I am a water lover since my childhood. My father, being from the Black Sea Region of Turkey, shared his love of water with me while I was growing up. Dad grew up in a land where there used to be abundance of wild rivers with crystal clear waters (he grew up by a river called Yesil Irmak translates as “Green River”). Dad has always appreciated the abundance of life that a river brings. He, as a kid, simply picked up fruit of the trees, such as apricots, apples, mulberries, peaches, walnuts to name a few, as he played by the river. He grew up as a nature lover, observed the bees, flowers, trees, ducks and many birds in that abundant land. I grew up with stories of nature and water that I adored.
My family shared their love of water with me as I was growing up, and couple of memories come up as I think about it. I remember my mom wanting to jump into cold creeks whenever she had a chance. Her joy and love of doing that somehow transferred to me and I still have the same excitement about soaking my feet in clear waters. I also remember my first swimming lesson with my dad in the sea, while I was struggling to keep my head up the water to be able to breath. He taught me to trust water while showing me how to lay on the surface of the sea, holding me gently on my back. “You just let water hold you, just like your bed that holds you while you rest on every night”, he said. I loved this trusting relationship with water and enjoyed that many times in my life! I also remember snorkeling along with dad in lukewarm crystal-clear waters of Marmara Sea. Dad shared his love of many magical creatures with me as he pointed them out to me under water. (There was a whole different universe under water!). So, I learned to love water.
I grew up in Istanbul where I watched beautiful crystal clear blue waters turn grey and cloudy as the population slowly and slowly increased. As the years passed by, I could not swim and snorkel at the places that I loved so much once. I witnessed waste being released into creeks and rivers. At that time, I kept telling myself: “this is wrong”, and yet did not know what to do. Instead, I just watched this change with strong pain in my heart. Later after my university years, as I travelled through the world, I again witnessed people intentionally or unintentionally polluting our precious water resources in our “ONE” world and damaging water. I felt the same pain.
When I moved to Vancouver, Canada in 1992, I felt like I found waters again in the world! I was fascinated with the quality of water and wanted to taste it while swimming or canoeing in creeks and lakes (e.g., Wigeon Creek, Alta Lake, Bowron Lakes to name a few). I started to be interested in visiting water sources (e.g., Cleveland Dam) and walk along the rivers. In Vancouver, I used to walk by the Capilano River where water from Cleveland Dam would flow to the ocean. The water starts as crystal-clear at Cleveland Dam and stays as is until it reaches to the Pacific Ocean.
My first journey along a river was in 2011 when Peter suggested that we bicycle along the Danube River - I loved his idea as a water lover! During that trip, I started to question the journey of a river as it interacts with humans. We bicycled 1200 kilometres by the Danube and I observed the changes that a river experiences on its path from its source to sea. I saw that the river comes out through the ground pure and clean at its source; brings minerals and life to the surface; flows, collects and carries nutrients while going down to the ocean as part of its life cycle. Meanwhile, I also saw that humans take water and food from the river, utilize rivers for transportation, build bridges, roads or locks for access while the river continuously wants to flow to the ocean. During its flow, the river meanders through lands that many civilizations have existed on and it takes away whatever exists on its way. I wanted to learn more about these changes and what happens to a river during its journey when rivers are essential part of the community of humans.
I am now living in Victoria, Canada, where there is abundance of rivers. As I watch clean rivers running down to the ocean, remember the waters that turned grey that I had witnessed and my pain of not being able to do anything in the past. I feel that this is my second chance to act for water to see rivers and oceans stay clean. I want to raise awareness for all water’s preciousness, purity, beauty and essential life-giving force.
I believe that protecting water resources is part of peace work. We humans are all born in water and carry water in us. We exist with water and water exists in us, so we are water. There are no categories or divisions when we think about “water” as the life source. Water is a founding member of our community. It is my desire to speak up and stand for water in our ONE world.
Probably I should have been born as a dog. To me, there is no better feeling than to have the wind flapping in my ears, because it means I am in motion. Serap calls me “the Wind”.
One of my earliest memories is my father taking me for a walk out on the Ogden Point breakwater in Victoria, Canada in a winter storm when I was about 4 years old. The wind roaring past us, the waves breaking over the walkway, and we were getting cold and soaked in the spray. My father was holding my hand tightly because in those days on Ogden Point, there were no safety railings holding us back from the wild raging sea. I was scared to death, but somehow, I loved the power and excitement of the wind and the water.
Of course, I grew up on a bike. All of us did. I can’t remember anyone who didn’t have a bike. Much as some people choose to be defined by their careers, or houses, or fancy sports cars today, in those simpler times we were defined by our bikes.
In primary school, all my friends had bikes. Banana seats, butterfly handlebars and sissy bars on the back. I pleaded with my father to get my first bike for my birthday. And I got one. Old, old, old. Ugly, ugly, ugly. Somebody had used a brush and some old house paint and roughly painted an old-style bike in big red and white stripes. It had embarrassingly large whitewall balloon tires. No banana seat. No butterfly handlebars. No sissy bar. When I saw it, I was mortified. Did I ever get a lot of teasing from my friends for that bike. But I rode it. The wind in my ears meant that I couldn’t hear the teasing of my friends so much. What I really liked was that it increased my range far past what I could walk.
At University of BC in Vancouver, the campus is very large. Hard to be on time for classes when there is only a few minutes break between them. So I got an old bicycle. I called it the “Bent Avenger”. It was in even worse condition than that ugly red and white striped beast that I had grown up on, but it faithfully got me to my classes. I had it for 3 years. Since it lived outside in the salty air near the ocean, each year it got more and more rusty. At the end of my degree, it was in such poor shape that I couldn’t even give it away.
When I started my Master’s, I bought myself my very first brand new bike. A nice one, a bit expensive. I rode it to school on the first day of classes and locked it to the hallway railing inside the building, just beside the laboratory where I had my first class. When I came out of the class 2 hours later, the cheap cable lock that I had also purchased was about 90% of the way cut through! Somebody had been trying to steal my bike from a busy hallway inside the building! On my very first day of using it! I had learned something and in the future I kept my bike safe with my first Kryptonite U-lock I bought the next day.
Fast forward through many years of university and work. I met my wife, Serap, and our first date was a bike trip (that story is given in great detail somewhere else in this website). One day, I casually mentioned to her that it had been one of my dreams for many years to do a 1000 km bike trip. She got a certain look in her eye. “Where?” she asked me. I hesitated a moment as I started quickly thinking of the necessary criteria in my mind: It should be on a bike path, not on a main road. And we wouldn’t carry camping gear, so it needed to be somewhere with places to stay. It would be our first long trip, so it shouldn’t be too rugged terrain, preferably somewhere relatively flat. As a joke, I thought to myself a bike ride that is all the way downhill would be nice! Which made me think about following a river.
Immediately I started searching on some websites and found the Danube River bike path. About 2500 km totally and all downhill! When I mentioned that to Serap, she got excited to follow a river!
Unbeknownst to me, that was the birth of RiverRiders!