Gamarjorbat! It’s been only a week, but we are both exhausted. At this moment we are regaining some much needed energy in a wonderful guesthouse in Roshka in the Georgian mountains near the Chechen and Dagestan border. Clouds fall like waterfalls over the surroundings peaks. But before we show you the beauty of this far away village, let us tell you how we got here.
Months of preparing all came together in one hectic, emotional day. It was time to say goodbye to our family. The bikes and bags were packed in three enormous boxes, transportation was arranged, now all we needed to do was get our asses on that plane. The airline luckily waved the fee for our overweight box, and even though we had a short transfer everything went extremely smoothly.
A Caucasus adventure
After some hours of sleep in our hostel, we assembled the bikes and went on the hunt for some food. Bicycles are a rarity in Tbilisi, so we were spotted by a Swiss biketouring couple right away. They started their journey at home, and are also heading for Kyrgyzstan. We however, plan on a caucasus adventure before crossing borders to Azerbaijan.
On Bikepacking.com Robin found a route that would take us trough the great Caucasus. An undiscovered part of Georgia with small villages highly tucked away. We had no idea if it would be doable with our touring bike set up, weighing up to 40 kg each. But hey, if you don’t try, you’ll never know.
Cycling in Tbilisi
After some inquiries at a local mountainbike shop, which was also up a very gnarly hill, we decided to see how far we could get. But not before spending a couple of days in the city, falling in love with all the cute Tbilisi cats. Enjoying the luxury that is called ice coffee, and nourishing ourselves with healthy meals at Georgian restaurants.
Cycling in the city is a real adrenaline rush. Cars race by, honking to present their awareness. Even the one cycle path we encountered wasn’t safe, since pedestrians are not used to bicycles they walk on them, texting on their phones and lighting their cigarettes. Even strollers with babies are parked on the cycle path. Ringing your bell has absolutely zero effect. Much to our humor as we closely pass by texting pedestrians on the bike lane, after ringing our bells numerously with no respond or sign that we are noted.
The mountains are calling
We quickly got fed up with the smog in the city and the mountains were calling upon us. It was time to gather all of our belongings, and click our bags on our steel frames. From here on it’s cycling time. First stop, the lake by Chinti.
When we finally exit the highway for a somewhat quieter main road, realization of how heavy our bikes are kick in. Our first climb, still on asphalt, leaves us pondering if this was a bad idea. Robin takes some weight off Sabina’s bike and we climb further in the staggering heat. Let’s stick to the plan, see how far we can get. One step at a time. There’s no way we’ll make it to Chinti today, but that’s fine. No reason to beat ourselves up.
The fun part started when we left the asphalt and the road suddenly stopped being a road. We were still on the right track, but the grass was getting higher, and so were the torn bushes. Let’s see what these Schwalbes can have, and pray for them to make it without punctures on our first day.
Downhill we hit the last bit of main road, and from there on it was a dirt road in no man’s land. With only abandoned factories and some tiny villages miles from the road in sight. Under a big oak tree we decided to cook ourselves up some lunch. A passing car stopped to tell us there was a river just down the road where we could swim. We decided to check it our and found our very first wild camp spot. A shepherd had his cows grazing by the river, but a few hundred meters further we could pitch our tent. We bathed in the river, and rinsed our clothes. Tired from all the impressions, we quickly fell asleep.
Off the main roads
The next morning it looked like there had been an explosion in our tent. Not used to such a confined space, we just threw our stuff everywhere. This needed to change because all was lost and nothing to be found. Getting ready to leave took us a staggering hour and a half.
Since all worked out well with our camp spot last night, we cycle onwards with full spirit. We were ready for leg two. The road passes small villages with cattle and we were often frowned upon. What are these two idiots on bicycles doing. Do they even know where they are heading? We must have earned respect nevertheless, because we were treated to loads of fruit, veggies, cola and bags of potato chips. A stop at a gas station to fill our fuel bottle we use for cooking, left the attendant in full surprise. Even more surprised were we, when we were passed by a road cyclist with a Specialized gravel racer, fully dressed in Rapha apparel. He waved at us happily, but unfortunately didn’t stop to have his picture taken.
