It looks like next year I will phasing out of the South Caucasus to work elsewhere for the Bank so I decided that this trip I would take my bicycle with me back to the USA. My next trip will be in November when it will be too late for cycling outside anyway. When I arose on Saturday and saw the brilliant blue sky, with the peaks of the Caucasus mountains in the distance I knew that it was time for a road trip—my last one for a while, but hopefully not forever.
I decided to return to my old favourite route which was one which is very demanding from a climbing point of view. Starting from Tbilisi you climb continually for some 20 km before entering rolling hills. The gradient profile is below. And no, I didn’t fall off a cliff at km 85—I just forgot to turn back on my GPS watch. It ended up being a hard 110 km ride, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, particularly the last 20 km which was downhill!
After a hearty breakfast with my colleagues Elena and David it was time to head out. David, my road safety specialist, insisted on pointing out that it was much safer for me to cycle in my room than on the road, but he agreed that it was hard to stay inside on such a perfect day. I was out of the hotel by just after 10:00, to the stares of the taxi drivers, and headed down Rustaveli Avenue which was the most terrifying section of the entire trip. The drivers seem to think that the 60km/h speed limit is actually 60 miles/h.
The climbing soon started and lasted for over an hour. I stopped at a market after about 15 km to buy some more water—I was already drenched and it was going to be long day—and several children came over and admired by bicycle. One was on a mountain bike and when I started riding he raced ahead of me, not for long!
Unlike earlier rides there were no dogs about for some reason, and the whole day I was only rushed by one. Quite a nice change. The traffic was also much lighter than in the summer, I had expected the road to be clogged with day trippers. What I was pleasantly surprised to find was other cyclists! One fellow passed me going downhill and then later I saw three more who looked like serious professionals. A minute later I saw a chase car carrying spare wheels on top so they were definitely professionals. The interesting thing was that none were wearing helmets.
The last time I was up this way was June and the fields were full of flowers. I was saddened to see that they were all gone, as were the poppies in the ditches which had reminded me of my wife (who loves poppies). A few trees were starting to change and in about a month this will be a stunning ride.
I stopped again as the small kiosk who has supplied me water in June before pressing on. I had been forced to turn back due to storms on my last ride, but the weather was better, albeit a lot cooler, so I enjoyed seeing new things including the rolling pasture of the high country.
I headed down the mountain into a town where the villagers were all working to bring in the hay for winter. It was stacked up in large piles. The road was under construction and they were not doing a very good job, glad it was not one of ours. Eventually I decided that I should turn back and so it was time to climb again up the hill.
It was quite cool by now so I was glad that I had my arm warmers with me. As always, it was faster heading back than going out, and you see new things. One novelty was to come upon Georgian shepherds – with some very cute sheep and relaxed dogs (at least compared to New Zealand).
I had miscalculated my nutrition needs as I didn’t anticipate riding for some 5 hours. I began to bonk so stopped at a market and bought some food. Some had expired about a month earlier but I couldn’t afford to be too picky and fortunately there were no lasting effects. Then it was downhill all the way to Tbilisi and back to a very hot bubble bath at the hotel to warm the very cold body.
I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to ride the hills around Tbilisi and explore this beautiful country by bike. I hope that this is not my last time to ride here.