If you know you will succeed it’s too easy – Alastair Humphreys
My name is John Karwoski and here is my first blog. I’m trying it as a way to share my Oriental Express adventure. Being new to blogging, I don’t know the tricks to make it organizationally exciting, so I hope mere words and pictures interest you.
If you are new to blogs, be aware that entries are sorted from newest to oldest. I think it’s cumbersome to scroll to the bottom of all the blog entries and read upwards to read them in order.
Instead, for quick navigation click the MENU button or a Country name above to go directly to any day on the tour.
Also, when using either navigation menu, at the bottom of the daily blogs you can select to go to the prior or next daily blog.
I’m putting my ride maps and statistics in Strava. Strava is a free app that works on your smartphone (get from the App Store) or your computer (Strava.com). Sign up for a free account, then search for my name and “follow” me.
I’m also putting pictures and statuses on Facebook. If we are not already connected, search for “John Karwoski Austin” on Facebook and send a friend request to me. For security reasons, only friends see my Facebook posts.
Today some bicyclists are going home, some are moving to new hotels, and some have spouses joining them in Istanbul. My roommate Jay has a sister and brother living nearby and he will stay with them for a week.
After breakfast and good-byes I walk my duffle and boxed bicycle to a nicer hotel. It’s close, only four minutes away. I’m staying in Istanbul two more days.
I used to work with two wonderful people who live in Istanbul, Didem and Nedim. I connected with them before the trip and have dinner with them tonight to catch up with each other.
To wrap up this blog, here’s my opinion about equipment I brought and other aspects of the tour.
I think my Specialized Diverge Comp gravel bicycle is perfect for this ride. It’s relatively light and its 38mm Sawtooth tires and “Future Shock” stem shock absorber smooth out the rough roads. Road bikes with skinny tires suffer most of the flats (our record holder has 6 flats). For me, no flat tires.
My bike repairs: (1) replace the derailleur hanger (2) adjust for rubbing brake rotor. Future work required: the chain is worn and needs to be replaced. One of my pedals is making a clicking sound. Probably a worn bearing or spindle. Time to replace the pedals.
I have small and lightweight Bontrager Ion 200 RT/Flare RT lights and use them in flash mode to be more visible to cars and trucks. They work great (but did not stop the bus that hit me 🥴). The lights have to be recharged nightly after long rides. I like them a lot.
For navigation I rely on a Garmin 1030 bicycle computer. I downloaded all 39 ride tracks provided by TDA plus Garmin’s Europe Bike map before I came to Paris. Downloading the TDA tracks was a convoluted process requiring a computer, but I got them all.
My Garmin’s performance is rock solid. The purchased Europe map provides good local road detail in all countries. I rely on the Garmin as my primary navigation guide and use TDA daily cue sheets for supplemental information.
Several riders with older Garmin computers had issues keeping their GPS signal or stopping mid-ride. Maybe they didn’t have the latest Garmin software updates?
I brought prescription Oakley Cycling glasses. One of the lens broke on the second day of the ride. I rode the rest of the trip wearing regular prescription glasses. Lesson learned: bring backups for unique, personalized accessories such as prescription glasses.
I brought a GoPro. Stopped using it after the first day. Too finicky. Plus how do I handle seven weeks of recordings when I get home? I use my phone for pictures and videos.
I found a rear view mirror invaluable. When sharing potholed/cracked/rippled roads with trucks and cars it’s always nice to instantly see what’s behind you to help decide to go through or around obstacles. I have a large dorky looking mirror attached to my helmet.
My RAM X-Grip stem mount phone holder has two problems. First, on the “quite rough” unpaved roads in Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey it doesn’t hold my phone securely. My phone has been dropped. After the drop my phone stayed in my jersey pocket most of the time. Second, the mount requires two hands to release the phone to take pictures while riding. I want a secure mount with single-handed mounting/unmounting.
After the riding in my first rainstorm I bought a small “Ass Savers” rear fender to attach to the bicycle saddle. Small, light, and worked well.
My Revelate Designs half frame bag fits well and is the right size. However, I regret it isn’t waterproof. If you ride in the rain, contents WILL get wet.
Health and Injuries:
I have a cough throughout the trip. I’m a mouth breather and maybe I’m inhaling dust/pollen/etc while riding. Probably need to discipline myself to inhale more through my nose.
I have three falls. I’m lucky. Only scrapes and a sore butt. One time my bike slipped while on a muddy road in Austria. Another time I fell while trying to stop and turn simultaneously to take a photo on a gravel trail in Bulgaria. Finally I got hit by the bus in Istanbul. No issues to stop my riding.
