Eight days of pedalling from Erzurum. We’re in Uzundere, back on the main highway, about 80 km north of the city. Sage and I rode a couple loops in Tortum İlçe. Up and down, up and down. I’m sure other touring cyclists have pedalled these roads, but “we’re off the main route” might be an understatement.
At the end of the Sage’s summer vacation, we’ll be back in Erzurum for her flight to Alaska. Even when I sort of have a destination, I get easily distracted by tempting mountain passes. Well, with no destination other than where we started, it’s hard to pass up a dirt track that climbs. There seem to be plenty to choose from.
We did skip one, however. A good dirt road headed NW from Yayla Geçidi to Uzundere. Sage was the guinea pig and didn’t even ride 100m before the mud locked up her wheels. We turned back and selected Plan B which set us up for the brilliant loop through Arılı, Meydanlar, Tipili, and Ballı. The road we skipped is probably fine now. We were there less than one hour after one of the most intense rain storms I have ever seen.
It’s rained almost every day since leaving Erzurum. It’s mostly been light and refreshing rain. Even with a couple deluges, I’ll take the rain over the heat that I endured a couple weeks ago. Putting on my down coat, wool hat, and three pairs of pants two nights ago, it’s hard to believe it was so hot just two weeks ago.
Sage has plenty of bike touring experience riding big mountains in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Mongolia, Russia, China, Tibet, Pakistan, and India. However, this is her longest tour on her relatively new Bike Friday with 20-inch wheels. The steep dirt road descent from Kireçli Geçidi probably isn’t the best place to get used to a new ride, but she handled it well. A few days later Sage counted 15 switchbacks on the plunge through Ballı from the green alpine meadows to the desert-like steep canyons below. She rode that as fast as I did.
The offers for çay continue and more often than not turn into meals with cheese, bread, olives, onions, tomatoes, and even juice. In Çakıllı a couple gave us homemade helva. It wasn’t sweet like regular helva. It was made from stringy cheese, oil, and something to give it a brownish color. Full of calories, I’m sure, and very tasty. We were sent off with a bag of the leftovers, another common gesture. We’re getting enough to eat.
Finally, I really must say a few words about Ballı. This small village, built into a south-facing hillside, must be the original earthship village. Since most roofs are covered with grass, it looks like a brown field from a distance. The outer walls of the houses are made of stone and upon closer examination you can see skylights and windows poking out of the earth. It was sort of eerie walking around and seeing tunnel-like entrances to an underground city. At first I poked into one hole only to hear people talking and realize I was tramping around on their roof! We did enter one underground home in Tipili, and it was surprisingly light inside. Maybe they’re not moles after all.
The photos of Ballı didn’t turn out very well.