Grey, Russian building blocks with few paint left on them. Abandoned building amidst newly build ones. Traffic is crazy and judging by our first ride from the airport, they apparently receive their driver’s license for free..! Welcome to Georgia!
Tired we quickly wonder off to another world and we are alone with our dreams, anxious to find out more about this country. After a good night sleep, we are full of energy to get ready for our ride. We have a few things to take care off: the bikes need to be assembled, we have to buy train tickets to Zugdidi and we want to discover the city of Tblisi. We use the subway a lot, with it’s deep and scary escalator, roam around the narrow streets in downtown Tblisi and walk up the hill to visit the large Sameba cathedral.
After fullfilling our cultural needs, we leave for Zugdidi. A 6 hour train ride takes us to the Western part of Georgia, where we start riding into the mountains. The railway guard acts like taking your bike on the train is normal, apart from a small extra fee, that we are happy to pay for. Since it’s just two thirty in the afternoon as the train reaches its destination in Zugdidi, we decide to start riding immediately. The sun is burning, but a cool breeze comes down from the mountains. We are aiming for the small town of Jvari, 30 kilometers down the road to Mestia. At one of the guesthouses in this small community we have our first encounter with Georgian hospitality! Lia is really friendly and we can have a conversation in German. Well, she teaches German in the local school and we digg deep for some highschool German sentences, but we manage! While talking to her, she cooks for us and the first Kachapuri is a fact! Kachapuri is bread filled with cheese.. you see, I’m crazy about both of them, but this Kachapuri.. well.. not really my cup of tea I’m afraid…
But, what I really like is Georgian yoghurt! Who wouldn’t with 15% fat… we finish it off with Georgian bread (Puri), eggs and fresh fruit. A computer in the kitchen is endlessly playing Georgian music on a Youtube channel, while Lia’s husband is getting ready to harvest grapes. With full tummies we are ready to hit the road again, Kaisha is at least our goal for today. Immediately after saying goodbuy to Lia and her husband the climb starts for us, after which we drop down to a turquoise lake. A rollercoaster ride further we reach Kaisha in the early afternoon. Too early to stop and we continue as the climb really starts with some steep sections. At the end of the day we cross a wobbly bridge to find a camp site near the river and out of sight.
Last night we camped at 885 meters altitude and Mestia is supposed to be situated at an elevation of about 1400 meters; piece of cake! But, today is an up and down rollercoaster ride and by the end of the day we still have climbed more than 1100 meters. Just before it starts to rain we reach town and find a place to stay at one of many guesthouses. Time to treat ourselves to great Georgian dinner: Egg plant salad and Ostri (kind of goulash soup); we finish the day with a good espresso!
We have plans to ride up to the Koruldi Lakes, but weather forecast is not great. The next morning it doesn’t look that bad and we decide to go for it. No more than 10 kilometers up the hill and according to some other cyclists you’ll need no more than 3 hours… Well, little did we know!
As we reach the start of the 4×4 track it immediately skyrockets up the hill. But, anything for a great view of Mount Ushba and the many glaciers. As we slowly push our bikes up the hill, the clouds start to roll in. Sections are between 13 and 18% and more and most of it we have to walk up. By lunch time we have only managed to gain 400 altimeters, but we won’t give up!
We keep going and as we reach 2100 meters, storm hits us. Hail, wind gusts and a temperature drop. At a flat piece of land we quickly put up our tent for shelter and we wait for it to pass.
It can’t be far now! We pack up our tent and continue to push our bikes up the steep hills. Hikers look at us with sympathy.. even for them it’s steep. And as expected, after every hill, there’s another one. But, we can’t go back now! We have reached 2400 meters and it gets crazy steep now with grades of 31% and more..!!! Are we nuts? At 2600 meters and still almost a kilometer to go we look around us as black clouds are rolling in. It’s like seeing the top of Mt Everest and knowing it’s better to turn around and find a safe place to pitch the tent. We linger for a while, but reason takes over and we call it a day. We’ve been pushing the bikes for more than 6 hours now and we would have to push for at least another hour more. With the storm rolling in, we turn our bikes around and slowly roll down the steep hills back to 2300 meters. The thunder and lightning scare the hell out of us as hail hits the tent. Glad we are not camping up there at the lakes…