Black Sea Riders

Posted on April 12, 2015


We’d bided our time in the south of Turkey as rainstorms came and went every other day. If we’d know how high we would have to climb to get through the interior to the Black Sea, and how much we’d suffer for the cold, we may not have left the Mediterranean at all.

After a final day riding east along the coast we turned north into the mountains. While it was cold, and we had on about every piece of clothing we were carrying, we were lucky and avoided rain nearly the entire day. We were headed towards a place called Cappadocia where we’d heard about a city built from caves thousands of years old.

We spied the white caps on the mountains in the distance and hoped that we weren’t headed straight into them. To our relief we only skirted along their sides for most of the day. Again and again I thought a descent to lower elevation was just around the corner, but with every small decent came another climb back to the snowline. The warmest gloves I had were some that I’d gotten for $5 on the street in Egypt, and they weren’t quite doing the job. At one stage two fingers on my left hand went completely numb and then ached we slowed down and they thawed out.

It was nearing sundown and we were almost to our stopping point for the day when we started climbing and kept climbing until we were well above the snowline. Then it started snowing. We’d never ridden in the snow. The novelty wore off quickly as my visor fogged up and the scene ahead disappeared into a gray fog. I pulled over to wipe my visor, which quickly fogged up again. I put my visor up, but the snowflakes colliding into my eyeballs stung something fierce. We were on the motorway with a barrier along the roadside and no exits, so there was nowhere safe to pull off. The best I could do was to creep along slowly on the shoulder, stopping every kilometer or so to wipe the inside of my visor. Cars and trucks barreled out of the gray haze behind us. It felt like a totally unsafe riding situation and there was nothing to do but keep going and endure. Finally, we began to descend. We only had 10 kilometers left to ride but it was a very slow 10 kilometers. By the time we’d found a place to stay our nerves were completely fried.

The fates were kinder to us the next morning, with chilly air but not a cloud in sight. We rode into Capadocia to the astounding sight of an ancient high-rise condominium. We spent the next few days exploring the wonders of this place, where the ancient caves aren’t just a relic from the past, but still used as dwellings by the locals.

Homes, churches, and monasteries are built from rock pillars strewn throughout the region also known as hoodoo or fairy chimneys . They were formed by deposition of volcanic tuff and lava flows from nearby volcanoes many thousands of years ago. The harder volcanic rock protected softer rock directly below from weathering and erosion. Through crack and fissures in the volcanic rock, some of the material below was eroded and transported away, leaving the isolated pillars that we see today.

Human settlement in Cappadocia goes back to Kalkolithic age beginning 9,000 years ago and has been occupied by one civilization after another ever since. From the 5th to the 11th centuries, Capadoccia became a refuge for Christians and many of the churches here are still really well preserved.

It snowed for days in Cappadocia, and when it finally let up, we were happy to drop 3000 ft. of elevation riding towards the Black Sea. We in arrived at the small rocky headland about a hundred kilometers northeast of Istanbul to find a surfer’s enclave on the Black Sea.

They’ve been surfing about 8 years on the black sea coast –3 years longer than on the Mediterranean coast. With such a craggy coastline, looking around for surf in the area is slow going as the roads are small and seem to twist along every nook and cranny, and sometimes there isn’t much of a road yet.

Our host was Toggy who runs the Danube Surf Academy in this sleepy little village on the Black Sea coast. He’s a former motorcycle racer turned die-hard surfer and is at the center of the surf community here in Turkey. He shapes his own surfboards, puts on youth surfing and skateboarding training events, and his daughter is a competitive surfer, regularly traveling to Europe for contests. Toggy toured us around to all the spots in the area, but we weren’t quite as lucky as we’d been on the Mediterranean coast.   The local’s usual chunk of reef to find a pitching lefthander wasn’t giving up the goods today. Nonetheless, it was fantastic to have a look around another place where surfers were just beginning to discover their own coast and the waves that they have to ride there. Toggy didn’t even charge us for staying at the surf house – what a mate!

With Toggy and is daughter heading off to Portugal for a contest, we rode to Istanbul. While the rest of Turkey seemed to be empty of tourists, Istanbul was in full swing and costs were busting our budget. On April 1st, the price of our accommodation doubled and so we retreated to the Black Sea coast while waiting for some visas to process. I’d learned about a beach club near the town of Kilyos owned by a surfer called Hakan. When we stopped in to say hi to Hakan, we found that a rare subtropical cyclone had ripped the place to shreds last fall and they were still picking up the pieces.

The surf was dead flat for the moment anyway, but Hakan said that there was some swell on the horizon the following week. Unfortunately, the swell arrived with the storm right on top of it. With the water either a messy disaster or dead flat, we returned to Istanbul without ever riding a wave in the Black Sea. Can’t win them all.

Riding over the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul, we crossed from East to West, a bridge to Europe and back to the world more familiar for us.


What Others Are Saying

  1. Rock Liu April 25, 2015 at 4:01 pm

    Many thanks for all the work you put into your writeups, you’ve opened my eyes to lots of cool things.

  2. garnaro April 26, 2015 at 8:51 pm

    no worries Rock. glad it has been an interesting read and happy to have you along for the ride!

  3. Richard May 21, 2015 at 9:32 pm

    Hi you have a interesting story and I have met you in a bike shop in Sweden , your clutch was not working correctly.

  4. kelly k May 23, 2015 at 5:32 am

    So would you say ‘only 4 more miles’ hiking is equivalent to ‘only 10 more km’ on a bike ;p

    (fun reads, glad you guys are enjoying it)

  5. garnaro May 23, 2015 at 9:50 am

    @Richard – hey, the guys at the shop helped me get the bike sorted and now I’m headed north! Clutch still probably a bit dodgy, but she’s still moving for now…

    ride safe mate!

  6. garnaro May 23, 2015 at 9:51 am

    @kelly – I’d say it’s something like that. maybe a bit more. depends if its raining. or snowing. 😉

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