Turkey. Without a Plan


by | May 14, 2019

May 8, 2019

“…talk about the road behind, how getting lost is not a waste of time…”

Jack Johnson from “What You Thought You Need”

Shortly before 5 a.m., the morning call to prayer jars me from my otherwise listless slumber. I’m tired. I’m laying in bed in a fancy hotel room in Adana, a city of 1.7 million people, less than 20 miles north of the Mediterranean Sea. I slept horribly, likely from a potent cocktail of the all night street noise of being in Turkey’s 5th largest city combined with the ubiquitous smell of cigarette smoke that wafted through the vents into my room all night. My stomach is a mess and has been for longer than I care to remember. I’m still tired from Morocco. Maybe I should just go back to Colorado. My list of excuses and complaints seem to be multiplying effortlessly and I can feel my mind careening dangerously over a slippery icy ledge. A general malaise coats me, almost like an anesthetic. Two days prior, I was in the mountains, but now I’m here and I’m just not into it.

It would be so easy to just jump on a plane and go home. As a westerner with the financial means, that is always an option regardless of whatever situation I find myself in. But then what? Rolling through small mountain villages all over the world, and now Turkey, I have seen a simple side to life. People doing what they need to do in order to just get by. I desperately want the people that I meet to see me as one of them, just a guy, traveling simply, on a bicycle. I try to blend in and be one of them, but I’ll never be. I’m privileged and there’s no disguising it. “How much does your bike cost?” I’m asked continually.  I lie and tell them it was a gift and was cheap, but they know that it wasn’t.  People look at me, some with bewilderment, others with exuberance, and still those with ambivalence as they go about their day and their life. I know that for the people that I’m meeting along the way, there is no “Plan B” – no plane to catch if they don’t like the situation. This is their life.  So instead, I make a conscious effort to dissolve my lack of enthusiasm and be present. To stay in it and not simply run away when things don’t go my way, and vanquish the concept of a “Plan B”.

I’ve learned that the hardest part of any new endeavor in life, whether it’s a trip, new job, or relationship, is just taking that first initial step. Motion creates emotion. That morning, I shook out the cobwebs in my head, and motivated to drag myself out of bed, threw open the curtains and then packed up – my sites set on the mountains of Aladaglar National Park. I know that in life, whenever I need a reset, I find it in the mountains.

The name “ala-daglar” (crimson-mountains) comes from the rusty color of its hills in the sunset. Aladaglar National Park, also called the Alps of Turkey, hosts the tallest mountains of the Central Taurus Mountain region with peaks such as Demirkazik (12,322 ft) and Kizilkaya (12,372 ft). Sure, along the way in my travels I’ve seen gaudy peaks that arrogantly look down, seemingly denouncing me, audaciously bragging at their intimidating size. But this place is something different. These jagged snow capped spears explode out of the emerald green fields laced with newly blossoming apple trees, rocketing towards the crystal clear blue sky, daring, almost taunting me to come closer.

I threw a leg over my faithful kermit green colored Surly bicycle, and once I took that first step (or pedal), everything started to make sense again. I crested the first mountain pass with the wind at my back and the sun shining on my face. And just like that, I was back. I felt my lungs expand and my pulse slow. I was once again calm. My earlier paralyzing anxiety and excuses benignly melted away like the melting snow cascading down the peaks that I was cycling; and like spring, bringing with it renewed life and optimism. I remember this feeling.

