As good as it gets.

Old Chook Enterprises

Up till now my blog posts have been about travel, wellbeing or relationships. I have included lots and lots of photos.

This post is an experiment.

It’s a short story. It has very strong Australian cultural themes so it may not translate well to an international market…. BUT…. I wanted to give it a go.

So no photos and way more than the usual 1000 words or less and it’s total fiction.

Let me know what you think! Please! Depending on how it goes I might do it once every few months. I want to stick to my themes for the most part.

As good as it gets.

Thank goodness, the next stop was hers. The guy in the business suit had been letting off silent-but-deadlies since Redfern. The steady rocking of the carriage had sent her to sleep but she was shocked back into the world by the dead…

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Time for Adventure

It’s been awhile since I updated the blog and life carries on at the usual hectic pace, so it’s time for me to slow it down a little and hit the road for adventure.

On February 10th I will be travelling to Auckland, New Zealand and in the following 5 weeks will be cycling from the north to south of the 2 islands.

A few slight changes from my last cycle tour, this time we have a support vehicle, this time we are not camping, this time I will be cycling with another 20 likeminded cyclists.

A few similarities from my last tour, I will cycling on the same bike that took me 5000 km around Eastern Europe and my old mate Terry will be cycling with me.

I intend to make the most of my time in NZ and take in every sight, sound and taste.

Its new roads to cycle, new mountains to climb, new people to meet,

Bring on the 10th February….

Punta Arenas

I was not going to write about this trip as I don’t have my bike and thought that it would be a normal sort of a holiday. Well normal is not what we do and over the past few days we have had so many funny stories that I knew I had to share.

It’s Sunday morning and Ema and I are in a very flash car heading for the airport at Santiago, “very nice car you arranged for us Ema, and so cheap, cheaper than a taxi” On the night we checked in to our room in Santiago the doorman rang us at midnight and asked about our transfer to the airport four days later. We had not given it much thought so went downstairs to talk with him. Ema and the doorman began to talk away in Spanish and I stood there waiting for a translation, Ema normally translates for me but this conversation was going way to fast. After a few minutes she turned to me and told me that the transfer to the airport on Sunday morning was sorted out, nice
So we rode to the airport in a brand new car and the driver turns and asks for payment before we get there as he is not a real driver and can get in trouble for carrying passengers without a permit. So I pay and he asks us to pretend we are friends when he drops us off to avoid suspicion. We get out and it’s hugs all around from this guy and a chuckle from me, we figured that he may work at the car yard and “borrowed” the car to make a few peso for himself on a Sunday morning.
We arrive at Punta Arenas and it’s cold, very cold, we are picked up by our driver and taken to our B and B were will spend the next few days with a local family.
Samuel and his wife and 2 daughters make us feel very welcome and we sit with him and discuss the area and the best places to eat and visit, so with this information in hand we head out into a new town to taste the local fare, and this far south it’s sea food.

We wander around and the town feels like it’s closed and we wonder if we will get a feed. The whole area has a wind swept feel about her and even the trees grow at an angle along with the constant gusts.
We come across the central market, or central mercado in Spanish.
There are many small cafe selling the same product and we venture into one were we are shown a table in a very small room, it’s clean and warm so we take the table. It’s not long before a large family arrives and they also want tables, so we all shuffle around and squeeze into the very small space.
The first dish we try is a Curante a dish from the south of Chile that is cooked under ground, mussels, chicken pieces, pork, chorizo, and a local potato cake served on a large plate. Very nice dish and the flavour of the coals that the food is buried under comes through in a subtle way. This with a glass of dry white wine is delicious, but we want to try more and order a bowl of the sopa de mariscal , sea food soup.
This is a salty and homely dish best eaten with fresh bread to mop up the juices, lovely and know we feel full, but the guys at the cafe take a shine to us and offer us a Calafate Sour, a local drink made from a local berry (Calafate) and pisco, we are now full and slightly tanked so all is well.
We say goodbye to the guys at the cafe and head back to our room as we are tired from the day.

