Bumps in the Road: From the Himalayas to Istanbul

Not everything goes how you imagine it will when you set out on a trip across the world. In my experience, the majority of the time it doesn’t. It was around three years ago, in February 2020, I was packing up some things in Kathmandu to hit the pause button on endlessly riding and head home for a couple of months to visit family after a long series of tours through southern Patagonia and Asia. I’d booked a round trip flight and left my trusty Tumbleweed Prospector behind in Nepal, with my plans set to return to the Himalayas in April of 2020 to make a route through India and the rugged peaks of Pakistan… But, as we all know, plans changed.

A couple of years later, as Nepal began loosening up its restrictions on tourism, I started eyeing my return to the Himalayas, to finally retrieve my bike and follow through with the riding plans I’d set into motion years before…

I landed back in the familiar, chaotic streets of Kathmandu. Everywhere you look in this city there is a new thing to stimulate your senses. From the packed streets, the snarled electrical wires, to the unique characters selling their wares in the street market, the infinite smells (both good and bad), the monkeys, and the history of beauty and of tragedy. It’s a place I could walk through the streets with a camera every day and always find a million interesting things to shoot.

I reached the tourist hub of Pokhara, where my Tumbleweed had been stashed for over two full years, and immediately began prepping it to hit the road. Tires were pumped, a few bags were loaded up, stoke was high, and I was ready for my first test ride into the nearby hills. I pushed the pedal down for the first time in a long time and immediately felt the crank spin out under my feet. It was as if I was freewheeling in both directions. I changed the gears on my Rohloff internal gear hub and still the crank just spun when pedaled forward. I shifted one more gear and it finally clicked into place, I could pedal. After playing with it for a while I found that I could fairly reliably use about 4 or 5 of the 14 gears, but the others would just spin in both directions. Far from ideal.

I tried every tip and trick Rohloff could send my way, including multiple oil changes and even roughly 10 internal rinses and rides with kerosene in the hub (for extreme situations) to no avail. It was then that I knew I’d need to swap the entire internal gear unit of the Rohloff itself as it’s likely that some water had entered the hub at some point in my tour through Asia, and the two years sitting idle without an oil change had wreaked havoc on the internals. (Pro Tip: Don’t let your Rohloff sit for two years)

As you can imagine, Nepal is not the place you want to be in the event of needing major Rohloff surgery, so it was once again becoming clear that my dreams of traversing the Himalayas would have to be put off again, and I was heading to Istanbul to resuscitate my drivetrain.

After arriving on the familiar shores of Turkey, the kind folks at Gürsel Akay Bisiklet sorted out my new internal gear unit and my bike was ready for a handful of days in the coastal mountains to put it to the test before a big trip on the horizon. I took a ferry out of the city and set out for the mountains, with the majestic Uludağ mountain near Bursa as my primary objective. I’d been eyeing a traverse on this mountain since my first trip to Turkey, and I was finally ready to make it happen.

I rolled inland through the coastal forests near Yalova and started the long climb up a forest service road into the National Park, but once again my plans hit a snag when a ranger stopped me to tell me that entry to the park was currently closed due to an aggressive brown bear in the area.

Thankfully, there is no shortage of beautiful landscape to meander through in Turkey, so it was on to Plan C as I made my way back to the coast and sought out a nice stretch of riding along the sea near the city of Mudanya, hopping between small towns along quiet, mixed surface roads, occasionally climbing up into coastal hills for a change in perspective.

The dirt roads in Turkey are always quiet, but I wasn’t sure if this one right along the water would be, during peak summer. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised to find an empty gravel track hugging every bend in the mountainside.

On this side of the Turkish coast, the sun soaks the road until the last drop of light in the sky, making for some prime evening riding conditions. Rather than hauling supplies for cooking, here I’d stop in the last village of the day for dinner and then ride off at dusk to find a suitable place to camp with the sounds of the sea crashing against the rocks as I slept. Thankfully, Turks aren’t overly fence-happy like many countries can be, so finding a spot was never too difficult. It was more a matter of finding the spot.

During the day I’d watch the ships in the distance hauling back and forth to Istanbul while the waters shifted in color from a deep blue to turquoise. I made my way west near the small village of Yenice with offers of Turkish çay (tea) from the locals gathering outside of the main hub of activity (often near the village’s mosque). Soon my short test trip in the land of kebabs would be over as I prepped my bike for a few months in Mongolia, but it was another reminder that there are so many more places to explore in the Mediterranean.

Turkey hits a very special blend for cycle tourists by offering up nice wild camping opportunities in areas that feel remote with beautiful landscapes, along with the comforts of hitting a nice bakery or restaurant to stop for lunch. Along with a ton of beautiful towns and cities to stop in for days off along the way. You can wake up above the treeline in the mountains, cruise through the forest, and head down to the beach for some börek by the sea. Have I mentioned that the food is amazing (and cheap!)? It’s a place I imagine I’ll return to time and time again for the rest of my life.

With the Himalayas a distant dream once again, this wasn’t how I imagined my summer riding season would start, but I was trying to embrace all of the bumps along the road, and there’s no doubt that getting to spend a bit more time in one of my favorite countries to ride was a nice consolation prize.