Shortly before noon, I arrived in the small mountain village of Camardi (pronounced “chah MAR duh”). Spring time in the mountains always translates into variable weather. Over the snowy peak of Demirkazik, wrathful grey clouds were gathering. There was a storm brewing and at this altitude, bringing with it the likelihood of snow. After scoffing down 2 Turkish doners, I asked the restaurant owner if he knew a place where I could sleep for the night. In thus far typical Turkish hospitality, he grabbed my arm, walked me across the dusty street, leaving my bike behind (“No problem,” he waved to me regarding the security of my bike) while stepping over several sleeping dogs who were enjoying an afternoon nap in the middle of the quiet road, and handed me off to someone else. They exchanged some quick words in Turkish before I was handed over to another man with his hands full, carrying supplies to the shop he owned. Isa is 46, about 5’7” with a sturdy build, strong jaw line, and a firm handshake. He looks like I what I would expect a Turkish man in his 40’s would look like.  Underneath this chiseled exterior lied a warm smile that put me at ease. He owns a small shop that is not any more unique than any of the other small shops I have seen throughout Turkey. He sells soda, juice, nuts, tahina, sweets, milk, biscuits, cigarettes, and the rest of the other common staples in Turkey. The shop is maybe 100 sf with every inch, floor to ceiling, strategically optimized, with a space on the wall for a TV that is blaring Champion’s League football highlights. “Cay?” inquired Isa. “Yes!” I beamed, realizing that it’s only my 3rd tea of the day. Tea is definitely a customary experience in Turkey. Meals, meetings, or just simple social engagements – everything starts and ends with a tea. Isa puts a piece of wood in the small metal box which functions as his heating source and hands me my hot beverage. The storm is invading this small valley quickly as the temperature begins to dive. “You know Warm Showers?” Isa inquires, as I still do not know where I’m sleeping this evening, the daunting storm creeping in and making me anxious. “Yes, the person who started it lives down the street from me in Boulder,” I excitedly responded back, clearly way too quickly for Isa’s minimal English to digest. My face is still caked with salt from the 3000 ft climb to reach his small mountain town.  I could see in his face that this many words simply bounced off. Warm Showers is a home sharing network similar to AirBnB but is however geared toward bike travelers, the goal being for the host to give a weary traveler (typically for free) a bed to sleep in, and a warm shower. After some abbreviated charades, Isa took me next door, up some stairs and showed me to my room, complete with a hot shower, dinner, and breakfast.

I dropped my bags, Isa took my bike around the corner to his storage garage, and we went across the street to an event at his daughter’s school. Evidently, I was now with the mayor of Camardi, as each street we crossed, people came up to Isa with a beaming smile, some quick words in Turkish, and a traditional Turkish handshake. It’s similar to France but instead of a kiss on alternate cheeks, men tap the opposite sides of their heads together – right temple to right temple then left temple to left temple. I like it. It conveys a true kindness.

The school was having a fundraiser, stocked with boundless smiles…and of course great food, sweets, and definitely Turkish tea. One young boy named Mustafa, who claimed to know English, immediately latched on to me. He was probably 14, my height, but stocky, with wavy brown hair, and an innocent, happy-with-life kinda smile. Mustafa had an innate gravity about him that made people feel comfortable. He struck me as the class clown and took great pride in personally walking me around to all the tables and offering me samples. Every time I reached in my pocket to pay for something, he swatted my hand away. Pretty quickly on, I figured out the only words in English that he actually knew were, “My name is…”. Each student that we passed, he would point to them and say, “My name is…(and fill in their name)”, and almost on cue, those students would immediately light up into a sunny smile, and in some cases, mostly with the girls, they would giggle and hide their face in embarrassment.

Back at Isa’s building, he showed me to the shower room. Isa pulled out a match and lit the pilot for the water heater. Ten minutes later, I had a hot shower, followed shortly after by dinner. I put on my down jacket and zipped myself up in my down sleeping bag. It was 38F outside, as I listened to the raging storm, angrily lashing buckets of rain down, thankful that I was in a dry, yet unheated room, instead of caught on a mountain pass in an inevitable spring blizzard.

“Why do you travel?” I was asked by Isa, and so many people that I have met over the past 3 years. Is it for the beauty? “YES. And this is the beauty,” as I attempted to convey my passion. Sure, the mountains that I cross are inspiring, but it’s this. Three years ago I identified something that I began calling the human experience. It has been the primary driving ambition for my travels.  It pertains to the routine, yet unique interactions with people that I have met along the way.  I have been curious to see if this simple kindness that was offered to me in countless situations was a common inherent thread that transcended country borders or rather just something unique to a certain region. What I found was that each place that I have been, I have been met with a same genuine kindness and generosity, without ulterior financial motivation, but rather just because.  Thus far, Turkey has been no different.

