Hopa Turkey to Hydro Lake Jnct 90km
To Between the Tunnels 85km
I don't like cycling through road tunnels. What you don't realise, in a vehicle, is that a tunnel is very noisy. An approaching vehicle creates a roar, that echos along the tunnel. You can't distinguish from which direction it is coming, nor how big the vehicle might be, and you've just got to hope your lights can be seen, and there's enough room for them to pass safely. Some tunnels are very dark, and often you can not see the road surface. That's no problem in a car or truck, but can be disastrous on a bicycle. And when it's dark, your sense of balance deserts you. And you're confined, close to a wall, with no escape route should something come too close. All a little scarey. Today there were lots of tunnels, thankfully reasonably well lit, unlike some in Armenia and Georgia. But I got a scare today anyway. A flock of pigeons was roosting mid tunnel. They just sit and coo when trucks or cars pass by, but when a bicycle passes...... they burst into flight, right above my head...... almost had to stop to change my pants.
The tunnels started as soon as I entered Turkey. The coast road had lots, but only for the traffic going east. I was cycling west, so got to experience the rugged coast, the crashing surf on the rocks, the roaring waterfalls coming down the steep hillsides, and the views along the coast...... so very similar to West coast South Island NZ.
I'm glad I stopped in Hopa last night, because this morning, as soon as I left the hotel, I began climbing, and that continued for 20km. At least it wasn't pouring like yesterday, but I still got wet, sweating, and from spray from passing vehicles, although there were not too many of them. And then, 15km of downhill, but I couldn't let loose my inner speed demon, as the road was very wet, and I don't have alot of tread left on my tyres, and speed meant cold..... very cold. I was glad I had layered up at the top of the hill.
There were lots of small villages along the way. Some were just above the road, some up side valleys. Every village had a mosque, with a tall white tower. Many villagers seemed to be engaged in collecting and producing firewood, or repairing broken down vehicles. I couldn't recognize anywhere that might sell a hot drink. That's a common problem when entering a new country, learning to recognise who sells what. Eventually I found a petrol station that sold Chai, a very small glass of very strong tea.... I needed lots of sugar to be able to get it down, but it was hot, and warming.
After the downhill, the road followed a hydro lake, bordered by tree covered slopes. The autumn colours aren't quite as advanced as in Armenia, but it was still really enjoyable cycling. And then suddenly I'm entering a city, Artvin. It's built on steep slopes above the river, but why here, in the middle of mountains? Just a little bizarre. But I did manage to find some very nice toasted sandwiches. ...yum yum.
After lunch, after a confusing roundabout, (there's a major road heading up the river, but its not on my map), another climb.... a relentless climb, until we're high above another dam and hydro lake. Now I'm looking down on Artvin. It takes an age to climb far enough that we can finally cross a pass and Artvin disappears. A long way below, across the lake is a road, seeming to pass through lots of tunnels, but it doesn't show on my maps either. I've had enough, but there's a very cold wind up here..... and an awesome downhill stretching away into the valleys below...... I'll find somewhere to camp at the bottom.
What the Heck? I'm standing at a cross roads. My map tells me there should be four roads. The road I need is not here. I search up and down the other three roads, but my road, heading west is not here. I've cycled 10km searching and am still only 100m from where I camped. I ask some locals...." that road is under the lake. You need to return to Artvin to find the new one. It's only 25km." 25km of flaming big hills. Bother and Dam.
Still I do get to descend an amazing road, one I've already climbed. Now that doesn't happen often.... and I had to climb up yesterday's amazing descent. And in Artvin I got to repeat the toasted sandwich order...... And guess what? The mystery road...... was where I had to go. A 5km climb, and then. .....60km of tunnels, some as long as 2km, but mostly well lit...... except for one that was about 1.5km long, and all the lights went out when I was half way along it, just before the curve...... my golly it was dark. There must have been at least 50 tunnels. Some were only metres apart. I'm sure I spent more time underground than above ground. The whole highway was an engineering marvel. Extraordinary.
There's a layer of new snow on the tops. Might explain why I needed to use my full sleeping bag last night. 85km today, 35km of it searching and backtracking. Oh well. It's an adventure, and adventure is all about " unknown outcomes". Works for me.