The King of Every Kingdom Around the world on a very small motorcycle
With J. Peter “The Bear” Thoeming
Last we settled down Pamukkale, to the chirping of the frogs, now we make a beeline to Bulgaria, and answer the age old question of, ‘Can you repair a BMW with a pair of truck tyre levers?’ Yes you can.
The frogs in the pool did their best to keep us awake and there was an attempt to short-change us in the morning, but other than that, Pamukkale was a pleasant place. On the way out of town the clutch on the BMW started slipping quite badly, but Michel adjusted it up as far as possible and managed to make the bike rideable.
The road we had selected to take us back to the coast was marked as ‘stabilised’ beyond the little town of Kale on our map. In Kale, we stopped for a glass of tea and Annie and Cathy were the only women in the tea house. No-one appeared to be concerned. We donned rain gear, and the locals tried to dissuade us from going on. ‘Rocks this big and mud that deep!’ they said.
They were right, too. ‘Stabilised’ turned out to mean deep, gluey mud and we lasted a little more than a mile before deciding it wasn’t for us. That road was 56 miles long!
Our alternative was better, and a filling lunch of kofte (meatballs) and beans was enlivened by a conversation with a couple of bank tellers, who were delighted to exercise their English. They told us that petrol prices had doubled in the previous month. We still thought it cheap.
On the road down through the ranges, Michel suddenly pulled over to the left and stopped. I followed, put the side stand down – and the bike fell over on the slope. The stand had broken through the tar, and the bike tipped, spilling Annie and me off – right under the back wheel of the BMW. Now Michel had pulled over because he thought he smelled something burning.
His first thought, therefore, when I dived under the back of his bike, was that I was putting out a fire. So he dived off as well, also ready to extinguish the blaze. Confusion reigned for a minute until we had it all sorted out, the XS back on its wheels and Michel reassured that the R100 wasn’t about to go up in smoke.
Annie then saved the day by producing the brandy flask. Those Vetter fairings really are good – better than any crashbar – and there’s room for a brandy flask in the pocket. There wasn’t a scratch on the XS.
We found a campsite out at Kemer, past Antalya – it was free because the season hadn’t started (‘No, no’, said the site manager, that meant only that he couldn’t charge us, not that we couldn’t stay; in fact he turned on the hot water for the showers) – and we did a bit more lying around in the sun, as well as going for a run down the coast to Kas.
This stretch was as pretty as ever with its steep, pine-covered hills and empty beaches. The road that was being built when Charlie and I had come through here a year and a half before was already disintegrating.
The Yamaha handled the potholes and gravel noticeably better than the BMW, despite the stuffed shocks. The BMW also had a flat tyre on the morning of our departure. Nothing to do with Turkey, this was an after-effect of the encounter with the rock in Yugoslavia. The tyre had sustained a slight split on the inside, and this had been plucking away at the tube, finally tearing it. I’ll say this for BMW, they supply an excellent pump.
After another ethnic lunch at Antalya, we rolled east along the rather featureless coast. In Anamur, the bikes were parked on an embankment above the market square while we did some shopping, but suddenly a gust of wind caught the BMW and flipped it onto its side. The bike landed right on the edge of the embankment, slipped over and crashed down a foot and a half onto its back on concrete. Then it tipped onto its side. Almost a complete somersault.
At first it looked as though the only damage was a broken mirror and a cracked fairing, but when we tried to ride away the back tyre was rubbing against the guard. The fall had bent the rear frame loop.
Fortunately, another campsite presented itself just down on the beach. When the owner realised that we were having problems with the bike, he told us his friend had the tools to fix that, and would be around in the morning. He then invited us to dinner and drinks.
A thoroughly drunken night followed: we tried to teach our host some Australian songs (no, no, once a jolly swagman…); he recited a great deal of poetry, we did some dancing; there were drunken protestations of eternal friendship; and in an incredibly badly judged display of helpfulness I gave two guys a lift home high into the hills on the big Yammie – both of them on the back at the same time on single track paths alongside irrigation canals.
After I delivered them I had no idea where I was. Well, actually I knew where I was. I just didn’t know where anywhere else was. I navigated by the lights of the town down by the water.
Annie misjudged the strength of the spirits and went to sleep in my lap when I finally got back, and what eventually saved us was the nearby shop running out of raki. We had to switch to the considerably less alcoholic beer. I’ve seldom had such a good time.
