Tag Archives: bicycletouring

Kid, you’ll move mountains/Skopje or bust

We left Sofia on March 22, a bit later than intended, but not too bad. In Sofia we heard a lot about the Rila Monastery so we decided to change our route a bit to check it out. We rode out of Sofia and immediately started climbing. It was astounding how quickly we went from being a fairly flat city, to in the mountains with snow and deep valleys. The total climb was about 25 km (15 miles), all with spectacular views of surrounding mountains. 

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant at the top of our climb (we didn’t realize this when we stopped though). We tried some homemade sausage, fries, and bread, all delicious. After our lunch we started down the mountain we had just climbed. The views kept getting better and better. Once we were in the valley, we could look back at the mountain we had just been on, which was a neat feeling. IMG_3048

We made it to Samokov where we stayed a little guest house. We made dinner at the guest house and prepared for the next day. We were a little worried because there was still a lot of snow and the route Haegan found seemed a little unreliable as the last bit of it looked like a hiking trail. After a lot of back and forth, we decided to take a longer route that we knew would be clear. We left Samokov early and rode at a pretty decent pace, it was mostly downhill. The incredible views continued. 

Eventually, we weren’t going downhill anymore, we were climbing. It wasn’t too steep, but after 68 km (42 miles) of riding already it felt a lot more difficult than the climbing the day before. The last 20 km were all uphill, and I was totally exhausted by the end. The two consecutive days of climbing certainly took a lot out of me, but I kept thinking about Dr. Suess’ Oh the Places You’ll Go. I kept thinking of passages from the book and how accurately they applied for this trip. The one I remembered especially was, “Kid, you’ll move mountains”. In my head though, I was thinking more “climb”. Just thinking about the book kept me going though. I thought about my dad reading it me when I was little and the very powerful message the book has. Doing great/cool/powerful/awesome things can be tough, but they’re possible. Ninety eight and three quarters percent guaranteed. Riding through Turkey was tough, but with that challenge we were able to meet some wonderful people and ended up loving Turkey. I never thought I’d be speaking Spanish in Bulgaria, but that also ended up being a great experience and now one of my favorite stories. And now we were climbing mountains, carrying all of our stuff, and seeing the mountains in their full glory. 

We had a delicious dinner at the hotel, I had local trout and “butter stewed” potatoes. It was probably one of the best meals I’ve had so far. I’m not exactly sure how to butter stew potatoes, but I intend on finding out. I want to have those potatoes again. Haegan had a Bulgarian stew, baked in a clay pot, which he enjoyed. Lots of the stews have egg on top, which is kinda growing on him.

Stew with egg.
Stew with egg.

The next morning we walked up to the Rila Monastery. It’s a beautiful old Monastery, started in 927 and named after Saint Ivan of Rila. We walked around the church, hands down the most colorful church I’ve ever seen, and the museum. We couldn’t take pictures inside the church or the museum, but outside the church there are paintings similar to the ones inside the church.

Outside the church
Outside the church
Inside the monastery
Inside the monastery
Bell tower
Bell tower
Images from outside the church. The paintings inside the church are similar.
Images from outside the church. The paintings inside the church are similar.

The museum had artifacts from the entire history of the monastery. We were most impressed by Rafail’s Cross. The cross is about two and half feet tall, and has over 100 religious scenes from the Bible. The artistry of the cross is absolutely incredible, each image is so intricate and delicate. We couldn’t take pictures so here’s one I found on the internet:

from: http://bgtourinfo.net/rila/images/monastery_29.jpg
from: http://bgtourinfo.net/rila/images/monastery_29.jpg

The monastery was beautiful, and so was the ride to get there. We were constantly stopping to take in the views, there seemed to be a new breathtaking view each time we turned. It’s humbling to know that the mountains here have been inspiring people for thousands of years.  I think there is something innately human that causes us to stand in wonder of nature. It doesn’t matter where we come from, how old we are, or what generation we were born, we have been and always will be astounded by what we cannot possibly create.IMG_3051


After going to the monastery, we walked back to the hotel and started our journey to Macedonia. When we were riding to Rila, my chest had started to hurt a little bit, more so when I took deep breaths. As we headed to Macedonia my chest was hurting again and my throat was sore. I figured I could tough it out though, especially since most of the riding was going to be downhill. We didn’t get very far before the pain in my chest got to be too much. We decided to stop for the day in Blagoevgrad, just short of the border. We went to a pharmacy to get cough medicine and lozenges. Grocery stores in Europe don’t carry over the counter medicines, so you have to go to a pharmacy for everything. The pharmacist didn’t speak English so we played a desperate game of charades to get cough medicine. It ended up working out fine and we spent the next day resting. Being sick caused a bit of homesickness, especially when I wasn’t sure what was wrong with me. We managed it though, Haegan took good care of me 🙂

We left to cross the border into Macedonia on March 26th. The first 20 km (13 miles) was all climbing and we passed the time by practicing Spanish. Haegan knows a bit, and I know a decent amount… but I don’t remember a lot of the rules, I just know what sounds right. Our conversations were quite humorous, especially since we often had to find round about ways of sayings things due to our limited vocabulary. I think we both got a little better, and laughed more going up that mountain than any other so far.

One of the incredible views from our climb up the mountain to the border.
This guy popped out of the ditch when we stopped for a break and then made laps around us as we continued slowly up the mountain.
This guy popped out of the ditch when we stopped for a break and then made laps around us as we continued slowly up the mountain.

At the top of the mountain we crossed the border, got a super classy photo with the welcome sign, and continued down the mountain. We descended for a while and ended up in Delcevo, our original stopping point for the day. We sat down for coffee and soon after two other cyclists pulled in. They joined us for coffee and told us all about their touring adventures. Alessandro is currently touring from China to Italy, and Hera is riding back from China to the Netherlands. It was so great to talk with people who have so much experience touring. Haegan and I decided to continue farther as it was still early in the day, the weather was beautiful, and we still felt good. We headed out separately from Alessandro and Hera but met again later on and rode together for the rest of the day. It started raining the last part of the ride and we found a cheap motel in Kochevo, Macedonia.IMG_3095

Yay touring friends!
Once we crossed the border we descended for the rest of the day, which was nice after mostly climbing the last two days.
Once we crossed the border we descended for the rest of the day, which was nice after mostly climbing the last two days.

The forecast was for rain the next two days. We had about 120 km (75 miles) to Skopje. Our choices were to either split up the riding, two days in the rain. Or, we could just go for it and make it in one long day. We decided the later, and made a reservation for a hostel to motivate ourselves to go all the way. Skopje or bust.

It wasn’t raining too badly when we started. We made good time for the first 50 km and met up with Hera and Alessandro again. We got lunch all together and continued separately afterwards. The rain was frustrating, especially since after about 30 km water started coming in the sleeves of my jacket. By 60 km we were both totally soaked and pretty uncomfortable. The views were great though. Macedonia is an incredibly beautiful country. The day before we had been riding through rocky cliffs with lakes in the valleys, and in the rain we passed green farm fields and eventually reached more mountains.

I apologize for the lack of photos of the mountains. Because it was grey and rainy most of the days we were riding in the mountains it was difficult to get good photos. Even if it had been good weather, it’s difficult to capture the grandness of the mountains, especially when they were completely surrounding us.



What wasn’t so beautiful was the number of squashed frogs on the road. I only mention this because there were so so many. About 60 km in we started keeping track of how many dead frogs we saw… it became a sort of game. No pictures of the frogs, I’m not that morbid.

At around 80 km we started climbing again. It was a maddening climb. It felt as though we were in an endless loop. We would be climbing what appeared to be a small hill, and it looked like once you turned left around the hill, there would be a descent. Instead, it was just another seemingly small hill with another taunting turn. We could never see the next hill, and it seemed like this pattern continued six or seven times. To make it worse, the road turned to a strange loose gravel. It looked as though they had tried to fix the potholes by just throwing gravel on the road. It all got to be a little much for me at this point and it took some effort to get my confidence back to make it all the way to Skopje.

The gravel roads continued as we climbed to the top and had a great view of the valley completely filled with fog. We started descending on the gravel on a very windy road. The rain had washed out the gravel in the potholes so now we were going down a fairly steep road, on gravel, trying to avoid potholes, and making very sharp turns. It was a long descent, and my arms were a bit sore from gripping my brakes tightly the whole way down.IMG_3119

Once we were down the hill we were about 20 km away from Skopje and we were so ready to be done. As we rode the final miles into Skopje I thought about how grateful I am to be traveling with Haegan. I couldn’t imagine a better travel companion, and that’s a nice thing to realize 3 weeks into a five month trip. We made to the hostel after 8 hours on the bikes, tired, soaked, and exhausted. We happily ate leftover pasta and went right to bed.


Haegan: 5

Autumn: 30

Total dead: 34

Total live: 1



Autumn: It took two days to ride to Sofia. The first was long one 110 km (68 miles) to a motel on the side of the highway. It was flat, with mountains all around us. The mountains continued to astound us as we got closer and closer.

Mountains getting closer
Autumn as we approach the hotel

The roads weren’t too bad, a few were very bumpy due to a road repair technique I’m calling “tar confetti”. I hate it. We arrived at the motel, which was so much more. It had a bar/cafe, a restaurant, a fast food restaurant, a clothing store, a shoe store, a perfume store, and if you couldn’t find what you need among those options, there was a grocery store that had everything. Hunting knives, Mexican beer, lamps, and lots of Flintstones snacks… sounds kinda like a bar Stefon would recommend, but it’s not.

We got an early start the next morning to ride our last 65 km (40 miles) into Sofia. Despite the shorter distance, it was rough day riding. The roads were in much worse condition, with potholes that resembled craters, and water all over the roads from melting snow. Going down a rather steep hill, I accidentally cut in front of Haegan to avoid a pothole, which caused water to spray in his face, and he hit a huge pothole. He got a flat, and then realized the pothole put a big dent in his rim. Not good. He got a new tube in but realized his rim was pretty much ruined. This kinda put a damper on the rest of the day. After a spat getting into the city, we arrived at Hostel Mostel and got settled into our room. We went on the Free Tour of Sofia, and absolutely loved it. Despite the cold weather, the tour was engaging and very well done.