The next morning, I arose rested and inspired to experience more of the Taurus mountains and the Turkish culture. Unfortunately as I suspected, the lashing rains that came down last night in Camardi at 6,500 ft, were indeed piles of prohibitive snow at any place even slightly higher, especially over the 11,000 ft passes that I planned to cross. It was already a long and heavy winter in the Taurus mountains with snow, and this latest deposit made any of those passes unapproachable. Throughout the day, I was stopped in my tracks and turned back on 3 separate occasions, forcing me each time to search for another slightly lower route through the mountains. Any dirt path or road that I embarked on was coated in what I call mutant mud. It is essentially a sticky clay, such that within 2-3 revolutions of my wheel plowing through it, enough of this slop would cling to my tires, seizing them up, and preventing them from rolling. I’ve seen this drudge bond to chains and subsequently snap rear derailleurs off the frame. Scraping it off provided fleeting relief. The only solution was to get off the bike, and the road, immediately. Unfortunately, the land to either side was fields as far as I could see of this same bike destroying slop. At one point I had to carry my bike for nearly 2 miles, while the mud adhered to the bottom of my sandals before seeping in and cementing my toes together. As Joe Pesci’s character in the movie Good Fellas often says, “Whataryagonna do, eh?”.

Finally, I crested the top of the hill on the road that I was on and was able get back on my bike. The key in these situations is to gain enough speed on the descent to fling off the mud faster than it can accumulate while surfing my bike wildly through the syrupy grease. Dejected and exhausted, yet relieved, I arrived at a junction with a tarmac road where I once again reassessed my route…and decided that despite my plan, it was simply too early in the season to ride the high passes in Turkey. I spent the next 8 days making my way north out of the mountains, traveling on tarmac roads, and staying in small towns along the way, enjoying simple conversations, beaming smiles, and bottomless glasses of cay.

Ramadan is starting. It is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar and is observed by Muslims worldwide as a time of spiritual reflection, improvement, and increased devotion and worship. The sawm (fast) begins at dawn and ends at sunset. I was terrified that I would not be able to find food during the day so I stocked up whenever I could with bread and tahina. I boiled eggs at night and carried them with me during the day. Often times when I would roll through a small mountain village and ask for food, the people I would meet would take their index finger and zip it across their lips. “Ramazan,” they would say with a smile. Fortunately the bread and tahina in Turkey are amazing, and easy to come by.

The Call to Prayer is something that I have grown to love. It is calming and conveys a mystical feeling through me, like I’m truly in a different world. This is now the second consecutive Islamic country that I have traveled through and in each town or village, no matter how small, there is a mosque, with a shiny dome, and prolific spires framing it in. Five times each day, the call is broadcast over the speakers of the mosque. It occurs just before sunrise, after sunrise, mid day, just before sunset, and after sunset. It is one of the Five Pillars of Islam that include:

  1. Shahadah: sincerely reciting the Muslim profession of faith.
  2. Salat: performing ritual prayers in the proper way five times each day.
  3. Zakat: paying an alms (or charity) tax to benefit the poor and the needy.
  4. Sawm: fasting during the month of Ramadan.
  5. Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca.

I have been fortunate on several occasions to have a hotel next to a mosque, my windows rattling from the speaker. It’s inescapable, and literally moving, especially just before 5 a.m.

Throughout Turkey, I am once again traveling solo and it definitely has its ups and downs. It takes considerably more courage but also provides higher gratification to simply figure it out. Solo travel presents different challenges, but also opportunities that traveling with a group does not. With a group, I’m an entity. I have someone to commiserate with, share ideas, or in some cases, blame bad decisions on. I also have someone to talk to, making me less approachable, and as a result, less likely to venture out, learn more of the language, and interact with people. It feels compartmentalized and overall just more safe. In Morocco, the people spoke French and because my Swiss friends spoke French fluently, I became lethargic and passively allowed them to do all the talking. In Turkey, because I’m alone, there is nobody to blame bad decisions on, commiserate with, or argue plans for the day, when to eat lunch, or where to sleep. Consequently, I’m forced take ownership for my decisions, to learn basic words in Turkish, but mostly, I’m much more likely to sit and have a cup of tea when inevitably someone in each small village yells out “CAY?!?” and whistles at me to come sit. This experience of traveling solo again has drawn out and reinvigorated my partially dormant extroverted self.

“Hey, where are you?” was the message I got from my brother Bobby back in the US. Over the years since I started exploring the world on a bike, I get this question from friends and family quite frequently when I’m away, and even when I’m at home in Colorado. “Dad’s worried. He hasn’t heard from you in a while so either call him, or don’t tell him where you’re going.” This trip, I have traveled through 2 Islamic countries and when I leave, I’m heading to Israel. All 3 countries have the ability to conjure up fear in the minds of people who may simply not understand them because of what they read or see on the news and thus mistakenly attach inappropriate mental labels. I talk to my dad several times per week, especially when I travel. He’s worried about me and that’s fair. All the places that I go to are far away, unknown, and therefore scary to him. It just means that he loves me.

