I’m not keen on dogs at the best of times but this situation was particularly unsettling. The pitch black serenity of an empty road in rural Turkey during wintertime – which we’d been enjoying just moments before – was suddenly shattered by the sound of barking, loud and close. At that time, so early in our trip, we had yet to learn the counter-intuitive yet foolproof method for dealing with dogs, which is to stop pedalling and push your bike. Instead, we did what any sane person would do: panic. This specific panic took the form of frantic pedalling and loud cursing as Laura searched her handlebar bag for a gadget that claimed to scare off dogs with a high-pitched whine.
Dogs subdued and cyclists composed, it became apparent that the canines were chained behind a fence. Nevertheless, the excitement served as a good reminder for us why, as we pedalled our way around the world, we always tried to avoid cycling at night. It was time to find somewhere to sleep. We headed towards the glowing windows of a distant building.
A few minutes later and a young woman opened her front door to find two funny-looking foreigners standing in the doorway wearing bicycle helmets. The bearded one held up a computer screen with Turkish writing on it. It read, ‘Hello, we are Tim and Laura, a married couple from the UK. We have cycled 4,800 kilometres from England. Is there somewhere safe we can sleep?’ The digital letter went on to explain that we had a tent, bedding and all the supplies we needed. But the woman wasn’t interested in any of that. She already had the kettle on and was showing us into the living room.
Her whole family was there: mum and dad, three siblings, grandma and a newly-arrived great-grandchild. We rifled through our answers to the standard questions they asked, for which we’d learned the Turkish responses: ‘teacher’, ‘lawyer’, ‘31’, ‘30’, ‘London’, ‘Manchester’ and ‘no children, only bicycles’.
Our pidgin Turkish exhausted, I resorted to the same 7-inch tablet I’d first used to introduce ourselves and switched the display to Google’s Translate app. With the Turkish dictionary and keyboard already downloaded, I could type away in English and display instant translations. The younger son took on the role of chief communicator and we conversed by passing the tablet back and forth. He asked about England and our religious beliefs, and shared his ambition to become a muezzin, reciting the daily call to prayer in his village.
Mum, dad and grandma weren’t quite as captivated by the technology but they were blown over that an English woman could knit. Laura was carrying needles and wool in her panniers. She had been working on some little hats and cardigans for friends back home who’d had babies since we left Britain. Within seconds of her displaying them, the women in the room crowded round, getting their knitting-related questions typed into the tablet. After the initial excitement died down, the new mother patiently taught Laura to crochet.
Not to be outdone, I pulled out my own trump card: the tiny ukulele I had strapped to the back of my bike with bungee cords. Everyone loves a good tune and, if nothing else, a big bearded man playing a titchy guitar is enough to bring a smile to anyone’s face. Sadly, Hey Jude is not quite as well known in Turkey as it is in England.
Although the Turkish people we met were particularly hospitable, we were invited into the homes of strangers all around the world. Our hosts would rarely accept gifts or financial contributions towards dinner. However, being able to compare knitting notes, play a few songs and show photographs from our homeland always seemed to be appreciated. Saying our goodbyes the next morning we felt a genuine sense of sadness to be leaving the family that had been so quick to welcome us and so pleased to share their evening. We threw on our pile jackets, stuffed our feet into insulated boots and pedalled into the morning sun.
Stopping to refuel with hot soup and bottomless bread at a café later that day, a television in the corner of the dining room caught my eye. Local news reported three-metre snow drifts and record-breaking low temperatures. The report was accompanied by shots of drivers digging out cars with shovels. We filled our thermos flasks to the rim on our way out the door.
Hours and kilometres passed as a tailwind carried us along a deserted highway towards the setting sun. After exchanging a point and a nod, we pulled over at the side of the road, pushed our bikes up a slope and wheeled them down the other side. This would have to be our camp for the night.
Darkness fell and our tent became illuminated with the familiar red glow from our headlamps. We each carried two torches. They doubled as bike lights since the smaller of the two models included a red light option. Red light helps to preserve your night vision and it doesn’t attract bugs. That said, the crimson hue emanating from our tent must have looked pretty creepy to passers-by.
After dinner, we nestled down to read our electronic book readers. Each device was as light as a single paperback book, and allowed us to read the same tome simultaneously. We used old Amazon Kindle models with integral hardware keyboards, which we found easier to type on than the newer, touch-screen models. This feature, allied with our e-readers’ complimentary and global 3G connectivity, allowed us to send and receive emails for free. Regular electronic correspondence was particularly helpful when it came to keeping our worried mothers back home updated on our safety.
At lights out, we climbed into our sleeping bags. We had chosen a pair of down bags with zips on opposite sides so we could zip them together when we wanted to. We carried a double sleeping bag liner, in addition to one single mummy-shaped liner for use on the nights when we slept separately (while bivvying, for example). And, just as the manager of a cheap motel pushes two single beds together to make a double bed, we mated our individual camping mats with the assistance of two inexpensive Velcro straps.
