Returning to Turkey

The easy part is being delayed leaving Batumi. Monday morning Li struggles to walk to the consulate with me to collect our Azerbajan visas, having suffered server stomach aches for two days. We opt to remain in our super hostel D’vine another night……also avoiding a days riding in a sub tropical downpour. Tuesday is my birthday and Li suggests an impromptu treat at the 5 star Raddison hotel. After a 1 km ride to our new home for one night we bask in luxury and watch the sun set from the 19th floor overlooking the Black Sea and moody cloud encased mountains to the East. This goes down nicely with Georgian Sparking Wine gifted to us from our neighbours at the next table. We share the cake gifted from the hotel and listen to horrors of the Georgian roads we are about to embark.
Wednesday after a slow start making the most of a bathtub, again overlooking the sea, we set off at noon. 40 km not bad for half a days riding and the roads reasonable with the exception of the hazards of cows that are more interested in diverting traffic than eating grass. They stand in the centre of the road staring into oblivion an almost constant of the landscape, city, towns, villages and in between.
Thursday is slightly more challenging, more cows, higher gradients, but the roads are only slightly pock marked and stopping at 42km is due to the convenience of finding a perfect camp spot rather than fatigue.
Friday is challenging. The crash barriers cease to exist. Li is terrified of heights, feeling sick at the closeness of the precipice with the ravine on our side of the road. We stop at 7km to rest. A man approaches us, picking grapes, that proves also a challenge. Incredibly sour but we do not want to offend and consume our gift… comes ‘cognac’. Li says no……I always say yes…’s 9.30am……a very long toast which I assume is to Maria his wife in the grave site close by….down the hatch…..quick succession…..another glass…..Li says ‘small’…gestures ‘small’…3 large glasses down the hatch. We thank the man ready to leave…..he motions us to wait, comes back with fruit and the bottle magically full……3 glasses, down the hatch. We all go collecting walnuts, at this point Li is very much enjoying cracking them with her bicycle lock…..sometimes too enthusiastically…..3 more glasses, down the hatch. I think we consumed a litre between us before wobbling on our merry way…..Li is not so frightened of the road any more. At 6km we need to rest and let the alchohol abate. Sitting overlooking a village, some children bring us grapes…..and we are invited to lunch. In the early afternoon, feeling rather full, and with a slight hangover we make it less than a kilometre and spot a wonderful welcoming flea bag hotel…….actually we don’t know what bit us…..maybe fleas? I have a cold shower…..Li does not.
Saturday…..ah…..that’s what they meant by the treacherous roads……cows….of course…..renegade cow gangs….pot holes …..gravel ……sand ….loose ….rocks …..mud. When we were lucky not to be consuming dust and grit from passing vehicles, the vehicles too were struggling and we consumed black exhaust fumes. Don’t believe all you hear about Georgian drivers…..on this road they too must be terrified and drive with extreme caution and courtesy. The drivers were the least of our worries…..all up, up, up we did a full day and completed an entire 20 km with only one fall on my behalf. As I picked myself up I noticed a person appearing nonchalantly oblivious to my predicament……perhaps I should be worried…..the incarnation of death for he carried a scythe? The road was certainly perilous.
Sunday…….it got steeper…..we became tired of getting on and off the bikes…..tyres skidding, jumping, bumping, rotating, but spinning to nowhere. Li’s mud guards caked with mud….each time getting on the bikes it became harder to lift leg over the saddle….eventually legs hitting luggage….saddle….we pushed upwards13km. Altitude 2025 meters on a road designated a highway and major Georgian artery. Down another 13km at a snails pace, brakes squealing, arms aching, tension and concentration….even resting, coasting legs taught in anticipation. Close to 7800km since we departed and I am still crap at controlling a bicycle, track stands and “look mum no hands” beyond me….this road is for mountain bikers. After 26km the road miraculously became bitumen and we felt we were flying a final 11km before calling it a day.
Monday….after camping in a football pitch entertained by well mannered, hilarious children we continued on what I call a real road. Up, down, up , down, up…..but bum in the saddle and we finally put in some distance crossing back into Turkey at the Vale, Posov border without a hitch. 48km felt measly before leaving Batumi but with these few days experience have greatly lowered our expectations. Getting tired we find a perfect camp site just shy of a village…..before spotting tomb stones. Not sure of how offensive this may be we ask a local and are given permission to spend the night… problems from the past or present inhabitants of the area and we have a good nights sleep.
Tuesday….Down….bloody well means up! We have to tackle our highest mountain pass yet. The nights are cooler, about 5 degrees which aids a good nights sleep but sleep is not helping the legs one bit. -At least since riding in Georgia I can now keep up with Li on the inclines….or she is more knackered than me? We climb only 27km…..realising if we make the pass it will be dark, and flat, safe camping is appearing limited. We request water from the Jandarma base, and camp at first opportunity 6km before the top.
Wednesday we reach an altitude of 2550 meters, magnificent colours of the waking sun and views of mountains, lilliputian villages and clouds scattered bellow. We enjoy coasting for 6km before rolling mountains, following a picturesque river, resting watching fishermen, gifts of freshly cooked fish and a completion of 54km. We make camp in a pine forest consumed by rain, lightening and thunder claps. It is the first time we are caught out, wet on the bikes in months. I am stinky, sleeping bag sandy, gritty and pine needles stuck to my bum.
Thursday brings another mountain pass off 2200 meters. We ride mostly upon steppe…..beautiful to me….mundane and unchanging to Li. Progress is slow and we are exhausted. I push up where once my legs should be able to pedal. Then we resort to our earphones…….endorphins….becoming euphoric. I was beginning to lose pace with Li but now I overtake, mysterious energy and legs in time with the beat….61km we are so close to Kars…..more lightening, taunting head wind….I become spent. Li’s elbow has a shooting pain, possibly due to accumulative vibrations…..we need to stop. Desperate as we enter a village, open fields, no shelter, we see a bee keeper and request camping in his yard…..thankfully pitch our tent….pull down our tent as we are invited inside. The honey is glorious!
Friday……15 km to Kars……and rest till Tuesday when we ride back into Georgia accompanied by Nick who we are exited to have joining us.


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