Alexander Nevskey Cathedral at night
Our Free Sofia Tour group

A friend of ours put us in touch with Milena who used to live in the US. We met her after the tour to get dinner and made plans to meet up the next day. The next day was Haegan’s birthday, pretty cool to get to celebrate your birthday in Sofia I think. It would have been a little more fun had the weather been nicer, wet snow had us cold and soaked after a morning of touring around. We were still able to see some really neat sites around Sofia.

Haegan (with bits from Autumn): It was a bit surreal to spend my birthday in Bulgaria, not somewhere I ever would have expected to have a birthday but it was a really good day nonetheless. We some some really cool stuff. Learned a lot, and had a great meal with great people. We first visited the St Nedelya Church which happened to be in the midst of prayer when we entered which was quite cool because Eastern Orthdox churches have a very different feel when full of people and with candles burning all around. After listening for a few minutes we headed out and went to try to go into a church located in and underpass. When we got there we were told that it was closed and would be open the next day. The Mosque was also closed. We were 1 for 3. We decided to head over to the Sofia Synangogue and give that a try. When we got there it was open. The Sofia Synagogue is one of only a few, and the largest at that, Sephardi Synagogues in Eastern Europe. While the outside of the synagogue isn’t all that spectacular, the inside is incredible. Overhead there is a magnificent  chandelier and the paint and marble is beautifully detailed.

The Sofia Synagogue
The chandelier
The Sofia Synagogue interior

Next we walked through the “Ladies Market” a large open air fruit and vegetable market. We would have spent a bit longer wandering around the market, but it was about one degree Celsius and snowing. The snow wasn’t sticking, but instead melting once it hit a surface. We were wet and cold, but were determined to see the sites of Sofia. As a last site before the wet snow got the best of us we set out to find the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral which took us a bit longer to find than it should have. By the time we found it we were cold and wet and glad to be inside.

“Can we go in already, I’m cold”

But it was certainly worth the walk. As impressive as it is from the outside the inside is equally so. Almost every surface is covering in colorful paintings of Bible stories or intricate stone carvings. Pictures aren’t allowed inside Orthodox churches, but imagine byzantine style paintings of every saint and every character in the bible. The icons, pictures of the saints, are often adorned with etched metal coverings to protect them from people kissing and touching them in prayer. Overhead huge domes covered in stories support large chandeliers with complex designs. We spent a while just walking around soaking in all the art. After the cathedral we decided we were done with being outside for the day, it was just too gross out. We walked over to the indoor central market to warm up and get lunch. We had more chicken Düner sandwiches, but not even close to as good as Alex Foods.

Enjoying a Duner sandwhich

I even got a little mini cake in celebration. A bit after we finished eating Milena and her husband Boian met us and we drove over to the National Museum of Military History. The museum was fascinating because you can see about 3000 years of military history of the area in one building. They had everything from Thracian artifacts to modern weapons and a little bit of everything in between. Our great tour guide walked us through the many stages Bulgaria has been though, which is a lot. Because of the strategic location of the country it was a part of many empires and home to a lot of war. Boian knows a lot about the history of Bulgaria and was able to answer a lot of questions and point out some really cool artifacts in the museum. What we found most interesting was to hear about world history from an entirely new perspective. World War I and II were especially neat to hear about because we got to see a side that would likely never be taught in a school in the US.

Boian explaining some cyrillic

After the museum we went to a traditional Bulgarian dinner for my birthday. We started off with a salad full of all sorts of different stuff.

Awesome salad

Fresh fruits and veggies are a big part of Bulgarian food, and although it’s not the best time of year for produce everything was really good. However Milena and Boian said we need to try a Bulgarian tomato in season as it will be the best we have ever had. We also had some great flatbread drenched in butter and garlic which we really liked. For dinner I got something that roughly translated to “beef for the connoisseur” and Autumn got a chicken skewer that came on what was basically a sword. All the food was incredible and we had a great evening talking with our great hosts, hopefully they can visit us in the states soon 🙂

With our great hosts, Milena and Boian
The menu was overwhelming

The next day didn’t involve nearly as much sightseeing or exciting things but was very good for other reasons. We had breakfast with our new friends from the hostel, Jannik and Frauke from Germany, and worked on the blog for most of the morning. In the afternoon we set out to find a bike shop and see about making my rear wheel a little bit better. The rim was really bent and had a big flat spot in it causing it to not be very round anymore. I was hoping to true it a bit and improve it slightly to get some more mileage out of it while I figured out how to get a new rim. After the first two shops being a bust we found our way to Fix to Ride, which looked promising but didn’t appear to be open. We took a guess that they were out to lunch and went to do the same ourselves. After we got lunch the door was open! We went in and talked to George who was happy to let me use some tools and try to fix it. I got it a little better but realized it was really a hopeless cause. When I inquired about picking up some tubes George said they didn’t have them but could order them for the next day. That got me thinking. He said he could get a rim for the next day too so we started looking for one that would work. After searching for a while with no luck, all seemed out of stock, he went in the back and pulled out a rim that he had. It was the right diameter and would work! He said it would be no problem for me to hang out and rebuild my wheel. So while Autumn walked around I spent most of the afternoon rebuilding my wheel. I don’t know that it is the best wheel I have ever built, but it is pretty good and should work just fine for a long time. On top of all that George charged me just 35 leva for the new rim and using his space for 3 hours, I was very grateful. We ordered some tubes and a few other bits for the next day and headed back to the hostel. We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging around the hostel with a few women from the US travelling through Sofia from Istanbul: Jill, Harimah, and Olivia. Later we had free pasta and beer at the hostel for dinner with Jannik, Frauke, and Salam, who grew up in Morocco. We decided to go out to the nightly pub crawl with everyone from the hostel at 10. The first bar was the “American” themed Road 66 which was kind of funny. It had all sorts of random “American” decor that didn’t really go together. In celebration of my birthday we did some tequila shots which we had to be taught about how to do. We met some other cool people from the hostel and heard about peoples travels past and present. Autumn and I made it to the second bar but didn’t stay long. It was 1:00 am and we were exhausted. The next day consisted of seeing some more sights with people from the hostel. We went out with Jannik, Frauke, Salam, and Colin who is from the UK. The weather could not have been more different from the rainy snow a few days before. The sun was out it was warm and everyone was loving it. We went to the mosque, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral again and a little Roman church built in the 4th century, the little one in the underpass was still closed. The 4th century church is surrounded by old ruins and was really cool to see. The inside was fairly simple but it was striking to be in a church that people have been worshiping at for over a thousand years.

“I love old stuff!”
Pretty sure these were for making pizza
4th Century church

Jannik and Frauke had a train to catch so we said goodbye and then the rest of us headed to lunch. We found a great little spot with a patio in the sun, which was really all we cared about. We had a great view of the mountains and the food was really good as well.

moar yum.

Our favorite part about staying at hostels has been the people you meet there. Everyone seems to be on some sort of incredible trip or has stories to tell. The conversation is never dull. That night we went out to a bar with some more new friends: Emeline, Etienne, and Titouan from France who are studying in Istanbul and Zoe and Lucy from Germany who were headed to Turkey. We talked about all sorts of interesting stuff and had a great time. We didn’t stay out too late as we had a long day planned the next day, towards the Rila Monastary, but that’s a whole nother story.

No problem, hasta la vista baby!

March 13-16, 2015

Haegan: Even though we didn’t have a long day planned, we decided to try to get on the road early on the way out of Edirne, seeing as we had to cross an international border. The weather was nice and we rolled out of Edirne and headed towards the border. As we started getting close to the border the right lane was full of parked truck after parked truck. We got in the left lane and continued. Soon we had been riding past parked semi’s for over a kilometer when it dawned on us that they must all be lined up waiting to go across the border. The drivers were all just hanging out, it seemed to be a pretty normal thing for them. Some were sitting with their feet out the window drinking coffee, others sitting and talking on the guardrail. We even saw a vendor with a cart going around selling coffee and tea to the drivers. After about 3 kilometers and what must have been at least 300 or more trucks we were at the beginning of the border crossing.

So many trucks

There are a lot of little windows to go through. We snapped a picture on the way out, got two new stamps in our passports and were in Bulgaria!

Good Bye Turkey!

We were pretty disappointed that there was no “Welcome to Bulgaria” sign anywhere, I feel that is something that should be at any border crossing. We continued on through the very nice Bulgarian countryside and through Svilengrad along the E8 towards Biser where we planned to camp for the night. A few kilometers outside Biser we ran into the tiniest, most runty kitten you can imagine on the side of the road. Autumn was really close to bringing it with us in her handlebar bag. It chased after us for a few hundred meters as we road off, mewing at us the whole way.

Tiny, adorable, cat that we couldn’t take with us

We arrived at the campsite in Biser only to find that it was closed for the winter. Apparently the website I looked at had the info wrong, so we headed into town to see where we might be able to set up camp. Biser is very small and very quiet. It’s a bit eerie because aside from an old man or two walking around we didn’t see anyone on our way into the center (if you can really even call it that) of town. We saw that there was a school and a church and thought we could ask if we might be able to camp at one of them. Everything looked empty but we could hear some faint music coming from up the road so we followed it and found a little store/bar with a few people in it, all chain smoking. An old man motioned to us to sit down so we did and he started talking to us in Bulgarian. We tried to explain that we didn’t speak any Bulgarian but we’ve realized that telling someone you don’t speak a language does not stop them from continuing to try to talk to you in that language as if you should understand. The only two things he said that I understood were “no problem” and “hasta la vista baby” which are not particularly useful for conversation. He had a lot to say to us and kept talking and talking even though it was clear that we had no idea what he was saying every now and then he would reach over the table and grab my hand. Eventually he started talking about Christ I think and grabbing his heart. He gave us some plastic coins that I have in my handlebar bag. Not really sure what the significance is though… Using our phones again we were able to communicate to the lady working there that we were riding across Bulgaria and needed somewhere to camp. We asked about the school or the church and they said to wait while the guy working there (Valco as we found out his name was) made a few phone calls. Possibly the funniest part of this whole ordeal was when this little old lady with a cane came in and after our friend “hasta la vista” guy said something to her she hit him on the back with her cane. She looked and walked like she must have been at least 100 and looked like the classic stereotypical old eastern european lady. Eventually they asked if we spoke Spanish which Autumn does fairly well and not too long after the Priest’s son showed up and he and Autumn talked some in Spanish. It was a bit bizarre to be in the smallest town you can imagine middle-of-nowhere Bulgaria and speaking Spanish. The kid said that his dad would come open up the church soon. Not long after they realized we couldn’t stay in the church but Valco assured us “no problem” we could set up the tent at the school. He walked us down there and unlocked the gate and we got the tent and everything set up and started to cook ourselves some bulgur.

