Check out Part 1 if you’d like to know how I ended up in Georgia and on the mountain road to Tbilisi.
The road started well enough. I got out of the city and found an amazing camping spot on the banks of a wide river, surrounded by mountains and trees. I made a fire out of driftwood and spent the evening reading and writing as the fire crackled away beside me. Day two also went well. The road followed the river and along the road there were ancient stone bridges and 12th Century churches against the backdrop of the tree covered mountains. That morning I managed to take wrong turn soon after setting off and ended up being held in the courtyard of a Georgian military outpost. After about half an hour a Turkish teacher turned up and explained that I had been trying to cross a closed border into Turkey. It took a while to convince them that I really didn’t want to go to Turkey but eventually they let me go. It was later that day that I began to get hints that there was something about this road that I didn’t know.
Around lunch time I met three Austrian backpackers who seemed impressed that I had chosen this road to cycle along. Confused, I asked why.
“You do know there’s a 2025m pass up ahead, right?”
I didn’t, this was news to me, but I was sure I could handle it. I had done passes higher than that in the Alps, and at the moment I felt like I was cycling through Rivendell, only with cars instead of hobbits.
The next hint came from a German family. I had stopped to take a break from the heat when the family left a nearby restaurant. The father was impressed by Dora and my bags and the mother was worried about me. I found out that about 40km ahead the road disintegrated into little more than an elongated pile of rocks. Fantastic! I thought. Not only will I be climbing a mountain but I’m going to be doing it on a ‘road’, rather than a road. “Be lucky” said the mother as they drove away.
But I wasn’t very lucky and nothing could have prepared me for the next day, when the tarmac stopped and the ‘road’ went on. It was bad to start with and it kept getting worse. Sand, big rocks, small rocks, streams, cows and 4×4’s covered the roads surface, and the incline kept getting more and more severe. For most of the day I couldn’t go faster than a walking pace, and at that speed I had many opportunities to test my helmet as I frequently fell off the bike. Even the 4×4’s struggled on some parts of the road, where it got so steep that I couldn’t cycle up it without my front wheel lifting off the road, threatening to tip me off the back. At one point I grabbed hold of a passing tractor. It was fun but I had to let go pretty quick as it was too hard to dodge the potholes and larger rocks with only one hand while the other held tightly onto the tractors hydraulic arm.
After what felt like forever there was a steep climb with a motorbike at the top. It’s owner, an American biking from China to Istanbul, was in the shade of a nearby tree. I had made it. It had been long and difficult, but I had made it. I walked over and said hello.
“Wow”, he said. “Your’re cycling? The next bit is going to be really tough”
“NEXT BIT! I thought It was over!” I cried.
But no, by his calculation I still had another 30km to the top of the pass. My hear sunk. At the rate I was going that could take another six hours! I wasn’t sure I could make it, and as I set off dark thoughts began to creep into my mind. Reasons that it would be better to take the bus. I got so hopeless, two hours and just 15km later, that I told myself I would take the next ride that was offered. But I didn’t. I pushed myself on until I saw the bald mountains that signalled an end to my despair. I began the final, agonising climb to the height of the pass. When I got to the top, the real top this time, I was shattered, every drop of my energy was spent, I was dizzy with exhaustion and the excitement of getting to the top made my head spin. I stumbled to a small shop, bought myself a Snickers and and found a patch of grass where I collapsed. I caught a glance of the mountains, all below me now, and the cerulean sky above, before I passed out, a smile stretched across my face.
In the five hours that I had been cycling that day I had travelled just 40km. When I woke up a few hours later I could barely stand and I was in bed by 8pm after finally managing to convince four adorable but talkative kids who found me putting up my tent that I really had to go to bed. They had been chatting away to me in Georgian for almost an hour, running in circles around my tent. Before they left they all wanted a ride on Dora so one by one I sat them on the seat and pushed them around, though only one could reach the handlebars and none could reach the pedals. Finally they left and I fell right to sleep. I woke once in the night, lights were flashing outside my tent, which usually means police. But when I got out and I saw lightning and watched as a storm raged in the distant mountains, forks of lightning lighting the whole horizon.
By the next day the memory of yesterdays trials was already fading, but my body wouldn’t forget so easily. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do anything like that for a while and I was a little worried about the road ahead. But what goes up must go down. The strain moved from my legs to my fingers as I has no choice but to brake all the way down until I finally reached tarmac again. The ‘road’ had been hard, harder than I would ever have expected, and it had claimed from me a water bottle, my third speedo, and a lot of energy. I made another tough decision and at the next city when I had a choice between going left and taking the highway to Tbilisi, or right and continuing along the mountain road which had an even higher pass before it reached the capital, I turned left.
I had defeated the mountain pass, but the ‘road’ had defeated me.
It was my hardest ride yet but I managed it. If you would like to support me on this trip then please help me by helping Hope for Children. A charity that works to help orphaned, poor, and exploited children around the world. If you’re in the UK you can text ‘JJVW50 £3/£5/£10′ to 70070 or go to http://www.justgiving.com/jamesvsworld and donate online.