Best way to handle cuts and scrapes I learned: wash with plain water immediately. When you reach the hotel, clean the sores thoroughly with soap and water, cut off any loose skin, then let air dry. A little bleeding is OK. Helps cleanse the wound.
Several of us, including me, got stung by bees while riding. I got stung on my lower lip and stomach. An anti-histamine helps if there is swelling.
Other riders have more serious falls. One dislocates his shoulder, another acquires a cut needing stitches, and someone tears his hamstring (he falls in the bathtub, not from the bicycle). There are several other minor scrapes, bruises and cuts requiring only cleaning and air drying. One person is bit by a dog (getting rabies shots now).
Some days I end the ride exhausted, but by the next morning my legs and body are fine. I attribute this to my improved general physical fitness thanks to Camp Gladiator exercise camps I attended regularly for months before the ride.
I use chamois cream on my skin every riding day and have no problem with bottom sores. I think a key requirement for preventing sores is getting a good bike fit. You don’t want repetitive squirming or shifting on your seat while pedaling.
I have three. Two for electrolyte solutions and one with plain water. I drink the water containing electrolytes. The plain water is for washing injuries and sharing with other riders. Bring a bottle brush. Bottles get scuzy with daily use.
For electrolytes, I use Nuun tablets from USA. I found something similar, Dextro Energy tablets in Germany. When I have no tablets I mix orange juice and water (50/50).
I brought bicycle shorts but stopped using them because my nipples get sore after rubbing the jersey for several hours. I wear bib shorts instead and am comfortable. I have two pair of bib shorts and do daily sink washings to wear them on alternate days.
For rain protection I rely on a lightweight rain jacket plus rubber booties to protect my bicycling shoes. I brought a waterproof helmet cover and rain pants but don’t use them.
I discovered if your bicycling shoes get wet, a good way to accelerate drying is to stuff them with newsprint. The paper draws the water out of the shoes.
On a couple days we ride through forests with knats/flies swarming around our faces. We all suffer. I wish I had some sort of netting to put over my head for protection. Next time I’ll carry one.
I wear a bicycle hat most days instead of my usual buff because the hat provides more padding between my head and helmet.
Bicycle breakdown for shipping:
We brought our own bicycles for this tour. They had to be shipped in cardboard boxes. Here is how the TDA mechanic guided me to break down and prepare my bicycle to go into the box for returning home.
Your bike and packing requirements may be different, but maybe this video will give you some ideas.
So the question is, did I enjoy the tour, might I do this again? The answer is a resounding YES! Parts of the tour were challenging, hotels were sometimes so-so, but I enjoyed a lot and learned a lot. The TDA staff were excellent and I appreciate the support they provided to all riders. My fellow riders were a great bunch; very open, accepting, and fun to be with day and night. I’m looking forward to meeting them again.
That’s it! I hope you find this blog entertaining and informative. See you on the next tour.
For such a short ride, hard work. First challenge is steep hills of very rough/stoney gravel. Most riders walk the steep parts. Then granny gear climbs through villages perched on hills, riding alongside highways under construction with huge trucks rolling past, a long climb up a park road of 1-1/2 lanes with two way traffic, and then traffic in the outskirts of Istanbul.
I am hit by a metro bus in Istanbul. Riding alongside the Bosphorus I’m surprised when a massive bus starts pushing against my left side as he moves to the right towards a bus stop. He has no idea I am there (I didn’t ride up to his side; he drove up to my side). He presses me and my bike sideways until me and the bike drop to the ground. I scramble to keep my arms and legs away from the bus to keep away from its wheels. I see bus riders wave their arms and yell until the bus driver stops the bus. Happily I am ok. My butt is sore, have a new scrape on my left elbow, and the bike seems OK. The bus driver waits for me to signal I’m okay and then drives on. I am at 59.46 KM, within 1 KM of the absolute end of my Paris to Istanbul ride. What a finish!
My total trip distance: 3792KM, or 2356 miles. Total climbing: 25,551M, or 83,828 feet. I EFIed it. That means traveling “Every Friggn Inch” without ever riding the SAG van or other vehicle.
The ride ends in the outskirts of Istanbul, north of our hotel. When we’re all gathered together we load the bicycles onto a ferry to travel south on the Bosporus strait to a dock close to our hotel.
We enjoy celebratory champagne and lunch on the ferry. Several riders also enjoy jumping off the ferry into the water to cool off. A delightful ride, no pedaling required.
