Monday, August 17, 2009

Turkey Hangover


The one thing I have begun to dread on this trip is running out of gas and... BORDER CROSSINGS!!!

I hate them. You just never know how you're going to be treated or how long you will have to wait. I know Bulgaria is part of the EU, but it's not part of the western part of the EU and it has strange rules. Every step along the endless border crossing makes me more and more confused. I kept getting asked for a “chip”. I have no idea what they were talking about but when I gave them the confused look they kept waving me through to the next checkpoint. I don't think I will ever understand what they wanted but I have a feeling it had something to do with the sign that said you have to pay to drive on the Bulgarian roads.

After ten kilometers I became very happy that I didn't pay for it. These roads are, for lack of a better word, shit.

Shit, shit, shit, and more shit. It' only one word but it is so accurate. These aren't roads they're goat paths with a little bit of asphalt on them as a disguise.

The great thing about the motorcycle I drive is that I can beat on her and I know she will take it. I don't drive fast to begin with so my pace doesn't slow for even a minute. I just hang on like a bull rider and go. I have to tell you that the roads may be terrible but the scenery is amazing! The forest is only outdone by the oceanside resorts that I pass. I wish I had more time.

Golden Sands, Varna, they are so beautiful but I will have to save this for another trip, I have to keep going. Romania is my destination today. If I'm lucky I can make Constanta today.

I'm a little anxious about running into the police. I don't have a vignette to drive these roads and I've heard that the Bulgarian cops like to beat on tourists for bribes. I'll have none of that! The road wears me down going through the passes and I have to stop a couple of times. There are some great roadside taverns and every hundred kilometers or so I stop and stretch my legs and enjoy a cold beer.

The problem with stopping on a motorbike is that you can't be quick about it. Park, kickstand, gloves off, helmet off, rider off, unzip jacket, etc. it's routine you have to go through forwards and in reverse everytime you stop. It always adds at least twenty minutes to every stop. That is if you don't stop and rehydrate with a liter of water or a nice bottle of beer. Then it's forty five minutes... at the least.

Bulgaria becomes a country lost in my rear view mirror and Romania becomes my landscape. In my obsession to make it to Consanta I pass by some great towns where, in hindsight, I should have stayed. I let you know the names when I get home and look at a map closer. Constanta was a disappointment. Just another larger town on the coast with no atmosphere. Whenever I see a McDonalds I know I'm on the wrong road. But the town serves it's purpose and I spend the night.

Tomorrow is a big day. Tomorrow I go to Odessa!

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Turkish Delight


Everybody has a “bucket list”, that is a list of things to do before you die. Well... I have a list so long it would take two rolls of toilet paper to list it. There are minor things like, celebrate New Years Eve in Rome, which I have done, to major events like watch the birth of your first born, which I have also done (and I wasn't hung over afterwards). Today I can check off two more:

1.Ride a motorcycle to Istanbul, and
2.Ride a motorcycle to Asia.

I have gone years without being able to even check a single item off my list, yet this year I'm about to have a bumper crop.

My new muffler is making my bike growl. It's really sexy! Plus, I think I'm actually moving faster. This new high performance muffler was expensive, but I like it! The road out of Istanbul is great. I'm hightailing it to Bulgaria and I'm not going to waste anytime. I have been humbled by my midnight run into Istanbul and I know I'm riding on borrowed time. I need to make hay while the sun shines and get some kilometers behind me. The road is nice and new and I don't mind paying the toll to have some smooth asphalt underneath me.

Of course the smoothness of the ride makes me a little complacent so I decide to take some video as I ride. I pull over and set up the camera. With the camera in one hand I cruise down the Turkish highway taking video from as many angle as I can. That is until I see the red and blue lights flashing behind me, Is that a siren?

Damn it. I'm being pulled over... and for the first time.

The police get out of their car and approach. There's two of them and I don't know what to expect.

“Could we see your papers please?”

I hand over my international driver's license.

“Are you OK? Do you require any help?”, the older officer asks.

I'm not sure how to answer this question. Is this a trick?

“What ummm.. what's the word? Model of motorsicklet is this?”, the younger officer asks.

“It's a 1981 Yamaha XJ650 Maxim I reply.”

He gives me a puzzled look.

I see the recognition in his eyes so I elaborate, “It's a fully custom cafe racer that I built from scratch from parts I was given.”

“Ahhh!” It all made sense to him.

The rest of the conversation was about how much they liked, no loved, my bike and the reason they pulled me over was so that they could get a closer look. Talk about flattery. I was so worried being pulled over in Turkey and yet again I'm inspired by the motivations and kindness of my fellow man.

They were more than happy to take a couple of pictures with my bike and the one officer gave me his email address so I could send him the pictures. Turned on my video camera and they gave me a light show and a wave as they pulled away.

