I was heading back to Batumi to collect visas that we had applied for the week before and also because I needed to make another painstaking trek back through the Georgian border crossing to Turkey to collect a parcel that took 5 days to get from Cornwall to Istanbul, but one month to be dispatched from Istanbul to the collection point!
Last night David and I arrived in the capital city of Georgia, Tblisi. This morning, I am bussing it back to Batumi, a city just 10 km from the Turkish border, to collect our visa's from the Embassy of Azerbaijan. I am calculating approximately 6.5 hours bus ride from Tblisi back to Batumi, so it will be a race against time to make sure I get the visa's in hand by the end of the day. After all, it is a Thursday today and you never know if Friday will count as a working day or the first day of the weekend, I definitely do not want to risk missing the embassy today!
When we first pulled into Batumi nearly 2 weeks ago, with our new friend Thomas from Lithuania, of whom we had met and had been cycling with along the Black Sea coast of Turkey, we hadn't even made it to the city centre when we met 2 Russian's and a British guy called Mark. The Russian's were at the end of their short tour of Georgia and Mark, who is riding solo, is riding all the way to Singapore. The Russian's were very familiar with the city, so they showed us a few places and led us to a small cafe where we were introduced to out first Georgian dish, Khachapuri. Khachapuri comes in different variations but essentially it resembles a boat-shaped dough which is part-baked before filling with cheese and egg, it is then put back in the oven to continue baking (i'm guessing at this, but you can always look it up) and it is then served with a massive slice of butter on top of the egg.
Our priority in Batumi was to apply for our visa's for Azerbaijan, so along with Mark and Thomas, we booked ourselves into a hostel for the next few days.
In case there are any other cyclists reading this and wondering about the visa process, I'll set up a page on our website with any useful information that might be worth sharing as we begin the visa minefield for the upcoming Stan countries. Also, if you are considering staying in accommodation in Georgia, we can highly recommend Batumi Home, this is us outside of one of the dormitory's with the owners son who is learning Russian, German, English and more so that he can earn himself commission from his parents!!..
BATUMI HOME HOTEL & HOSTEL
M.Kostava Street 22, 6000 Batumi
As we travelled across Turkey, the crack was growing and rust started to seep out of it, by the time we made it to Georgia, I had to sand it back to have a closer inspection. A substantial crack in the steel tube was revealed and it was in fact much bigger than I could see in the paint. Even worse, there was also a black patch that I gently scraped with the end of a spoke and realised it was just soft matter. I unscrewed the bottle cage and poked the spoke through the bolt hole to feel how strong the metal around the hole would be and something strange was going on. The tube seemed to be packed out with something soft inside. Along with 3 other engineers, including a motorcyclist with specific experience in fracture origination in metalwork, we removed my seat post to find out what on earth was going on.
Regardless of the why and the how, we needed to think of a solution to fix April up quickly and get her back on the road as soon as possible. The frame builders did insist that they build me a new frame and send it out, but to be honest, it just wouldn't be practical in our situation. We decided to cut our losses and accept the risks in fixing the problem ourselves.
The boys were stoked to have us ask for their assistance and when they took a break, they disappeared and came back with pastries from the bakery, soft drinks and beer for us all. Two hours later and April was back together complete with a new black speed strip and the two guys would not accept any money from us, not even for the epoxy and car paint that they had to go to another shop to buy. What super guys!
Introducing The Team..
No, this is not Christopher McCandless from 'Into the Wild' this is Thomas from Lithuania!! Having set out from Lithuania in March this year, Thomas has the dream of eventually crossing all the continents of the world by bicycle. We met in Ordu, Turkey and hope to meet again to ride the Pamir Mountains together..
Mark Wallis from Milton Keynes is riding solo from England to Singapore.. well, he was until now!
We met Mark in Batumi, Georgia and have now crossed two countries together..
For ease of confusion, we'll refer to him as 'Wallis' from here on.. It suits him better anyway!
Jacob, Russell and Mark - Riding from Manchester, UK - Australia. With Mark's goal to educate the world and achieve order & efficiency, Jacobs super positive, inquisitive and easy-going nature and Russell's fearless thirst for adventure, jovial & cheeky spirit, make for a lot of fun, laughter and banter..
