Grey roads. Grey skies. The Snow, thick on the ground, on the domes of the mosques and the rooftop bars, was now dark and slushy and, during the height of this winter, towards the end of January, I had two visits. An old friend, bringing stories from London, from a life I no longer knew, from four months I had missed and wanted to miss. And parents, fearful that they would never have another chance to see my face, before I rode off into more complicated, more unusual parts of the world.
It’s been hard to write this chapter. Hard trying to not sound ungrateful or to offend those that came to visit. But the truth is, I was reluctant towards the idea of visitors. I was cycling away from a stale life and into a new one, full of unknown roads and incredible possibilities and my life in Istanbul was a creation of four months hard work, hard cycling. For who I had become, was not who I had been in England. And, when both parties flew across Europe to see me, passing all I had ridden in a matter of hours, however happy they were to see the joy in me, see the life in me, it reset everything and bought with them all I had left behind. To set off on an adventure, with a vision of returning home, years later, having ridden the world, is what I had dreamt of. That vision faded with the arrival of visitors from another life.
But, what could I tell them of where I had been and what I had seen. The snow-clad forests of Austria. Kayaking the Mediterranean to find secret island coves. Pushing my bike through a white world of alpine stormclouds. Every hill I’d passed, every river I’d crossed, all of the wild camping spots I’d slept in, been peaceful in, been lonely in. Every cramped muscle. Every headwind. Every butterfly that fluttered within me when the land dropped away and the road fell downwards. It was impossible. Instead, for two weeks, I sat back and just listened to all they had to say, just smiled a real smile, no longer having to lie to them about my life or pretend that I was fine.
On a more simple level, I was happy to see them too, happy that they’d travel all this way, just for me. Happier still that an idea that had seemed so alien to my dad nine months earlier ( Chapter 1// Six Months to Go ) now made him proud, made him want to fly across the world to bring me spare tyres, a bar of English chocolate and the biggest hug he’d ever given me. Important was their acceptance and the chance to say goodbye again, this time with strength and esteem in my heart. It was a rare opportunity and one I was grateful for. I could go on cycling knowing that they were following me and were there for me should I need the support.
But, my friend was becoming part of another life, a prologue to everything that was now taking place. Though how was he to know this and, so, we just enjoyed the sheesha bars together, climbed Galata tower at sunset and ate fish sandwiches from the Bosphorous river. My Dad particularly enjoyed the endless rounds of sweet Baklava and Turkish coffee, sheltering from the snowstorms inside streetside cafes.
But, there was no escaping the feeling. An unsettling, resetting reminder of the past life I had lived. When all visits came to an end and all had returned to England, there was a sense that whatever happened next would be the real beginning. I was now left alone to face this uncertain future, but thoughts of home were left strong in my mind and leaving the safety of Istanbul suddenly seemed something to be afraid of. I sank further into the safety of the hostel.