Istanbul

Tour is over 5342 Km
We slept in until about 7.30 am and when we woke up the sky was dark and angry with the threat of rain, how lucky have we been on this tour.
We have had perfect weather and if it rained today then who cares, we only have to roll the bikes down the hill and onto the fast cat ferry to Istanbul.

After breakfast we headed for the ferry terminal and waited to board. The fast cat was very modern and we were impressed by the facilities on board.
The fast cat is not just a clever name and it was not long before she was up and running and at a very high speed, we even speed through the storm and past the bad weather.
It’s a 2 hour voyage to Istanbul, in that time my mind wondered back over the past 4 months.
To all the friendly people that we met, to all the fantastic scenery that we viewed, the history we absorbed, to every last Km that we cycled these memories making me smile, the smile of a very contented man.

The ferry pulled in and we disembark to start the last ride of the tour, 3 km to the Blue Mosque.
I am extra careful as after all these Km I don’t want to drop my guard and end up under a bus or taxi as Istanbul is a very heavily congested traffic city.
We wind our way up and park our bikes in front of the Blue Mosque, I shake Terry’s hand and we get the camera out.
The place is swarming with people all going about their business or taking in the sites around this area. Not one of the people would realize how far we have come and what these 2 Aussies have been up to for the past 4 months.
I feel mixed emotions as the adrenaline of the last 4 months floods my system. I am finding it hard to write about how I feel today. All I know is…….. we did it.

Terry winding his way to the Blue Mosque, its the last climb of the tour

Terry winding his way to the Blue Mosque, its the last climb of the tour

I did it....

I did it….

Finish line 016

The loop is complete

The loop is complete


We found our hotel and checked in, then started the job of dismantling the bikes and cleaning them for the flight home. We left our boxes and some tools at the hotel were they kindly looked after them for us.
Time to pull the bike apart for the flight home

Time to pull the bike apart for the flight home


Tomorrow we are going to have another look around Istanbul and that’s were the tour ends. Its been fantastic and I have enjoyed every part.

I have memories and will tell stories of my adventure for years to come, I consider myself to be the luckiest man in the world.
I have seen so much of Eastern Europe form the saddle of my bike, I have drank tea with the locals, cycled along the river Danube were the wild flowers took my breath away with their beauty.
I have climbed mountains and slept in schools, football fields and on the deck of a ferry.
I have been exausted and exhilarated at the same time.

This is all very good, but what makes me the luckiest man is that at home waiting is Ema who has supported my tour and the journey every step of the way, that’s why I am blessed….

Biga to Banderma

72 Km for the day
Another perfect day for a bike ride and we completed the 70 km in a reasonable time, its so close to the end that the we are just concentrating on the destination and not the ride, this is sad as its still a ride and a very pretty ride over roads that I have never ridden or will probably never ride again (but I say never say never).

Our last morning tea

Our last morning tea


We get to the city of Banderma and check into our pre arranged hotel ( something else we have never done before but as its getting close to the end we pre arrange our accommodation)

Terry has broken his prescription sunglasses and wants to find an optometrist to fix them (were are you now Malinda J)

We walk around the shopping district and its hard to find an optometrist, bit like when you try and find an ATM, when you want one there is none there, when you don’t want one you trip over the dam machines.

Terry asks a guy who is selling reading glasses on the side of the road and this guy gives Terry a pair of damaged reading glasses, we figure that if we can not find an optometrist then we can harvest the parts from the reading glasses as a stop gap fix for his glasses.
Fortunately we found an optometrist and Terry glasses were fixed.

Terry with the nice guy who gave him a set of reading glasses

Terry with the nice guy who gave him a set of reading glasses

We enjoyed a nice meal and maybe to much wine as we reminisced about the last 4 months on the road as cycle tourists, we have under 5 km of cycling to go on this tour so this feels like the end, but its not as tomorrow we catch the ferry to Istanbul and ride to the Blue Mosque were it all began 4 months ago…..

The Bike
http://www.viventebikes.com/main/page_products_bikes_2012_drop_bars_barend_levers.html
Well those that know me and if you have read my blog will now that I love my bike so this review will be hard for me to be un biased.

