It is Monday May 9th when we set off from Cappadocia by a smaller road to Kayseri. Although “smaller” is relative in Turkey. Even these smaller roads are rather wide and fast going. But it is a very nice ride over a small pass, which gives us a beautiful view of the snow capped Mount Nemrut in the distance. The rest of our ride is quite uneventful. We do find a beautiful spot for our tent next to a river and we get to see a wild boar and a fox on the opposite bank before going to bed.
The next day we start early and have a good ride, with just a small stop at the famous christian orthodox monastery in Sümela. The road up to the parking area is good fun. But then you still have a pretty long hike ahead with a lot of steep climbs and descents. Unfortunately the monastery is closed for renovations so we do not bother to go all the way up to the front door.
The weather turns grey again after we leave the monastery and we meet a bit of rain after passing through Trabzon. So we abandon the idea of finding a camp site and take a hotel room in Süreme. A mixed grill dinner at the seaside ends the evening quite nicely.
The next morning we are very excited, as we plan to ride the D915 road from Of to Bayburt, an infamous road known as one of the most dangerous roads in the world. At least if you believe the internet hype. We’re rather critical of such acclamations. The experience of the D915 is great. The road isn’t in as bad a shape as is often claimed and it isn’t busy at all when we are riding it. It is quite narrow in places though and there are some very steep drop-offs without any barriers to prevent you from going over. Still it is a good ride. At first Sofie struggles a little bit with her confidence on the right-hand hairpins, but it gets better as we progress.
When we reach the infamous hairpins we are stopped. The road is blocked entirely due to a huge landslide. It looks as though with a bit of work a motorbike might make it over the rocks, but Sofie is reluctant and I don’t want to push her into something she’s not comfortable with. So we start looking for alternative routes. We had received a message from Giona the day before that they had taken a detour and had gotten through ok, so we know it must be there somewhere. With the help of a construction worker who makes a few phone calls we learn that there is a detour that starts in Köknar, a few kilometers back from where we came. So off we go. The detour is even signposted by some spray paint on another road sign.
Our detour turns out to be probably as beautiful and exciting as the normal route, with a lot of hairpins as well and great views of the valley. About halfway up the climb Sofie’s Terra starts overheating. A result of the slow progress and lots of first gear maneuvering. We decide to take a break and let the bike cool down.
After a few cookies and a juice the engine temp has dropped to acceptable levels again. The road continues to climb and it gets significantly cooler and foggier. Road conditions remain ok, except for some wet patches in places where there’s still snow on the side of the road.
Once we reach the top of the pass we alse see the first signs of civilization again. The road surface improves dramatically and it becomes a real wide gravel highway. The clouds have almost completely cleared at this side of the mountain and the views towards Bayburt are absolutely amazing. It was a bit of work to get here, but the reward of the views really makes up for it.
Before Bayburt proper, we turn into a smaller road towards Ispir. The landscape has completely changed, but the road is still full of fun twists and turns. By the side of the road are hundreds and hundreds of bee hives, but vegetation around here seems rather sparse and we see very little flowers for the bees to harvest from, so we are a little confused. The further east we go the more mountainous it becomes again. We ride through beautiful canyons with rock formations in all colors of the rainbow. Vegetation gets more dense as well, it is definitely greener in this part of Turkey than we had anticipated.
Our goal for the day is Yusufeli, where there is supposed to be a camp site. But as much as we look, we cannot seem to find it. A friendly local and a policeman take us to a parking lot next to a football field where there was supposed to be a camp site. But there’s nothing except the gravel parking lot. We look a bit further for a suitable wild camp spot, but in the end return to the town an take a hotel room. The room itself is extremely basic and in need of some TLC, but it will do for the night. We get a lot of attention from the locals and I speak to Ibrahim, who owns a barber shop next to the hotel. I promise him that I’ll be back later.