I wonder if the police in Canada would treat foreign bikers as nicely?

That question was hypothetical... I know the answer.

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Silence of the Lambs


I decided that if I can get a new muffler I will drive to Asia, otherwise I will make a hasty escape out of Turkey (I'm sure I'm not the first person to do that) and head straight back to Croatia.


It cost me a fortune but the new high performance muffler is something else. The guys at the shop took every muffler they had and tried to fit it before we got to this little beauty.

500 Euro. How am I going to pay my credit card when I get home? I'm going to be in shit when my wife sees my credit card bill. But on the plus side, think of all the Aeroplan points I accumulated.

I think when all is said and done this trip is going to cost me the Range Rover Izabel wants. In all fairness how can I say no to the woman who lets me tour Eastern Europe alone?

Not Eastern Europe. Eastern Europe and now Asia. I am going to cross the bridge to the Asian continent. My bike is purring like a tiger and when I hit the throttle it growls now. I like this. Of course for 500 Euro I could have bought a new bike at home.

As I made my way to Asia, I noticed alot of traffic coming the other way. That's traffic I will have to sit in when I turn around.

When I cross the bridge to Asia, I take my time. The view is spectacular! More importantly my psyche is spectacular. So many thoughts rush through me as I think about all the hard kilometers I rode to get to this spot right now. The bridge doesn't last long and it seems a little anticlimactic. I really have no one to share this moment with. Everyone I know and love are 9000 kilometers away.

Hey! There's a couple of bikers waving at me. Maybe they will be my friend?

I stopped on the Asian side of Istanbul and pulled up to this couple riding "two up" on this beautiful BMW. I won't lie. After the countless days on the road I wondered to myself how these two manage to look like movie stars! Their license plate reads Italy and that's a long way away. I do 30 kilometers on my bike and I look like something that should live under bridges and eat goats. These two look like they just walked out of a BMW commercial.

Needless to say they were as happy to meet me as I was to meet them. Marco and Stephanie. They were doing the exact thing I was doing. Checking off their bucket list.

Europe to Asia on a motorcycle..... Done that!

We sat at the bridge for awhile and they informed me that it will cost me 20 Euro to buy a card to get through the tolls booth to turn around. What a scam. Fortunately Stephanie is smarter than Marco and myself and she came up with a cunning plan.

Since they paid for their card already and it has ten uses they will go through first and leave the card for me to scan myself through.

I like this plan.

Of course I like any plan that saves me money after this mornings "bad beat" (poker term) with the muffler.

We didn't get on the road quickly. We took our time and talked about Vancouver and the Olympics and we exchanged contact information.

The people you meet when you're touring the world motorcycle can be amazing. In the fifteen minutes that I talked with this couple from northern Italy I know that I will meet them again. There is a strange bond between people out on the open road without a cage around to imprison them from the world. Until you actually get out there and do it you can never know. Needless to say I could tell that I would know these two for a long time. So, Marco and Stephanie... this posting is dedicated to you. Thank you for helping me out. You have my contact information if you show up on my doorstep there will always be a bed for you.

We rode together through Istanbul rush hour and when our time came to part ways we just raised our hands and gave a little honk of our underpowered horns.


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The Road Ahead


I'm sitting here in an industrial park on the outskirts of Istanbul waiting for the motorcycle shop to open up. I didn't want to drive through traffic to find this place so I woke up at 5am and got myself ready and checked out quickly.

I probably woke up the entire hotel when I fired up my unmuffled engine in the underground parkade. My god! What a racket. I remember when I used to like Harley's for the noise they made, I must be getting old.

I think I was a little too anxious because for the first time since starting this trip I actually found the place easily. It took me about 15 minutes from the hotel and now I have to wait for about three hours for it to open. Time to do a little maintenance. Maybe reattach my side view mirror? That would be useful. My neck is sore from all the 180 degree shoulder checks.

The loss of my helmet camera is a terrible blow to the documentation of this trip. It was so easy just to slide the switch on the camera and it would capture everything I would see. I think I have come up with a mounting system for my handheld camera so I can attach it to my handlebars and capture everything my motorcycle sees. I'm going to give it a try. The downside is I don't have that many batteries for that camera. I was counting on the helmet cam to do most of the footage so I bought five batteries for it. Enough for two days without a power source. I have attached a little AC power inverter with a USB power plug to my battery. I'm hoping I can charge my handheld as I travel.

I feel better today. If all goes well, and I get a muffler for my bike I'm going to make the crossing over to Asia today. If it doesn't go well, I'll make a bee-line for Romania. I may have to push my bike through the border crossing to not attract attention. I know the Bulgarian police will love me. They'll treat me like a Euro wielding pinata ripe for fines and bribes. They will be so happy to actually have a REAL reason for pulling me over.

We'll see what the day brings. I'm looking forward to the road ahead. I must remember to rest.

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