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August 2018

Bikes for Carpets

Bikes for Carpets

During the early nineties we spent a couple of years living in a VW Kombi. That little bus took us from San Francisco to eastern Turkey, before we doubled back to Germany where we parted ways.

For most of this time it laboured along under the weight of two people, all our trappings, and two bikes, strapped to the back hatch on one of those folding racks. I say most of the time, because the bikes were not always there. We had a decent cable lock that would at least make it difficult to steal the bikes: an enterprising thief could remove the entire rack/bicycle/lock assemblage for later disentanglement, but would require a large vehicle to make good their getaway. Even in Mexico, all went well. Then, parked up in a friend’s front yard in Los Angeles, we awoke to find that a serious robber had severed the lock’s cable and stolen the bikes. The robber was serious, because they had a vehicle capable of carrying two bikes. We didn’t gain that knowledge by studying the tracks they left. The day before the bikes were nicked I had reversed the Kombi into a concrete pillar, crushing them both. They were unrideable, I was inconsolable. But now they were gone.

We wandered back to San Francisco, the home base, with the back of the bus looking stark naked. New bikes look fairly extravagant when the insurance payout could buy gas and groceries for several months. We trolled the Californian classifieds and ended up with decent second hand rigs that were more or less the same as the originals. When we left the West Coast we had the ‘new’ bikes on board, with a more secure locking system, and they travelled to Europe with the bus.

A side trip to Turkey turned into an expedition of its own. History, spectacular terrain and very friendly people made it a hard place to leave. Friendly people, surely, and generous to a fault, with one proviso. Some of the friendliness hides an ulterior motive, which is selling carpets. After going a couple of rounds with new ‘friends’ whose invitation to come for tea ended with us in a carpet shop, we became more defensive, but so many other invitations were genuine. And the carpets, while not something we could actually transport on the last leg of our trip home, were amazing. Hand-woven and knotted, in designs particular to their region, some of them took months to make and others, years.

One day we dropped into a small carpet store voluntarily - it was a quiet day and a lovely little shop, and we thought we might be able to just browse around. Shortly there was a tray of tea and we were deep in a negotiation that would take the rest of the day. Somehow a chat with the carpet-seller’s brother revealed he was an adventure guide. I let slip that I had been doing some mountain biking around the region we were in (Cappadocia, which featured in a couple of bike movies twenty years later).

This guy was intensely interested in mountain bikes, and a deal formed itself out of thin air. What if we swapped the bikes for some carpets? The tray of tea became a lavish lunch, and several hours later, after more tea, we got a sort of early dinner. They showed us dozens of carpets, and we piled more and more accessories next to the bikes. They put dollar amounts on each carpet, and we of course valued the bikes. At one point when we questioned one of their price points, the carpet man politely said that if he did not argue about the bike valuations we should not haggle about the carpets. He was right of course, both were probably inflated about the same.

They guaranteed they would ship the carpets to New Zealand as part of the deal. We gave them our address, had an emotional farewell, and rattled off towards the Black Sea with a much lighter Kombi almost dancing along the road.

The last thing we saw as we left their village was the two brothers haring around the town square, elbows out, laughing like maniacs. It was reassuring to know that they had the basics of mountain biking behaviour down, now they had bikes to do it with.

Postscript: We arrived home a couple of months later, and there was no sign of any carpets. Everybody we talked to reckoned we’d been had, but about 8 months after we left Cappadocia we got a call from the Post Office: there was a parcel for us to collect. In an unmarked, open-ended sack were our two Turkish rugs, how they found us and where they had been on the way is a story we will never know.