Wednesday, 28 November
Back on the walk, Within the first hour, I passed through the town of Karaman. This was my last full day walking on the plateau. I would be glad to descend to the warmer climes, since the weather was becoming chilly on the plateau and I was now wearing my winter coat and wool scarf and hat, even when I walked. Today and tomorrow I would have a bit of a grade to climb before reaching Sertavul Pass, the point which would mark the beginning of the descent to the Mediterranean.
The walking after Karaman wasn’t easy, since the road was surfaced with my least favorite material to walk on—an unforgiving layer of tar with some rocks thrown over the top. The rocks pressed through the soles of my shoes into my feet as I walked. Thank god I’d only run into this kind of pavement a few times so far on the walk, so it was no big deal. But man, it hurt to walk on it. I suspect it was the cheapest surfacing option, and that it was what they used for lightly-trafficked country roads.
I’d started out the day on flat plains with a slight upgrade but the terrain began alternating between sections of flat plains and sections of rolling hills. Again it felt like the earth couldn’t decide whether to be a flat plain with little foliage or a mountain with lots of evergreens. I was in a transition area again.
Off to my right in the southwest rose a lone snow-capped peak, my sole companion for the day. Though it seemed only a short distance from me, the peak was in the Toros mountains, a range running along the southern edge of the Central Anatolian plateau where I was walking. Named for Taurus the zodiac bull, the Toros range marks the southern edge of the plateau. (maybe we’ll want to move this description to the first mention of Toros mountains)
That day’s walk was uneventful, one of those just bang out the miles sort of days.
The icy air made me grateful for my wool scarf, gloves, and hat. The only life I saw along the way was a gas station, where the attendant told me snow was expected the next day. For dinner I bought potato chips, cracker and cheese sandwiches, and a carton of peach juice. I hesitated for a moment before turning to the attendant to pay. I realized I would need breakfast too, so I doubled the quantities before paying.
A few minutes before reaching the gasoline station I had spotted a grove of trees next to the road on the other side of the gasoline station, and I had intended to check it out for the night’s camp spot. I reached the grove, looked both ways to make sure no one was watching, and walked off the road to inspect the grove. The ground under the evergreen trees looked well-traveled and there were leveled-out places where people had set up tents before. I saw footpaths headed out from the area. To the side was an area with enough waist-high brush to hide my tent. It wasn’t great cover, if I stood up at all I could be seen clearly from the road if a person knew where to look. But there was no other option. I tamped down an area with my feet and pitched my tent. I ate my chips and sandwich cookies while hunkered down amongst the shrubs. I was cold and the cover wasn’t very good, but I was happy, feeling free, and excited to finally be walking off the plateau the next day.
I finished my dinner and dug into the warmth of my sleeping bag and gazed out at the full moon above me. The sky was clear and blanketed with stars.
In the morning I woke up feeling cozy, warm, and right at home. In fact, I didn’t want to leave. But, leave I must! The clouds had rolled in during the night and I needed to get out of there before it started snowing.
The climb to the summit of Sertavul pass the next morning was short and steep. The few trucks climbing the pass with me were almost slower at climbing it than I was. They belched out huge clouds of exhaust as they labored up the hill. I thought back to the gasoline station attendant’s comment, and thought, Yeah, it’s probably going to snow today.
After about five or ten kilometers I reached Sertavul summit, took off my pack, and stood for ten minutes to mentally “celebrate” in the icy wind that whipped around me. Reaching the summit was a major milestone, marking the end of my days on the Central Anatolian Plateau. It was a little like standing on the moon. Nothing but gravel and sparse, low mounds of grass covered the hills for as far as I could see. At an altitude of 5400 feet (1650 meters), the summit was also the end of Karaman province and the beginning of Mersin province. I’d begun walking on the plateau at the end of September when I was 12% through the walk. Now at the end of November and at the end of the plateau I was almost 40% through.
But I was in no mood for an extended celebration with the cold wind blasting into my face so I shouldered my pack again and began the descent. The road was so steep in places that my main goal was just to keep from falling flat on my face.
As I descended I started seeing eerie shelters carved into the hillsides with crumbling walls of piled-up rock sheltering their openings. They had roofs of rusted tin supported by upright, weathered branches. The shelters appeared to be abandoned. There was no sign of life that I could see, anyway. I definitely did not want go look in them to find out. Just days before, while in Istanbul, I had finished reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and I was still under its spell. The book speaks of a post-apocalyptic world where barbarians have killed off or enslaved most survivors, and here, alone in this deserted area with these shacks, and with the wind blowing around me like crazy, my fertile imagination began to run wild. I could almost see starved, crazed barbarians flooding out of the abandoned shelters to capture and enslave me.
I hurried nervously past the shelters, and as the wind subsided I began to enjoy the natural beauty of the area, with the Goksu River flowing through the valley off in the distance, eventually emptying into a Mediterranean I couldn’t yet see. A blue haze hovered over the hills next to the valley. I planned to walk through that valley out to the Mediterranean. It would be a full week still before I reached the sea. I squinted to see if I could spot the road on which I’d be walking.
For shelter that night I found a little outcropping, sheltered by rocks and trees, where I could look off into the distance. Up on the pass the land had been barren and rocky, but now it was covered with mile after mile of evergreen forest. Not that there was much to hide from here — I had seen only one person all day, in the morning, and a car passed me on the road only once every five or ten minutes. There wasn’t even a gas station, so there would be no lunch or dinner for me that day.
Fortunately, warm air was blowing up from the Mediterranean to replace the cold air up on the plateau, so I sat on the rocky outcropping, my legs dangling over the side, and absorbed the view of the river valley disappearing into the distance, happy to know that I had reached a Mediterranean climate and wouldn’t have to hide in my down sleeping bag as soon as I stopped walking each day.
I had no food for dinner, so I crawled into my tent and fell fast asleep, a warm breeze blowing gently past the tent. In the morning I awoke suddenly, surprised by the tinkling of sheep bells that sounded very close. Panicked and thinking that I was surrounded by sheep, and that my secret hideaway in the forest wasn’t so secret, I jumped out of my tent to look, but there were no sheep within sight. I relaxed as I realized the sound had just been carrying very well, and that no one had spotted me.