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Interlude: Checkpoint Reached

On April 29, around noon, I crossed the Ibrahim Khalil border crossing to Türkiye after exactly one month in Iraq, and three weeks on the road with the bicycle. It was a major milestone and felt like a small victory in itself. A pat on the shoulder, a high five to myself: I can do this.

A friend asked me about my strongest impression and biggest lesson thus far. While I of course have learnt a great deal about Iraq, I would now leave the county meaning those teachings were fading in value until I revisit. The only thing that will remain constant throughout this journey is the fact that I am the one doing it. The most important lessons taught in Iraq are those about myself.

Chief among them, as I felt it, is the fact that my ideas, theories and estimations about the project had up to this point been fairly accurate. The timeframe I had in mind was that April would be spent for Iraq. If starting the cycling took time, the route would be quite direct whereas if I could get away quickly from Baghdad, as was the case, I would have time for exploration in Kurdistan. I took it as a good sign that my guessing was strong, and a reason to continue to trust my ability to navigate this quest.

Another aspect that had panned out positively was the homegoing effect. When thinking about long journeys I imagined that going home would be easier than going away. Or perhaps, while not easier per se, that the motivational factor in being homeward bound would make me stronger. Already when clearing my first country, this was effective in crucial moments and I expected it to come up more through Türkiye and the Balkans. When I'm be down and out, when all I want is to go home.... I might as well keep treading, 'cause that's where I'm heading.

This project, now that I am in the swing of things, is all about resource management, in the day-to-day and in the big picture. Throughout Iraq, time and morale was managed well.  Physical health was good too - I ate a lot and mostly healthy, sleep was challenging at times but I had been able to catch up. I entered Iraq with a Delhi belly, but since then there had been no real digestion issues despite eating one plate too many more than once to satisfy the Iraqi hosts. No fever or cold to speak of and body felt strong - knock on wood.

Money was a bit more of a concern. So far so good really, thanks to the generosity of the locals. While the project is absolutely reliant on hospitality, I knew it would change gradually going forward. Would I be able to manage as well financially when help from locals would be a fading resource? I was less confident in this area heading into a very different country that would become increasingly touristy the farther west I came.

Looking at my gear, the bike had so far delivered very well, the most important piece of equipment. Other than that, almost every single apparel bought in Baghdad had been mended at least once. I had lost the shaded visor to the helmet and it now felt quite subpar being black and with little airflow. The gloves had received stitches in two seems each, but had remained intact for some time. All the bags had seen several interventions, the backpack was already down some straps and the rest had been reinforced to hold. The sideloaded bicycle bags were held together not only by stitches but also by more than a little duct tape. While it wasn't pretty, there was strategy to its appliance and it seemed to be stable for the time being.

In Hindi, there is an expression for the state of many things in India: jugaad. It is a makeshift solution that is neither great or elegant, undoubtedly suboptimal.... but it gets the job done. The state of my gear was largely that: jugaad. My only pair of long pants missed pockets in the front, and when my shoes got wet... well, they were wet until I found hairdryer to do something about it, because I carried only are pair save the slippers. Some of the limitations were consciously chosen in order to be lightweight, others a result of a low budget and/or a satisfaction in getting lots out of little. Besides, perfection is seldom what leads to good stories. Good stories are not about perfection but about flaws, challenges and defiance in the face of them.

These material mishaps aside, the verdict of the evaluation was overwhelmingly positive: not bad, not bad at all. Most importantly for me, and this is true still now as I write it I, is that I like what l am doing. There are not many who've read what I've written, neither is that the point. I feel that I like the creation, the story that takes shape. Telling it as I go, be it with a slight delay, holds myself accountable to stay at it, to keep writing and publishing. It is hard work, but work I gladly do. Not once since I started the project have I doubted whether this is the right thing for me to do, nor have I thought to quit. Finally I can honestly say that I care about something, that I am passionate about what I'm doing and of the vision that I have for myself. Few things are as valuable for any person, particularly a man. That is why I write it here, not so much for you, dear reader, but for me. To be grateful for the gift of direction, a gift that is perishable and fragile, that needs protection and one I do not take for granted.

And just like that, I was in Türkiye. If my estimations would continue to be precise, it would be the toughest country of the entire journey. I thought to myself:

I am ready

Back in the saddle

Bring it on


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