The King of Every Kingdom Around the world on a very small motorcycle
With J. Peter “The Bear” Thoeming
Last we arrived in Athens, now a bit more of Greece, and then off into the wild wonders of Turkey. Few countries in the world have more interesting people.
We set up camp, bought some wine and sat around feeling miserable. The next day we had trouble at the bank and begrudged the Bulgarians their extortionate fee for a 30-hour visa. A pall descended that wasn’t broken until the Mols arrived, grinning from ear to ear.
Michel and Cathy had left London in the cold and drizzling rain, and had had much the same weather until southern Germany, when the snow had started. On the autobahn to Austria, they had been riding through snowdrifts and had camped in them in Salzburg.
Finally out of the heavy weather on the Yugoslav coast, they had had a slight argument with a large pointed rock which had bent their front rim and flattened the tyre. Michel had bashed the wheel back into shape with his axe, replaced the tube and they’d ridden on. And they were cheerful when they arrived in Athens!
We rolled out the plastic jug of retsina and sat down for a little party. It was good to see them again. The hangovers in the morning were something to behold, except for Annie. She’s the only person I know who knows her limit – most of the time anyway. We packed up rather gingerly and then flew up the motorway. None of the speed traps were interested in us.
The strain of keeping up with the R100 S showed on the Yamaha’s worn-out shock absorbers, and I wallowed around the corners the BMW was taking in style.
The weather was deteriorating again, but we got away from it by spending a couple of days on Thasos. This island is less than an hour from the mainland by ferry and specialises in honey and having its roads sink into the sea. It’s a pretty, pine-covered place and has a good campsite as well as miles of coastline suitable for free camping.
We had a barbecue on the beach, using a suntan lotion shop display rack as a griddle, and sank a few beers. Then it was time for a run around the island, checking out the sunken roads – there were several places where you could have gone skindiving without leaving the saddle – and back to the mainland.
On the way up to Alexandropoulis, over those pretty mountain roads, a police car came the other way around a corner while I was way over the centre line – they didn’t bat an eye as I corrected and drew sparks from my centre stand.
The rack on the XS had developed a couple of cracks in North Africa when we had overloaded it so badly, and these were getting worse. Reluctantly, I decided we wouldn’t be able to carry spare petrol in Turkey.
We had another game of hunt-the-gas bottle for our little cooker. You can buy the cartridges everywhere, and you can generally buy large caravan-size bottles, but the little ones are hard to find. A kindly German-speaking cab driver finally took us around the town looking for one, for free, and found it.
A knowledge of German is invaluable in Greece and Turkey, as so many people have worked in Germany. Our cab driver, for instance, had saved enough money while working there to buy his cab, which he had then driven home to Turkey.
The road to the border was indifferent and the service on the Greek side quick if not exactly courteous. The Turks were working at their usual pace – dead slow – and held us up for a while, but at least there weren’t any Customs searches.
The road down towards Gallipoli was initially quite good and for a while I thought we were in the wrong country, but it soon deteriorated, and the Mols took flying lessons on a tricky humpbacked bridge. We had lunch there and a German couple, he on an XS1100, she on a CX500, stopped and told us that a few years earlier they had managed to get a 2CV Renault airborne on that bridge.
We had intended to have a look at the site of the infamous Gallipoli landings of the First Great Unpleasantness, but couldn’t find any cliffs that looked likely. Later we found out that the landings hadn’t been at Gallipoli at all, but on the other side of the peninsula. No wonder it was a disaster.
The ferry to Canakkale in Asia Minor had just left when we arrived at the wharf – it was only running intermittently due to a diesel shortage – so we were facing a three-and-a-half hour wait. A man at the wharf told us about a local ferry that ran from a place a little farther down the coast; I wish he hadn’t tried to help.
This local ferry was a mildly converted fishing boat, with extremely flimsy water pipe rails and nothing to tie the bikes to. We shared it with a defunct tractor and a van, and it was so crowded that the bikes were right on the edge. We hung onto them for grim death all the way across the Dardanelles. It would have taken only one largish wave…
Past rows of closed campsites – the season hadn’t started in Turkey – we rode to Troy for a look at the ruins. The place is quite a mess. Apparently there are numerous Troys, one above the other, and it’s all a bit of a chore sorting it out.
It is very impressive, though, to see several thousand years of civilization in a few yards of hillside. You’ll be glad to know that the wooden horse is still there. You can even climb up inside and play Greeks and Trojans.
On the way back to the main road, a kid lobbed a rock at us. My feelings about this kind of thing hadn’t changed since the last time it had happened, in Afghanistan. I turned around and went back with the motor on the red line in first. The kid ran as though all the demons in hell were after him, and I guess the big Yamaha sounded a bit like that.
I caught him and gave him a dressing down in front of his mates. A bit self-righteous, maybe, but if it stops him and his friends from throwing stones at other bikes it will have been worth it. So there.
Lots of pretty hill country then, and for the night a tiny campsite marked ‘Kampink-Piknik’. It was quite idyllic, but they’d run out of beer. I guess no place is ever perfect.
The BBC World Service news on my little short-wave radio was cheerful and informed us that three people had died in political shootings in Turkey during the day and that a military coup was starting. I’m glad to say that nobody has ever shot at me – well, not for a good long time, anyway – and nobody shot at any of us in Turkey.
I told the manager of the campsite about the military coup, and he said he hadn’t heard about it and anyway who cared. Next morning we had to search for a while before finding a petrol station that would sell us juice, not because there was a shortage of petrol but because the electricity was off. Not all stations have hand pumps.
At one place we looked like being out of luck when three Italian campervans pulled in behind us. A bevy of bikini-clad young women exploded from the vans, and all of a sudden petrol was available after all, even if it had to be pumped by hand.
The road to Izmir reminded me of Greece. As soon as you got into the town limits, the tar stopped and the gravel started. After Izmir we were on the main road again and diced with the buses and trucks down past Ephesus to the coast at Kusadasi.
The town is a port of call for many of the cruise liners that ply the Mediterranean and prices in town go up between 100 and 2000 per cent whenever ships are in port. We learnt to do our shopping after they had left.
There were some attractive bike leathers for sale here and I was tempted, but they weren’t all that much cheaper than in Britain, and you get after-sales service in Britain. We lay in the sun for a bit, and I bolted the stays from the top box onto the bike frame instead of the rack. Not quite so elegant, but it put less strain on the cracks.
Going inland, we followed the country lanes for a while, riding through the little villages dozing in the sun, before we returned to the main road and the traffic. At Pamukkale, an area of hot springs and calcium deposits that turn whole hillsides white with dozens of stepped warm pools, we camped in a tiny site with a large pool. The pool was bigger than the camping area.
Our host was a keen man after a buck, as a lot of Turks are (and you can’t blame them), and we had a classic run-in with him. Michel priced the beer, an essential step if you don’t want to find yourself with an enormous bill. He was quoted 40 lire for a bottle. We both hit the roof, as 30 is considered expensive, and our genial host backpedaled rapidly. ‘Oh, you want the beer for drinking! That’s only 30.’
The beer for drinking wasn’t bad, and almost drowned out the frogs during the night. But our bikes kept lying down.
After years spent faffing around with old Harleys, The Bear rode a Honda XL250 around the world and then decided he might as well keep writing about bikes. Three books and endless magazines later he now spends his time looking for those special bike roads.
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