The preceding weeks had been all about our motorbikes and the imminent start of our round-the-world journey. We worked day and night between my student apartment’s basement and a friend’s workshop to convert our two Honda XR650R desert racers into roundthe-world bikes. Originally we planned to travel in a team of five, but by our departure day our numbers were down to three, and with Hannes and me still waiting for parts for our bikes to arrive, the third member of our team jumped on the sheep-skinned saddle of his TT600R and rode on ahead. We planned to follow the next day, but one day became two and numerous days and nights went past as we kept on working on our bikes.
Our teammate had already made it into Turkey and was struggling with his solitude. He had left his girlfriend behind and with nobody to distract him, he was missing her. On top of that he arrived in Istanbul at rush hour on his air-cooled bike, and it seemed he was quickly growing weary of the road. One day he left us a message saying he was on the verge of aborting the trip. It had taken two extra weeks between his departure and this distress call. We finally set out of Kiel and rushed via Berlin towards our designated meeting point Istanbul. Riding from the Brandenburger Tor to the Bosporus in four days and one all-nighter, we were caught in that kind of hypnotic boredom that only comes with endless highway riding. We hardly saw any of Europe at all.
We made it to Istanbul yesterday morning at sunrise, but quickly found it was in vain. Our colleague had turned around and headed back to Germany, leaving us suddenly as a duo. Slightly stunned by the loss of one of our riders so early in the trip we settle into Istanbul for a few days to get our bearings. The city never sleeps and neither do we. A big part of this owes to the fact that the closest mosque’s loudspeaker system is mounted directly opposite of our bedroom window. At the workshop Line Motor our XRs enjoy some TLC, two auxiliary fans are mounted and, with a lot of sign language and even more smiles, we make new friends. In the end we get a generous discount—as we are now part of the family, master mechanic Okan says. Istanbul’s streets teach us a lot and despite of all anxiety caused in the first days they’re not the worst we’ll see this journey. It takes us a while to get the idea: he who dares, wins. Noise, maneuverability and the suppression of non-essential survival instincts get you to your destination with relative speed. Those who do not play the game and go defensively into Istanbul’s traffic-choked streets, however, fall prey in no time. After days spent dodging between pavement, tram rails and taxi lanes we realize the seemingly stupidly reckless chaos is not so bad. On the contrary, everyone seems to have very good situational awareness and gives way to motorbikes whenever possible, especially when gently prodded with a horn switch.
The Black Sea Coast While waiting for our visa for Iran we ride a few kilometers to the north and pitch our tents along the Black Sea coast. The surrounding area is a great playground for our trailies: Roads wind endlessly between looming cliffs, sandy beaches and dense forests. The bends are narrow, the tarmac slippery. We explore deserted gravel and sand trails and discover an old fishing trawler covered in bullet holes, sitting in the sand. The visa has still not been granted, there are protests in Istanbul’s Gezi Park and Hassan Rouhani is elected as the new president of Iran. We pick our way eastward along the winding coastline to Çide, camping at the beach – these belong to the government and are therefore free for everyone to camp. Again and again we meet fellow travelers, who join us exploring the hilly green-
and-blue landscape between forest and cliffs on smooth and slippery roads. The final days by the sea are dominated by highway-like country roads. Even those are rarely boring – after any curve might lure traffic lights or an unsuspected transition to road work gravel. The beautiful winding coast road is being modernized, only some particularly hard to access spots remain untouched. For now.
East Anatolia and mount Ararat The new Iranian government is up and running, everything seems to be going normal again and so we finally get our visas issued in Trabzon. We leave the Black Sea, heading south, upcountry. We take in the mist-covered and thoroughly impressive Sümela Monastery, and after a foggy and wet crossing of the Eastern Pontic Mountains, we dry out underneath the hot Anatolian sun. Having passed dense forests and steep cliffs for weeks, now we are cruising through the sandy-brown vastness of gently rising mountains. Nice weather, open terrain with unlimited visibility and an easy-flowing road let us relax in pure moto-meditation. Some days later we are in the utmost northeastern part of Turkey. Close to the Armenian Border, the snow covered peak of Mount Ararat peers through the surrounding clouds. The area is safe to explore, we are told, as the rebel PKK troops retreated earlier in May. We leave the heavy luggage behind and head for the mountain’s flank, coming in from the northwest. On our way, we pass by some military vehicles, but no one seems interested in the two riders, or much of anything, for that matter. The weather is clear and our enduros are in their natural habitat. We wind upward through countless twisties, following a narrow tarmac road. The ascent is smooth, brownish grass covers the sandy soil, here and there are piles of sharp-edged rock boulders with the occasional scrubby bush in between. The terrain is rich in detail and the view vast and breathtaking. The passing scenery is an undulating mosaic of rock formations and little valleys, with the tented homes of local nomadic Kurdish shepherds popping in and out of view as we pass them by. Coming out of a long turn we find ourselves stuck in a small flock of sheep being driven uphill by a handful of nomad