(We didn't test the water, or the mug.)A good friend told me when she first got pregnant that hungry became FAMISHED, thirsty PARCHED and tired EXHAUSTED. Bike touring feels the same way, and right now we’re nothing less than FAMISHED. But it’s Sunday, so restaurants and most stores we pass are closed except one which sells Justin a loaf of bread that’s bigger than his head along with a hunk of homemade cheese. As we sit on the side of the road devouring our food without fully chewing it, a passerby pulls a U-turn on his scooter, walks over and empties his pockets of walnuts into our hands. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. After we eat, we pedal into a village where horseback is used more than cars. Justin spots a market and picks up the pace. I follow a bit behind, trying not to break a sweat. I should be wearing a T-shirt and shorts, but I’m wearing knee warmers and a wool jersey. The women we’ve come across—even those hauling wood and performing other physical chores—wear headscarves, long sleeves and long skirts. So, I cover up too. When he walks inside, women sitting in front of the store stare in awe at Justin and shake his hand. And then I show up. It’s too much. They smile, laugh and cry out, gesturing to their heart and then to me. I walk over and they take my calloused hands in their orange-stained ones and kiss them. Fully covered from head to toe, their twinkling eyes and smile lines are the only things I can discern. They point to my loaded touring bike, then to me in disbelief. I smile and laugh along with them realizing that as much as Justin is my partner in this bike tour, we’ll never be connected in the way I am connected to these rural villagers. They are as foreign as they are familiar. They’re strangers. But they’re also women. We weave through villages on dirt roads that take a toll on our bikes. At one point, Justin’s rear rack bolt shears off and he attempts a repair with a hose clamp and zip ties. When we stop in the middle of a town square 30 kilometers away, men gather around Justin in awe. I’m standing by his side, but I don’t exist. They wonder where he's from, were he's going, and what he wants in this town. Justin explains that we are in need of food and shows them his broken bolt. They gesticulate enthusiastically to a nearby restaurant and one man offers to find the owner of a closed hardware shop who may have what we need. (We think.) He takes the bolt, gets into his van, holds the palm of his hand up out the window, and calls out “five minutes.” We use our now-indispensable food cards to request a meat-free meal at the only open restaurant. All around us, men and boys scarf down plates of food, and I can’t help but think how different our dining experiences were in Italy. Where Italians eat for pleasure, savoring their intricately-prepared food over hours, people in rural Turkish villages eat to satisfy hunger. Everyone is given a half a loaf of bread, I presume to fill up on if they can’t afford to order more food. Over Google Translate, the owner of the restaurant tells us there are no accommodations nearby, but if we pitch our tent in a quiet field down the road, we won't be bothered. We thank him and make to leave just as our hero returns with a fully-intact bolt for Justin’s rear rack. He even helps install it. We don’t find the field, but come across a dirt road spotted with cow pies that will do just fine for the evening. It’s a foggy start to the morning, and we eventually make our way into Bandirma, where we will take a ferry the following morning to Istanbul.
We climb the metal stairs to the ferry’s top deck and take a seat on an unoccupied bench at the edge of the boat. The sun is out on this October morning, but an autumnal breeze steals its warmth away, and so we sit close, maximizing our body heat. I pull my knees up to my chest and lean into Justin’s outstretched arm. I remember reading something somewhere about Turkey and its lack of tolerance toward public displays of affection, and worry if this act might be considered too affectionate in our forthcoming country. As the ferry starts moving, the breeze picks up and I hug my knees, turn my face toward the sky, close my eyes and drink in the sunshine. Halfway from Lesvos to Ayvalik someone from the ferry’s crew climbs up top and switches the blue and white Greek flag to Turkey’s red crescent moon and star. Just under an hour later, we reach land and chaos ensues. Passengers swarm the boat ramp to be the first ones off. The all-clear to exit the boat is given and they surge forward to gain entry into the country. We find ourselves in the middle of a loosely-defined “line.” People touch us from all sides. There’s zero patience. There’s line cutting. We are restless kindergarteners on our way to recess. “This is insane,” Justin says as he’s moved forward by the crowd. Eventually, we make our way in front of someone official, but we’re not immediately granted entry as we didn’t think we’d need to print a copy of our e-visa. We show our cell phone screen which has our information and after a half hour or so, we’re let through. Our first pedal strokes in Turkey are met with a fierce headwind and we barely break 10 kph, downhill. With growling stomachs and no markets in site, we pull into the first roadside “restaurant” we come across after exchanging dollars for lira. We’re offered no menu—or prices for that matter—and attempt to communicate that we’d like something vegetarian to eat. We pull out the small laminated cards with pictures of vegetables and crossed-out animals we made before we left on this bike tour. Somebody scribbles something down and disappears into the back. We have no idea what we just ordered. Minutes later we’re served fresh pide, Turkey’s version of pizza. It’s everything we hoped for. Back on the road, the wind is a brick wall. Current events in Turkey’s neighboring country have me on edge and I can’t help but wonder if Mother Nature is trying to keep us out. At dusk, after no other sleep option presents itself, we pitch our tent in an olive grove on the side of the road, cook dinner and pray that the winds die down overnight. They don’t. But we venture off the main road anyway to explore remote villages that appear untouched by time.