The wheels are hand build and very heavy duty, I have ridden over some very rough roads and given the bike a real flogging. They have remained true and spin effortlessly. The tyres are Schwalbe Marathon 700 x 35C I put a brand new set on before the tour. I have not had one flat, after 5400 Km that speaks for itself. They are a heavy tyre and my not be the fastest but are tough as nails.
They hold their pressure well and I usually only had to put a couple of pumps of air in every couple of days.
The front hub is a Shimano Deore XT dynamo, for those that don’t know it generates electricity as it spins. My bike has lights and these were always on whilst I was riding, I like it as I am seen and even when I am at home ride with the lights on.
The lights also came in very handy when we hit tunnels, there was one tunnel in Montenegro that went for 3 km with no lighting. Also for the few times when we had to ride at night.

Shimano cable disc, metal pads, 160 mm rotor w/ lock ring. These are the front disk breaks and I did have a few issues with them. They need to be adjusted every 500 km when you are touring and carrying a load. Something I was not aware of before the tour started, I just like the set and forget of the rear V pull breaks that only need a visual check on the wear of the pads.
I am happy with the front breaks now that I fully understand how they work.

I changed the saddle and have a Brooks B17 leather saddle.
I did not have any “under carriage” issues and have been very comfortable over the last 4 months averaging 80 – 90 km per day.
I have not done anything with the saddle but with give it a good treatment with the leather conditioner when I get home. People say that it need to be kept dry all the time and I have tried to do this as I have a cover that goes over it when we were camping.

The frame of the bike is good old fashion steel, this is strong, but heavy.
A lot of the carbon fibre snob set will turn their nose up at the frame.
The other reasons for steel are as follows;
There is flex so it absorbs the bumps and rough roads better, although shocks on the front is something to think about for the next tour.
Also being steel can be welded by anybody with a welder in rural and remote areas, just glad I didn’t have to test that one J

The bike came with front and rear Tubus racks to clip the panniers on, I checked these on a regular basis for lose screws or cracks and they remain rock solid after the whole tour.

I am very please with the way my bike performed over the 4 months, I did have the issues with the front disks, but it was an issue of me not understanding how they work more that a mechanical flaw.
I gave the bike a real work out and she passed all my tests.

I love my bike

I love my bike


I may have said this before, but the bicycle is the most simplest form of transportation ever invented.
Its such a simple design, and has been for the past 150 years.
Its still pretty simple, you have to peddle the thing at it will get you from point A to point B.
Not much has changed, the parts get lighter and more robust but its still a very simple machine.
A simple machine that has taken me through 14 countries and over 5300 km and an adventure of a life time and for this I am eternally grateful.

Lapseki to Biga

61 km, total for tour 5265 Km
Perfect conditions for a ride today, there was very little breeze the road had a large shoulder and the hills rolled up and down so momentum was easy to maintain.
I mentioned to Terry that it’s a good job every day is not like this as the road would be crowded with cyclists as everyone would want to enjoy the feeling we get when we are peddaling our bikes.
We stopped for morning teas and enjoyed fruit and biscuits in the autumn sun.

These last days the people of Turkey are as friendly as ever and we have no shortage of well wishers or school kids shouting out to us and wishing us well, there are also the idiots like the guy on his mobile phone who tried to make a right hand turn in front of me. I taught him a few new words of English.
I personally think that mobile phones are a set back in road safety after all the improvements to motor vehicles over the past 50 years. Air bags, disk breaks and seat belts are all very good, but if the driver is on the phone then its all for nothing.
I dislike the way that mobile phones have become so much a part of our life that people need to use them whilst they are driving and even whilst they are eating our dinner.

The Panniers and Luggage
I invested in a new set of Carradice panniers, front, back and handle bar bag.
I good investment.
They are a no nonsense bag with no zippers to break, there is a draw string and heavy duty plastic buckles that are bomb proof.
They are made from duck cotton, the weaving contracts when it gets wet to keep your gear dry.
Then in the heat it expands and breaths so your gear is not “sweating” in a water tight bag.
The day in Kosovo when we cycled for over 60 km in the pouring rain, I did not get any of my gear wet.