When we started to approach the lake by Chinti, we had high hopes that a beautiful camp spot would present itself just as it did yesterday. The road however was only going up, and the lake was way further down. The climbs were getting steeper and we were pushing ourselves to our limits, having to catch our breath every five minutes.
Thankfully a truck driver noticed that we were struggling, and knowing the road we were about to face, he stopped and offered us a ride. He slung the bikes on top of the load on his truck, and we hopped in with all of our bags. The view over the lake was breathtaking. And without saying a word he dropped us off about 4 km further down the road, after the hardest part had passed. The lake was now behind us, and had turned into a river. We saw an adventure camp, just over the bridge with small vacation houses. But more important to us, a patch of flat grass. A perfect place to pitch our tent. We could take a shower (that was more of a drizzle to be honest), and bought a cold beer to share.
Climbing and climbing
The next town on our itinerary was Roshka’s guesthouse. With climbs up to 20% we knew this was going to be a challenge. By now we knew it wasn’t going to be possible to get over the Atsunta Pass (3.470 m with 40% elevation), so we decided to at least make it to Roshka and from there on adjust our route. Just when we wanted to leave last nights camp, Robin noticed a tired looking bike packer. It was Justin Bill, and he had done the route we had been planning on in the last couple of days, but in the opposite direction. (Which is supposed to be better if you’re also planning on it.) It was tough, and he looked like he had some rough couple of days behind him. He told us, there was not a chance in the world we would make it with our bikes. There were some tricky river crossings, one where he needed to wait for other people to help him pass with the help of a rope. Deep respect for Justin, and the pictures he took look amazing.
Roshka or Korsha?
Our route continued over roads that only got worse, with some very hard parts where we had to push our bikes up. Loose rocks, made us lose grip of the road. Shops were also getting scarcer, so when we finally found one we stocked up for dinner. When we planned todays route we noticed something weird. Google maps and Komoot gave a different location for Roshka. One was noticeably further and higher, and we weren’t sure which to take. Turned out the first town was actually Korsha, but by now we had cycled for almost 45 km and climbed nearly 700 m on difficult push-a-bikes. Add scorching temperatures and a luring camp spot by a river near some houses. We were done for another day.
The spot was amazing. We were out of sight from the road, had plenty of room to stall our bicycles and hang our laundry. And when we went on the hunt for some tap water, we were invited to a lovely Georgian meal. We enjoyed khinkali (spicy dumplings), khachapuri (cheese pie) and some mtsvadi (barbecue roasted meat). Toasting with vodka was also part of the deal. Our hosts were celebrating a local holiday, where they honor their ancestors. It takes place for a week, and every day the holiday moves to the next village up the hill. We toasted to family, passed away but also fiercely alive. To the children and to the beautiful country. After five or six vodkas we kindly excused ourselves. We had a very steep climb ahead of us the next day.
Bike touring life
By now, we were starting to get the hang of this touring life. Packing up, making breakfast, route planning. It was all going a lot faster. After a false start, some bolts on Sabina’s bike had loosened from the bumpy ride, we were off too our last leg to Roshka. The road continued to worsen, and road workers laughed out loud when we cycled by. They offered us a lift when they passed us in their truck, but we declined. We are here to cycle after all.
Our Wahoo showed us, we had to take a sharp turn to get off the main road and make our way up a very steep hill. We pushed our bikes, but it was nearly impossible. They were simply too heavy. A car passed by, and fortunately the driver agreed to take our bags up the hill to Roshka’s guesthouse. Lifting 40 kg’s of our bikes. Now we only had water, our camera’s and some snacks to carry. But if you think this meant we could cycle up, think again. The road was too steep, and in too bad of shape. Temperature was rising, and the previous days were still in our legs. Sabina got so frustrated, and Robin tried his best to motivate her but he was struggling too. Mountains can break you, and that’s exactly what happened.
Cry and laugh, and cry some more
Tired and mad that it was so hard, Sabina burst in to tears. With only 2 km to go, and about 200 m to climb, she cried and laughed about it and then cried again. We picked ourselves up, and the reward felt great when we finally set eyes on the small village. It felt like we had reached heaven high in the clouds. We had finally reached the hardest part. Now it’s time to rest.