Although it's not exactly his trade, it's always handy to have a willing Spanish hairdresser on the team! Super laid back, but happily embracing every moment. On a quest to discover things about himself & his purpose, if you meet Jose, your likely to be inspired by his calm, caring and passionate nature..
Originally from the Netherlands, the world is now their home and adventure their lifestyle. Isa & Youri have no final destination as they have made it their life to explore, learn and share, they will never stop. They have set up their own initiative called 'Passion for all' which provides 'bundles of joy' for those in need.
The Adjara Mountains..
We stocked up with supplies from the supermarket and fuel for the camp stoves and took the road from Batumi to Khulo, approximately 40km's of undulating country road, adjacent to a river that runs through the lush valley. The road was busy to begin but soon very quiet, smooth and good quality.
When the idea of riding together was first thrown around, there was a little apprehension as to whether it would work in reality. We considered the downfalls of riding in a big group and one such challenge would be dealing with mechanical failures etc. With 10 bicycles to potentially go wrong, there could be a lot of waiting around for roadside fix-ups. Sure enough, only 2 km's out of Batumi and the first bike ground to a halt, Mark's rear hub bearing had seized up. With our Russian speaking legend, Thomas, to the rescue again, unbelievably we were directed to a bicycle warehouse just 200 metres up the road. We would never have seen or found it without Thomas's ability to converse and we quickly realised the flip side to riding in a group.
The warehouse only stocked cheap Chinese parts and the best they could do for Mark was replace the entire wheel with something that would possibly get him over the pass and to the next best bike shop where he could source something more suitable. It took approximately 2 hours to build the new wheel, but everyone was relaxed and just relieved that Mark was able to continue along the road with us.
3 Armenian mountain bikers, resting in Khulo and heading in the direction of Batumi, warned us not to go beyond the village this evening. In fact, they even advised us that it probably wouldn't be a good idea to camp even in the village and that we should seriously consider staying in the hotel for the night. These guys also told us that there was not a road where we were going, that they couldn't see how we would be able to do the pass on our loaded touring bikes and that we had better hope it doesn't rain during the night, as they have had to push through mud to get here. I looked across to their mountain bikes leant outside the village shop and was surprised just how clean they were following the guys comments. When I asked the Armenian, he told me they had already cleaned them!
We camped in the village park, kids staring, dogs barking at us and listening to the local bar blast a single song that was stuck on loop out of their ghetto blaster. The rain held off.
It is true that the nice asphalt road finishes approximately 200 yards outside of the village and you will see this sign. From here, there is still a road but there may be potholes, debris on the surface or some parts are hard dirt roads. After this sign the road drops into into the valley again, loosing a few hundred metres in altitude before you begin the ascent. Be careful of traffic, there are still cars, buses and trucks using this road and they will not always slow down or give way to you. It was at the bottom of this ascent where we noticed two more cyclists emerge from their camp spot next to the river, this is how we met Isa and Youri, our wonderful Dutch couple.
For the most part, it is not a particularly steep climb but continues uphill for approximately 30 km's. Lush pine forests sprawl up the hillsides and there is a surprising numbers of inhabitants not just alongside the main road, but all over the hills, I have no idea how they get to their houses! There were clouds and heavy mist moving in and out, keeping the temperature agreeable and the air moist. There is plenty of fresh water along the route, including taps where the locals fill their own water. Sections of the road occasionally were a little wet and muddy, but marginal and certainly not obstructive. Maybe with a heavy rainfall it would make it fun, but certainly not impassable!
We were dining out on bread, chocolate spread and half-boiled eggs, when we acquired a new friend. A young local dog, having a wail of a time steeling our food and seeking our attention to play with him, won our hearts, as well as a handful of biscuits from us. We named our exuberant new friend 'George' and he loyally accompanied us for the final 10 - 15km's to the top of the pass! The last section became a little more tedious and challenging. The surface had turned to loose gravel and at times we were loosing traction. The mist drew in and the visibility diminished. Most of the group were pushing their bikes, though David and I managed to stay in the saddle. Some local kids were effortlessly tearing past us on their mountain bikes trying to impress us, but equally fascinated by our humble steeds too. Every so often you pass a little hut on the roadside with people selling their produce like honey, cheese and sour yogurt, but nothing particularly useful to the hungry cyclist. However, we were all captivated by this young teenage girl selling her mother's dairy products from their hut. She had the most beautiful smile I have seen and her eyes sparkled with inquisitiveness.