Yummy bulgur food
Yummy bulgur food
All set up, but soon to be taken down

While we were cooking, kids were zooming back and forth on mopeds and doing doughnuts in the dirt street. As we were sitting down to eat another man showed up and started talking at us in Bulgarian. The only thing we understood at first was something something police. At first this had us a little worried as he was motioning that we should pack up our things. Where were we going to sleep. We got him to type what he meant into the translator on my phone and eventually figured out that it wasn’t so bad after all. Valco showed up and after a while it became clear that they were concerned that it was going to rain so they had found us a place to sleep in a house. Great! we packed up our gear and followed Valco as he drove across the town to an old somewhat abandoned looking farmhouse. There were horses and some other animals outside but in the house it didn’t really look like anyone lived there. It was mostly empty with a thick layer of dust on most surfaces but it did seem like a farmhand might stay over every now and again. They told us “no problem” we could sleep here and put our bikes inside. We thanked Valco and his friend profusely and then they left. We finished our food and were just starting to think about going to sleep and that it was going to be cold when we heard someone coming up the stairs. Valco was back with another guy and a bunch of firewood. They proceeded to build us a fire in the woodstove, “no problem, no problem” and they were gone again. We set up and slept on the floor by the stove very comfortably until about 4 am when we were woken up by footsteps and saw someone walking out of the room. We both freaked out just a little bit. Someone walking around the room at 4 am? that seemed a little weird, but we decided not to worry about it and figured it was probably just a farmhand using the bathroom. We arent really sure who it was or why they were there but that stands as our best guess, someone doing early morning work on the farm had to pee. We got up at 8 or so and headed back to the bar/convenience store/cafe/only business in the whole town to get coffee, which the guy there insisted on giving us no charge. We waited around a bit hoping Valco would show up so we could thank him again but didn’t see him. Eventually we told the other guy working there that we wanted to thank Valco and he called him to come down. He told us “no problem”  once again. We got him to write down his address for us so that we can send him something when we get home. It’s all in cyrillic so we have no idea what it says but hopefully we will be able to  send something as a thank you. We said ciao which Valco also knew and rolled off in the dreary rain towards Haskovo.


The riding that day was pretty miserable. 50 km in the cold rain is never fun.

The picture doesn’t convey the discomfort

By the time we arrived in Haskovo we couldn’t feel our hands and our legs and feet were soaked. (our rain jackets did quite a good job however) We arrived where we thought the hotel was and the building was empty. Not what you want to see when you’re halfway frozen. We decided to find somewhere to warm up and regroup before figuring out the hotel situation. We found a little diner and went in. Autumn got some rice with chicken (which apparently is a traditional Bulgarian dish) and we both ordered coffee. We soon discovered that the norm for coffee in Bulgaria is a double shot of espresso, not exactly the nescafe we had become used to in Turkey. As the feeling was coming back into our hands the waitress saw Autumn sitting there shivering and brought her over a jacket to warm up. I ordered some lunch and the waitress gave us some tea because we looked cold. After just sitting and warming up for a while we figured out that we were looking in the wrong spot for the hotel and decided to go find it. We tried to return the jacket to the waitress but she insisted Autumn take it to the hotel with her. We got into the hotel which was ok, but not as nice as the last few places we had payed to stay at. But hey, it was dry. The next day the bad weather had passed quicker than expected and we had a nice dry ride into Plovdiv. We stayed in the Gramophone Hostel in Plovdiv for the two nights we were there which was really nice and surprisingly empty.

Autumn: The ride to Plovdiv was awesome. It was the first day of riding that was pleasantly uneventful. We rode into Plovdiv and were immediately struck by a house on a hill that was very close to the tunnel we rode through. The rocks on the hill were tied up, they looked as though the cables were the only thing keeping them on top of the hill.

Rolling into Plovdiv

Someone on couchsurfing told us about Gramophone Hostel so we decided to check it out. Gramophone is known mostly as musical venue, it used to house performers when they came to Plovdiv to perform. A little while back they added more rooms and turned it into a hostel with a joined bar and outdoor stage. It was pretty neat and the guy working there was very friendly. We were the only ones staying at the hostel, I guess Plovdiv is not a popular spring break destination. We got a bit cleaned up and then started to wander around Plovdiv. The hostel is in this pedestrian area with lots of shops, a few fast food restaurants, and quite a few cafe/bars. A few casinos too, those seem to be very popular in Bulgaria. Right in the middle of the pedestrian/shopping area is the Roman Stadium. It was built during the 2nd century AD, and a lot of it is still intact.

Oh, look! Ancient ruins right in the middle of town

After wandering around the stadium and the area they’ve built around it (which is very cool: you’re walking along and see a giant hole in the path, in that hole is the stadium), we decided to go find some food. Earlier I had seen a kid with a giant pancake with stuff inside so I wanted to find that. Haegan got a chicken kebap which has thinly sliced chicken, tomato, onion, lettuce, pickles, yogurt, and fries. All in a wrap. He loved it. He loved it so much that I’m still hearing about how the design of the wrap and its contents are perfect. I had one too the next day and I have to say it was definitely very good.

Alex Foods, you have created the perfect food.

I found the pancake place and was completely overwhelmed by the menu. It’s one thing to walk into a fast food place and not know the language on the menu… it’s another when you walk in and you don’t the alphabet on the menu, especially when there are over 200 options. I was completely overwhelmed and the staff could see my look of confusion so they pointed to me a small menu on English next to the register. I’m indecisive, so even that menu was overwhelming. I got a pancake with salami, mushrooms, and pickles and decided I needed to come back the next morning for breakfast. It was dark by then and we continued to wander around. Haegan found these rocks behind the shopping area and discovered there were paths leading up them. I don’t know why, but I’ve always been terrified of walking or climbing up, or even just on, rocks. My fear doesn’t really make sense, I know my chances of falling and actually hurting myself are slim, but it still scares me. I wouldn’t call it a phobia… but I’ll admit it’s probably close. Despite this, I followed him up a semi-maintained path of stairs and rocks to the top where we had a fantastic view of the whole city. I didn’t love the climb up but I loved the view, it was so neat to see the whole city lit up.

Cool graffiti at the base of the Tepe
Not a bad view

We were hungry after climbing so we went to find more fast food. Bulgaria has little stores that display pizza in the window. You just point to the slice you want, they grab it for you and you’re on your way. Window pizza, best thing ever, besides chicken kepab of course. Bulgaria is getting a lot of points for fast food.

The next morning we went to a little cafe at the mosque close to our hotel. I decided to order a latte because I now know that if I just order coffee, I’ll get straight espresso. I love coffee, and espresso, but I’m not that serious. It came in a neat glass with a straw, the glass I liked, the straw seemed like a bad idea. After coffee and tea we went to get pancakes, which were much better as breakfast food (go figure). We went to find the Roman Theater first, but stopped at two churches along the way. Bulgaria is Eastern Orthodox so their churches are set up differently from the ones we’re accustomed to seeing. People sit in pews on the sides of the church, facing the center. The back wall has beautiful portraits of Mary, Jesus, and many saints. The walls and ceiling have pictures depicting stories from the Bible. The churches are stunning and unfortunately you can’t take pictures inside. I’m excited to see more of these in Sofia. After the two churches we got to the stadium, got our tickets, and then were let into the theater. I was astounded at the lack of security. The theater is about 1800 years old and the entrance to get in is blocked only by a small rope and a sign that says you need to have a ticket to enter. After that you’re let free to roam around the ancient theater, there are no metal detectors or guards or anything. We were the only ones at the theater, no other tourists. We played around with the acoustics of the theaters and walked around on the stage and in the seats. It was crazy to think we were sitting where people sat hundreds and hundreds of years ago.

Roman Theater
You can walk around and sit on it!

The theater and the churches we were at earlier are part of Old Town. Throughout old town there are plaques on most of the houses that tell about a politician or merchant who built the house and lived there. Each house is historic and has something unique about it, and in most them there is a museum about Plovdiv’s history. It’s a neat idea and liked reading all the plaques about each house. A lot of places were either closed on Mondays or just not open at all. We realized later that Plovdiv is in the process of making the city more tourist friendly because in 2019 they will be the European Capital of Culture. I’m guessing most of the work they’re doing is new so not everything was up and running. It was still neat to walk about the Old City. We went to another church, Church of St. Constantine and Helena. This one was my favorite of the three we saw that day, the colors were so rich and all the paintings were breathtaking. We continued to wander around and found some ruins on the edge of one of the hills. Plovdiv has six hills called tepes. It used to have seven but they destroyed the smallest one a while ago. Haegan and I were climbing on of the tepes the night before but hadn’t realized what it was. The Old City is built on one of the tepes and the ruins were at the edge of the tepe, there used to be a watch tower there. We wandered around the ruins and then just sat enjoying the view of the entire city, this time from the other side of town.