Immediately after arriving at the hotel we box our bicycles for travel back to their home countries. Then we meet at a local restaurant for dinner and more celebrating. My butt is sore from the bus incident. I suffer when climbing three stories of stairs to the restaurant, but what a view!
Our hotel room AC doesn’t work. I ask the hotel to have someone fix it. When Jay and I return to the hotel we discover the “fix” is to open our room’s window. Our room is hot, humid, and outside street noise is loud. We debate asking for a different room; decide we are too unpacked and tired to move, and what’s one more night sweating in our sleep? We stay and suffer the room. Seems a suitable way to end our TDA adventure.
Only a 89KM ride today, but hard. Starts with a 5KM climb immediately after breakfast. Cross the border into Turkey at 8KM.
Introduction to Turkey is a nice, long downhill on a smooth road but quickly changes to steep rollers. Then we turn off the nice asphalt onto small backcountry roads for the bulk of the ride.
7KM of gravel roads before lunch – lots of sharp rocks and sandy rollers. The wind picks up and we ride through dust devils.
When the asphalt comes back we ride into terrific headwinds for several KMs before arriving at the lunch truck. Several riders drop out, preferring to finish the ride by van.
After lunch, more gravel plus blustery crosswinds. I swear my bicycle slides to the right with the gusts. Have a couple falls in the group – Nick dislocates his shoulder and Jay gets cuts and bruises. Both earn rides to the medical clinic (however Jay completes his bicycle ride before agreeing to go to the clinic).
Vize is a small town and our hotel is on a busy street. No AC, so our room window is open. Loud barking dogs on a regular basis throughout the night. It is 3:30am and I’m able to use their WiFi. Progress.
Tomorrow is a rest day. We’ll have fun exploring and doing personal chores before our final two days riding to Istanbul.
Most of today’s ride is on a former military road they don’t use anymore. Just a few lumber trucks use it. The road is 40+KM long, with rolling hills and switchbacks on a heavily forested mountain range (remains of the Balkans Mountains?).
Gnats/flies are terrible – buzzing around our faces all the time. Roads are also in very poor condition. Looks like no maintenance for years so they are falling apart. I think we have 5 flat tires by our group today.
With my fat tires the roads are doable (and fun). I also learn if I keep my speed above 10KPH most of the insects stay away. I am strongly incented to keep hammering up the uphills.
I have one mishap. I pass a monument of some sort. Decide to stop and ride back to photograph it. When I slow and turn I go too sharp and lose control on the loose rocks. The bike goes down. I scrape one arm and bend the bike’s derailleur. When I continue riding I have fewer gears available.
Of course I still walk to the monument to take the picture despite scores of flies immediately attacking my face.
At the lunch stop I am lucky. Our TDA mechanic is there with his tools. He straightens the derailleur hanger for me before I leave.
Nice town, nice hotel. We have a real bathroom with a shower stall!
Longer ride than yesterday, but less elevation. Easier. Have a 25KM headwind for about 40KM towards the end of the ride. I can deal with that. What drives me crazy is the last 3KM on a busy forest road up to the hotel. Gnats. Gnats flying all around my face. I keep trying to swat them away to no avail. Where’s a headwind when you need it?
Tonight’s hotel is nicer than average. Has a swimming pool some of us try out. I’m starting to believe the Bulgarian standard bathroom has no shower stall and no bathtub. Just a shower head between the toilet and sink and a drain on the floor.
Note to self: my bicycle chain is stretched and must be replaced soon.
This was a hard ride for me. Left Viliko Tărnovo via narrow cobblestone streets going up and down. Was able to handle them without walking the bicycle. Soon after leaving town had the big climb of the day, averaging 10% to 15% for a few kilometers. I tried slowing myself down to conserve energy, but still had to stop three times for short rests.
Had some real nice rolling hills afterwards, then the slow steady climbing began. Not too steep, but kept me in my granny gear most of the time and was wearing. Very happy to reach our destination hotel at 2:30.
I start last today with the TDA sweep rider. It is lightly raining, but our route is toward blue skies so I skip the rain gear.
Nice rolling hills for most of the ride. After lunch we have several KMs of bad concrete road – lots and lots of potholes, but then get to nice asphalt again. As usual for Bulgaria, no bike lanes and no shoulders. We share roads with cars and trucks.
Near Veliko Tarnova we climb the steepest hill. About 10% grade for 2-1/2 KMs. I do my usual ride/rest/ride up this hill. I’ve got to try riding slower to see if I can get up all the way without taking rest breaks.
Veliko Tarnova is a beautiful fortress town. We have a rest day here.