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Who Needs Drugs?

Its time for another delve into Home By Seven, Stephs road diary from her 4 year ride around planet Earth on Rhonda the Honda. In this chapter Steph rides across Turkey and prepares for the border crossing into Iran. I hope you enjoy this excerpt from Stephs amazing travel journal. Copies are available in our online shop. Pete Chapter 8

Who Needs Drugs?

I clock the open window as the dishevelled man leads me from the dark

corridor into the small room. It will be my escape route, should I need one. My

eyes take a few seconds to adjust. The room is straight out of the Dark Ages

and smells vaguely of damp straw. It has three rusty iron beds with ancient

mattresses and grey army surplus-style blankets that have that just-slept-in

look, like the itchy ones used in prisons. The chubby guy smiles, revealing

tobacco-stained teeth, and turns to leave. As he shuts the door behind me, I

find myself listening for the click of a lock. It doesn’t come. Frozen to the

spot, I listen to his footsteps, as he walks back up the corridor and closes the

second door leading to the garage front where Rhonda is parked. I wait. And

listen. Still no locking sound. OK Good!

My attention turns to the job at hand. I quickly take off my boots and

trousers and slip on my waterproof liners. Then the jacket. I try not to rush

because that would only reinforce the feeling of dread. I don’t hang around to

zip the liners in place though, and just put my boots back on before making

a hasty exit.

I had stopped at this little garage in the hills intending to put my inner

waterproof liners on in the loo, but the man led me to this back room instead.

I guessed it was the staff quarters and had more room than the malodorous

little toilet hut outside. As I walked out of the room and back into the light

of day, I found a cup of tea waiting for me on a silver tray and encouraging

smiles from the guys I had just walked past. They all looked the same as

the ‘gate-keeper’: portly, round and leathery. Imagine an old leather football

with a head, legs and a large moustache and you’ll be close to the mark. The

football nearest me immediately stood and gestured for me to sit. They had

looked so serious when I walked in. The lack of any hint of even a smile had

unnerved me, as I had been intensely looking for any signs of warmth. Now,

it was a completely different picture. Instead of villains, I saw someone’s dad

or grandad – warm and welcoming.

“Where are you from?”

“Wales.” A blank look.

“Next to England,” I explain. “Ah, England”


I drank the sweet tea from the little shot glass, thanked them and rode

on, laughing at myself in my helmet. Not human traffickers then!

“Don’t flatter yourself,” I say out loud in my helmet, “Not much call

for middle-aged scruffy biker women. Who’d buy you?”

A few days later I had a balloon ride over the ‘fairy chimney’ rock

formations of Goreme and a visit to the underground city in Derinkuyu where

I was trapped by a load of senior citizen holidaymakers in what seemed to

be a queue for the Gates of Hades. Then I found myself in a cave hotel in

Urgup singing Dusty Springfield’s Son of a Preacher Man into a microphone.

Accompanied by my new friend, the hotel owner, and the barman playing

a Baglama, a Turkish guitar, we were apparently ‘entertaining’ the French

cyclists who had been forced to stay and listen, despite trying to make a bolt

for the door on more than one occasion.

I woke up the next morning feeling a little disconcerted. I blamed

Radio 4 rather than the hangover. It’s not often you can accuse the BBC’s

most serious radio station of depriving you of your fortitude, but it was

definitely the catalyst in the string of events that led me to feel so unnerved

that day. Despite the spirits I had consumed (my payment for being part of

the entertainment), I had done my usual bedtime routine and put on a Radio

4 podcast before drifting off slowly to Drama of the Week. This particular

drama ended quite violently and left me having a horrible nightmare in

which I was held hostage at gunpoint. As I woke in the middle of the night,

the man and the gun disappeared, leaving behind the very real emotions of

fear and confusion coursing through me. Even after my brain clicked back to

reality and I could deduce that there was no man and certainly no gun, I still

felt very unnerved and uncomfortable, alone in a cave room in the middle of

Turkey heading for the Kurdish mountains and the Iranian border. It was silly

of course, but not even the hearty breakfast of cheese, egg, and fresh bread

could shake that unsettled feeling.

My plan was to have a bit of a ‘transit day’, riding quickly and without

deviation to cover the three hundred or so miles to the base of Nemrut Dagi,

or Mount Nemrut, one of the highest peaks in the Taurus mountains. The

following morning, I would climb the mountain and race the sun to the top

before watching the dawning of the day over the ancient stone heads that lay

there. Common wisdom says the statues were erected to protect a royal tomb

and, at some point, the heads were removed from their bodies. It would be a

great place to watch the sunrise. Tomorrow’s sunrise was my focus for now.

I just hoped the weather improved. My last few days had been soggy to say

the least, and it wasn’t looking any better out there this morning.

After a slow 450 kilometres of cold and waterlogged riding – and

already picturing my wrinkled bath-hands wrapped around a warm brew –

I decided to check my map. I must confess to a few swear words when I

realised I had messed up. In the crease of the map was a line of mountains

– with no through road! Shit! A quick calculation deduced that it was 200

kilometres around them. Double shit! I could handle long days in the saddle;

even my narrow saddle. What I couldn’t stand was thinking I only had thirty

kilometres to go and then finding that I had to add another two hundred.

Okay fine. It is what it is! Reset the clock and knuckle down. There was still

plenty of daylight and I should make it in about three hours.

