What happens in Georgia

Doesn’t really have to stay in Georgia. So much so that I am writing this from my hotel bed in Astrakhan. These last few days I’ve been really very tired, exhausted even to write anything. Sometimes I even start downloading the pictures or videos to the computer and fall asleep while it happens. I’ve been tired because of the long rides and the bad roads but my Russian adventures are something I’ll tell later, maybe from Kazakhstan. I just want to put into pixels and truetype fonts things that happened in Georgia because I had such a good time there and I don’t want to forget. There won’t be a lot of details, I hope you understand. So here it is, in no particular order.

  • At the border, I met Neil. As I was getting ready to leave Hopa, I saw a biker zoom past on the main road. White helmet is the only thing I saw. As I arrived to Sarp (the border), I made a point of pulling up right next to the other bike. The other Yamaha Ténéré. Wait, what? Yes, same bike, this has to be Neil. We chatted a bit, had a caffeine soda in a red can and we were off to Batumi. The border was a breeze and buying insurance too. Because none was sold.
Two Teneres
Neil wearing his spare helmet
  • I had planned to go to Svaneti but decided against it while I was on the road. There will be other beautiful mountains on the road and right now I feel like going straight to Tbilisi, I thought. There was other beautiful mountains in Kazbegi but little did I know of the Chinese crisis that was brewing (more to come later, not now). On the road I met this other biker on a 650GS. Victor is a Spanish soldier and he’s been to Afghanistan. He had problems with his bike, presumably a Friday afternoon bike at the BMW factory, so I offered to escort him to Tbilisi just in case his bike would die on the way. It did, 300m away from our hostel. The next day he decided to turn back Europe-side to get it repaired under warranty. Too bad, he was planning to go to Azerbaijan, he even had the visa. He was also very generous with me and when he heard I had no mosquito net, he gave me his. That’s going to be useful sooner or later!
With Victor
Glad to see I’m not the only one wearing black pants around the Caucasus
  • On my way to the homestay after Batumi, I left the main road to take a trail because a sign indicated a historical site, a fortress. Tired of the trail I wanted to stop and pulled the brake at the wrong spot, lost my footing and the bike fell. After struggling to lift it for 3 or 5 minutes, the guy at whose doorstep I had dropped the bike took his car to travel the 20 meters that separated him from the gate, helped me lift the bike, gave me cold water and then invited me to come into the house to have lunch. Wait, what? Yes, as soon as he got in, his wife started putting dishes in front of me: ham, salad, mashed potatoes, watermelon, hachapuri and other Georgian specialties I couldn’t recognize (lubia?). When I had finished eating, he took the car and showed me around the sites of the village: an old Ottoman bridge, a fortress and then went off to get some mineral water from a source nearby and sent me on my way to Khulo.
  • Georgians wave at you when you pass by and if you stop they want to know where you’ve come from. Probably invite you home and give you lunch too.
  • Kazbegi is a beautiful place
Kazbegi
Beautiful road in Kazbegi
  • At the hostel in Tbilisi I met more cyclists (2 Finnish women). I’m very fond of cyclists. They remind me of my cycling trips. These two ladies where going to cycle around Georgia and then back to Finland. One of them suffered coeliac disease and had the guys at the hostel write her a sign in Russian and Georgian saying “I’m highly allergic to all wheat and flour products”. I hope she’s alright, with all the bread Georgians eat she could have a difficult time. There was also Andres, Polish guy working at the hostel. Spoke flawless English, no Polish accent whatsoever and gave me good tips about Russian roads and the border. And Eriko, the Japanese girl who used to work at the hostel, who had travelled through Iran on her own and found Georgian hospitality almost rude compared to Iranian hospitality and who now wants to move somewhere else, possibly Ukraine to improve her (non-existent) Russian. Is everything connected in this part of the world or is it me?
  • While randomly strolling around old Tbilisi I ran into Russian Nina and Swiss Matthieu whom I had met at the Eiffel Tower Hostel 2 days before and spent the rest of the afternoon with them on their free guided tour of the old city. Nice.
Oldest church in Tbilisi
Oldest church in Tbilisi

All these and many other things happened in Georgia but now I have to go to sleep. Tomorrow, the road to Kazakhstan awaits and she is a hard mistress, the road.

