Day 22: Ilic to Kemah: 65km and 1580m of climbing (6286km so far)

Bernie was up in the night with an upset stomach and didn’t look too special in the morning. But the campsite held few delights so we packed up and agreed to have an easy day. Sometimes the road breaches our agreements, as you can see from the amount we climbed, but that is for later. No worries about fuel today and our map showed the road along the river Euphrates, so we expected a fairly easy day. But the road did not exist. The real road left the river and climbed up a valley to the north, so after consulting various locals to reassure us that our map was wrong, we followed the road they pointed out. Our friends from the previous evening were too polite to say that our map was rubbish but they did speak of “10km up hill”.

 The road gently climbed up a wonderful mountain valley but we made slow progress as Bernie was in torment. She stopped on various occasions to lie beside the road but insisted on going on. Eventually we managed to use googlemaps to work out that the road which began at 950m topped out at over 1600m.

It was slow going despite the wonderful scenery and got progressively steeper as we got higher. Near the top we met Declan, an Irish motorcyclists who was on a 6 week trip around Europe – doing between 400km and 800km a day – so a tad more than us. He looked for tough mountain passes to ride – but on a Kawasaki 650 instead of using entirely his own muscles. We shared experiences and delights at Turkey. He said he wanted a photo to prove to his friends that there was someone madder than him. He will be in Tiblisi tomorrow – so maybe we are doing something wrong.

 Eventually we got to the top of the climb – at 1670m – nearly the same as yesterday’s high point (but we started much higher so today’s climb was longer). Bernie got a second wind and I felt the same stomach cramps and sickness that seems to directly affect my ability to turn the pedals. It is as if all the energy in my legs had been removed.

My back tyre needed changing on the way down as the surfaces (and weight I am pulling) had their revenge. This is the first trip was have carried spare outer tyres and I felt vindicated. Bernie slept under a tree – with wonderful reviving effects! That led her to look at Googlemaps and finally work out which road we were on. The good news were that the signs were right and this the only road to Kemah. The bad news was that we still had a lot of climbing – notably a 350m climb near the end. Our hearts sank and we wondered why we put ourselves through this turmoil particularly when we were tired from the previous day and expected a day ambling along a river. But the road must be followed and so we got back on our bikes and duly followed it – like a Pablovian dog I suspect.

The last climb was tough but, unlike the previous ones, we knew it was the last. The soul destroying climbs are the little ones (well 100m of climbing) followed by a 120m descent. The joy of whizzing down the road is somewhat tempered by the knowledge that all that height has to be regained. I was feeling slightly dizzy and weak as a result of the stomach bug but had just enough energy to haul self, bike and trailer up a climb which was the same as climbing Clee Hill from sea level to end the day – and it was raining by now. Total madness.

But over the hill the rain eased up, a beautiful valley emerged and we swept down to the town of Kemah where there was a tea shop at a mosque complex. Ramadan start tomorrow and so it was busy but we managed to get wonderful tea whilst sitting in the immaculately tended gardens. Bernie inquired about accommodation and we secured a place at a “Teacher’s House” which are government run residences for vital workers – not just teachers. At that point I felt like I had done some work and it was vital to be horizontal, so we sort of qualified.

We followed a car into the centre of town and collapsed – all the effort was forgiven A short meal and then 11 hours sleep and all seemed a good deal better.

The town is on a gorge of the river. It looks peaceful but was one of the locations of the heavily disputed Armenian massacre in about 1915. 25,000 Armenians were supposed to have been killed here in a single day by throwing them into the gorge. However the total population today is only 2,000 so that may be an element of exaggeration but this genocide in which maybe 500,000 died more or less on the orders of the Turkish government remains a dark part of Turkish history, as was the Greek/Turkish population swap a few years later which saw 2 million people exchanged between Greece and Turkey. So peaceful as this area is today, there is a considerable history.

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