Not top of many people’s lists of places to spend a few days on holiday. But I think it probably should be.
Since leaving Tbilisi (above) on Thursday morning, I’ve only covered a couple of hundred kilometres. Pretty slack by my standards. I even had an impromptu extra rest day yesterday. But the last 72 hours have still felt quite intense.
Headwinds, tailwinds, sunshine, snow, climbing, descending, motorways, tunnels, falling off the bike, home-made wine and Joe Stalin’s bathtub. Actually, perhaps it really has been quite intense… Where do I start?
When in doubt, I sometimes resort to stats. Not this time, though (but there will be some at the end). This time I have photographic proof of how unbearable the weather was on Thursday afternoon:
You’ll just have to imagine the painful legs and tiredness that had developed during the morning. I knew there was a lot of rain coming, but reckoned I could beat it to Gori. The wind (into the face, naturally) began at about 15 mph, and got stronger and stronger. By the time the picture above was taken, it was gusting over 30 mph (50 kph). I got slower and slower. And then the rain came.
It was only a brief (but intense) cloudburst; a prelude to the main storm. I hid for a while, and then put the hammer down for the last 25 kms to Gori. When I say ‘put the hammer down’, we’re talking about maximum effort in return for less than 10 miles-an-hour. Unbearable.
I’m sure there’s a scale for how slippery things are. I don’t need to look it up, because if there’s one thing that’s more slippery than wet ice, it’s wet cow droppings.
An unfortunately-timed gust of wind drops your front wheel off the road and onto the gravel shoulder. This is a problem, as it starts sliding. And it has bags attached. Time slows down, reactions kick in. You get the front wheel back on the tarmac (somehow). Then the back wheel’s on the gravel. Sliding again. You get your weight forward to lift the heavy back wheel onto the road, just as the front wheel hits the wet cow droppings. Bags or not, you’re now doomed.
The only good thing about Thursday is that, having stacked the bike and smashed into the road with my right shoulder (yep, the one the truck broke in Thailand), I can now report that the bike is a tough little thing, and that my shoulder appears to be in decent condition. Apart from the new abrasions, that is…
Thursday night. Looking at the weather forecast. It says that it’s snowing in Gori. I stick my head outside. It is snowing in Gori. And blowing a gale. It says that tomorrow will be dry, but that the wind will be up to 40 mph. Average. In my face again. I believe it. I’m having a day off.
The weather forecast was spot on. As you can see from the flag ripping itself apart on top of Gori Fortress (picture above), the wind is, indeed, a wee bit brisk. Thankfully, as well as the castle, and a pharmacy, Gori is the home of the unspeakable Josef Stalin. So at least there’s a museum (or dictator’s shrine, depending on your point of view) to poke around while I’m there.
I got to see Stalin’s bathtub, on Stalin’s personal train carriage. It’s hard to imagine Uncle Joe sitting in there, playing with his rubber ducks and smoking his pipe, while supervising the deaths of tens of millions of people. Or industrialising the Soviet Union and winning World War 2, depending on your point of view.
The museum is pure Soviet, and could really do with a bit of updating to include some of the less positive aspects of Josef’s career. But I guess it’s a little tricky for the Georgians. How do you play it when the only world-famous person from your country is a character like Stalin?
Focus on the scenery and the food (and maybe the wine), I think…
Because, once the wind had not only died, but turned magically through 180 degrees, the ride today was unforgettable. Sun out, wind at my back, snow-capped mountains everywhere. The little castle at Surami (below) was an especially nice bit:
And I met my first fellow tourer since India. I’ve no idea where they’ve all been. As usual, I forgot to ask his permission to use his real name, so I’ll call him ‘Mark’. Another Brit, and another solo inter-continental rider, heading for India via China (which is an especially long way round, in my opinion; but then he’d got to Georgia via Morocco, so what do I know?). A great chance for the standard bike chat, with projected routes and info shared.
Both of us have been struck by the Georgian hospitality, and especially their penchant for ‘forcing’ home-made wine and vodka, some of which is outstandingly dubious, on unsuspecting guests (in my case, it was the same in Armenia, too). ‘Mark’ was actually running with a hangover due to last night’s host insisting on ‘four for the road’ this morning. And I had a 500ml glass of unusually yellow wine waiting for me at my lodgings this evening.
Though to get here, I still had to drop out of the high mountains, towards one of the few flat areas of Georgia, which I’ll cross in the next couple of days, before hitting the Black Sea.
Lower hills, but the same tailwind and stunning scenery. By the time I got here, I’d all but forgotten Thursday’s hardships. A really beautiful run down the valley, twisting and turning in the warm sunshine. A coffee in the shade halfway down. Lovely. That’s bike touring for you…
And, somewhere along the way today, I hit some large-ish numbers. 23,000 km for the round-the-world trip so far. 8000 km (and 5000 miles) since I started Part 2 in Vietnam in December.
So that’s the last three days. A milestone or two for the trip. Some unforgettable scenery. The unspeakable Uncle Joe. Sometimes unbearable weather. And the home-made wine.
Which, it turns out, isn’t undrinkable at all…