Monday, September 07, 2009

Azerbai-bai; Georgia on my Mind

Kazbeki, Georgia, September 8th

I don't have much time to type up a reasonably detailed summary of what I've been up to since Baku, so I will have to put up a Reader's Digest telegraphese summary. Suffice it to say, however, that Georgia is perhaps my favourite country so far along the entire length of the Silk Road: friendly people, great food, lovely landscape, lots of culture and history, and stupendously beautiful women. What's not to like about it?

Aug. 24: Left Baku for good; hideously long grind across bleak steppe and through construction.

Aug. 25: Scenery improves, as I enter the Caucasus foothills. Great fruit for sale, but obnoxious stone-throwing kids.

Aug. 26th: I pick up a cycling partner for the day, young Mori-san from Japan. My Japanese has been hopelessly corrupted by speaking Russian for weeks. We stay (in separate rooms) in Seki, in a converted caravansarai that is hopelessly romantic. My right pedal bearings explode into tiny fragments.

Aug. 27th: Mori-san sets off alone while I go out, buy a new pedal, try unsuccessfully to get old pedal fixed, and then ride uphill to the fantastic stone-built village of Kis to see an Albanian (a medieval Christian country that has nothing to do with the current Muslim Balkan country) church. I leave Seki at 4:20 and still manage to knock off 70 km with a brisk tailwind. My ThermaRest develops a fatal aneurism that makes it more or less useless. I take a few pictures of the ubiquitous cult-of-personality posters of the late deified President Heydar Aliyev. I have been seeing these posters for 16 days, and have yet to see two the same.

Aug. 28th: I make it over the border into Georgia and camp a few km down the road. It finally stops raining on me. I am now pedalling with mismatched pedals, one with clips and a cheapie faux-Specialized pedal without clips.

Aug. 29th: Culture and wine in the Kakheti region. I visit Kvareli, see a wonderful museum to Ilya Chavchavadze, father of modern Georgia, tour a winery, visit a monastery perched on a cliff, and camp in a wonderful meadow. Life is good.

Aug. 30th: I ride up towards the Tusheti region, through a Lost World of waterfalls, rock overhangs and no traffic on the worst road since Tajikistan. I run out of steam well before the top of the 2935-metre pass and camp beside the road in a horrible campsite.

Aug. 31st: Up and over the Abano Pass into a wonderland of high peaks, alpine meadows, ancient defensive towers, rushing rivers and pine forests, the prettiest mountains I've seen this summer. I stay in a homestay and eat like a pig. The daughters of the house take me up to their ancestral village on horseback. A week later my butt is still sore from the Marquis-de-Saddle I had to ride on. The daughters laugh at me.

Sept. 1st: A lazy day spent riding into the regional main village of Omalo, climbing up to the beautiful defensive cluster of towers and photographing and sketching them. I feel tired but elated to be in this amazing landscape. We have a massive barbecue in the evening with some visiting cowboys and devour an entire lamb.

Sept. 2nd: Returning over the pass is easier from this side, as the climb is only half as high. I stop on the way down for a soak in some hot springs, have a long conversation with a shopkeeper over beers, and find a great campsite.

Sept. 3rd: I discover that the lovely "highway" marked on my map is a Calvary of rocks and gravel. It is a long, painful and frustrating day, but it ends outside Tianeti in a campsite of bucolic beauty.

Sept. 4th: I hammer over another rockpile road to Zhinvali and then up a great road (marked as a secondary dirt road on my map) to Barisekho and Korsha, where I stay with a friendly family who run an ethnographic museum; the husband is a very accomplished painter.

Sept. 5th: I have another lazy day, hiking up into a lovely alpine meadow and watching the stormclouds gather. I make it back to the homestay minutes before the downpour starts. A voluble fellow Canadian whom I had met in Tusheti shows up looking like a drowned rat after hiking through the rain.

Sept. 6th: I fly back downhill to Zhinvali, then around a reservoir to Ananuri, where I have a lunch of Olympian proportions and explore the exquisite fortress, before riding up the storied Georgian Military Highway that connected Russia to Georgia in the 19th century. My campsite for the evening has the twin disadvantages of being on a slope, and separated from the road by a swamp. I sleep two kilometres from the disputed "border" with South Ossetia.

Sept. 7th: Energized by yesterday's luncheon, I fly up over the Cross Pass, through the interesting-looking ski resort of Gudauri, and then down into Kazbeki. I find a homestay and then hustle up to the church high above Kazbeki, perhaps the most dramatically-situated church I have ever seen. Loads of photographs, then down to more food.

I am off hiking today to the foot of 5000-metre Mt. Kazbek, and then, with the seasons changing fast (the birch trees are already turning yellow on the hillsides) I will head to Tbilisi, south into Armenia, do a loop through Nagorno Karabakh, come back to Georgia briefly, and then head into eastern Turkey before the end of September to complete the Silk Road Ride.