UPDATE:

  • And Georgia is just such a place for travelers that at some corner on a bad road leading to Goderdzi pass where I spent the night (homestay, Gela, Anastasiya and Maxim, remember?) I saw a bike, an Aprilia parked and 4 people and 2 kids around it. You can’t ride an Aprilia 6-up, or any other bike fwiw, unless you are in Vietnam of course. I hadn’t seen it before stopping but there was also a 4WD with a Lithuanian plate on the other side of the road. It turned out that the bike had intercepted the car because the 2 riders were Danish Erik and Lithuanian Marija who just wanted to talk to the Lithuanian drivers, Janka and Dovydas who are going to Bangkok by car and crossing China in August with a different, better tour company than ours. They were all very nice and we had a short chat and exchanged email addresses before getting on the road again. The kids were just Georgian kids interested in the strange meeting.
Road meetings
Met nice people at a random curve on a bad road in Georgia

Too many highways

Sunset at the gas station
One for the road, almost in Prague

I have been speeding through Western Europe in order to reach predefined destinations at predefined dates. 150kph in France to get to Metz, 150kph in Germany to reach Dillenburg. It’s not funny, I get tired a lot faster at these speeds. Now it’s finished, today I arrived to Prague from Dillenburg and I had decided that even if it took me the entire day to get here, I would not speed through it. It was a lot more pleasant! I did get tired, after all I rode for the whole day but the road was much nicer: no turbulence in the helmet, a lot less vibration in the handlebars and if it’s not too windy I can ride the helmet visor open and smell the road… The fields, the woods, the other vehicles exhausts. Ok, that last one’s not so exciting but the other too are really worth it.

I set off from Metz quite late on Wednesday (it’s becoming a habit) still with this idea in my head that I should get an off-road helmet only to find out 20 meters later that I had broken the zipper on the right leg of my riding pants. Instant budget reallocation happened there and I no longer need an off-road helmet. All the shops were closed in Thionville because I arrived 10 minutes into the lunch break. The shopkeepers were all there in the shops but refused to open the doors. Bye bye France!

I arrived in Luxembourg too late for lunch with Boris so I wend straight to the bike shop to get new pants and the Portuguese sales guy tipped my decision to the no off-road helmet needed camp. And this is were I sped my way to Köln in order to arrive before off-the-road closed its doors and get  the last tools in my kit: tyre levers and chain breaker+rivet tool. I also tried to get a new air filter and brake pads but off-the-road doesn’t take anything but cash at the shop. Bikers beware, place your orders on the web or pay cash. Unfortunately the guy at the shop was too much in a hurry to wait for me to go to an ATM or place a web order. Thus, I decided to come back the next day. Little did I know (or remember) that Köln and Dillenburg are 125km away :(.

Sarah and Hugo were waiting for me so I sped again and there they were. More good friends, this is a great way to start an adventure. They had delayed their otherwise Germanic-scheduled 6 o’clock dinner to eat with me. They are so nice, I bet they were starving. The next morning, after breakfast with Hugo, I set off to Köln. This time more relaxed, I knew I had time and after getting my stuff from the shop I wanted to see the Cathedral. I saw it’s backside, it’s right side and I even saw it from across the river but I never got to see the façade, never managed to get there and I was cooking in my riding gear so I stopped for a brat wurst and I was on my way back to Dillenburg through the small roads. This was a good and a bad idea. Good because I enjoyed the road a lot but bad because I first had to get out of the city through what seemed like 50km of suburbs full of traffic lights and pedestrians and cars and I was still cooking like an egg in the microwave inside my jacket: about to explode!

