So, some of you may have noticed that our tracker hasn't been moving so quickly over the last few days and there's a simple reason for that: we've been finding it really hard. And there's not just one reason we've been finding it hard, in fact there's a whole bunch.
We stopped for a few days in Sofia just because we had to. We were waiting for our panniers to arrive and that took much longer than we expected and it really interrupted our routine. Though it was lovely to spend time with Hazel and Karl and their family, we were really just getting well into our stride with cycling every day. The day that we went to Sofia, we were up and riding at 3:30am and that was OK, we managed. We'd been doing some fairly long days until then and each morning we felt pretty fresh. We rode for three days from Bulgaria to Istanbul where we had more time off with my dad who'd flown out from Cornwall especially to see us. We had had that arranged for a long time and we definitely wanted to celebrate reaching the end of our first continent so we had a few more days off then. Those extra days off made it a little harder, again, to get back into the rhythm of things. Perhaps "being in one's stride" is as much psychological as it is physical but whatever the cause, we're well out of it.
Also, we've both been coming off our anti-depressants. My dosage has halved since we've started and Helen's is about to half again as she has few tablets left. I noticed that when I first started taking anti-depressants I had real trouble sleeping and felt very "speedy" much of the time, and I suppose what's happening now is that in reverse. It's very difficult to gather enough energy every morning to ride the distances that we were hoping to. What's more, of course, is that it's emotionally quite hard but perhaps that goes without saying. Certainly when we're not doing big distances it's difficult not to think that we're just underperforming and be very critical of ourselves. But that's something we need to learn to cope with separately.
Another thing: Turkey is really really hilly. By far the hilliest place we've ever been. We crossed a pass yesterday at 1325 metres which is just 20 metres lower than the summit of Ben Nevis. We then dropped down to 150 metres and tomorrow we'll climb Ben Nevis again, and that's not counting all of the undulations in between. By the time we reach eastern Turkey and go into Georgia, we'll be crossing passes of more than 2000 metres. So there's that! And then there's the fact that it's incredibly hot. We're carrying a lot of water and, of course, that makes the hills a little harder as well. I also feel like the heat is very strength sapping. At lower temperatures I'm sure we can work much harder without over heating where as here even a few minutes effort on a steep hill is quite punishing.
Lastly, we think we might have neglected our diet a little. It's easy to live cheaply but not so easy to live cheaply and healthily and cycle for 10 hours a day. After a couple of days of really suffering on the hills, the thought occurred to me that we might be a little iron deficient, we're certainly pale gummed and fatigued. So at the next big city we'll try and get some iron supplements and hopefully that'll help.
So, we've decided not to be so critical of ourselves and take it easy (ish) for the next few days until we start to feel better and get back in our stride. None of this is to make excuses, or to say that we weren't expecting it to be hard but I suppose if we want to make the distance then we need to be a bit kinder to ourselves. Coming off anti-depressants is hard enough without this huge physical challenge. It's a huge mental challenge too, to exhaust yourself on a daily basis. Again, we expected this but we had no way of knowing the reality of it. Luckily we've got each other, but we're both kinder to each other than we are to ourselves. So there's a balance there of sorts.
Yesterday taught us a lesson in this. We arrived at the UNESCO site of Safranbolu totally exhausted from the steep hills over from Karabuk and asking each other what we wanted to do: carry on or stop? Neither of us really wanted to say that we were too tired to go on. Luckily, Ahmet from Paphlagonia Tours, was sitting at his café and called us over. We sat for tea and Turkish coffee until it bucketed it down with rain and we took shelter in his office.
While running from the rain, I dropped and smashed my phone, so Ahmet offered to take us to Karabuk to try and get a new screen (he was going there anyway). We climbed into the back of his car with 3 children and 5 adults (including us) and bombed our way over to the town. These mini adventures always happen when we least expect them. It gave us a bit more time to think, and more importantly de-stress and by the time we got back to Ahmet's café he insisted we stay for dinner and he offered to show us a nice place to camp a few kilometres out of time in the right direction. After dinner and plenty of tea, we rode out to where Ahmet suggested. He met us there in his car and walked us up an amazing canyon to a spot by the river underneath and old watermill and beside an ancient Greek bridge. Ahmet knows of this place because he takes groups canyoning along the river which sounds like amazing fun and we will go back and do ourselves. So Ahmet went back to his café again and we pitched up our tent. He suggested that he might come out late in the evening to join us for a few drinks but by 10 o'clock we needed to sleep so sadly had to decline the offer. The lesson learnt: listen to our heads when we want to stop and don’t feel bad about finding the experience difficult. Trying to cycle around a planet is actually quite hard. So we didn't do many miles but we still made progress with the journey and with ourselves. We ended up having a wonderful camp that we wouldn't have found on our own, a wild swim in the morning and made new friends.
So our tracker may not move as fast as it has done through Europe, but we can't forget that we need to do this trip in a way which means we will make it all the way around. We can't burn out in Turkey, 5000 km from home. We will be kinder to ourselves and remind each other of the scale of it.