Ruins at the top of the Tepe
Autumn being afraid of heights
That thing in the corner used to be a watchtower
Haegan not being afraid of heights
Haegan not being afraid of heights

We headed back into the main part of the city and stopped at another one of the house museums. This one had displays of modern Bulgarian art. The guy running the museum let us in for free because the museum hadn’t been finished. Old Bulgarian houses in the Old Town are typically very symmetrical, the rooms and staircases all mirror each other. The ceilings and banisters had beautiful woodwork.

Neat painting in the house
Neat painting in the house
Intricate woodwork
Intricate woodwork

After walking around the house a bit we talked to the man running the museum a bit more. He is so passionate about the house and some of the art in it. We walked around a bit more and found another church on another tepe, which we wandered around and enjoyed some apples.

The rest of afternoon was fairly uneventful, we got in a little spat, made up, saw some Peruvians performing pop songs in stereotypical “native american” style (this was probably one of the most bizarre things we’d seen), and then found pizza and had fancy dessert.

Look how fancy we are

After walking around and talking a bit longer (and witnessing a freaky cat interaction), we went to the bar right below our hostel. The night before we tried Rakia as a welcome from the hostel. We didn’t want to do that again because Rakia is disgusting. So I got a Bulgarian beer, Haegan got a cider and we played foosball for a while.

Bulgarian beer, not sure what the name is exactly
Bulgarian beer, not sure what the name is exactly

Turkish Delightful

After a rough first few days we were feeling a little bit down on Turkey. It wasn’t easy riding, our maps didn’t show us what the roads were actually like, and we were exhausted from riding in the wind. We decided that we needed to find a place to stay for the night. We made a Couchsurfing profile and sent out a few requests for places to stay. We quickly got a response from Mustafa, who lives in Çorlu. Even with the late notice, he said he would be happy to host us. After our difficult ride into Çorlu (which you can read about here) we met up with Mustafa. We walked back to his apartment got changed into some clean clothes and he took us to a shopping center to get some quick food. We went to a fast food-ish restaurant to get Iskender  which we both thought was delicious, but Mustafa said was only so-so as far as Iskender goes. Sorry for the lack of photos of food, we are trying but always end up eating it before remembering to take a picture. We’re improving though. We had a great night talking with Mustafa over coffee back at his house. He offered to let us stay with him a second night and we decided a rest day would be a good idea after the last few days. The next day we didn’t do very much. Slept in until noon, showered did laundry, etc. We did wander out for another delicious Turkish meal of tavuk şiş (chicken skewer) and pilav üstü döner (thinly sliced beef over Turkish rice) and tried acili ezme (which we think is the Turkish equivalent of salsa).

We really liked Turkish food

 Most Turkish food we had has been grilled or cooked the way gyro meat is cooked, on a vertical broiler, and often served with spicy grilled peppers (which I, Haegan, love), Turkish rice (which is one of Autumn’s favorites), and bread. We began to search for a possible bus or train to Edirne which is right by the Turkish-Bulgarian border, but were thwarted by our lack of Turkish, the website’s lack of information, and the fact that all train service to Edirne has been momentarily cancelled due to construction. It was quite frustrating. That night when Mustafa got home from work he informed us that he had solved our bus problems. There are tons of buses in Turkey, but almost no timetables online. We could take a 2 hour bus to Edirne departing every 30 minutes from just 2 km down the road. Mustafa had told some of his friends that we were staying with him and, baffled by the fact that we were riding our bikes across Turkey, they wanted to come meet us. We went up the street to a restaurant and met three of his friends, Özay, another Mustafa, and Şükrü.  None of them knew more than a few English phrases so Mustafa acted as translator all night.

Dinner with Mustafa’s friends

They had a lot of questions for us, especially Şükrü, so we did our best to answer through Mustafa. It made us really wish that we knew more Turkish so that we could get to know them better, but we still had a good time, lots of laughter. They ordered food for us and soon we were eating. First we had more acili ezme with flatbread and something kind of like cheese dip. Şükrü also insisted that we try mercimek köftesi which was ok I thought but Autumn did not like at all. We also tried this strange red cabbage drink that Özay recommended. Neither of us really liked it. Cabbage juice and spices just don’t make for a drink I like. Then, after we had already eaten quite a bit, they brought out the main course. Three huge platters of lenger kebap, a combination of many different kinds of kebap. Doner, tavuk, adana, şiş köfte, and a type of köfte coated in ground lentils and fried (think corndog), to name just a few.  Şükrü told us we couldn’t leave until we finished the whole platter. We tried our best, but couldn’t quite do it.

So. Much. Food.

Needless to say it was all delicious, and we were stuffed. After dinner we had çay, a tea that is incredibly popular in Turkey. After that we walked over to a cafe in the downtown area to get coffee (you might be starting to notice a Turkish theme here…) Autumn got a real Turkish coffee which is very strong and I had some more çay. It was explained to us that Greeks will often claim that they invented “Turkish” coffee but that we shouldn’t listen to them, it is indeed Turkish. We also met up with some more of Mustafa’s friends at the cafe. Pembe and Ayşen who both went to university in Edirne. Ayşen spoke remarkably good English for someone who had only been studying for a year, and Pembe had recently started an English class. Once they asked, Autumn and I realized we both needed to slow down a little bit because we naturally talk pretty fast. We talked with them and showed everyone on our phones where in the United States we lived and they told us about Turkey and Edirne and about life in Turkey.  

9:30? Perfect time for coffee!

After coffee we walked to a club that usually plays live music but being that it was kind of late and a Tuesday night Mustafa’s friends had to go home to get some sleep. So Autumn, Mustafa, and I went in and listened to the DJ’s there. It was an interesting mix of remixed traditional Turkish music, dubstep/electronic and bits and pieces of American music, which Autumn and I found rather amusing. After an hour or so we headed back to Mustafa’s place to get to sleep. We talked for a bit about traveling and then said our goodbyes as Mustafa would be headed to work before we were up. We had a great time staying with Mustafa and are really happy to have gotten to know him!

Getting to Edirne ended up being remarkably simple. We packed up, rolled a few km down the road to the Otogar, stopping to grab more delicious Turkish pastries on the way, and got on one of the mid-sized buses. Cramming all our gear and bikes into the cargo space, which was no easy feat, but we managed. After a few stops at other Otogars to pick up more passengers we arrived at the Edirne Otogar, a few km outside the city. In our rush to get off the cramped bus (Autumn’s knees hit the seat in front of her and she is only 5’ 3.5” on a good day) we forgot to grab the bungee cords that hold Autumn’s sleeping bag and bedroll onto the bike. So Autumn went to find some halat (rope). She ended up on the phone with someone at the Edirne city center station who spoke English and said they would send us some on the next shuttle in 45 minutes. So we sat and waited, mad at ourselves for forgetting things, but happy with the kindness of the people we have been encountering. I decided to go get a cup of corn from a vendor (yummy and buttery) and as I crossed back to where we were waiting, I happened to see the ticket taker from our bus. I got him to come over with me to the bus and found the forgotten bungee cords! We were back in business. We got on the D-100, which is not nearly as bad in the daytime, and headed towards the city. After a few km of nice riding a car pulled over in front of us. The man who was helping Autumn at the station got out and gave us some bungee cords. We had forgotten to tell him we found ours, and he had driven 2 or 3 km to bring us some! We were once again humbled by people’s willingness to go out of their way to be helpful. Even though we didn’t need them we decided to keep the bungee cords as a sort of symbol of the hospitality we received in Turkey, and they are now decoratively wrapped around Autumn’s bags. 

We stayed at the Tashan Hotel in Edirne for the two nights we were there, and it was lovely. The hotel used to be housing for employees of the Üç Şerefeli Mosque across the street. 

Right across the street from the hotel.

It has a great little courtyard and our room had a nice view out over the busy little street below. As soon as we got there Emre, the manager, invited us to sit down and have coffee. (Nescafé is the staple coffee in Turkey) He told us about a few of the many great sites to see in Edirne and we talked a bit about how overwhelming Istanbul can be. While we had been on the bus Pembe had gotten in touch with a friend of hers in Edirne named Hakan to see about us meeting up with him and getting a bit of a tour. After we unpacked and relaxed a bit we went out to get dinner with Hakan and his girlfriend. After dinner we walked around to look at a few of the mosques all lit up at night and ducked inside the Selimiye Mosque for a few minutes before prayer started. The mosques are amazing at night, the minarets glowing in the dark. The Selimiye Mosque is considered one of the best examples of Ottoman style and was designed by Mimar Sinan, one of the greatest Ottoman architects. It is considered his masterpiece. We agreed with Hakan to meet up at 10:00 the next morning for a tour around the city. As we found out over dinner Hakan is actually a professional tour guide and owner of Edirne Tourism. When Hakan arrived we were talking with Emre and he invited Hakan to join us for another cup of coffee (I had already had 2 cups of çay with breakfast, try to keep count) They talked for a bit in Turkish, very quickly I might add, and we headed off to see Edirne with Hakan. Our first stop was the ruins of an old Ottoman tower and even older city walls dating back to Adrianople, about 2000 years ago. Inside the wall are three pottery oven pits of around the same age. It’s incredible to stand next to something and know that what you are seeing has been seen by people for 2000 years. The other incredible thing about these ruins are the fact that they are just sitting right in the middle of a city. Just go through a little gate and you’re walking among ancient ruins. 

Looking dorky in front of old stuff, our specialty.

After the ruins we caught a bus across town to the Complex of Sultan Bayezid II Health Museum, which is a part of the Trakya University. The complex was built in 1488 and housed a mosque, and a soup kitchen, but more importantly one of the most significant hospitals and medical schools of the time. Over time the hospital became focused on psychiatry. As early as the 1500’s the hospital was using sensory therapy including music, water sounds and aromatics to treat patients with mental illness as well as using occupational therapy. Pretty forward thinking for a time when bleeding people as a cure was common in Europe. The complex has now been restored and turned into a health museum about the time period. The different rooms contain realistic dioramas and decor to show how they were used. We toured around both the hospital and medical school for a while before getting another coffee with a professor of Hakan’s on the way out. I could write pages about each of the places we saw but I’ll try to keep it reasonable and let the pictures do some of the work.

