There you have it. Four months of touring on one compact map. I’ll call this chapter of my tour The Pontic Alps Explorer. From Erzurum to Bayburt (with detours). Haha, I really did start this tour in Erzurum after taking a train from Ankara with Sage, and I really did end this tour in Bayburt from where I took a bus back to Ankara. And at one point during this serpentine adventure I actually pedalled directly from Erzurum to Bayburt in about a day and a half!
So if you want to know how to turn 10 hours of cycling into four months of touring, study this map (above).
A break from the bike seemed like a good idea (even though really I’m quite good at taking breaks). Sabiha and I spent five days trekking in the Yenice-Eskipazar, Karabük forest. As with the Tbilisi-Borçka ride it was a fall color extravaganza.
For the first half of the trek we joined a group from İstanbul. They had hired a local guide to lead us on an unmarked route north from Eğriova Eskipazar Gölet to İncebacaklar. Certainly it would have been difficult to follow the route on our own but not impossible. It tended to follow paths and old currently-impassable-by-vehicle roads. With a 1:25000 scale map (supposedly available, but where?) and a compass I think I could have led this route with only a few more wrong turns than the guide made!
Starting from Eğriova Eskipazar Gölet we more or less followed a north-south ridge system to the west of the canyon that runs between İncebacaklar and Sekermeşe.
It was interesting to see how Turks do overnight backpacking. Our group’s leader (there was both a leader from İstanbul and the local guide), Argun, bought all the food and all shared group gear — essentially the stove and a pot and presumably a first aid kit. No one seemed skilled or indeed interested in looking at a map. Argun was the only one who had a better map than I did, but when he tried to navigate, he only used his GPS. Our local guide depended on his telephone!
Before leaving Ankara I had looked around for a good map and route information. At an outdoor equipment shop they recommended simply going to the area and asking around. But the ridiculousness of that is that you don’t even know where to take the bus to. There are numerous different trailheads for access to the forest, and they can be a long ways from each other by road. All the information I was able to get beforehand came from the internet.
We did this hike over bayram — both Kurban Bayramı (40 days after the end of Ramadan) and Cumhuriyet Bayramı (29 October) which happened to fall very close to each other this year, giving many folks a 5-6 day weekend. Given the long weekend and Karabük’s proximity to both İstanbul and Ankara, I naïvely thought that the area might be crowded with trekkers. Ha! We didn’t see anyone except for our group. Maybe the difficultly in finding any information keeps people away. The weather shouldn’t have been a deterrent — we had beautiful weather all five days, no rain and pleasant, cool temperatures. The photos speak for the beauty of the fall colors.
From İncebacaklar the İstanbulites headed back to their huge metropolis. Sabiha and I continued on, heading south from the Arboretum to Karaağaç via Belen Yaylası and Sorgun Yaylası. The route was entirely on forest roads and would make for super bicycle touring. Indeed a great way to tour this area would be by bike with perhaps a day hike or two to summit Keltepe and/or walk the Şeker canyons. That said, it did feel good to be off the bike and carry a pack for a few days. Bicycling pace is so much faster than walking. It’s nice to slow down every once in a while.