Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Hill They Call "Bolu" from the book: Roadtrip Ramatuelle.

____East of Izmit was all new territory for me. The main part of Turkey was not even on any of my maps as they all finished at Istanbul. To help myself, I had spent a lot of the weekend, casually picking the brains of other British drivers at the Londra Camp. They reckoned that I did not need a map as Ankara was on all the signposts; I was told of the whereabouts of all the police checkpoints; where I would have to stop, in order to have my TIR transit card stamped. Most of my helpful colleagues’ advice also came with cautionary tales of a hill they called “Bolu” which proceeded the ominously sounding descent named “Death Valley”. I was encouraged to learn that with only a part-load left on the trailer, weighing four tonnes, I should not have any problems going up or coming down.

____It was a full day’s drive across to Ankara, after I left Istanbul. The speed limit was 70 kilometres per hour, with plenty of slow and over-loaded local trucks to pass. These Turkish made six wheel rigids were nicknamed “Tonkas” by the Brits; they were built to carry 15 tonnes, but frequently carried more than 20, with their eight metre long loads piled as high as possible, with every cargo imaginable. The brightly painted cabs were decorated with an abundance of second-rate sign writing which contrasted greatly with the plumes of black smoke coming from the unsilenced exhausts. The Tonkas’ incessant droning was only interrupted when an over-loaded tyre would explode with an almighty bang.

____Just after the police checkpoint at the lorry park, owned by SOMAT, the Bulgarian state transport company, I came to the hill they called “Bolu”. The road snaked back and forth across the rising ground with a succession of blind summits that made me think I would never reach the top. Several Tonkas expired in their attempt at the long climb; some had overheated, while two others seems to have broken the half-shafts in their back axles as weight and gravity won the battle against the internal combustion engine. Not that coming down was any easier. A runaway Tonka had flipped over on the last bend of its descent, broadcasting sacks of corn into an adjacent field; while two others that I passed when I was close to the top seemed to be going downhill much too fast for the conditions. The worried look on the drivers’ faces appeared to confirm it.

____On the brief flat area at the summit, most of the Tonkas pulled over to let their engines idle, so that some of the excess heat could be dissipated, before they dropped down into “Death Valley”. The road that descended into the valley was totally different from that of the climb as it was cut into the side of a steep gorge, with a rock face on one side and the drop into a dried up riverbed on the other. The hill they called “Bolu” was on relatively open terrain, with spectacular views across open countryside. The gorge road never let you see more than 200 metres ahead before it disappeared around another blind bend. Also, it was difficult to concentrate on the driving when your eyes were continually drawn to the shattered wrecks of cars and trucks that littered the arid canyon floor, in various stages of rusted deterioration. “Whatever gear you go up a hill, is the gear to come down that hill” is an old transport industry saying that certainly rang true concerning the descent of “Death Valley”. The vee-eight Mercedes hardly needed more than a dab on the foot brake to slow it into the bends. The braking effect of the 15 litre engine, plus the closed exhaust manifold valve, held the rig adequately in check as I anticipated the gradient to flatten out long before it did.

____It was nearly dawn when I arrived at the Teleks Motel on the outskirts of Ankara. After a few hours’ sleep, I was awoken by the Customs clearing agent banging on the side of the cab. The shipping agency man in Istanbul had said he would telephone the Ankara office - true to his word, he had advised his colleagues of my arrival and saved me the cost of a taxi. This also meant that I did not get the chance to see the sites of Turkey’s capital city as my delivery address was sited just next door to the motel parking area. By midday, I was empty and back on the road to Istanbul. The sun was coming up behind me, as I turned into Londra Camp, 18 hours later.

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