Always making weird faces
Ceiling of the platform
Flooding all around the rivers, a regular occurrence
In the bunkers
Leading down to a bunker for soliders
They were all sunk very low into the hillside
You can see Greece and Bulgaria in this picture. And two weird teenagers…
All men in Turkey have to serve in the military for at least 6 months. (unless you pay to get out of the obligation)

Next we walked by a Greek synagogue that we couldn’t go in because it is in the process of being restored. 
We walked out to the edge of town to check out the old bridges across two of the three rivers around Edirne and saw where the sultans would go to watch the sunrise. 

The ceiling of the platform
The ceiling of the platform

 At both bridges the water was quite high and covering the road at the bridge, Hakan explained this happens regularly in the spring because of a dam that is let out up river. We had to hitch a ride through the giant puddles both ways.  We met up with Hakan’s business partner and friend, Tolga, and drove up to the hill overlooking Edirne to go to the Balkans War Museum. The bunkers from the war are now an exhibit showcasing artifacts from the war as well as photos and and strategic information. 

The bunkers
The bunkers
They were all sunk deep into the hillside
They were all sunk deep into the hillside
Leading down to a bunker
Leading down to a bunker
If you are a Turkish man you must serve in the army for at least 6 months
If you are a Turkish man you must serve in the army for at least 6 months
In this photo you can see Greece and Bulgaria. And two weird teenagers...
In this photo you can see Greece and Bulgaria. And two weird teenagers…
Ottoman Sugar

Later, Hakan and Tolga took us to meet their friend who works at Arslanzade, a local candy store where they make stuff like marzipan, cookies, turkish delight, and lots more. While we waited for Recep we were offered tea and coffee again, to which we obliged and also tried a few of their products including some authentic turkish delight. After coffee we got to go downstairs to see where they make everything. Recep told us that they make up to 150,000 boxes of candy every day! We even got to taste a fresh batch of cookies as they came out of the oven. 
 On our way out Recep gave us a few boxes to fortify us while we ride which we are eating as I write this! We headed from there to The Old Mosque. The Old Mosque is a fairly small mosque as Ottoman mosques go, but of all the ones we have seen it is my favorite. Inside there is large calligraphy on the walls over 8 feet high and the ceiling paintings are some of the most intricate we have seen. The 9 domed mosque is very colorful and everywhere you look is amazing art and craftsmanship. 
After all that it was time to get some lunch (sorry, forgot the pictures) but we got chicken doner sandwiches with spicy peppers that were wonderful. We also tried Ayran which is a drink that is basically watery yogurt, it was ok. After lunch we walked by The Old Mosque Bazaar where Hakan seemed to know everyone. One of the vendors outside gave us Ottoman sugar which is melted colored sugar wrapped around a stick and rubbed in lemon juice. I liked those a lot. 

Ottoman Sugar
Ottoman Sugar

After walking through the bazaar Hakan and Tolga had to head to a meeting so we said our goodbyes and thanked them for the amazing tour. It was a pretty non-stop day so we just wandered around, bought some snacks and wrote a few postcards before being invited to eat homemade lentil soup with Emre and his girlfriend. A great example of the wonderful hospitality we have found in Turkey: Emre said we should just try it, but then insisted on me “trying” three full bowls with bread and cheese.

Although we had a rough start, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in Turkey. It may not be the best place to start your first bike tour, but the amazingly generous people and awe-inspiring history made it well worth it. A special thank you to our hosts who made our time in Turkey so memorable. We’re excited to come back someday and explore the rest if the country. Know that if you ever have a chance to come to the states, you have a place to stay.

Note from Autumn: First, I’m 5’4″ on any day, even if Haegan doesn’t believe me.

It was my idea to start the trip in Istanbul, and when we’re riding those miserable days I seriously regretted pushing for Istanbul. Once we got to Çorlu though, as Haegan said, it all became worth it because they people we met were so great. I loved the history of Edirne, and I loved the conversations we had with each of our hosts.

NotIstanbul, Turkey

Haegan: The first few days after we left Istanbul were a really mixed bag. We saw some cool stuff but a lot of it was very stressful and difficult. We hadn’t planned as well as we should have and didn’t know exactly what riding in Turkey was going to be like. One of our biggest issues was with getting started late and ending up riding or trying to find somewhere to stay after dark. But at this point we have learned a lot about what we need to do in the future to prevent more of the really hard days we had to deal with. Turkey is not the easiest country to do your first real days of touring in, but we survived and things can only go up from here. We hope.


Saturday, March 7, 2015

We left Istanbul after spending just one full day in the city. Although we didn’t stay long, we both felt it was enough. The history of the city is amazing but being there is very overwhelming. It makes New York City seem calm and organized. In the morning we took a ferry over to the Asian side of Istanbul and toured around for a few hours to see a bit more before we left. It was a slightly calmer than the Old City and fewer people spoke English. It was fun to wander around the streets and look in all the shops. We got lunch at little cafeteria style restaurant where we accidently tried liver. When we were selecting our food Haegan asked about a dish that looked like little pieces of beef and potato. The man pointed just below his rib cage to indicate the type of meat and before I could warn Haegan, he popped the piece of liver in his mouth. Oops. I knew I didn’t like liver but felt obligated to try because it was being offered. We ended up ordering a dish that had kofte (spiced Turkish meatball) with mashed potatoes and melted cheese. It was sitting in a pool of grease and sounded amazing.

Kofte with mashed potatos

t was, but only for a few bites. We were both overwhelmed by the density of the dish and only ate half. After lunch we headed back to our hostel to pack up our bags. After packing up and saying goodbye to the folks at the hostel, we made our way to the bridge to cross over to the new city.

I did not realize until we were leaving the hostel that Haegan was planning to ride through the city. I refused to ride from the hostel to the bridge as the streets were cobblestones, steep, and not at all straight. We walked our bikes through the crowded streets and I started to panic as I realized that eventually I would have to get on my bike and ride through the busy streets. Before getting on the bridge we got on our bikes and I nearly broke down. The car came so close and there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the traffic. We missed our turn for the bridge and had to backtrack to walk across the bridge. There were many people fishing from the bridge and most had pretty full buckets of fish. Once we crossed the bridge I felt okay getting on the road, but still nervous. Once we started riding I realized that I really had nothing to worry about. It was so crowded that the cars were barely moving, and because driving in Istanbul is nuts, the drivers are much more aware of what’s happening around them. So it wasn’t bad. We made it out the city and rode along the coast. It was pretty windy but the ocean was nice and I was feeling a lot better about riding. Sometime when we were riding along the coast Haegan realized we left our towels at the hostel. It was silly oversight and annoying because they were nice quick drying towels. Lost item number one of our trip. It started getting dark and we decided to buy some groceries for our dinner that night. We stopped at a little market and Haegan went to the ATM to get cash. He realized that his debit card was gone. We tried to figure out where it had gone and could only conclude that it had fallen out of his pocket at some point. (Fastforward a bit: we never found the card but it has been cancelled, no funds were lost.) So, lost item number two. Thankfully I still had my card so we were still able to get cash and buy groceries. It was very dark by this point so we decided to start looking for a place to camp. We passed a bunch of places that looked like country clubs, and we decided that if we couldn’t find a place to camp we would come back and ask the staff at the club. We came to an aquaduct and noticed a fire station across the road. We had read in blogs that other people touring would ask at police stations and other public service building so we decided to give it a try. One of the firemen spoke English but he had just moved to the area so he didn’t know where we could camp. He told us to go to the market up the street and ask there, they might be able to help us. We didn’t find the market but we did find a high end bike shop where the owner directed us to a public forest. The forest was just down the road from the shop. The guards at the forest did not speak English but we managed to communicate with translation apps on our phones. The told us that camping was normally prohibited but they would let us camp in one of the picnic areas. We were very grateful and began to set up camp. I would like to note here that once we left Istanbul we noticed it was pretty windy. We figured it was from the ocean, the water looked pretty choppy. The wind continued even as we left the coast but it wasn’t terribly strong. When we were setting up the tent we started to really noticed the wind as it was difficult the set up the tent and our helmets kept getting blown off the table. Haegan got started on dinner and he realized that a few of the things he bought weren’t what he thought. The rice was actually long grain bulgur (apparently Turks love bulgur based on the number of varieties in the store – we checked later) and the “zucchini” was actually a cucumber. So we had an interesting meal of unidentified grain (we weren’t sure what it was at the time), red peppers, onion, and salt and pepper courtesy of Lufthansa Airlines. Camping food at its finest. While we were making dinner and eating, a group of cats started gathering around our table. It was dark so I’m not sure of the total, but I think there were at least six cats hanging around our table. I guess stray cats aren’t just in Istanbul. We cleaned up and headed to bed. The tent was noisy from the wind but we were both exhausted and slept soundly.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

I set our the alarm for 7:30, and that ended up being a smart move. Around 7:45 we heard a voice and footsteps around our tent. The night before when Haegan was talking to the guards I wondered if there would any miscommunication about our camping in the picnic area. Turns out there was. We couldn’t understand the man walking around our tent but we could imagine he was telling us we weren’t supposed to be camping. We got up as quickly as we could as started packing up. One of the guards from the night before came to the site and watched as we packed everything up. Neither of the guards were mean or impatient, they were actually very nice about the whole thing and we were just happy to have had a place to sleep. In our packing we discovered our tent bag was missing, it must have blown away in the wind. Lost item number three. Getting kicked out of the site got us an earlier start than we had planned but in retrospect, that was probably for the best. As we rode out we got to see the forest, it was beautiful and had tons of picnic tables. We found out later that Turkish people absolutely love picnics, but apparently aren’t so enthusiastic about camping. We went into town and found a cafe with pastries and coffee. The owner didn’t speak a lot of English but we had no problem communicating with him. Haegan got another simit (thin sesame bagel), and I got a croissant type pasty with sesames on top. It was amazing. We also had coffee, which we’ve found in Turkey that normal coffee is usually Nescafe… and it’s awesome. Haegan, who isn’t much a coffee drinker, likes it especially. We sat and Haegan figured out the route while I watched Turkish music videos. It was a tough job. We left around 9:30 and got started on our route which we hoped would take us to Çatalca, Turkey. We passed at least 5 or 6 areas that were just for picnics, table after table, some even had little huts. We figured that if all 15 million people in Istanbul decided to go on a picnic on the same weekend, there’d be space. After the picnic areas we came to a modern suburban area, which was nice because it had a bike lane. We came to another aquaduct and passed underneath.