Our sleeping bag and mat combination kept us warm that night. Sadly, the same could not be said for the water bladder that was inadvertently left in one of the tent’s twin porches. Five kilograms was a lot more ice than we had cocktails for.
As with all mornings that winter, the morrow began with me stuffing a gas canister inside my pile jacket. We cooked on a multi-fuel stove which could burn liquid fuels as well as bottled gas. Our preference was for the latter as it is easier and cleaner to use than liquid, and ultimately we succeeded in purchasing compatible gas cylinders in every one of the 27 countries we cycled through. The one downside of bottled gas is that it doesn’t work as well as liquid fuels in cold temperatures. Unless, that is, you warm the canister with body heat prior to ignition.
I prepared the morning brew from my side of the tent while Laura packed the sleeping bags. Here’s a tip for good marital relations while camping: buy a tent with two entrances. For me, dual porches meant that Laura’s pile of stuff in the porch didn’t stress me out. And my obsession for order wasn’t called into question every day.
Our final task before pedalling was to pack our panniers, which we completed with the aid of sleeping bag compression sacks fitted with one-way air valves. The valves enabled bulky gear to be compacted to sizes that would otherwise have been impossible to attain.
After crossing the border into Iran, a steady increase in traffic and navigational stops indicated an approaching city. We were directed to a cheap hotel and asked about a room. On a previous trip to the Middle East, back when we were just boyfriend and girlfriend, we’d learned that it was best to say we were married when introducing ourselves. We even went so far as to obtain fake wedding rings. This time around there was no need to pretend and I confidently wrote ‘Tim Moss’ and ‘Laura Moss’ in the register. When the hotelier read this entry in her logbook her face went pale. She stared at our wedding rings and re-read our names on the page before asking, ‘Is it normal for people in Britain to marry their sisters?’
TEN OF THE BEST
For Tim and Laura Moss, the key obstacles to overcome when cycling around the world ranged from where to find a place to sleep at nights, to communicating with locals, to fending off roaming packs of dogs. Luckily they not only had equipment to cover all these possibilities, they also made sure they wouldn’t get bored along the way...
1. Silk liner
Rab double sleeping bag liner – £75; 723g
The cheap Vietnamese double liner we purchased on eBay was horribly sticky to sleep in. I recommend investing in one of Rab’s silk double liners instead. Singletons can purchase a single liner (which is available in two lengths).
2. Camping mat accessories
Exped Coupler Kit – £15; 90g
We strapped a couple of Exped’s lightweight single mats together with a set of these handy Velcro straps. Exped mats work particularly well in a double mattress arrangement because of their rectangular rather than tapered shape.
MSR Hubba Hubba NX – £330; 1.54kg
This twin door tent can be pitched inner or outer only for maximum flexibility in a variety of conditions. Its free-standing design can be pitched on concrete, which is a more common camping surface than you might imagine.
4. MP3 player
SanDisk Clip Jam – £40; 125g
Inexpensive, miniscule and capable of storing multiple gigabytes of data. Audiobooks and BBC podcasts were a great distraction on long highway slogs. I listened to so much non-fiction on the road that by the end of our journey I felt as though I had completed a remote-learning university course.
Kindle Paperwhite – £170; 217g
By purchasing the more expensive 3G model, you can download something new to read without incurring roaming charges. The discontinued ‘Kindle Keyboard’ model that we used can be found on eBay for a fraction of the price of the latest models.
6. Translation app
Google Translate – Free
The power of this app is borderline science fiction. You talk, it translates and then speaks back in another language. That said, we found that typing messages was usually easier and more successful. You can even draw foreign symbols you don’t recognise and use your smartphone’s camera to translate the written word on the fly. Available for iOS and Android devices.
7. Foldable washing-up bowl
Ortlieb folding bowl – £18.50; 200g
I wasn’t convinced when Laura suggested carrying this, but it turned out to be one of our most used items, ranging from a makeshift bath to a basin for cooling a first-degree burn injuries. Seams are welded and the rim resists spills.
8. Canine deterrent
Dog Dazer – £25; 122g
Dogs love chasing cyclists and this device’s ultrasonic tone is anything but music to their ears. We reckon it deterred two out of every three dogs that approached us. When we encountered hounds that were immune to the Dazer’s charms, we simply dismounted in order to spoil their fun.
9. Microfibre towel
Mountain Warehouse Clip Travel towel – £8; 25g
Travel towels have dramatically improved in the last couple of years. Opening up to 150 x 70 centimetres, this microfibre offering was large enough to wrap around my waist and tiny enough to fit in my fist. It comes supplied with a karabiner and pouch.
Primus OmniLite Ti – £200; 239g
The OmniLite Ti runs on bottled gas, petrol, diesel, paraffin/kerosene and aviation fuel. True to its name, the stove’s integral windscreen and pot supports are crafted from light and durable titanium. Plus it comes fully supplied with a pump, a heat reflector,
a fuel bottle, and a multi-tool with cleaning needle.
This article was published in the December 2015 edition of Geographical magazine.