I had few expectations about Batumi, but the city nonetheless managed to exceed all of them. The city had an excellent climate, and was oriented towards the pebbly beach that separated the gracious town from the Black Sea.
Unfortunately, I had little time to linger, so after breakfast I headed towards the Turkish border, stopping only to top off the tank. Border formalities were refreshingly efficient, such that despite the 20 minute wait to buy insurance I was in Turkey little more than an hour after arriving. Motorists heading in the other direction, however, had a good wait, as it took me 10 minutes at 30 kph to pass the end of the queue of vehicles waiting to enter Georgia.
A very good dual carriageway road brought me to Trabzon a few hours later, where Google maps took me straight to my hotel. Checked in, checked out the view from my terrace over the harbour, got my dirty clothing to a laundry, bought a Turkish SIM card, found some dinner and a beer, and went to sleep.
Departed reasonably early next day after breakfast. Istanbul was too distant to attempt driving in one day, so I decided a visit to Cappodoccia would be a good way to break my journey. I booked myself two nights in a hotel there, and set Google maps to navigate me there.
As usual, three alternative routes were offered, and also as usual, I took the one with the shortest drive time. The route I chose headed directly inland, straight up into the Anatolian plateau; others continued west along the Black Sea coast before turning south. The road started as a four-lane dual carriageway, but soon narrowed to a single lane as it climbed into the mountains in a series of switchbacks. After more than hour of steadily gaining elevation, it levelled out into a long straight stretch. This road continued east towards Erzurum, but Google maps directed me south onto a secondary road.
Over the next couple of hours, the road steadily deteriorated, getting narrower and rougher until I was driving over an unfinished track through pine-covered mountains. For El Guapo, it was no real challenge, but I would feel bad for anyone in an ordinary vehicle that had been directed to this route by Google maps. Eventually, of course, I rejoined the pavement, and as I continued towards Cappadoccia the roads grew steadily wider and smoother. At Zara, I took the opportunity to fill El Guapo's diesel tank, before continuing on. Leaving town, I was distracted by a text from MJ and drifted into curb dividing the roadway, travelling at around 100 kph. I hit hard, and bounced back onto the road. The time pressure monitor loudly informed me I had just punctured the tyre.
I managed to pull over directly in front of a complex of workshops, mostly in the business of tyre repair. A mechanic soon appeared, and we jacked up the front axle, removed the wheel and took it to his workshop. Despite the abundance of tyre shops, no new ones were available. The mechanic took the tyre off the rim and together we inspected the damage. There was a gash 6 cm long in the side wall. He patched it up and it held air, but I didn't have a lot of confidence in the repair. We moved that tyre to the spare wheel carrier, put the spare on the rear, and moved the rear to the front. I paid him €100 and set off down the road.
No further mis-haps marred the rest of the journey, which took me over increasingly good quality roads to Göreme, the centre of Cappadoccia, by what I thought was around 22:00, but later that evening I learned that I had crossed a time-zone boundary at some point that day and it was an hour earlier.
I wandered into the touristy centre of town and had some drinks and dinner before going to bed around midnight. My plan was to take a break from driving and have a look around Cappadoccia the next day. Although I was in bed, I was still restless and slept lightly. Around 3:30 I got a text from my brother: my Dad had just passed away.
I sat awake texting him and then MJ for a bit before getting a little bit of sleep. I was out of bed by eight and on the road by 10:00. The friendly Kiwi owner of the hotel allowed me to cancel the second night I had booked without a penalty.
Istanbul was still a good ways away. I headed towards Ankara first and was headed north from there by early afternoon. On the way, with MJ's help, I booked a ticket to Detroit, a hotel at the airport in Istanbul, and a hotel in Ann Arbor. Approaching the city, the traffic grew steadily denser and slower. At one point I had anticipated reaching my hotel before 21:00, but the last kilometers in Asia I just crept along. I had earlier passed up some opportunities to re-fuel, and now my low-fuel warning came on. Around 22:00, I finally crossed the Bosporus into Europe.
I continued through heavy traffic on the highway towards the airport, my fuel gauge making me increasingly doubtful that I would make it. I considered an exit where there might potentially be a fuel station, hesistated, passed it, and then saw that I could have easily accessed three large petrol stations if I had exited as I considered. I had more diesel on the roof rack, so I wasn't worried about running out of fuel per se, but rather that if it ran dry I would have to bleed the air out of the fuel system. Prudence finally got the better of me and I decided to pull off and find a fuel station or to pour the contents of one of jerry cans into the tank. Naturally, unlike the exit I passed by, the exit I took 1) had no fuel stations and 2) did not lead easily back on to the main highway. I found a spot to pull over, climbed up on the roof and brought down a full jerry can, dug the spout out of the back and poured the contents into the tank. Replaced the jerry can on the roof and pulled back out into traffic.
With the help of Google maps, I navigated the spaghetti junction that led onto the avenue along the Sea of Marmora where the Hyatt was located. I pulled into the car park a few minutes later.
Checking in I was given good news and bad news. The bad news first: it was nearly midnight, I was exhausted and smelling like diesel, and my room wasn't ready. The good news: the only thing they had left was the Diplomatic Suite, which turned out to be an enormous six-room suite with two bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, a conference room, living room, kitchen and master suite with an immense bathtub in the middle of a bathroom larger than most people's sitting rooms. Over the years, I've had dozens of colleagues tell stories of such good fortune, but it had always eluded me. However, now that I had finally reached this elusive goal, I was only going to be able to enjoy it for about four hours, as my flight was at 6:00 the next morning.
