We are weaving through the Tblisi rush hour traffic and I find out that he’s been holding out on me. Off he shoots leaving me to fend for myself and find my own path. To be fair I have known that Tom has spare gas in the tank for whenever we passed through the road tunnels in Turkey off he went. Along the Black Sea road there’s a series of about thirty tunnels saving you from as many climbs. They are an unpleasant experience; the concrete walls reverberate the sound of the noisy trucks; the sound is channelled towards you and its like a freight train is coming up your rear.
Whenever we were approaching the cave like entrances Tom would take point, the safest position, and go hell for leather until we emerged dazed on the other side leaving me in his wake and the guinea pig in terms of traffic safety – if a car doesn’t spot us I act as the speed bump thus saving the rider in front. The longest of these monsters was over 4km, dark, cold and oppressively loud. Another was almost pitch black, I couldn’t believe that they hadn’t put lights throughout, it was out right dangerous! Tom suggested I should try the next one not wearing my sunglasses.
We quickly fell into a routine, up early, on the road, cycle, eat, cycle, eat, whinge, camp, eat, sleep. I take the lead in the daily slog with Tom tucked in behind. Now for those of you who don’t know, by following in another cyclists slipstream you can save around 40% of the energy compared to the man or women in front. I have no problem with this if it means I get some much needed company and my morning coffee. Tom assures me that its a two way street and as if by magic the person in front receives a 5% boost – I’m sceptical.
Tom needs to ask himself if the benefits of such a ploy out way the costs for slip streaming has a tax or two. Occasionally a slight smile might cross my lips and in seconds few and out cry an be heard from behind my rear, “Ah not again!” The Fart Tax as it is known is a pill that on occasion is difficult to swallow; in addition to this the occasional small portion of spittle might sprinkle behind me landing on his arms like the first few drops of rain before down pour. I discus bodily functions with far to much regularity but people who don’t find the occasional breaking of wind amusing have something wrong with their sense of humour and we need all the laughs we can get on the road.
It’s not all take though, attached to Tom’s sunglasses is a little go-go gadget. A small mirror like that a dentist might use to peer at teeth which allows him to spot over taking traffic. I often find myself swerving into the road as my bike follows my line of sight when I peer over my left shoulder to see if its clear but this saves that risk for I’m given a warning. Its a retro piece of kit which reminds me of the attachable sunglass that middle aged gentlemen in the 90’s had on their spectacles. And annoyingly it also reminds me of Inspector Gadget and I often get the theme tune stuck on repeat on my internal stereo.
We crossed into Georgia, the first thing I take in is the smell of the bakeries, they have more than just bread, there are sweet treats inside. I think to myself that I am going to like this place, I’m easy to please but after all a cyclist cycles on his stomach. Turkey is the only coast where you don’t look along the sandy shore (with a not so subtle glance at a bikini clad lady or two) or admire the sunset over the darkening sea but instead you find yourself staring inland and the towering mountains. So that is why we decided to leave the coast in Georgiia and head in land turning towards those mountains that have been calling to us from the beach over the past week or so.
The Goderdzi Pass takes us into the Adjarian mountain range and east through the country. The approximately 2000m climb sees us follow the course of a thinning river bordered by ever steepening valley sides. The valley and its tributaries are a lush green and the water a turbid brown thick with silt and gravel; where fresh clear water joins from a neighbouring tributary the waters slit blue and pale brown for a short while before the rocks and bends give it a good shake. Small hamlets and villages line the road side and the occasional mountain hut can be spotted seemingly unnecessarily far up the steep inaccessible slopes.
On our way up we meet a Swiss women walking from Geneva to Batu, Azerbaijan. Rudi is a tall blond women with a seriously rouge face owing to the scorching sun, walking along side her are two of the most healthy dogs I have ever seen. Homer and Pluto, they must be very wise on account of their namesakes. They pull their weight with little saddle like bags or panniers across their backs. What an amazing thing to be doing but by Christ I couldn’t trudge along at walking pace. To quote Tom, “some dogs have more interesting lives than people.”
Georgia has set the bar to high in terms of camping, the evenings are spent along side a mountain stream or river on nice and soft patches of grass. I often find myself eying up grassy meadows imagining how mattress like that grass would be to camp on, it makes all the difference. And with streams, rivers and pools to wash in at the end of the day you don’t need a hotel with a shower. The water might be bracing but you feel clean as a whistle afterwards and the views down the valleys sooth the mind to. Plus I suppose they are like ice baths which are meant to be great for after a good spot of exercise.
I leave the fire side one evening to fetch water, almost with a skip in my step I wave at a family working their garden, which isn’t a well trimmed lawn bordered by a row of neatly pruned flowers but a small family sized field. Each house has the same garden out front and the entire family kids and all set to cultivation in the late afternoons. Its a rich land. Walking back to the brook where we are set up for the night I have a smile on my face; you cant help but be happily content in the fresh air taking in the breath taking views.
At the crest of the pass we reach the snow line, a few chair lifts cross the slopes and a deserted hotel suggest that come winter there is skiing to be had. In Africa I routinely cycled at around this height with not so much as a snow flake to be seen but there isn’t an equator in sight so temperatures are somewhat colder. The peaks in the distance remain snow crested all year round and a few other regular cycle routes are impassable due to thick snow in May. On the eastern side of the mountains we make quick work of the miles and entre into a wide valley which spans the centre of the country which would make an agoraphobic quiver. Along the length of the valleys small castles stand proud atop small hillocks or rocky out crops, they date back to between the 9-12th centuries and give a certain medieval charm to the landscape as if it were slightly stuck back in time. The regular mud roads, small farms and horse and carts only add to this impression.
If Turkey was a postcard, Georgia is a poster. Campers, hikers, cyclists and travellers get yourselves to Georgia.