We rode parallel to a highway and at one point were very close to what looked like a giant pit for trash. We figured it was probably one of Istanbul’s dumps. It smelled horrible. As we continued to ride through the area towards Çatalca, we realized that Istanbul has sucked all the resources from the surrounding area. We named this area Not Istanbul. It’s not a very scenic area, there is a lot of trash, a lot of fields, and a lot of trucks. Not long after we passed the dump, we were passed by a few trucks. I started counting after a while and in a span of about 10 minutes we were passed by at least 15 trucks. They were big dump trucks and we figured they were all heading to the same place. We rode among the trucks and noticed that they were turning around to get in line to enter the dumping/loading area. It was complete chaos. The trucks were two wide on each side and turned around pretty much wherever and whenever they could with little warning. Thankfully everyone was going slowly so Haegan and I quickly weaved our way out the mess. Normally, something like that would have made me very nervous, but because we just ended up in the middle without knowing what was happening, I didn’t have time to be nervous. I just had to focus on getting out without getting squashed. I know it sounds very scary (sorry Mum and Dad) but it truly wasn’t all that bad, just bizarre.

After the trucks we rode through a small city and after we found ourselves surrounded by farm fields. In the distance we could see many wind turbines and could still feel a pretty strong wind. It was nothing we couldn’t manage, just a little frustrating at times and made hills even more difficult. We were heading to Nakkas, a small town we saw on the map that we thought about spending the night or maybe just to get some food. The views were nice, although grey, and the wind remained constant. When I stopped to eat an orange (which was absolutely amazing), a woman stopped and talked to us. She only spoke Turkish so the only thing we were really able to tell her was that we were Americans and we were headed to Nakkas. She seemed very nice and I wished we could have been able to talk more with her. It’s been kind of strange to say I’m from America. Once we got to Turkey though we realized that people did not understand if we said we were from the United States, but quickly understood if we said we’re from America. Anyway, we kept riding ended up on the a dirt road and then found ourselves in Nakkas. Going from Istanbul to Nakkas was bizarre. It felt as though we were in a totally undeveloped country. It was a tiny farming village with shepherds and carts full of animal innards. So we left pretty quickly after indicating we were going to Çatalca, some boys pointed the direction we should go. After leaving Nakkas is when the wind started to get really bad. As we rode up a long hill there were gusts of wind that move me across the road into the other lane. The wind was strong enough to move me, my bike, and all my stuff, about 170 pounds in all, over about 6 feet. I was using all my strength to not end up in the oncoming lane. Haegan figures the gusts were about 35 miles an hour. So I got off my bike and walked. Even though walking on the side of the road was not super safe, it was better than losing control of my bike. Eventually we turned and had a nice tail wind for a while. About a mile out of Çatalca, I started to bonk. I had no energy left and we had climb a pretty steep hill before entering Çatalca. Fortunately, at the top of the hill there was a pizza place, which was exactly what we needed. I felt much better after the pizza (we didn’t know what we ordered but it was delicious). There were no hotels in Çatalca so while we were at the pizza place we booked a hotel in Kamburgaz, Turkey about 10 miles away, on the coast. This was a little daunting for me. Ten miles isn’t far, especially on a bike, but we had already ridden nearly 40 long, hilly and windy miles. My legs were tired and I was ready to be off my bike. We started off and found ourselves on a pretty worn road with nice farmhouses. The wind wasn’t as bad anymore. We both started getting a little worried that the hotel we had booked was scam because we couldn’t see any sign of a coast. The roads on the map were barely existent dirt roads and the street signs were either missing or didn’t match our map. The coast finally came into view and we made one of our last turns. We turned onto a dirt road and had the wind blowing to our left. The dirt road was deeply rutted and the wind made it very difficult for me to keep my balance. After a gust of wind that caused me to lose my balance, I had to stop. I had kept pretty good spirits until this point when I finally broke down. We had been on the road for nearly 6 hours, the wind was absolutely ridiculous, and the road was near impossible to ride on. I don’t know how many times said “absurd”, but it was a lot, and at this point the absurdity of the day beat me. Haegan calmed me down enough start riding again and not long after we made it to Kumburgaz. I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited to see the ocean.

We made to the hotel, which was very nice for the amount we paid for it. After a shower and clean clothes I felt much better, though very tired. Despite being so tired we got to talk with both our families and made plans for the next day. We reorganized our stuff and inhaled a giant plate of spaghetti, chicken kebab, and a basket of bread. We decided to ride to Çorlu the next day after finding someone to stay with on CouchSurfing.
Monday, March 9, 2015
We woke still tired and went down to get breakfast in the hotel restaurant (no extra charge). We went back to our room and slept a little longer, which was a bad idea looking back. Something we definitely need to work on is getting started on our bikes earlier. I’ll tell you more in a bit. I went to the market down the street to get snacks for the day. I picked out a few candy bars I’d never seen before and some oranges. When I was in the market I noticed the huge selection rice and bulgur and many types of cheeses. Oreos and Snickers are very popular in Turkey which I found interesting. Haegan and I got started on our bikes and were going at decent pace in the very beginning. We rode parallel to the D.100 which is a trunk road (a small highway). A few times we got lost in residential areas but we weren’t too worried because we didn’t have far to go to get to Çorlu. We got Silivri in good time and found ourselves in a medium sized pop up market. We parked our bikes and immediately an old man came up and tried to talk to us. A little while after a boy about six or seven years old came up and looked at our bikes. I told him we were American and responded with, “Ah! American!” and laughed. His response tickled me and I once again wished I knew Turkish. We walked our bikes through the market and then rode through Silivri. It was riding through Silivri that I realized that the chaos of the cities that had scared me before was now slightly comforting. After riding in the middle of nowhere for most the day before I welcomed the random and chaotic city streets. After Silivri is when things started going downhill (not literally). Haegan was doing his best with navigation but the map rarely matched the actual streets. We came to a residential area where the map showed a road that would take us to the coast. The road seemed to just be a path made by trucks for construction. We found a dirt road that looked like it might take us near the coast. It was deeply rutted and I had to walk most of it.  nce we got to the end, we met a guard who told us we had to go back. Apparently the road was private property and so was the neighborhood at the end of it. I was getting a little frustrated but I knew Haegan was doing his best. Getting off track a few times set us back significantly with time and the navigation never really got much easier. We crossed over the highway to start moving north of the coast. We ended up on another dirt road, this one uphill with more wind. Not as bad as the day before, but still an added challenge. Still tired from the day before, and discouraged, I broke down much sooner. I was frustrated that navigation was so difficult, that we kept running into rutted dirt roads, we were not going to make it to Çorlu before dark, and we were truly in the middle of nowhere.  n one of the dirt roads Haegan hit a loose section of gravel and fell. When that happened I really started to get nervous. He’s supposed to be the steady one, he’s stronger and much better at riding. I started to realize that if something happened while we were riding out there, we’d be in big trouble. I kept running the emergency number through my head, it became a little chant as we rode. We realized that best chance for getting to Çorlu was to ride on the D.100. It’s not a terribly busy highway, there are stoplights every once and a while, but it’s still a highway with buses and trucks and many of them don’t give a lot of space. When got on the D.100 my nerves caused me to pick up the pace and I was going at a good speed until I started to bonk. We barely ate that day, second bad decision after waking up late. We stopped at gas station and I ate the rest of our crackers. My biking gloves had caused me to lose feeling in my right thumb and I was started to get cold. We got back on the highway and suddenly all my energy was gone. I couldn’t stop crying and Haegan had to keep insisting I pick up the pace so we could get off the highway. It was bad, probably the most miserable I’ve ever been riding. My entire body hurt and it upset me that Haegan kept telling me to go faster when I felt I was going as fast as I could. I was also scared. Every truck or bus that passed too close caused me to panic. Even at the time though I could tell he was very stressed and just wanted us to be able to get off the D.100 as soon as we could. About two miles before Çorlu I noticed Haegan’s bags were falling off his bike. We pulled off and he realized his bag had broke. It was now impossible for him to go over any bump without his bags falling off the rear rack. We finally got off the D.100 and found ourselves at a four way stop, with no stop signs or lights. This is probably the best example of Turkish roads to explain the complete chaos of riding in the city. It was bizarre to watch as no one was hit, there were no accidents. It also made it completely impossible to go where we needed to go. After a bit of maneuvering, we made it through. We got to the Çorlu city center and found Mustafa, who had kindly offered to host us on CouchSurfing. We seriously lucked out. After the death march to Çorlu, Mustafa took us for dinner, gave us a place to sleep, and taught us some Turkish. We’ll tell you more about Mustafa and our stay with him in the next post.

