Friday, 25 November 2011

In the Cold, Cold Night: Horason to Ağri

Last night was the coldest night yet, and today has been the coldest day. The most optimistic weather report I saw for last night was -10 Celsius. You don't want to know about the pessimistic reports. Everything froze. I had the foresight to pour some water into a pan to melt for my morning coffee, but the water bottle inside my tent froze solid, as did the milk and Coke and juice. My last hunk of bread was like iron.

Inside the tent, condensation from my breath formed frost on the inside of the tent and when I spilled a bit of my water (OK, beer) it froze into a thin film, but I was warm enough, albeit wearing a lot of my clothes inside my silk liner, sleeping bag and bivvy bag. The main problem was that I use a stuffsack of clothes as a pillow, and as I was wearing most of those, my pillow was a poor place to rest my head. I had a bit of a restless night. I awoke and had to go out to fix one of the tent pegs which had come out of the loose soil, and the stars were astonishing. Familiar constellations were lost in the light from stars which were usually drowned out by the lights of towns and cities, and the Milky Way was a huge daub across the sky. It was far too cold for more than a glimpse, though; I could feel the warmth being sucked out of me as I scurried back into my tent.

Starting again in the morning was tough. Stupidly I'd put my shoes in the porch so my feet were instantly cold. The tent pegs had frozen into the ground. I'm sure I left a layer or two of skin on my fuel bottle when I picked it up wşthout my gloves on. It took me much longer than usual to strike camp, though at least I had some coffee and porridge in me.

I rode a mile and a half to a petrol station just outside Horasan, where I went into the office and sat down to warm myself. The owner gave me tea, and once he'd established that I was the nutter camping down the road, he gave me a huge dressing-down.

Turkish body language can be confusing, but it seems that tapping one's index finger to one's temple is universal sign for "stark staring stone bonkers". He said I could have slept at the petrol station, and that loads of truckers had told him about the madman camping up the road, and they'd tried to tell me I could stay there. Since I don't speak much Turkish, this is a guess, but a pretty accurate summary, I suspect. I explained in turn that the truckers had ignored me and I'd ignored them, and that I didn't know the petrol station was there. I shrugged - done was done, and I was more concerned with the pain from my toes as the warmth took effect. Aaaah.

It saps your strength, being cold, and I was much more cheerful after warming up indoors with tea. The cycling was easy after that - another huge climb over Sac Gecidi/Sac Pass seemed to go on forever, but I was more concerned with my lack of water. The ice I had with me wasn't thawing, and when I stopped to fill the other bottle at a mountain stream, it began to form into ice on the descent. Ice was also forming in my beard, and my toes were getting cold again on the descent. At least on the climb I was working, and staying warm.

the D100 between Horason and Ağrı, Eastern Turkey

I decided to find a hotel at Agri to get warm and thaw out. I rode through the hick town of Eleskirt just as the schools were kicking out, and felt like the main act at a circus. I was happily waving and shouting greetings, but I was a bit annoyed by the little git who deliberately dived in front of me, not to mention the other little sod who clouted me on the back just as I was setting off again. This probably counts as entertainment out here.

It was dark before I arrived in Agri, and I was cold, apart from my toes, which were frozen. I stopped to grab a few beers from a shop, and gratefully accepted the invitation to warm myself by the fire. I cracked a beer and explained my trip in the mix of bits of Turkish and gestures which I've become used to using, and we discussed the possible punishments for being caught with alcohol by the Iranian authorities in quite gruesome mime. The beer went down well, and my toes became satisfyingly warm again. Aaaaah.

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