Week twelve - Paragliding and life lessons in Turkey
Crossing Turkey has been a tale of two halves. Two steady efforts intersected by a five day ‘holiday from my holiday’ in Cappadocia.
Since leaving Cappadocia I have been trying to “hit the hundred” (in kilometres) each day, to keep my momentum rolling towards Georgia. I am not in a rush, but a Georgian deadline has emerged which I am keen not to miss.
My father and I have finally put a date on a long sought after adventure. Universities and book deadlines have stalled planning for the last few years, but last week Dad booked flights to Tbilisi. We plan to hike the recently finished Trans Caucasian Trail through the high Caucasus for ten days.
Since then I have been keeping the mileage ticking over through some big mountain days and wild camping most nights. The terrain is punishing but absorbing. Out of the saddle I wrench my bike up arid, scrubby mountainsides, zig zagging back and forth across the tarmac; anything to reduce the gradient by even one percent. The heat is like a leaden weight on my back, it is oppressive and inescapable, the only chance of respite is to summit, tear down the other side and relish in the wind ripping through my jersey.
Wild camping is time effective when you have a deadline. I am up at 5.30 to beat the sunrise and in the cooler morning I can ride the majority of the days distance.
It has been more solitary than usual, but I have had time to reflect on some of the experiences I have had, and on what makes them important.
Coming into this journey I knew my budget would be tight. In my impulsivity I worked for only seven months, leaving myself a modest daily budget of five pounds. the budget is not tyrannical but it is a consideration that influences my decision making.
Earlier in my journey I looked to be hosted as a way to save money alongside experiencing a human interaction . Finding a host could score me a free dinner or a night in a bed without paying for a hostel. How I judged the ‘success’ of an interaction was based in part on how much money I had saved. I thought about what I was getting from the host, rather than what I was giving.
Turkey is helping me to understand what is important in life. In Turkey money is always secondary to mutual experience. A bill is never split because saving money isn't the reason you went for a meal with your friends.
This philosophy has made me re-address my relationship to money and experience. The point of this journey is to encounter cultures which are different from my own, and share my own culture with the people I meet. To share mutual experiences. If the purpose of this journey was to save money I'd have been better off bubble wrapping the bike and flying to New Zealand, or better still, not going at all.
I am learning to think first about what I can contribute to the mutual experience I share with my hosts, rather than the money I can save.
This week I spent two nights with Ibrahim, a cyclist, trainee paraglider and mountaineer in the town of Erzincan.
On my first evening we joined a group of local bike enthusiasts for a ride around town. We chatted and I jokingly asked whether his paragliding teacher, Emre, was available to fly with me the following day. He laughed and said he would ask, and the conversation moved on.
The next morning Ibrahim cooked a monstrous breakfast of potato omelette, simit (Turkish bagel), pancakes and peaches. As I retired to the living room to slip into a food-coma, Ibrahim announced that his paragliding teacher was waiting for us outside and we would be going up within the hour.
We bundled into a rickety Subaru 4X4 and lurched up a dirt track cut into the mountainside, my stomach rolling with every glance at the receding valley floor.
We stopped at a plateau which at one side sloped off the precipice towards the valley. Up here it was all business. Ibrahim was swiftly suited, and with a quick wave and a thumbs up had sprinted headlong off the mountainside.
I am scared of heights, and I could feel adrenaline pumping down the back of my thighs as Emre strapped a harness around my waist, and then strapped himself onto my back.
“OK kanka (brother), when I say run, run!”
“Do I need to to jump?”
“Run kanka! No jump!”
*I run and start leaping like a gazelle*
“No jump kanka! Run kanka!”
We clatter awkwardly towards the brink. The canopy fills and we swoosh upwards away from the dusty plateau. Ibrahim circles below us and I wave. The ground is so far away that lt seems unreal, and I have no fear, only a feeling of purity. For a few moments earthly issues are far at away. There is nothing but the flight.
We land. Ibrahim and I whoop and high five, enjoying the thrilling surge of endorphins. Sharing the flight with him was a wonderful mutual experience that I think was memorable for both of us. That evening Ibrahim took me out for Lahmacun (Turkish pizza) and after I cooked up my favourite apple crumble for dessert. We shared a memorable few days which would not have been possible according to my budget, but the money of course was never the point.