Home to Toronto
I returned home yesterday to Toronto and by all accounts this yearâ€™s tour was a giant success. We faced many challenges; the weather, the roads, the construction, the flooding, the traffic, the direction, but in fact one of the toughest days of the whole tour turned out to be the very last day into Istanbul.
It was a day that began with lasts. Last campsite breakfast. Last time we rolled up our tents. Last rider meeting. Last lunch stop, and the last push to the finish. But on the other side it was also to be a day of firsts. First chance to explore the wonderful ancient and vibrant city of Istanbul. First time the Orient Express Bicycle Tour crosses Europe. First chance to reflect on the last 55 days. And, as it turned out, the first time one of our convoys into a city took FOUR HOURS.
The morning began at our picturesque campsite situated on a gently sloping hillside outside the village of Tayakadin. It was a perfectly groomed patch of soft grass thanks to the sheep that grazed nearby. The distance on the day was roughly 70 kms. The first 30kms to Gokturk everyone did at their own speed, and we waited there for our police escort to arrive. We waited for almost two hours and finally decided that we would have to get ourselves into the citywithout the police. So I gave a final briefing to the riders, and we set out. We got just a few kilometres up the road when we came across the police. We went over the directions with them a few times and then began our slow steady journey into Istanbul.
The first 20 kms of the escort went smoothly from Gokturk straight across to the Bosphorus. As soon as we turned right to follow the Bosphorus to the Pera Palas the traffic got much busier, and because of jurisdiction rules in and around Istanbul our police escort would change hands every couple kilometres, which helped to slow down the process even more, and at one point we lost the escort altogether, as one police car left before the replacement had arrive. At this point though everything was generally going to plan. But within 5 kilometres of our hotel the police escort decided to take us on an alternate route that he thought would help to avoid some of the traffic congestion. What he didnâ€™t take into account was that his alternate route would take us on the steepest city streets I have ever seen in my life. Some were reasonably well-paved while others were rough cobble stone. We struggled to keep the pace and keep the whole group together while the police car continued on not realizing the hellish route he had taken us on.
The group began to split into two as some of us had to walk both the uphills and the downhills as the grade of the hills quite extreme. Then those who were able to ride the hills tried to keep pace with the police car and the group began to stretch across the narrow inner streets of Istanbul. Seeing this I used the last of the energy to ride up the next hill and down the other side to catch the faster group. I told them to wait there as I retraced my steps to guide the back of the group forward to meet them. Again back together we continued on other hilly backwards path to the hotel. We were exhausted and frustrated and extremely anxious to see our hotel and reap the rewards of having traveled all across Europe by bike. We finally arrived almost 4 hours after leaving Gokturk. The pent up anticipation of the finish combined with the frustrations of the day made for an exciting finish in the end. The champagne bottles were opened, cheers rang out as Henry soaked some of us in champagne. It was possibly the toughest day of the tour, but its one we will all remember for some time. And one that will come up many times in conversations in the months and years to come.