The Adventure Begins

Autumn: We did it! We made it to Istanbul! Our adventure has finally begun after months of anticipation. Both our flights went smoothly, we had no problems with our hour long layover in Frankfurt. We even had time to scope out the airport Haribo selection. We had no luck sleeping on our first flight but managed in a short nap on the flight to Istanbul. Once we got to the airport the chaos began with trying to find the right passport control station. It was pretty simple getting to the baggage claim, but we had a quite a time getting all four of our boxes. Haegan’s box broke and he thought he’d lost one of his shoes. Thankfully all pieces were present and intact when we opened the boxes. We had tough time with the carts, first finding carts and then getting new carts when our first was taken when we weren’t paying attention. Once we got outside the first thing that hit me was the number of people smoking. It seemed as though every person waiting for a taxi was smoking, something I am not used to in the States. Haegan assembled the bikes in good time the taxi waiting area. We loaded up the bikes and set out in search of the tram. We managed to get on the right tram but got off a stop too late. We redirected ourselves, but when it came to train line change, we decided to walk instead of ride. Rush hour had begun and we realized there was no way we would be able to fit with our bikes on the tram. The decision to walk was a good idea, the actual walking was a little difficult. We walked nearly two miles uphill through pedestrian (and vehicle) packed sidewalks with our 50-60 pound loaded bikes. Once we got to the hostel we were warmly greeted by the staff and other travelers. We got settled and then ventured out to find food. Once we walked out of the hostel we realized just how close to Hagia Sofia the hostel is. We ate at what seemed like the Turkish equivalent of a diner, it was fairly similar to Mediterranean food. After dinner we were completely exhausted, but managed to stay up a few more hours to get adjusted to the time change. I was thinking today about doing things like navigating the trains is much more of a process here because we don’t know the language. It is not impossible, or really even that difficult, it just takes more time and concentration, and it’s lot easier to mess up. Overall, yesterday went pretty smoothly and I’m so glad to be here. Starting in Istanbul was definitely jumping in the deep end, but we’ve had a great time.

Haegan: Day one of crazy sightseeing. So much to see, so little time (and money). I’ll try to do a quick recap of the whole day. We got breakfast at the hostel (bread, dried apricot, and apricot for me) and set off to see as much as we possibly could. We started off with (what else but) the Hagia Sofia (30 turkish lira) or Ayasophia as it is also known. It’s everything you would expect and then some.

The Hagia Sophia
The Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia from the balcony level
Hagia Sophia from the balcony level

1700 years of history makes for a pretty amazing place. We saw ruins of the second church (of three) from the mid 400’s as well as the current Hagia Sophia and the tombs in the same complex. I don’t really know how to put it into words. The artistry and the engineering are both incredible. The main dome is over 56 meters across and standing in the main prayer area the building is overwhelming. There is so much space and so much happening visually that it takes a long time to take it all in. The mosaics in every building we went to see are amazing: thousands of tiles making up murals that once stood over 10 feet high. Although a lot hasn’t survived the 100’s of years, an amazing amount has and the preservation efforts have kept the mosques bright and colorful. In the same complex there were four or five tombs of sultans and other royalty, each with their own feel and tons of great artwork. All of the buildings constructed by sultans have a similar domed roof style and lots of arches/intricate masonry work. After that we decided to grab some food. We had bagels from a street vendor for one turkish lira I got a thin crispy seasame bagel and Autumn got a bagel with nutella for two turkish lira (40 cents and 80 cents) and then went to a little restaurant to grab some kotfe which are like meatballs, they were served with rice, vegetables, and some garnish. They were quite tasty. At the restaurant we met a guy from Texas with his girlfriend from Prague and chatted a bit about our trips. He gave a great overview along with a map of what they were doing while they are here which prompted us to add a few things to the day’s plans. Fortified we set off again. First the Blue Mosque: It was a little different because the Hagia Sofia is a museum, but the Blue Mosque is an active mosque. That means people are in and out five times a day with the call to prayer. During prayer it is closed to the public and because it is an active mosque there are fewer visitors, and a few more rules. All it meant for us was that Autumn had to cover her head and we had to remove our shoes before entering.

stained glass in the blue mosque
Stained glass in the Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque was about the close for prayer when we got in so we didn’t stay very long but similar impressions to the Hagia Sofia but without in-progress restoration as everything was already in great shape because the Blue Mosque is in much newer (early 1600s…hardly new). From the Blue Mosque we headed straight to the Basilica Cistern. There’s a fairly small and unassuming building where you buy tickets, 20 turkish lira each, and go through a metal detector before heading down the stairs. As we found out, a cistern is a holding place for water brought in via aquaduct. This cistern was built for the Great Palace of Constantinople in the 6th century. It’s dark with ilumination coming only from lights the bottoms of the columns. Along with the two foot deep water on the bottom it has a very cool eerie feel to it. The cistern was built from recycled columns from other buildings so they are kind of random and different from one another. At one end there are two Medusa heads supporting two columns, one sideways and other upside down.

Medusa Head
Medusa Head

There is also a column called Hen’s Eye with eyes and tears carved into it, supposedly to recognize the slaves who died in the building of the cistern. From there we caught a tram (a light rail system runs through the streets of Istanbul) to the Suleymaine Mosque. All the public transit we’ve been on the has been awesome, every 5-7 minutes and only costs 4 turkish lira (about $1.60) but the downside is they are always packed! No space to even breathe. The Suleymaine Mosque is visited by fewer tourists than the Blue Mosque but equally if not more intricate and beautiful. I really liked the fact that is was less busy and with no line to get in. They layout was remarkably similar.

Another intricate dome
Another intricate dome
Autumn checking out the mosque
Autumn checking out the mosque
The Suleymaine Mosque
The Suleymaine Mosque

We decided to squeeze one more site into our already full day and set off in search of the Grand Bazaar. After wandering through small, steep, winding roads that we are now becoming used to, we got to the area outside the Bazaar which is packed with shops, some only about 5 square feet of space for the shopkeeper to occupy, goods spilling out everywhere. We saw hundreds of fabric shops with anything you can think of and then ended up on a whole street of lingerie before finding our way into the Baazar. Imagine a mall in a building over 500 years old. The inside is just as hilly as the streets outside and even more packed. People are smoking everywhere and some parts are pretty dimly lit. It was overwhelming to say the least.

the grand bazaar
The Grand Bazaar

We finished the day up with some awesome Turkish pizza from around the corner from our hostel. While I’ve been writing this post we met some cool people staying at the hostel, au pairs from Austria and Peace Corps members from Moldova here in their time off. In the first two, days here a few things have stood out to me. One was seeing police standing around with fully automatic weapons, Autumn pointed out how many cats are always wandering in the streets here, and realizing how different it is to be somewhere with a very different language. Getting used to not understanding much of anything said around you and not being able to read most signs is pretty strange. One thing that has made the whole experience so much easier is how kind everyone has been. Even though sometimes people have no idea what we are saying and we are just as confused, people have been very helpful. After someone took our luggage cart when we looked away, an airport attendant got us two new ones for free. When we got lost on the trains a nice man explained in the English he knew how to get where we needed to go and the security at the train stations let us take our bikes on board even though they weren’t really supposed to. So far it’s been amazing and I can speak for us both in saying it has been a great way to start the trip.

Hard Labor

Yesterday we got back from our first real loaded trip. We packed up all our gear that we’ll have for the next 5 months and rode 60 miles out to Hard Labor Creek State Park. (Autumn would like to add that it was indeed hard labor.) The first day went pretty well. After a little bit of panic in the morning of thinking we wouldn’t able to fit everything, we got everything packed up and hit the road by 11 am.

Bikes all loaded up
Bikes all loaded up

It was pretty cold at the start but once we got going the temperature was okay. As usual, the roads getting out of the city were busy, and made for less than ideal riding, but eventually the roads mellowed out and became a lot more scenic.

Gum Creek Courthouse c.1888
Gum Creek Courthouse c.1888


With our late start and lower than anticipated speeds due to how much weight we had on the bikes, we arrived a bit after dark and had just enough time to get everything set up before the rain began.

Autumn as we near the end of the day
Autumn as we near the end of the day

The campsite was nice and very empty (I guess we’re the only ones dumb enough to go camping in late February with a forecast for rain the next day). We settled in and fell asleep to the sound of rain on the tent.

When we woke up it was wet and cold outside. It had rained all night but we were nice and dry in the tent. We broke camp and headed out. It was not raining hard, almost more of a heavy mist than rain but at 33 degrees on a bike you get cold pretty fast and within the first half hour, even with thick gloves, our hands were frozen. We had to stop somewhere to thaw out. 10 miles in we reached Social Circle and stopped to get coffee and warm up a little, unsure of how we could possibly deal with the current conditions all the way home. We texted my mom to see about meeting her in Lithonia, another 30 miles from Social Circle so as to save ourselves at least one hour of suffering. After all, 60 miles is well more than we are planning on riding on a typical day of our trip, especially with the weather we were riding in. We sat at Buckeyes restaurant for at least 30 or 40 minutes drinking coffee and eating johnny cakes  until we could feel our hands again and then headed out. It was immediately better, as if that stop was all we needed. The small town hospitality and slightly warmer temperatures turned our whole day around.

Misty fields
Misty fields

A bit after we left my mom called saying she was on her way to meet us, which we weren’t expecting at the time. She thought with the bad weather that was rolling in and the fact that we leave in 8 days, it wasn’t worth risking getting sick riding in the cold. So we only ended up riding about 22 miles total before getting picked up in Covington, but we made it through the worst of it and felt as if we certainly could have finished the day.

Despite the somewhat miserable conditions and a few challenges the test run went really well and showed us that we’re ready for this trip. Sure there will be a lot of hard days ahead of us, but we can manage just fine.

Note from Autumn:

I felt as though I had been cruelly pushed back 6 months. Back to when I had no idea what riding for extended periods of time was like, when riding 40 miles made my whole body ache. It seemed a little unfair. I didn’t train all those months simply to be back at the place I started.  I guess though, that when you add an extra 25 pounds (or possibly more) all at once, everything gets a whole lot more difficult. Then on day two, throw in some rain, near freezing temperatures, and an unwelcome visit from mother nature… I was about as miserable as I’ve ever been riding.

However, it is reassuring to know that we will never have days quite as bad as day two. We have rest days built in and we will ride longer days when it’s nice, giving us more flexibility when we need a day off. And really, after the coffee break Haegan mentioned (Folgers has never tasted so good), it really wasn’t all that bad. Here is what I have to add to my list of things I have learned:

– Hiking songs work for riding too

– Coffee actually does fix everything

– Quality coffee is completely relative

– The worst will pass eventually

Get this, do that, build a bike.