Peace and Tailwinds

Riding Day No.

Date

Distance

From Bushehr

Daily

Distance


Final Elevation

Vertical

Metres

Cycling

Time


Average

Speed

Maximum

Speed

Daily Destination

1

7/16

119.0

119.0

515

1075

7:55

15.1

?

Konar Takhteh

2

7/17

204.8

85.8

1047

1222

6:14

13.8

55.2

85 km from Shiraz

3

7/18

306.3

101.5

1460

1512

7:37

13.3

47.7

Shiraz

4

7/21

380.7

74.4

1630

581

4:41

15.8

66.5

Estakhr (ruins)

5

7/22

474.0

93.3

1955

777

5:58

15.7

?

Past Pasargadae

6

7/23

601.0

127.0

1950

1297

7:44

16.5

60.8

Abadeh

7

7/24

744.3

143.3

1725

456

7:55

18.2

47.1

Past Shahreza

8

7/25

813.1

68.8

1560

353

3:45

18.4

44.5

Esfahan

9

7/28
951.1
138.0
1633
1060
8:48
15.0
60.5
Natanz

10

7/29
1026.0
74.9
1005
533
4:14
17.8
52.1
Kashan

11

7/30
1133.2
107.2
990
463
6:01
17.8
31.9
Qom

12

7/31
1263.9
130.7
1415
874
7:36
17.2
39.1
40 km past Saveh

13

8/1
1383.2
119.4
1280
645
8:03
14.8
31.3
Qazvin

14


8/3
1542.0

158.8

1280

778

7:02

22.6

46.2

Qazvin

15


8/4

1630.7

88.7

1366

2385
7:22
12.0

51.8
Past Moallem Kelayeh

16

8/5
1655.2
24.5

1730

1021

2:10
11.3

55.2
Evan Lake

17


8/6

1735.5

80.3

1305

1923

6:00

13.4

53.4

Qazvin

18


8/7
1891.7

156.2

1764
828

7:55

19.8

33.4

Soltaniyeh

19


8/8

1993.9

102.1

436

1552

6:35

15.6

60.6
Past Gilvan

20


8/9

2090.5

96.2

16

809

6:35

14.6

60.3

Rasht

21

8/10
2214.3
123.8

6

342
7:50

15.8

34.6

Talesh (Hashtpar)

22

8/11
2292.8
78.5
-38
268

4:21
18.1

40.2

Astara, Azerbaijan

23


8/12

2397.2

104.4

-7

304
6:30
16.1

33.7
Celilabad

24


8/13

2504.1

106.9
-25
189

6:41
16.1 23.3
Shirvan National Park

25

8/14
2627.7
123.6
0

664
9:10

13.5
42.2
Baku

26

8/18
2695.1
67.4
0
402
3:27
19.7
52.8
Baku (day trip)

27

8/19
2793.1
98.0
0
441
5:35
17.6
41.9
Beshbarmaq

28

8/20
2886.6
93.5
968
1280
6:46
13.8
28.3
Qacras

29

8/21
2925.2
38.6
1952
1919
5:03
7.6
40.1
Xinaliq

30

8/22
3081.4
156.2
18
866
7:13
21.7
51.5
Sitalcay

31

8/23
3142.2
60.8
0
319
2:42
22.6
47.9
Baku

32

8/24
3241.9
99.7
675
1816
7:12
13.8
46.4
Maraza

33

8/25
3327.7
85.8
709
1448
6:13
13.8
54.6
Ismailiya
34
8/26
3448.4
120.8
687
1399
7:01
17.2
47.5
Seki
35
8/27
3530.7
82.3
298
689
4:34
18.0
42.0
24 km before Zaqatala
36
8/28
3632.0
101.3
438
907
6:16
16.1
44.0
Kabali (Georgia)
37
8/29
3709.6
77.6
595
670
4:41
16.7
31.2
Pshaveli
38
8/30
3748.9
39.3
2367
2018
5:34
7.1
30.9
below Abano Pass
39
8/31
3773.3
24.4
1864
653
2:57
8.4
29.2
Chala
40
9/1
3802.5
29.2
1864
831
2:48
10.4
35.4
Chala (day trip)
41
9/2
3868.9
66.4
638
1344
6:44
9.9
36.6
outside Pshaveli
42
9/3
3930.5
61.6
1293
1117
5:06
12.1
33.1
outisde Tianeti
43
9/4
3998.2
67.7
1463
1139
5:28
12.3
40.8
Korsha
44
9/6
4097.3
99.1
1447
1135
6:24
15.6
47.6
past Pasanauri
45
9/7
4152.6
55.3
1790
1291
4:32
12.3
61.2
Kazbeki
46
9/9
4262.2
109.6
680
1193
7:06
15.4
51.1
past Zhinvali
47
9/10
4311.9
49.7
481
156
2:46
18.1
36.6
Tbilisi


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