This is an account of a journey by bicycle in 1997 heading eastwards from Istanbul. Xenophon and his Ten Thousand Greek mercenaries followed a similar route in reverse around 2,500 years ago.
‘ ... and when they had all got to the top, the soldiers, with tears in their eyes, embraced each other and their generals and captains.’ That’s what Xenophon wrote with deep retrospective emotion in his account of his own epic journey. What a moment it had been. Sadly there were no Greek soldiers or Xenophon to kiss me.
What I had to deal with instead was the longest road tunnel in Turkey at the time ... I emerged blinking into a glorious and transformed world. It was as if I had made a magical journey through space and time. I had left behind the claustrophobic closeness of the damp grey valley, the heights on either side obscured by low cloud, and entered into a world of dazzling sunshine and beauty. Behind me, the huge pine-forested amphitheatre of the Zigana Pass, the tunnel a small troll-like gateway in. Before me, a stupendous panorama of the eastern Black Sea mountains, the Pontic Alps, proper mountains, inaccessible savage rocky peaks, soaring high and capped with snow. The Turks called this range Kalkanlı Dağları, the Shield Mountains.
It was a truly uplifting sight. All the previous agonies of the day were worth it for this moment.