TOURING IN TANDEM
The bottom line was we were on a tandem stubbornly inching our way towards Istanbul. We were in the middle of nowhere. The kind of place where bicycles rarely venture, never mind a tandem towing a trailer. The backdrop looked like it had been lifted out of one of Serge Leones masterpieces and that Clint could pop up at any moment. The earth was flat and barren, with only the odd rock or shrub poking out of the rusty surface. It was also windy. Damn windy.
I had been piloting the 3 metre rig up an incline into the wind for several hours. Kevin was the stoker. It was getting close to midday and we were in search of a place to eat that was out of the incessant wind. As we crested the rise I saw a small plantation a long way off. I estimated to myself that it would be a couple of hours before we could take solace in the trees. Such was the slowness of our progress. Despite the conditions, at this pace the riding was enjoyable even if it was slow. I was content in the knowledge that we had food and water on board and that there was sanctuary ahead. There was ample time to let my mind wander...
The journey had begun in England some two months earlier. For reasons known only to ourselves, we had decided to leave in September and thus we duly received a baptism by rain as we crossed the Pennines. Our apprenticeship had been well and truly been served. Conversely Holland and Germany were a tourers' paradise. It was flat and sunny. Weather reports had a spell of bad weather following us South. Fortunately, we were a few days ahead of it all. I had the mental picture of us surfing the good weather and riding the wave of sun all of the way south without the bad weather breaking on us. Hmmm, no such luck.
We had no specific route planned. Just south. In the absence of any divine intervention we decided to follow the fold of the map to the bottom of the page. It seemed as good an idea as any. As it turned out, if we had folded the map differently, maybe only a centimetre one way or the other, we wouldn't have joined the N62 and had to climb to one of the highest points in Belgium. That said, we wouldn't have been bought the most palatable chicken supreme, chips and beer by a retired Yorkshire couple for our efforts. What goes around comes around.
Random, our new nickname for the tandem, started making all of the wrong noises in Luxembourg and collapsed in Nancy, France, complaining of cracked rims. We duly replaced the rims but this marked the beginning of a catalogue of mechanicals that would plague us everyday from now on. To make matters worse the sun was running out.
The wave of bad weather eventually broke and crashed down on us at 5.00 am in Italy. It was at roughly the same time that I discovered that my bivvi bag was in fact not waterproof, that all of my clothes were soaked and that Random had mysteriously suffered another mechanical during the night. Still we'd had it good up to this point. What goes around comes around.
We limped into Greece and decided to chill out and recover on Hios. It proved to be a much needed respite where we all regrouped. Random, Kevin and myself. With renewed vigour we boarded the ferry to Cesme, Turkey.
We slowly approached the plantation, our refuge from the wind. 'At last' I thought to myself. We took shelter and immediately started devouring our lunch. Life felt good. As ever on this journey, good was inevitably followed by bad. What goes around comes around, I guess. Unfortunately, Randoms' wheels had gone round for their last time. It was during this fateful lunch stop that we discovered a crippling crack in the rear top tube which had inched down the seat tube rendering Random unrideable.
It was an uneventful way to end the journey. But as I watched Random get smaller and disappear in to the distance from the rear window of a bus, I had no regrets. Well maybe only one: if only we'd folded the map differently!