I was also right in hoping I’d have some incredible encounters with people. The unconditional hospitality that you receive being on the road serves as a reminder of how kind humans can be, regardless if you’re a stranger, and all you can do in thanks is to leave with a promise to yourself to one day pay that forward to someone else. The first time I’d ever experienced that was with Adem and Pinar, who invited me in for a night in Corlu, west of Istanbul.
I stopped in their restaurant after what was a pretty horrible day. Istanbul is a bottleneck between east and west and major highways converge on the megacity. I’d spent the miles shoulder to shoulder with trucks, had been chased by dogs from the side of the road into the fast lane (by chance, no cars were there at that time) and after dark had a car lingering around me, continuously asking if I would get in the car for them to drive me in a way that made me very uncomfortable. I’d been sending it across the Balkans to make it to Istanbul to meet Finley on time, and I was running on fumes - exhausted and sleep deprived. It was by chance I stopped at their restaurant, the photos of the food looked too good for my stomach to cycle past. Before long Adem was google translating questions about what I was doing, where I was from, how long had I been on the road.
Then, “Will you be our guest tonight?”.
My heart filled with warmth from the offer, it was so welcomed after the days I’d had that the relief he must have seen on my face surpassed the need for google translate. We stayed up all night chatting through translations, eating nuts, fruit and drinking tea which I would find out is a necessary part of Turkish culture and woven into the social fabric of the people. The blanket they gave me for the bed even had bicycles on, something he was clearly proud to be able to offer me.
It’s these encounters, and ones with people like Ian who directed us to Cal Dagi, a peak which now lives in my mind with near mythical status, the farmer in Bosnia who helped me cross the road that was washed away earlier that year, the man who stopped at the side of the road where me and Finley were and without words or hesitation filled my hand with fruit, to Dominik in Switzerland who I met at the Race Around Rwanda earlier this year, that is making this trip what it is. There is kindness out there and there is humanity, something easily forgotten these days and it.