Trip dist: 119 kms. Time: 8 hrs, 15 min. Tot dist: 7,633 kms.
So, what's the first thing one does, the night before the very last ride on a long bike trip from the Atlantic to the Bosphorus?
Why, one goes to buy socks, of course (my old Lisbon ones badly needed replacing). :D.
For only 1 Turkish Lira (about 50 cents!) one gets some really beautiful, almost fluorescent orange socks in the downtown of Çorlu. So brightly colored, it can't be anything but good luck, right? And I that I had thought that my Lisbon blue and green striped European socks were pretty wild already....
The ride today was pretty hilly/flat (mesa-type climbing, you know, climb, go flat for a while, descend, at infinitum) and uneventful (though I did get to see--barely--a little bit of the Sea of Marmara!) until approximately 35 kms from Istanbul, where it suddenly turned into pure chaos. The traffic was unbelievable and at one point there is this maneuver you have to do, where, if you're riding on the right side shoulder of the road (and if you're on a bike on this crazy highway, you should), you then have to cross over to the left for three lanes and stick around there for a while, with crazy cars weaving every-which way as you try to do this at a comparatively snail pace, and trucks blowing smog right into your face and honking, and then, after about 700 meters or so, you then have to repeat this little trick in the opposite direction, in order to catch the correct turnoff to the city. So you cross left, three lanes, then ride a bit, then cross three lanes back.
Very stressful, that was. I just had to stop and take a break after that (also because that came right after a very tough and long climb, I guess). I also didn't have an Istanbul city map (I didn't have a Turkey map either, but I figured since I was only going to ride here 3 days it didn't matter), and if the city was anything like the road 35 kms before, I would most definitely be needing it. I bought one at the gas station where I stopped to rest, and at which point the guys at the station entreated me not to continue on the D-100 (the big 6 lane highway I was on) into Istanbul, but to follow the coastal road instead.
"Much flatter and no traffic!" the attendant had said.
"And how many more kilometers will that add? It looks like at least 15 from the map!" said I.
"Yes, no, only 6, but no traffic!" said the attendant.
O.K. Remember? Flat and longer is ALWAYS better than short and hilly. So I took this road.
I should start mistrusting local wisdom, though. First off, this highway took me all over the Istanbul suburbs, including a rather exciting ride right south of the Airport, where I was right on the path of approaching planes. Talk about stressful, when you see this huge bird shadow approaching you from the right, then you hear the horrible noise and look up, to see the steel belly of this huge Lufthansa Boeing that is landing just behind. Yikes.
Secondly, no traffic? Are they nuts?!? I was on a 4 lane avenue pretty much as soon as I came within 10 kms of the city! And, no shoulders, I was smack-a-dab in the middle of a lane (for you Boston folks: imagine a bit like driving along Storrow drive or Memorial drive, on a bike), travelling, again, comparatively like a lame mollusk, and cars swerving (while honking loudly) to avoid me.
Thirdly, no hills? Er....not in the suburbs. Granted, they were not as high as the ones I had had to climb on the D-100, but they were many, one after the other, as if I were on a roller coaster.
Fourthly, I got into the city late: the suburb promenade had taken almost 2 hours (I got lost a couple of times, too), it was not 6 extra kilometers, but 16 by my odometer, and then what with the swerving and not being able to tell exactly which way I was going (new big city at night) I headed for the sidewalk near the park flanking the docks (and what beautiful views of the harbor!). By this time it had started to rain, and traversing to and from the sidewalk/bike paths on the park flanking the harbor obbligated me (partly, too, because I didn't see it, being dark) to ride through some pretty thick clay-mud. It was hilarious, when I finally figured out how to get out of that muck mess, I had mud covering my tires 2 centimeters thick. The first thing I thought? "Oh, man! Now no hotel is going to take me!" :)
The solution: ride through as many puddles as possible. That worked, after about half-an-hour. The tires were clean but the brakes, of course, were covered up so much you couldn't even tell my bike was equipped with some.
But, I made it, in the end (after asking some soldiers with machine guns the way when I got lost in a huge park near Sultanhamet, the city center. It was amazing how non-chalantly they handled them: pointing every-which way, sometimes even at me, as they changed them from one shoulder to the other, then realizing how I was looking at them eyes wide and mouth popped open, they became formal again and started handling them properly. I rather suspect, then, that the guns weren't loaded. At least, I hope so). Ha ha. Not bad for a little more than seven-thousand, five-hundred kilometers, eh? :)
I ended up in a beautiful hotel with great views of the city and the harbor in their rooftop terrace. It didn't seem too expensive, and had a nice, spacious bathroom, whose shower I without hesistation quickly jumped in upon arriving.