Thirty kilometres later, the wind and the rain took a sharp turn for

the worse. It was that powerful sideways type that all bikers hate. Raincarrying,

gusting wind that battled for control over the bike. I just wanted

to go forward and straight! Was that too much to ask? But I was losing the

battle, relentlessly forced to the other side of the road and having to fight

my way back, only to start the process all over again. I was cold, tired and

downright grumpy now. What was I doing out here in the elements, battling

this bullshit anyway? I could be at home with my dog in front of a warm

fire. Sometimes I just didn’t understand myself at all. This was one of those

times. Just as I was considering stopping and just pitching on the side of the

road in a huff, I spotted a truck stop. A petrol station with lots of well-used

parking spots for the truckers, a ‘greasy spoon’ café, and what looked like a

few rooms for rent. Everything was covered in oil or dirt – or both – but it

looked like heaven to me!

It didn’t matter how bad the rooms were, I was taking one. I pulled in,

parked up outside the front door, and approached the guy behind the counter

who was clearly surprised by my presence. He looked confused as if I might

have walked into the wrong place, and no matter how many charades we

played to get through to each other, he was just not getting it.

“Room. Sleep. How much?” I repeated over and over. Truck drivers

walked past and stared in at this spectacle. The pasty white girl, her sodden

clothes dripping a pool of water over the well-trodden tiles, possibly speaking

in tongues? I might as well have been. It was way beyond his grasp that I

might actually want a room, despite not being a hairy-arsed Turkish bloke

with a big truck and a belly to match.

In desperation, he called for the guy from the café next door who, as

it turned out, spoke about ten words of English. It was all we needed. We

established, much to the owner’s surprise, that I was to sleep there and that

the cost would be thirty lira (around £4). Relieved, I reached into my jacket

and accidentally pulled out the wad of cash I kept stashed in my liner along

with my passport, for all to see. Then, I nearly handed over 300 Lira instead

of the thirty. Great! Go Steph! I couldn’t wait for this day to be over.

As I was led through the narrow corridor to my room, I was horribly

aware of all the eyes staring at me. Many truckers in their vests watching me

from their doorways. Three of them were sitting in the corridor playing cards

and drinking tea like a picture postcard cliché. I carefully stepped over them,

smiled as sweetly as possible, and repeated “merhaba” (“hello”) to each one

while trying to look less awkward than I felt and aiming for a confident ‘I do

this shit all the time’ look.

Once in the room, my mind pressed ‘Play’ on all the worst-case

scenarios again. That feeling from this morning’s dream came back and I

imagined them all out there, conspiring. A lone woman surrounded by vestwearing

Turkish truckers. I’d heard many a story about Turkish truckers and

now they all seemed quite believable and distinctly worrying. What would I

do if someone knocked on the door? Why would someone knock on the door?

Just don’t answer it. But they know you’re in here, you can’t not answer.

Don’t be silly. No one is going to knock on the door.

I had a shower and put the little black-and-white telly on to drown out

the argument in my head. George Orwell’s 1984 was on. It was the first time

I had watched it, having only previously read the book.

“The book’s better,” I said as the credits rolled.

Then it came. A knock. Who the hell is that? Someone coming to mug

me? They know I have money; I’d made sure of that. A gang coming to rape

me? I was trapped. Nowhere to go. What could I do? Ignore the door. Just

don’t answer the door.

But then, my British ‘politeness gene’ kicked in again and I opened

the door. Of course I did. How rude to leave your rapist waiting! I grabbed

my Leatherman and slipped it into my back pocket. Bracing myself for the

worst, I opened the door.

There stood the waiter from the greasy spoon next door brandishing

no more than a cup of hot chocolate and a big smile.

“For you,” he said, “Help sleep. Tomorrow you come eat”. Now that

I had not imagined.

I was going to wear myself out if I carried on letting my imagination

run riot. I had to find a happy place between vigilance and trust if I was going

to make it alone. I had to desensitise my gut! “Trust your gut,”. It’s such

a throwaway comment. The gut requires training and regular stock-taking.

Contrary to popular belief, ‘gut instinct’ does not come naturally, but being

alone was definitely a fast track to fine-tuning.

I went to bed with a warm glow and a feeling of security. My

perspective on the entire situation changed from that single kind gesture. It

was another ring of the bell and a hearty meal for Pavlov’s dogs!

The morning saw an improvement in the weather: no wind, a little

drizzle, and the sun breaking through. I could cope with that. First though, I

had to pay a visit to the waiter next door, buy a breakfast, and thank him for

his kindness last night. I doubt he had any idea what it had meant to me. A

tilt in my perspective that tilted even further with the morning sun and his

refusal to take payment for my breakfast.

Now all I had to do was make it the last few miles to Mount Nemrut,

then over the Kurdish mountains to the border of Iran. I was warned to be

careful in this area, as it was the stamping ground of the Kurdish rebel group,

the PKK. I was advised not to stop for anything and definitely not to camp

alone. I should only stop around other people or next to one of the many

military guard-posts. Well, it certainly didn’t sound dull. In fact, I was almost

buzzing with anticipation – or perhaps it was the coffee. I was still getting

used to the caffeine hit. Either way, I was ready to take it on. Who needs

drugs when you’ve got the PKK and the Iranian border to look forward to?

This was a proper buzz!

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