I told the bellman I was going to the bar and to bring me the key when the room was ready. He did so in the middle of my second drink, so I headed down one floor to my fancy suite. I plugged all of my Apple devices in to charge, each in its own private room (why not, right?), set two wake up calls and an alarm and went to sleep in the enormous bed.
On waking, I turned on all six jets in the gigantic marble shower and blasted my body with warm water. Dressed, packed up all my Apple devices and headed downstairs, where they had a take-away breakfast waiting for me. I left the keys to El Guapo with the bellman and headed for the airport. Check in, security, etc. all normal. Found my economy-class seat at the very back of the plane, surrounded by a dozen or so unhappy toddlers. All were loud, but the one directly across the aisle was possessed by particularly noisy demons. In between screaming fits, he would kick the back of the seat in front of him, take the items his parents had offered in vain attempts to calm him and throw them into the aisle, and – his favourite – lower the tray table and pummel it with his fists as hard and fast as he could. Fortunately, he soon tired of all this, and – no, actually that was just our collective wishful thinking. He never got tired of keeping up his tantrum at full intensity during the entire 5-hour flight to Frankfort.
Frankfort was a short layover, and before long I was crammed into another economy class seat in the back of another jet. Fortunately, the configuration on this one was one I had never before encountered, and it had a lot fewer kids. Can't remember what the model of the aircraft was, but the toilets were all on a lower level, down a flight of stairs. The bulkhead around the stairs was just starboard of my seat, so although I had a "middle" seat, I had no one to my right, and only one seat to my left.
Before I knew it, my brother was picking me up at what had become a familiar spot at DTW. My Mom was never one to handle even the most lightly stressful situation with any sort of grace or dignity, so losing her husband of 57 years was sending her around the bend. We felt some trepidation because of this (my brother sharing with me some of her more outrageous actions over the days since I had left), but nonetheless felt it our obligation to stop in on my Mom. Afterwards, he dropped me at my hotel on the west side of town.
Next few days were spent getting things ready for my Dad's funeral, which was planned for Friday. With the help of my niece, we sorted through hundreds of old photos, selected a few dozen, found a guy who could scan them, had a dozen or so printed up, and put the rest on a playable DVD that could play on a repeating loop during the wake. We met with the priest and made final arrangements concerning the cermony, finalised the lunch menu and the readings and the music. We cleaned up the house in preparation for visitors, prepared print-outs of my Dad's favourite poems to distribute to guests, and took the American flag that had covered my sisters remains at her funeral 30+ years ago to the funeral home. One nice touch was my brother's idea – having his seven passports on display, the photos marking both his aging and the progression of hairstyles through the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and beyond.
The wake was well attended, by members of his family, my Mom's family, as well as friends, neighbours, and former colleagues, classmates and co-workers. The weather on the day of the funeral was flawless. I had taken my Dad's car back to my hotel the night before, and so I rose, put on a suit and headed over to my Mom's house first thing. The funeral was starting at 10:00 and my brother and I had planned to depart the house at 9:30 to be at the church no later than 9:45. I arrived at 9:15 to find that my niece and nephew weren't even out of bed yet, my brother was frantically pulling things together, and my Mom, of course, was jumping frantically from one self-manufactured crisis to the next.
Somehow, I managed to bundle them, the flag, and the poems into the car by 9:35 and arrive at the church almost on time. It was a spectacularly gorgeous Michigan summer day. A little knot of people had already gathered outside the front door, and we joined them in exchanging hugs and hellos with everyone as they arrived. Soon it was time for the funeral mass to start. My brother and I reached deep into the recesses of our memories and managed to mentally retrieve the process for properly folding an American flag, something we had both learned as boy scouts some 40 year ago and not had the occaision to practice since. We managed to do it perfectly, and then assisted the priest in spreading the pall over the coffin before processing up the aisle behind the priest, the casket, and my mother to the stirring chords of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
One of my Mom's many anxieties about the service, is that the priest she wanted, Father Bill, was on leave when my Dad passed, so we ended up in the hands of a Father Todd, a sincere young 27-year priest who turned out to be perfect for the task. One of the main reasons I thought so was the amazing homily he gave. He had only met us the day before, and never knew my father, but he asked questions and learned some things about my Dad through us, of course including his love of mountaineering. I can't recall everything he said, but a key thread running through the homily was a discussion of the meaning and symbolism of mountains and the mountain-top in Scripture – Moses at Mt. Nebo; Jesus giving the sermon on the mount, etc. and connecting my father's love of mountains to his spiritual journey through life.
After communion, my brother and I came to the lecturn, where I delivered a brief eulogy and my brother read one of his favourite – and most relevant poems, Abou Ben Adhem by Leigh Hunt. Afterwards, we had a lunch in the church hall. The church, St. Thomas, was the same church I was baptised in, and aside from attending a Sunday mass there with my cousin a few weeks ago, the only other time I had been there was for his mother's (who was also my godmother) funeral 2 1/2 years ago.
MJ flew in that evening with her son, whom I met for the first time the next morning. The three of us spent that weekend together before flying to Boston to move out of our flat there and to prepare to fly back to Istanbul, where MJ would join me for the final leg of my journey to Prague.
16 August 2015