We’re getting close to actually leaving on this trip and there is a lot left to do. For starters I have to build myself a touring bike. I know in my head exactly how it will be down to every millimeter and every part, but it doesn’t exist yet, which two months out isn’t the most reassuring thing. But now that this will be my second frame I have a lot more confidence in the fact that I can get it done. After all, I have done it all before. We’ve finally got most of our stuff together for the trip which is good, just a few odds and ends to pick up. It’s still a good bit of work to get done in under 60 days but I think we will both manage.

It’s only now that I’ve really started to grasp how big of an undertaking it is to go from having never done any touring before to trekking through all of Europe in one go. There’s a lot to research and learning just on the touring side of things, but there’s also so much that goes into planning any trip of this length. Where do we go? How do we get there? What will it cost? Will we have enough time? There are a lot of question we’ve figured out and still more piling up yet to be answered.

So far our two biggest aspects of planning have been the route and legal stuff. Early in our planning we found out that our time in most of Europe is limited to just 90 days so we had to adjust our plan accordingly. At the time it seemed like a big problem, but it’s actually ended up being a pretty good thing. Having the limit to our time in Europe is letting us add a lot of other cool stuff to the trip by starting in Turkey and ending in Morocco. As soon as I started looking at what to see in Istanbul I realized that spending some of our time outside of Western Europe is going to be awesome. The more I look into it the more excited I get about the first leg of our trip. However, the time limit does make the planning bit more complex. Autumn has done an amazing job of figuring out how to get us through 12 countries stopping in 20 cities all in 90 days. You can check out the plan here. Leave us a comment or shoot us an email if you have any tips or know anyone along the way! It’s going to be a whirlwind of riding and trains but it looks like we’re going to make it.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about how different this trip is going to be from anything we’ve ever done. It’s a kind of abrupt transition from high school seniors to fending for ourselves in Europe. Moving out of your parents house is kind of a big deal, and moving into a tent in Europe isn’t going to make that transition much easier, but it will make it more exciting! I’m a little nervous about taking on full responsibility for my life but its going to happen sooner or later so why not all at once, right?

Note from Autumn:

We both knew it would happen, and we were right. Once we rung in the New Year (on opposite coasts), this trip suddenly became very close, and very tangible. I can’t say enough how excited I am, and now a little anxious too. A few weeks ago I spent an entire afternoon finalizing our tentative plans through the Schengen Zone. There’s a lot less biking than what would be ideal, but we both want to see as much of Europe as we can and still be alive when we reach Morocco.

As we start to really get into the planning we’ll posting more about training, preparation, packing lists, and thoughts on everything leading up until the trip.

Slowly Getting Faster

Unlike Haegan, I’m very new to cycling. That being said, it’s kind of crazy I agreed to do this trip mostly by bike. It’s only after riding more regularly that I have realized this. I used to have blind confidence that I could a bike through Europe for 5 months with 20 pounds of stuff attached to my bike. My confidence is no longer so blind, and although it has been a challenge, I am starting to see myself getting stronger and more comfortable on the bike.

Starting in October I’ve been following a training schedule that Haegan came up with for me. It’s taken me a little bit to get used to riding every day, but I’ve adjusted to it and am really starting to enjoy it. We kicked off my training by spending a week in Tennessee riding every day. Riding in Tennessee was great because the roads are long and open and much more scenic than Atlanta, a nice change. I hit some of my highest and lowest points on the bike during that week. At times I felt so exhausted I didn’t think I would finish the ride. At other times I was so elated I couldn’t stop laughing. My biggest accomplishment though was riding 63 miles in one day. I have never felt less human than I did after that ride, but it was inspiring to realize that I can ride that far, and that it will only get easier. The week in Tennessee made the trip feel real. I now have a sense of what I’m working towards, and that is perhaps the biggest motivator.

While in Tennessee I discovered that while being able to ride long distances is important, it is equally important to be comfortable and confident on my bike. I also discovered that of the two, I struggle more with the latter. A few weeks before we went to Tennessee we had gone on a trail ride the morning after it had rained. I slipped and fell three times, each time becoming less confident in my ability to handle my bike. It wasn’t until Haegan set up a mini cross course that I realized how scared of my bike I’d become. Going down small hills and seeing inconsistencies in the ground caused me to panic. I knew I had nothing to fear, I’d fallen in the grass plenty of times. I was still convinced that any loss of balance would cause my bike to hurl me into the ground. Eventually, I got it. Haegan helped me rediscover my ability to put my foot on the ground, an act that magically stopped me from falling. He also showed me that if I lost my balance for a second, I could easily shift my weight to regain control. This all may sound silly, but in my panic I had forgotten the simple stuff. At the end of that day, I rode the cross course for 30 minutes, each lap faster than the last, and on my last lap I finally conquered the narrow, steep hill I had been running up before. I couldn’t stop smiling after that, especially thinking of how the day had started. I found my confidence again, and although riding off road still intimidates me, I have a better sense of the control I have.

It’s been about a month since the Tennessee trip, and training has been good. At times difficult to start, and sometimes it’s just boring. Sometimes though, I can really tell it has paid off. Last Friday, Haegan and I rode 47 miles. The last 10 or so miles were cold with light rain, weather we were not dressed for. I didn’t feel exhausted, I had enough energy to go longer, and it was my fastest ride to date. This was a huge accomplishment for me. The first time I rode 45 miles I could barely move by the end. Everything hurt and I rode only fast enough to keep balanced. During the training week in Tennessee I rode 45 miles for the second time, and although it was better than the first, I definitely hit the wall a few times. So last Friday, I finally started feeling like I was really making progress, like biking 45 miles three days in a row won’t kill me. That’s a pretty good feeling. That ride also allowed me to admit that the previous 45 mile rides were hard, painful, and not all that fun. In an effort to keep myself motivated, I didn’t want to think negatively at the time. This is not all to say that I’ve reached my goal, but that it’s starting to get easier and whole lot more fun.

So, on my ride today, I was thinking about what I’ve learned in my not so literally fast paced three months of riding. There are a lot, but here are a few:

Going on rides without food is always a bad idea.                                              I like hills alright, but I hate wind.                                                                     Yelling is fun and helps pushing through a tough bit.                        Singing out loud (and loudly) while riding is surprisingly difficult and so satisfying.

I think the most important thing I’ve learned so far though is that progress is slow. I’m not a patient person by nature, which is probably why I’ve never been very successful at any other sports until cycling. Having someone to ride with is more helpful than any equipment or weather or route. I probably wouldn’t have starting riding without Haegan, at least not this early, and I probably wouldn’t have gotten this far without him. Sometimes I just need someone to tell me that I am in fact making progress, or someone to tell how miserable I am, or how fantastic I feel. Most all it’s nice to have company. With someone to talk to, the hard parts are easier and the easy parts are more fun.

Follow me on

Note from Haegan:

I know that going from hardly riding a bike to touring across Europe in less than a year sounds like a lot, but Autumn’s going to have no problems. She’s made so much progress in just the past 3 months that I have no doubts that she’ll be ready to go come March. For me, it’s awesome to be able to share something that I enjoy doing so much with someone who I enjoy being around so much. It’s pretty ideal. Since I won’t be racing next year and don’t have the structured training that I’ve been so used to for the past 3 years. Instead of doing workouts, I’m planning them, but seeing the progress Autumn is making is almost as rewarding as making it myself. It’s cool to watch someone go through basically the same process I went through when I started riding and it’s amazing to see, from the outside, how quickly the “slow progress” really happens. I’m excited to have someone to ride with me all winter and I can tell that Autumn will be ready in no time.

Autumn’s Bike

As you might guess, in order to ride your bike across Europe you need to have a bike. You could probably do it on any old bike, but being the bike nerd that I am, that was out of the question for us.

We’re going to be spending a lot of time using these bikes so I wanted to make sure everything was just right. For the past 2 years I’ve been an apprentice to Seth Snyder of Snyder Cycles and I decided to build Autumn a bike from scratch rather than get a stock touring bike. Over the past eight months or so I went from a bunch of pieces of metal to this.

IMG_1949.JPG It was unpainted for a while before I powder coated it the color Autumn picked, Winter Mint.

This is the first frame I have built and I learned a ton in the process. I went into my apprenticeship with no real metalworking knowledge and now have built an entire bike, and helped to build a bunch of others. Being my first, it has its quirks and it isn’t perfect, but it rides nicely and does what it’s supposed to so I can’t complain. If I were going to do it again it would have room for bigger tires, possibly 650b wheels and no toe overlap, but you live and learn. It’s incredibly satisfying to design and build something from scratch that is useful and will last for a lifetime. This winter I will be working on another similar frame for myself to take on tour.

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Here’s some info about the build for those of you who care to know.
The frame is fillet brazed True Temper steel tubing with a 51.5cm top tube, tall head tube, clearance for 35mm tires or 32’s with fenders and internal routing for the chainstay mounted disc brake.The fork is an All City painted to match.

The bike is built with SRAM Apex and TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes. The cranks are Sugino OX601s geared at 26/40 with an 11-32 cassette for a nice low-end range. The wheels are CR18s with Shimano SLX hubs and 32 spokes laced 3 cross rear and 2 cross front.

Autumn has already logged over 500 miles on the bike since September getting ready for the trip (and it hasn’t fallen apart yet…) There have been and probably still will be a few small changes before we leave (racks, bags, fenders, Brooks saddle, etc), but for the most part this is the bike that will carry her across Europe.

Note from Autumn:

It’s so pretty. I can’t tell you about the technical stuff, but I love this bike. I love that with this bike Haegan has taught me more about bikes than I ever thought I would need to know. I love that he’s showed me how to be a cyclist on this bike, and I think I’m getting better at it. I love that I got see the process of how it was made, every step from the sketches to the final product. I love knowing that this is the bike I’ll be seeing Europe on. What I really love though, is that Haegan made it. The act itself is incredibly flattering and I’m still in a bit of disbelief. I really don’t have words to describe my gratitude, awe, and admiration. He’s a pretty cool guy, with a pretty cool skill. I guess he’s worth keeping around 🙂