We ‘repaired’ the R100S in the morning with the special tools our drinking buddy’s friend had – a couple of enormous crowbars – took a look at the marvelous Crusader castle while our hangovers abated and then tackled the cliff road east. This is a great run through stunning country, made less pleasant only by the lumbering timber trucks.
We had trouble keeping up with the flying Mols as the BMW’s handling came into its own on the tar. Camp was at the BP Mocamp that Charlie and I had disliked so heartily on the previous occasion. Everyone wanted a shower. The place was still as expensive and the staff as rude as before, but at least the water was hot.
Then on to Mersin, where a tractor tried to run Michel off the road, and up through the Cilician Gates to the Anatolian Plateau. The dual carriageway claimed by our map turned out to be sheer optimism—all they’d done was make the old road less passable with their road works.
The Rock House Hotel at Goreme was closed, perhaps because it was still early in the season, so we went to ‘Paris’ Camping instead, which not only had hot showers but free gas cookers and tables and chairs. A few days passed pleasantly enough with sightseeing and clambering in and out of stone houses, and we changed the rear tyre on the XS without any of the problems experienced by the bike shop in France. Well, getting the bead on the tyre to pop properly wasn’t easy with only a hand pump, but the security bolts gave no trouble at all.
We climbed to the top of the stone fortress at Uchisar, and one of the town urchins chased us all the way up to sell us a guide book. Unfortunately, he’d gone by the bikes – full German registration on the Yamaha and German tax-free registration on the BMW – and had brought the German guidebook instead of the English one; a wasted climb.
On the way to Ankara via Kirsehir everything was green again. The fields and meadows were feeling the spring even here on the high plateau. Crossing an embankment, the Mols hit a pothole and bombed the unsuspecting peasants below with one of their panniers – the Krauser came off the bike, bounced along the road and then dived down into the fields, but there was no damage beyond a few scratches.
Now you know why BMW riders with old Krauser panniers always have straps around them. The main road to Ankara hadn’t improved since I’d last travelled it and we had to contend with long stretches of gravel and dirt. The Ankara campground had taken down its sign, but I remembered where it was and we managed to wake the guard.
Although my old friend Rochester had gone, we were still not allowed to camp on the grass, just like old times. When we went off to do a little shopping, we discovered that a kilo of onions cost the same as six bottles of beer. There’s a moral there somewhere.
It was back out into the grey air and heavy traffic of Ankara in the morning. Martial law was in operation, every corner had its soldiers, and at strategic intersections there were rows of tanks. The tank crews were really taken with the bikes and waved enthusiastically as we passed. We waved back, of course. Of course!
Suddenly the BMW started to lose oil rapidly, and it didn’t take long to find out why. The sump was gradually lowering itself on its bolts and spitting out oil. Michel tightened it, making ominous comments about Turkey and BMWs. Then we were off to do battle with the traffic on the Istanbul road.
The less said about this run the better – we were forced off the road once each and didn’t really enjoy it. The first tanks at the outskirts of Istanbul were actually a welcome sight, and when we stopped the crew of one of them insisted on giving us cigarettes. Soon afterwards, we rolled over the toll bridge back into Europe.
We located the most convenient camping ground, set up the tents and ducked off to town for dinner; I took the others to the little kebab bar Charlie and I had found, where the food was as good as ever.
We resealed the sump on the R100 S with liquid gasket and I put the stays from the top box back into their proper place on the rack. I thought we were through the worst of the roads; little did I know.
After the obligatory rounds of sightseeing, which are more worthwhile in Istanbul than in most places, we raided the Grand Bazaar. It sells everything from everywhere – all at negotiable prices. Never believe what the merchants tell you, just dig in and enjoy it.
They have some beautiful things – I bought Annie a miniature painting on ivory (yes, I know, ivory – but it was clearly quite old and the elephant would have died a long time ago) and myself a pipe, an eagle’s claw carved out of meerschaum.
The radio featured marvelous selections from sixties and seventies rock as well as classical music, and we played a chess championship. I won! But only because all the others were even more beginners than I. An idyllic existence, despite martial law and shootings.
Then the Mols were off again to southern Greece and the sun, carrying with them our Scrabble set as a farewell gift. We turned our wheels towards Bulgaria and then home.
The trip had lasted over six months by this stage and we were quite happy to have it end. A tour has a sort of natural lifespan, although most people have to get back to work before it runs for that long. The lifespan of our tour was coming to an end, and it was time to let it die gracefully.
Turkey was pretty interesting. That was nothing compared to the Eastern Bloc, though!
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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