serene and stunning destinations so far on the trip like Amasra, and also received invitations to be able to stay with local people for as long as we wanted to for no charge.

Beaches and cliffs overlooking the Black Sea have been our desired and favorite places to camp as we have been using the sea as our main source of washing, and who doesn’t like watching the sunset whilst on a sandy beautiful beach feeling totally relaxed, whilst thinking that you will be the only people enjoying the bliss paradise in the morning.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing and paradise however as explained before and we have received some minor setbacks from wear and tear, but managed to overcome them with the help of local people.

When arriving in Kandira a mornings stop for energy snacks and sun cream shopping we noticed that Rhys’ bike had a flat tire and so it was time to put our extensive (not) knowledge of bike repairing into action.

Actually getting the inner tube out and repairing the puncture was child’s play, but the darn thing wouldn’t hold air!

We checked over and over again but nothing would work.

It was the time for the spares to come to our aid. Maybe we should have checked this before leaving.

The replacement inner tubes we bought back in England are the correct size for our wheels but are slightly too thin, most likely to be used on racing bikes not on our touring hybrids.

After trying to pump them up we realized that a special fitting was needed so after much trial and error of language sharing with the local ladies in the gas station we ended up in the mechanics alley.

Here they didn’t realise what we were looking for as initially we were going to write off the tube and try to find another with the correct size, but the guys pulled off a miracle and managed to fit the inner tube to the tire. And just like that we were back on the road.

Although we’ve had many more adventures along the road in Turkey, possibly too many to fit into this article (so check the online blogs), one lasting memory will always stand out as a great experience.

It started when we received an email via couch surfing inviting us to visit a Turkish School and participate in English language classes.

Myself and Rhys became overwhelmed with excitement accepted the invitation straight away.

Ayse and her staff welcomed us with the warmest of smiles and greetings and passed us cups of tea and biscuits straight after entering the staff room. We were briefed quickly upon the language level of the students and also what to expect from the experience.

After telling them our stories we decided to not let the excitable children wait any longer and walked past envious students from other classrooms until we found the class we were teaching.

The main point of the lesson was to use us as references. They could ask us as many questions as they wanted to and we would answer their cheeky questions with counter questions trying to improve and extend their confidence and use of language.

We also asked them questions on world news and shared our stories about cycling, camping and travelling. They were particularly interested to know that we were raising money for Homeless Children.

We enjoyed the first class so much that we decided to stay on to talk with another slightly shyer class.

Once we started to involve everybody and moved the classroom around as much as possible the energy was flowing and they were more than enjoying using their English, I was even told that I should be a teacher by one of the students.

During question time we received some very interesting questions and some very bizarre ones too, but all was in good faith and good comedy.

If it wasn’t for the connections that we have through couchsurfing, I don’t think that this experience would have been possible. We both really enjoyed our brief return to school before cycling on to Trabzon.

When you’re contributing to a charity it is always good to know where your money is going and specifically how it can help the target.

his short section is aimed at providing you with more information on this topic and educating you briefly by covering the work ‘The Railway Children’ organization does and how it helps. If you are thinking of donating to ‘The Railway Children’ charity that we are supporting here is a breakdown of where your money goes and specifically how much your kind donations can help vulnerable children worldwide;

• £10 x 4 nights shelter for an Indian child

• £12 to give a child a medical assessment

• £60 pays for a child on the streets of India to go to school for a whole year

• £100 could pay for 2 months’ rent for a shelter for a child living on the street

• £4 feeds a child in India 3 meals a day for 10 days

• £10 could provide food, overnight clothing and toiletries for a child at a runaway refuge in the UK.

Finally we have started to see large donations coming into the just giving accounts again which is positive and all going to the best of causes.

Keep your eyes and ears on high alert to find out more information about the up and coming fundraiser to be held in Harrogate’s home of Rock and Roll: Montey’s Rock Café. More details can be found on our website and please feel free to get in touch with us through there with questions or advice.

Find links to donate to charities the Railway Children and St Michael’s Hospice at www.saddlesore.moonfruit.com