Mostly, when I think of Christmas, I think of arguments and fighting or of shopping streets full of shoving people, rushing people stressed and panicked, trying to get hold of all the things the television had told them to get. But a small part of me, left over from childhood, still thinks of green trees covered in snow, of log fires, of the smiles on people’s faces when they open a gift from you. Of great mounds of food. Turkey breast. Potatoes. Parsnips. Peas. Sprouts. Roasted veg. Boiled veg. Mashed veg. Yorkshire Puddings. Stuffing. All covered in gravy and cranberry sauce. The good things were all I could think about the day I rode from the forest towards Istanbul. It was Christmas Eve. I imagined all the family traveling up from their homes to the cottage to be with my Dad and step mum. People at work going home to their families. Warm in their homes. Together.
I felt a kind of guilt that I wasn’t there and got it into my head that the only present I could give was to video-call home on Christmas day, from Istanbul. Istanbul was a place that I wanted to find work and stay in for a couple of months and so had become a milestone in my mind and in the trip. It coincided with Christmas day and suddenly a personal race was on to reach the city. It’s strange. No one but myself cared about reaching it in that time, the goals you start to set yourself when your cycling around the world are often totally illogical, pushing yourself for no reason other than you think your below average or behind schedule. Schedules and averages that you invented! But, these smaller goals are needed, they act as immediate targets, reachable, helping to go that extra ten kilometers at the end of the day. The race to Istanbul was something completely unnecessary though, born of a fictitious celebration, attributed to a coincidental date.
The day was a cold one. The leggings were on. The gloves were worn. The hood down and little treats like biscuits or boiled sweets got me through the colourless farmlands. The roadside puddles were hard from ice as were the muddy cotton fields that seemed to roll and roll.
The temperatures plummeted that evening and, with every possible piece of clothing wearable being worn, in an attempt to cycle through the night, to reach the city at sunrise, I zipped up, plugged in, clipped on and rode into the darkness. The race was on and, like some biblical wiseman, traveling through the night and by the stars to a far off city and an ancient part of the world, I cycled. The skies were clear for the first time in weeks. The stars, a myriad of diamonds, shone across the horizon. The freezing temperatures deadened everything, the sounds softened, the wind dropped and it was kind of peaceful. iPod music came to my ears. A composition that felt so festive. It sent a chill down my spine.
[audiotube id="-pyXpzfKQEE" time="no"]
But my idea had been too optimistic. It was too cold. Far too cold to reach Istanbul. Nearing midnight even my eyes had started to hurt from the plummeting temperatures. My back was sore. My hands ached. But still, I’d reached the coast of a new sea, The Maramara, and a campsite sign appeared along the highway by the waterside. Not so much a campsite as a patch of grass with a fence and a bungalow beside it.