After eating the provisions we had bought with the idea that we’d be camping tonight, we go out to explore the town center. Sofie buys a scarf which she will need when we get to Iran. When we return, the barber shop is full and Ibrahim is clearly very busy, so we go do some of our daily administration first. Afterwards I return to the barber shop and Ibrahim is available. He does a very thorough job of my hair and beard and after finishing invites Sofie and I for some tea. We end up spending the entire evening talking and drinking tea. When we make it back to our hotel room it is almost midnight.
By the time we are ready with packing our stuff back into the Magadan panniers, Ibrahim has shown up again, together with a whole farewell committee. We seem to have caused a bit of a stir with the locals, who usually only see small capacity motorbikes.
A number of locals do encourage us to visit the Ishan church located in the mountains nearby. Ibrahim had also shown me some pictures of it. When we get there to site is closed. Restorations again. it seems the Turkish ministery of tourism is investing heavily in renovating the cultural heritage of the country. All churches and monasteries we have seen so far have been undergoing renovation.
We continue towards the border with Georgia and the landscape is getting even more green and lush. When we stop to get a last tankful, just enough to get us into Georgia (fuel prices in Turkey are considerable more expensive), Sofie spots a leak at the front of the bike. Upon inspection it turns out to be a small hole in the radiator. That sucks! I dive into my repair kit and dig up some Sugru paste. Some 20 minutes later it is clear that the Sugru won’t hold. So I clean out the hole again and resort to a blob of metal putty I carry. That does seem to hold. But I am not sure how much cooling liquid I lost and the fuel station doesn’t have any. I’ll keep an eye on the engine temp and will top up when I come across a bottle of the stuff. While waiting for the putty to cure I turn my attention to the rear shock. Since a few days I have been getting the impression that the dampening isn’t quite right. A quick look brings bad news. The shock is covered in oil. There must be a leak somewhere. Nothing I can fix right here, unfortunately.
We continue making our way to the border crossing. When we stop one last time to have a look at the map we cross a fancy looking R1 coming from the other direction. He turns around and comes to chat with us. With the help of Google Translate Fuat offers to ride with us and point us in the ride direction and also to show us a motorcycle shop that might be able to help with the leaky Hyperpro rear shock. We ride together from Ardahan to Ölcek and have a little photo shoot together before parting ways.
The shop unfortunately can’t help us and suggest I just ride on like this. I haven’t much choice at the moment, but I do remember a post on the HUBB forum about a good mechanic in Tbilisi. So we decide to change our plans for Georgia and go straight to the capital the next day.
The border crossing itself is pretty smooth. The Turkish side is a bit chaotic and we need to ask a few times where to go next. But it works out well in the end. The Georgian side is more organised. At first the border guards and customs agents are a bit stern, but that changes quickly. They do want to see which medication we have with us and point out that the Sinutab we are carrying contains pseudo-ephedrine, which could be a problem. They let us keep it though. But we’ll probably have to get rid of it before going into countries with stricter policies, like Uzbekistan and possibly Iran as well.
After the border we stop at the first fuel station to fill up again, on cheap fuel this time. We can also exchange our Turkish Liras for Georgian Laris. Nobody will take the Bulgarian Levs we are still carrying though. Meanwhile an Italian biker on a new GS LC has arrived and we agree to join him at the hotel he has booked for the night in Akhaltsikhe (pronounce as if your are having a bad cough).
Leandro is on a 1 month trip to Iran, so he is on a tight schedule. We have a fun night at a local restaurant and visit the old rabat together.
When we say goodbye in the morning he is still in high spirits, but the next day we will hear that he crashed his GS in the mud and has broken his tibia and fibula so needs to be flown back to Italy. Bad luck, but we hope he’ll get another chance to fulfill his dream of riding to Iran.
We opt for the highway to Tbilisi, which shouldn’t take more than 2.5 hours. Sofie had booked us a room in Hotel Panorama in the morning through Booking.com. It is a bit out of the city center but very close to the workshop of Niko, the mechanic that was mentioned on the HUBB. We arrive around lunch time and after setting up in our room I give Niko a call. We agree to meet up around lunch time the next day.