Some nice roads later, in Dillenburg, I installed the headlight cover and the foam air filter. The bike’s first reaction was to not start. Panic! Alright, it only lasted for a few seconds until I turned the throttle a bit and kept it on until the correct air flow was re-established. But I did panic for a moment, it’s my first mod that gets so close to the engine. Then I was dragged to the neighbors’ living room to see a football match. I couldn’t say no because they said I could bring my laptop and play anti-social (anti-football actually). Yay! I had 90 minutes to put music on my phone, now my phone is full of Argentine music, ready for the road ;-), which takes me to today.

In Dillenburg
With Hugo, just before leaving Dillenburg

Alice is waiting in Prague for our 2-day trip to Budapest where she will take a bus back to Prague so I woke up a bit earlier than usual and still set off only at 11am. What’s the problem with me and early morning? :-P. Anyway, after breakfast, while I was preparing to leave, Hugo prepared me a lunch box. Thanks Hugo! I ate it at 2pm by the road, it was very nice. Actually, thanks Sarah and Hugo for the wonderful welcome you gave me.

This is the road I did almost completely without leaving the 95kph-105kph range, a very pleasant experience with a bonus. I have finally experienced the fuel autonomy that Yamaha promises in their brochure. Whilst in the city sometimes I have to fill the tank after 280km, today I could ride 420km without hitting reserve. I filled the tank only because I was getting nervous that the gauge could be malfunctioning. It wasn’t, there was still 1 or 2 liters left before the reserve.

Now I’m lying on my hammock at the camping in Prague, hesitating whether to sleep on the hammock or get into the tent. I think I’ll go for the tent, there are mosquitoes here and although they don’t usually like my blood, I don’t want to tempt them. So happy to have brought a hammock :-D.

 

Days in the mud

I have just come back from 2 days in the mud. Not really, day 1 was quite dry and that’s great for learning the basics. When I started planning this

Nacho on G650GS
Dry, smug and ready to ride

trip, one of the things I wanted to do was to get some off-road training. Having a trail bike and not taking it off-road from time to time is like having a 4WD in the city, and I hate those.

After much hesitation (it’s quite pricey), I enrolled for BMW’s Off-road Skills Level 1. No, I don’t own a BMW, we all know I ride a Yamaha Ténéré. No, it doesn’t matter. Yamaha doesn’t offer this service, neither does BMW France FWIW so I had to enroll in the UK course and that’s good news in a way because the school is run by Simon Pavey, a guy who got to the finish line of the Dakar rally at least 6 times, one of them while riding in Charley Boorman’s team for the Race to Dakar TV documentary.

I had no idea what to expect of the course and it exceeded my expectations. Not only I got to trial ride the whole BMW range of bikes, albeit some for a very short period but I truly enjoyed myself while learning. Day 1 was quite dry and it gave us time to soften up a bit. Off road riding is done while standing on the bike and although I had stood on the pegs before, I would always sit back to turn and do stuff. The idea of turning, or switching gears, or stalling the bike while standing on the pegs wasn’t something I was looking forward to. During day 1, we learnt some basic skills that would become very useful on day 2. We did some trail riding too.

Now, day 2 was something else, day 1 had started sunny-ish and had been mostly dry. Day 2 was typical Welsh. Rain, rain and more rain. As a result the same trails we had ridden the day before had become big muddy pools. Lots of fun. Really, we had fun, I didn’t think I would but I did. I fell off my bike only 3 times during the day (stalled), broke the brake lever (only need to put 2 fingers on it anyway), got my buttocks in the mud and my orange jacket is now brown and orange (I hope it will go back to orange again someday). I spent the whole day with my trousers completely drenched but it was a great day. Seriously, who comes to ride in Wales without his waterproof pants? Me, of course!

Me with my feet in the water and my soaked pants on the G650GS
A lot wetter but still no butt in the mud

In the end it was all good fun, didn’t break anything (although I twisted my ankle on the first day) and had a great time with cool people. The crowd that this course attracts is a pretty nice bunch, mostly bikers wanting to expand their skills and adventurers preparing for their trips. I had a great time.

Tomorrow, I’m off to Brussels again in order to collect my passport at the Kyrgyz consulate and then it’s back to Paris one last time.