Cycling to Kenya. part 4. A Fairytale arrival
A pimply road ran straight East to the point of Europe. Trucks vibrated past with a friendly beep that was starting to get annoying and I pedaled with intent to reach the place I'd thought of for what felt a while. In the long three months since riding out of Bruges, as well as in the dreamy months of saving and map gazing before I left home, I had wondered if I would make it this far.
A juddering through the handle bars popped my enthusiasm - I looked down to see rubber squishing over the rim of the wheel. Light was fading, I huffed, never mind, call it a day. I dragged Allen off the road and down into a grassy ditch and with no other option I settled there for the night. The road roared on above, constant like a river and I fixed a puncture under sprouting stars.
A sign slipped past, my eyes so bound to the tarmac I barely noticed. I snapped my head around to catch it: 'ISTANBUL 40 KM'. What a feeling it is to arrive in the city after weeks on the road - a bed, shower, good food, clean clothes, time off the bike, time being still. But this wasn't just any moment in any city.
Since beginning in Belgium with weedy legs and flustered camps, I had formed slightly different after solo time on the road. Cycling all day wasn't as draining anymore and finding a different home every night didn't worry me so much. I always found somewhere and the morning always came. I didn't need anything, just a bike and the few things strapped to it, wherever I went in the world and I loved that feeling.
Apart from a quick chai stop I'd been riding fast since sunrise at a speed I'd call 'late for work' speed. Except this wasn't twenty minutes down the road, this was a hundred kilometers down the shoulder of a highway that blared with a broken orchestra of machine monsters. I had to hit a wall at some point.
An angry black-eye in the sky screwed and churned above the city-mountain rising ahead down the long road. Buildings seemed to jostle to fit and settle as I rotated nearer and the streets fell murky under its dark choppy roof. A mess of nosing vehicles joined together like a moving jigsaw and I wheeled through momentary gaps between bumpers, through the beeps and cheeky grins glowing in open windows and on into the city. I'd made it. The dam of adrenaline that held back the pain all day broke and burst as I sat over a kebab, my thighs gargling like a hot stream. And then the rain began gently and I rode on tenderly to find a room.
Five hours later I leant on the reception desk of a hotel mid-haggle. Puddles grew at my feet and I wore a strained smile under my best puppy dog eyes like a display. Circling the streets for hours in a cold downpour had left me weary and shivering and after losing my bank card a week earlier, the pocket of soggy cash I had left was to stretch the next few days. And in the ribbons of slippery streets I rode between hotels looking for one I could afford, and I was getting desperate - 'Maybe I should curl up behind those bins there?'- and again I rode on into the rain, falling deeper adrift into the maze of street lights and rippling black puddles.
The world feels different in the morning and after an awkward bill settle I pushed on down shiny cobbles and cheerful streets. At a sharp peak I looked across the rolling square roofs to the Bosphorous channel in the distance, still miles away. And in all those hours in the rain, I was merely circling the outskirts, lost in the far roots of the city.
Having a map would have solved every problem, but mumbling and fumbling through one panic to another is how it worked for me. Learning the hard way.
And I had learned on the road: Every disaster will one day be a memory. Every long night will have a morning. And every long road will have an end. Or if not, follow it until it takes you home again.