“You have the life the way you like it. Maybe better than you dreamed it,” my dad told me when we finally talked again from my cozy hotel room in a small town south of Kayseri. He was comforted to talk to me and I think he could hear the life and exuberance in my voice that traveling stirs. His observation caused me great pause and contemplation however. Growing up, I don’t remember ever having dreams of my life the way many people do – a good job, married, kids, etc. I don’t know why I didn’t have those long term visions. But I just didn’t, and I still don’t. Ultimately I achieved many of those common unwritten goals along the way, but without the payoff of long term happiness that I think many people expect would accompany them.

The toughest question I always had in a job interview was: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” Five years??? I always struggled to fabricate some optimistic goal-oriented response to convey that I knew exactly what I wanted and where I was going in order to satisfy the interviewer’s assessment that I was worthy.  I don’t know if I ever fooled anybody, and to this day, I still don’t think I have the road map. Truth: some days I don’t know where I see myself next week. Growing up, we look to our parents as that model, but I doubt that my dad ever had it all mapped out either.  He was probably just figuring it out as he went along as well. And that’s ok. Life isn’t about having all the answers, but rather making the best decisions with the choices that we are presented with, and like traveling on a bike – learning to roll with it.

Growing up in rural Michigan, I never really explored anywhere outside my own small farm town, so in many ways, its shocking for me to think that I’m now traveling through my 20th country on a bike and 25th country overall. Maybe this is just a phase that I’m going through (part of my 5 year plan)? Or maybe it took me until my 40’s to truly know where I see myself?  Who knows. Fortunately, there is no job interview of life, so unlike the regular pressures that society demands that we have it all figured out, I still don’t feel the need to fabricate that answer.

The one thing that I do have figured out is that our time is limited, and my unwillingness to waste this precious commodity is something that I do not compromise on.  I heard a quote recently from Jimmy Chin, renowned adventurist and filmmaker of the Academy Award winning film Free Solo: “There are 2 great risks in life. Risking too much, but the one we should be most concerned about is risking too little.”  You only get one shot at this thing and I don’t ever want to utter the words, “What if…”

With that in mind, my goal has not, nor will it ever be, simply the accumulation of passport stamps. That is not why I travel. Personally, that seems as trivial to me as how many marathons have I run or any other arbitrary metric tracked to somehow create personal worth. Instead, look deeper. What did I learn from each experience?  What did I take away?  Has it had an impact on my life, the way I see the world, or is it just for stat sheet inflation?

In life, I’ve learned that even though we may have a map, (or a plan as my dad put it), life is unscripted.  True adventure and reward lies somewhere at the intersection of fear and control.  So maybe the point of all this is simply to admit that we don’t have a plan and fold up the map, put it away, and simply go see what’s over that next hill.


Demirkazik looking down over newly blossoming apple trees


Demirkazik Peak


Went out for a hike and found the snow line



One must always face Mecca when praying



Quieted my fear of heights… a little


The local officials setting me up with a place to sleep, and ensuring that I had a functioning TV


The local government building where I slept for a night



Cimbar Canyon in Aladaglar National Park


Cimbar Canyon in Aladaglar National Park


Erciyes ski resort, just outside of Kayseri, is actually a dormant volcano


Ericyes Peak



Mustafa showing me around and hooking me up with tea


Camardi school fundraiser


Camardi school fundraiser


Aladaglar National Park


Leaving Aladaglar National Park



Looking down on Cappadocia


The road down to Cappadocia



The snow line over night.  LOW!


Making my way through Aladaglar National Park


Aladaglar National Park



Isa and his brother in their shop


I love mountain towns, where you can sleep in the middle of the road if you want


Get the Book

The World Spins By is an intimate journey of loss, curiosity, and love—recounted one pedal stroke at a time along Jerry’s two-year bicycle journey back to himself. 


  1. Wow, Aladaglar National Park looks and sounds like an amazing place to visit, just check out those snow-capped mountain views, thanks for sharing, yet another place to add to our list!

    • It is truly stunning! The trekking / hiking will be much better later in the year once all the snow melts away. I plan to return maybe in late August of early September.


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