I woke up to the sounds of a struggling motorcycle engine. When I set up my tent the previous night I’d pushed my bike up a tiny double-track offshoot road that steeply climbed to an isolated hilltop. I was perched above the primary road that already gets very little traffic and totally out of sight, but with the sound of that engine, I knew the motorcycle wasn’t simply cruising by on the road below, it was making its way up toward me.
Moments after recognizing the sound, a large shepherd dog poked its head into view. Another followed shortly after, along with a herd of sheep. The dogs were curious but seemed unalarmed by my presence, despite the fact that a stranger was in the prime grazing real estate of their herd.
At this point I knew maybe 20 Turkish words max (mostly food names), so trying to explain why my backpack was hanging from a tree was going to be difficult. Especially since a “bear hang” isn’t exactly a commonly utilized strategy around here. A bit of Google translate helped to smooth things out, and soon my new moto-shepherd friend, Aydın, was inviting me to his restaurant in a nearby village for breakfast.
I enjoyed a classic Turkish “menemen” (think egg scramble with tomato, onion, peppers, olive oil, and loads of “Somun” bread). I learned about the legend of “Ataturk” from his daughter and got a hand-drawn map from a crew of locals that somehow omitted the one way I was trying to go. Perhaps they were trying to convince me not to take the road I said I was heading for, but luckily I am too stubborn for that, so I went for it anyway.
Following an afternoon of riding along a densely forested ridge in the clouds, the forest began to thin out on the hillsides. Another local shouted down in an excited tone from the roof of their house as I rode by. I wasn’t sure what they said, but they began to run inside before eventually cracking open their gate and presenting me with a huge bag of apples and pears from their garden.
I climbed into the last village that was marked on my map before I’d be up into no man’s land. This village, or “yayla” as they’re called in Turkey, sits high enough up in the mountains that the locals only live here for around half of the year to take a break from the heat of the lower elevations and to tend to their animals. In the fall and winter, these places become deserted, and half of the residents had already retreated down the mountain for the season.
It was getting late, so I asked a local if I could pitch my tent on a piece of land in the village. He said yes but soon encouraged me to skip the tent and sleep on their porch instead.
In the morning, Nuri and his mother sent me off with some amazing Turkish lavaş bread and some leftovers to have as a lunch-snack and I pedaled on toward a rugged mountain pass that came with an amazing switchback-filled descent. The warmth of the people combined with the quiet mountain roads were really starting to win me over!
I continued undulating through the Taurus range until eventually reaching the city of Mersin. I took a couple of days to rest, hunt for some brake pads, and eat a few too many tavuk tantuni’s (have I mentioned the food is damn good here?). Soon I’d be heading back up toward the high mountains again, weaving my way toward a road that I had been looking forward to since I first plotted it out on a satellite map weeks earlier.
Of course, as I got close to the road, every local around seemed to have no idea it existed. Even the people at the tourist information office in the nearest town didn’t have an idea if the road connected to anything. The closest confirmation I got was when one man saw the moment I finally turned onto the road and called out to me, “you won’t make it, only goats go up there!”. He held both of his hands up in the air and gave me the universal sign for “Why the f*#k would you want to do this?”. I pointed up the road and tried to pronounce the name of the single tiny settlement I had marked on my map, Göğeri, unsure if it even existed. He paused for a second and reluctantly nodded before sending me off with a bag of sun-dried figs and a “good luck, brother”.
The climb was steep but the views made that an afterthought. Up above 3,000 meters for my first time in Turkey, it was more reminiscent of the desolate expanses of Tajikistan or Bolivia than what I had in mind for the mountains off the coast of the Mediterranean. I’d packed about 8 liters of water to last 2 days, not having any clue about the water situation, but there was little need. Even on a rarely used road like this, water spigots are conveniently installed every few hours apart. Without these, riding in these areas of Turkey would be pretty tricky.
In one way, the guy who said “only goats go up there!” was exactly right. In 2 days I only came across one herd of goats with a single shepherd who looked at me like he’d seen a ghost. Judging by his scraggly beard, blank stare, and pungent aroma that hit me from about 40 feet away as I rode by waving, I’m guessing he hadn’t been down near civilization much in at least the previous few months. The “town” of Göğeri turned out to be little more than a few abandoned shepherd’s hut.
After a spectacular ride along the undulating cluster of peaks that culminate at Medetsiz Tepe, I camped in an abandoned shepherd village before descending along the ridge and back down into the populated foothills.
My route for this section: