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Chapter 26: Forces of Nature

Şanlıurfa to Adana. May 11-14.

It was time to switch gear and speed things up. After Şanlıurfa I cycled four days straight to Birecik, Gaziantep, Osmaniye and Adana. It felt good to be moving again and to see the progress on the map, and it was a welcome streak of days of riding without flat tires or other breakdowns.

In Şanlıurfa I had visited a museum with mosaics, but the prime collection is in Gaziantep. Mosaic feels to me more barebones, more tangible than paintings. It is fascinating to see how small clearly defined fragments together make a greater whole, and the patience required for the execution is humbling to say the least. The larger mosaics with intricate motives are made up of bricks in the millions.

For many of the mosaics found in the grand museum Gaziantep, the story is told of a battle against water, and time. After the construction of the dam near Birecik by the turn of the millenium, the upper region would see flooding including the ancient city of Zeugma. The mosaics there were some of the most impressive and well preserved from the ancient world, and would soon be underwater. Similar to the story of how the Abu Simbel Temples in Southern Egypt were saved, the works in Zeugma were moved with increasingly desperate measures as the water rose about four inches per day. In the end, most mosaics were saved without major loss, but some drowned in the lake made by man. Human creations are most impressive but when we play around with the grand forces of nature, it becomes clear that they are not easily controlled, and their destruction can be swift and merciless.

On February 6 2023, earthquakes hit southern Turkey and northern Syria, the strongest ever measured in Anatolia. On my journey I have caught a glimpse of the havoc they wreaked. Some in the form of brand new constructions, some in the form of damaged and collapsed buildings, and some in the form of entire blocks flattened with the remains demolished. Nurdağı, a town west of Gaziantep looked particularly rough, but even Osmaniye seemed more than a little scuffled. While the ground was solid now, I was no less shaken by seeing the damage up close. In Nurdaği, half of all buildings were badly damaged or completely destroyed, with almost 2500 casualties. In total for both Turkey and Syria, the Earthquakes claimed the lives of around 60 000 people, and leaving another 1.5 million homeless.

While fortunately nothing groundbreaking, the weather was unstable and harsh as I shifted from the east to the west side of Turkey, which also meant moving from Kurdish majority to Turkish majority population. Outside Gaziantep I stayed with Serhat and his family, the first Turks to host me since I began the journey. The hospitality I received was not significantly different from the Kurds or the Arabs from early in my trip, which is high remarks. On that day the western winds had been strong, and when I complained to Serhat that head wind was worse than uphill slopes, he nodded and chuckled.

"Yes, and the slopes end. The wind doesn't." It does indeed feel demoralising with an obstacle that cannot be seen or avoided, and there is no telling when it will stop. Worse still, it feels personal. Whereas the slopes are predictable, constant in place and indifferent to oneself, the wind feels like a malicious trick played by a god who either wants to punish you, or just laugh at your struggle out of spite. I absolutely sympathise with the folks of ancient times who attributed natural forces to supernatural beings of relatable and dark desires. On the bicycle, the head wind is literally in your face.

When I left Gaziantep I prepared for a long day of riding to Osmaniye, 113 kilometers total, the longest since my very first day of 160 clicks. The day started and ended in rainfall. The morning showers were light, just enough to be a nuisance, to keep me on my toes so to speak. With 33 km left to Osmaniye, the sky again darkened ahead and I braced myself for a storm. My equipment is protected from the rain, but I'm not in my wind jacket which have turned out to be about as waterproof as my only pair of shoes. While investing in proper gear for downpours would be the wise thing to do, the temperatures have been too high for catching a cold from rain, and I would miss out on feeling the element to my skin and with it the oddly motivating challenge that a good storm can bring.

As I rode with the raindrops whipping my face in the gloomy atmosphere, my mind went to the movies. To Helm's Deep, where Theoden and the protectors of Rohan awaited the incoming army of Uruks. To the European frontlines where Captain Miller and Dick Winters kept the morale up among their men. To Shawshank prison and to dystopian London where the showers on Andy Dufresne and Evey Hammond signaled liberation of the body, of the self and of the soul. Perhaps because of my cinematic mind, or from the many hours of working on rainy football pitches, I seldom bother to cover my skin from water. In fact, after the initial uncomfort, I even embrace it. Riding in the rain on that day turned out to be, if anything, empowering. And when the sun finally broke through, it shone all the brighter.


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