Tuesday, 18 September 2012
Tuesday morning I awoke with a start to my cell phone alarm. I panicked. Oh my god, I am still at this gas station! I should be making better progress. I am letting myself down and everyone back home, too. I came here to walk across the country, not to dine with pretty girls!
Okay, okay, I quieted myself, just wait a minute, all is not lost. I walked yesterday, and all I need to do to continue making forward progress is stand up, stuff my things into my backpack, and catch the bus back to where I left off yesterday. Everything’s fine.
I stood up and packed my bag and walked out to the shoulder to catch the bus. While I sat by the side of the road waiting for the bus I pulled a note from my pocket. I’d awakened in the middle of the night thinking of Ayse and had written a note to her in English. I began translating it into Turkish so I could text it to her later. When the bus pulled up, I stuffed the partially-translated note into my pocket and boarded.
I rode the bus the 18 kilometers back to Kocabas and stepped off where I’d I’d taken the selfie under the giant Turkish flag. From there I resumed my walk.
About one kilometer ahead of me loomed an unusually large pedestrian overpass crossing the lightly-used highway. The only reason for its existence, it seemed, was for villagers from Kocabas to cross the unused highway to their jobs at the local prison on the other side.
I set my sights on that overpass.
Get past that overpass, I told myself, and you’ll be out of the Denizli orbit and on to the next town.
I knew I had to break the spell of Denizli, and I hoped forward momentum would do it.
My goal for the day was Bozkurt, a small town of about 12,000 people 27 kilometers east of Kocabas, the first town I would reach when I finished the climb onto the Central Anatolian plateau. In my mind, getting onto the plateau would mark the end of the walk’s first stage in the Menderes river valley. It would mean I had finished the beginning.
The day’s climb followed a steep section of the highway through a sparsely-populated area. Sometimes I found myself walking past flat, wide expanses of tall, dry grasses and then suddenly I’d find myself in a section of rolling hills with groupings of oak trees and scrubby-looking shrubs. Like me, the land couldn’t seem to make up its mind what it needed to be. When I would see the oak trees and shrubbery reminiscent of the walk into Denizli, I would feel the pull of Denizli tempting me backwards. When I would see the tall, dry grasses hinting at the plateau to come, I would feel a push forward.
I began to get hungry but paused just before a lunch of kofte and pilav to pull the note from my pocket and type my text to Ayse.
After lunch as I was walking, Ayse called me back. I stopped to take the call. My phone Turkish is even more basic than my face-to-face Turkish, so the conversation was neither deep nor long. She had received my text message and was also reeling from dinner the night before apparently.
After our brief conversation I resumed walking and reflected on the past few days–Ayse, Metin, and the others I had met in Denizli that weekend. I thought about the wedding. I chuckled about drinking with the guys at Bes Yol.
I wanted to hop on a bus back to Denizli and settle down to spend the rest of my life there.
What craziness was that? Ayse didn’t speak English and I spoke Tarzan Turkish. We had different lives and I was old enough to be her father. I needed to break the spell of Denizli if I were going to do the job I’d set out to do.
My back muscles were aching from the climb so I stopped by the side of the road to rest for a while and to process the flood of images that had taken over my mind.
After a time, I was finally able to get up and finish the climb to the top of the plateau. The transition was quick and dramatic, like climbing up a long flight of stairs and stepping out onto a landing. In less than 100 meters I stepped from the climb, marked by scattered oak trees and short bridges over dry stream beds, into Bozkurt, perched on the edge at the top of the plateau with its grassy expanses as flat as boards. There were mountains off in the hazy distance but the road was flat and straight.
Hello plateau, nice to meet you. I’ll be with you for a while now.
I stopped at the first truckstop in Bozkurt where I thought I might sleep. My head was still whirling with images. The truckstop was busy. It had multiple restaurants. There was plenty of grass but there were too many people and it was too close to the road. I needed quiet. As tired as I was, I walked further into Bozkurt.
I found a gasoline station, but the grounds were completely paved over and there was no place to pitch a tent. I called out to one of the attendants anyway. “I’m walking through. Is there a place I can camp? I have everything. I have my tent. I have my sleeping bag. Can I camp here for the night?”
He said, “No. There is probably no comfortable place here for you. You should probably move on.”
Another half kilometer and on my third try, I found a gas station with a covered area and tall grass away from traffic. It had a restaurant. It had bathrooms. There were few people. It was perfect. I paused in front of the office, unprepared for the effort I knew it would take to converse in Turkish with the people inside.
The rational me said, I’m going to need you to be mentally present for this conversation.
The irrational me replied, No, I don’t want to be here I want to stay in my dream world. I like the people back in Denizli, and I don’t want to leave them.
Rational me: Sorry, but you’re here now with these people and you’re going to have to leave the others in Denizli in order to have this conversation.
It was getting dark, and I knew the rational me would have to take hold really fast if I were going to win this tug of war and find a place to sleep that night. I shut down the me whining to go back to Denizli and walked into the gasoline station office.
During the mercifully brief conversation with the station owner, I got clearance to set up camp and have dinner at the restaurant.
After dinner, as I nestled into my sleeping bag, I took a deep breath of the cool night air. At the higher altitude of the plateau the air was crisper and fresher than it had been in Denizli, and I was camping on green grass under the stars, not laid out on the floor in the office of a gasoline station breathing someone’s second-hand cigarette smoke.
Before I went to sleep I calculated how far I had come. I had walked 242 kilometers, or 11.5% of the distance. I noticed that at some point earlier I had written in my notebook that if you can finish 10% of anything, and are determined to do whatever it takes to finish the project, you are highly likely to make it to the end. I asked myself if I was determined to do whatever it takes to finish the project. The answer was yes. I relaxed and snuggled further into my sleeping bag. Everything was going to be okay.