The front pannier has a front pocket that I think is a bit useless, unless you have your gear tight in there it will fall out over the bumps. I lost my dog dazzer from the front pocket going over a bump.

The handle bar bag popped a rivet, but I must admit there was a lot in the bag so it was over loaded. I fixed the rivet with a cable tie and spare bolts so no real issue.
Again no nonsense with the heavy duty buckles and nothing to break. I like it because all my important stuff is in that bag, passport, money, camera and I just unclip the bad and take it with me for a cup of tea or to negotiate a room price.

My Carradice bags kept all my gear dry in the poring rain we experienced in Kosovo

My Carradice bags kept all my gear dry in the poring rain we experienced in Kosovo

Tomorrow we have 70 km to cycle, then Sunday we catch the ferry back to Istanbul and clean and dismantle the bikes……

Canakkale to Lapseki

35 km total for tour 5204 km
Not much to report today, we slept in and enjoyed the breakfast at the ANZAC Grand Hotel then jumped on the bikes for a leisurely turn of the peddles to Lapseki about 35 km along the Dardanelles.
I am so surprised at how narrow the famous waterway really is, we cycle along and marvel at the tankers and container ships as they pass through the passage. Lapseki is the area were the passage widens out into the Sea of Marama.

Communications and Gadgets
My net book, well every night I typed up the blog.
It’s a back up for my photos and travel documents. Its simple and easy to use, for me.
I understand there may be more suitable technology to use like the Ithingy but a simple lap top is cool for me.
I have a skype account and have been able to talk with my family at home when ever I felt like it and at a reasonable price.
Its handy to have access to the internet for planning the next part of the tour, booking tours and accommodation, although nothing beats the cycle up and negotiate method that Terry and I have perfected for finding somewhere to sleep.
When I left home I could not have imagined the amount of Wi Fi available to travellers in Eastern Europe.
I told Ema that I would call when ever I got the chance and if it got to over a week I would make sure that I found a phone and pay any amount and call home.

As it is, I have been able to leave a message on face book every day and call at least every second day on skype, the world is so small with the internet these days.

I have my camera, a waterproof, shockproof, temperature proof, dust proof compact. It fits in the pocket in the back of my riding shirt and I have used it a lot. I do have a DSLR at home but I thought it would not be suitable for the tour as it may be a little fragile.

My Garmin, entry level odometer for the bike, its gives me basic statistics like km/h, how far we have cycled, meters climbed.
Len has a fancy one that has maps and gives you directions, Maurice also had this model.
I am a low tech sort of a guy and like the one I have.
When Terry and I were on our own we navigated the old fashioned way, with actual maps on paper, having an idea were we are heading by knowing the name of towns along the way and then there is asking the locals, it worked for us.

My kindle, I brought this along to read in down times. Well there has been very little down time so I have done very little reading.

Tomorrow we have another 70 km ride then Sat the last day of actual riding on the tour……

Anzac Cove from the Sea

As the boat rounded the corner and the famous landing sites of ANZAC cove came into view I am beginning to wonder if snorkelling over a wreck is a good idea.
I booked the tour 2 weeks ago when the weather was warm, over the past week and a half the weather in this part of the world has really turned cold.
Terry is suffering from a cold and decided that he was not going to do the swim.

