Turkey left me ragged. I can’t hide it now – something has fallen away. It trickled off me, turned black under my nails. What’s left looks hard and cold, and I see it in every window I pass. My face is a gravestone.
I’m not sad. I always knew the wide-eyed kid who grinned his way across the Arctic would never make it home. I wanted to feel everything, to swallow whole the sunsets and snow caps, to touch the road and count the stars. And I did.
But in the past months I’ve begun to understand the rawness, the pain that comes from opening my heart so wide. Now there are times when I need to squeeze it shut, to feel nothing in order to survive.
I guess that means I’m grown up.
In Istanbul I ate a bad meal or shook the wrong hand. My stomach rebelled. For a week I couldn’t eat, and when I forced myself, I couldn’t keep it down.
I didn’t care. I kept cycling, stopping to be sick and then pushing forward again. For 600 km I climbed mountains that dwarfed those in Alaska, and I did it with nothing inside but a few pieces of toast.
I don’t remember much about it, just random moments. An army dog chased me down the highway. Someone gave me corn on the cob through a car window. It was so hot that the road tar stuck to my tires. I didn’t know what day it was.
And then it was over, for no reason at all. The road found a place between the mountains and sea, flat and straight. My strength returned. In the 500 km between Sinop and Trabzon I finally noticed Turkey. I inhaled forests of pine, found a beach and swam, licking the salt from my lips.
I spent afternoons in village squares, mobbed by kids who peered under my bike, poked at my bags. They’d frown, unsatisfied, and sit on their haunches in front of me.
Had I biked all the way from Canada? Was I a Christian? Did I miss my family? Was the trip worth it?
What did it cost?
I’ve traded joy and misery for the quiet confidence in knowing I can conquer both. Take away passion’s extremes and it becomes an arrow, white hot. Now I can go anywhere.
Turkey is behind me. I am in Georgia, preparing for Azerbaijan and then Iran.
I am ragged but new. Smiling just a little bit.