The boast that took us to ANZAC Cove

The boast that took us to ANZAC Cove

The guide with a photo of the landings holding up over the same spot

The guide with a photo of the landings holding up over the same spot

As the boat dropped anchor the wind dropped and the sun was out, it was a beautiful day and I was not going to miss this opportunity.
Terry, the guide and captain have a smile on their face as I struggle with a wet suit that is obviously suitable for a Melbourne cup jockey and not the Slow Cyclist.
Suit on and ready to go, I am nervous as I take the steps at the back of the boat as the suit is tight and I feel restricted.
I was also concerned about the temperature of the water, Terry assured me it was good but being an Aussie I feel he may have been taking the piss.
Then I decide to just take the plunge and just jump in, its cold but nowhere near as cold as I was expecting.
I arrange the mask and swim out to the wreck. Before the swim I was thinking about the cold, but it’s the wet suit that really makes me nervous as its very tight and I am struggling to get enough air through the snorkel.
Terry shouts over to unzip the top and I do, it feels a lot better and I am able to swim up and down the wreck and have a real good look.
The water was about 3 – 5 metres deep and crystal clear.
I swam back to the boat and Terry handed me my camera, so I was able to take some underwater shots.
I was in the water for a while and then made my way back to the boat were I climbed back on board and stripped off the straight jacket wet suit.
Anzac Cove Dive 023

Anzac Cove Dive 036

Anzac Cove Dive 032

Anzac Cove Dive 031
The captain made a cup of tea and had some ANZAC biscuits so Terry and I sat in silence as we viewed ANZAC cove from the sea, what the landing soldiers would have seen.

Terry and I sit in silence as we look to the landing sites from the sea

Terry and I sit in silence as we look to the landing sites from the sea


These last 2 days have been very special and I am so glad I had the opportunity to visit this place, and feel very fortunate that I was able to swim 100 meters from ANZAC Cove.

Tomorrow we are back on the bikes, its about 160 km to the finish line…..

Gallipoli

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives… You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours… you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.This inscription written by Atatürk (Mustafa Kemal) to me truly typifies the futility of war, what a waste of human life on both sides.

Terry and I took a tour of the site of the Gallipoli campaign and this tour gave me goose bumps as we walked the sacred ground.
The campaign was fought for control of the Dardanelles and access to the black sea to support the Russians.
The tour we arranged with a Turkish guide who spoke very good English, he asked us to imagine the horror of the battle and evoked images in my mind of what it must have been like in those terrible day in the trenches. Trenches that were at times only metres apart.

ANZAC trenches

ANZAC trenches


What I was not prepared for was the small space that all these men died upon, its not a large area and the amount of men fighting would have made it a very crowed place to die.

So many mass graves where soldiers were buried without names , so many deaths from drowning, so many deaths from disease and cold as the campaign lingered into the winter, so many young lives cut short on both sides.
Reading the names on the graves and I did have tears in my eyes as these men had families that mourned for them.
The average death toll per day for the campaign was over 2000, so every day 2000 men lost their lives on these sacred grounds.
Anzac Cove day one 026

Anzac Cove day one 032

Anzac Cove day one 038
The story of Lone Pine and the two brothers who promised their mother that they would return from the adventure of the great war.
The younger brother was critically wounded and when the older brother begged him not to die as they made a promise to their mother. The younger brother picked a pine tree seed and told him to tell his mother that he died under a beautiful pine tree and to plant this tree at home.
From that seed the pine trees at the war memorial in Canberra have been raised. There are many stories that get sadder and sadder to tell.
Anzac Cove day one 048
Some stories tell of the humanity of the common soldier; an Australian soldier is wounded in no mans land and crying out for help. A Turkish soldier no longer able to take the cries of pain raises a white flag and crosses no mans land were he picks up the digger and carries him to the Australian trenches so he can get medical help. He then makes his way back to his side un harmed.

A statue that typifies the humanity of some of the soldiers, a Turk carries a wounded digger back to the ANZAC trench

A statue that typifies the humanity of some of the soldiers, a Turk carries a wounded digger back to the ANZAC trench


Or when the Australians would hear the Turks praying they thought they were singing and would clap when they finished and start to sing their own songs, to the applause of the Turks.

The campaign was a disaster for the Allied troops and the only thing that went well was the evacuation in December 1915, they managed to evacuate the remaining troops without getting fired upon by the Turks. There are some people who believe that the Turks allowed the ANZACS to evacuate unharmed as a mark of respect and to not cause any more casualties in this crazy campaign.

In 1918 about 2 weeks before the 11th November the British Navy sailed up the Dardanelles un touched and occupied Istanbul until 1923 when Turkey gained her independence.

I have another tour booked tomorrow and I will be snorkelling over the hospital ship HMS Milo off ANZAC cove.