Author – Anya Balgauzen
I can make a long list of the reasons why it sucks to live far away from the parents. Have you heard those words that the older you get the closer you are with your folks? I can relate to it so well. My mom and I are the best buddies, which makes me the luckiest kid. Although, I have been always under the eye of my mom, she was watching every step I was taking. Then I moved to another country and do you know the funniest paradox I have discovered? My mom is much easy going while I am miles away comparing to when I am in the same town where she is. She definitely sleeps calmer without even having an idea at what time I come back home. So, in case I would tell her back in my home country: “Mom, my friend and I are planning to cycle for 5 days around the country. Oh, and by the way we are planning to wild camp” – these words would be the last words of mine. Whereas, now I let her know one day before going. What can she do while being far away? Not stop me for sure, so I am shamelessly taking advantage of it.
The story tells how my friend and I spontaneously decided to see Georgia whilst riding a bicycle. In case you do not want to know the details and want a fast review – It was awesome. In case if you want to know how possible or impossible it is, I would be glad to share our personal experience with you.
First, we took marshrutka from Tbilisi to Akhaltsikhe. We were lucky the shuttle bus had bars on top, so the driver agreed on spending 40 minutes of his life to put our bikes on the roof. We have said our grateful “dzalian didi madloba” and set off for our journey. The second we came to Akhaltsikhe, we realized how huge our statement is. Two young girls are travelling on their bikes around Georgia! Taxi drivers surrounded us saying that they have a garage where we can leave our bikes, and instead they might take us to see Georgia in full comfort. “No, thank you, we would love to ride our bikes, that was our original plan.” Following arguments of why we should not do it did not change our minds. Words such as “Vardzia is kilometers away, it is hard to get there today”, “There are wolves on the way”, “What if it rains?” made us promise caring taxi drivers that we will be fine, so we gladly escaped the pressure.
My friend has cycled from England to Georgia before, so she was quite experienced person to go on a journey with. “There are two very common and frightening things” – she said. “First – trucks, second – street dogs, so we better watch out for these two.” Couple of times aggressive shepherd dogs made our hands shake. The only way to stop them was to get off the bike and shout the word “FU” as loud as possible. It worked, so dogs stopped being such a danger after all. On the way to Vardzia two kindest dogs, who we named Butcher and Balls (because of some inappropriate reasons) followed us for 30 kilometers. They were protecting us from all the dogs who were not as happy to see us. I believe, they were sponsored by our parents since I cannot find another explanation why would 2 dogs run for hours through the mountains following us.
As soon as we reached Vardzia, we set off for Akhalkalaki, where we were supposed to spend our night. Although, the Mother Nature had different plans prepared for us, so we ended up freezing in the massive storm, trying to hitchhike a pick-up car. Luckily, it did not take us a long time to find one, since people in Georgia would not let us freeze to death. That is how we ended up in an Armenian minority village named Poka. Couple of minutes and the words “sastumro sad aris?” didn’t mean anything, since people were not speaking Georgian. So, without crossing a border we ended up in a different country. Do you wonder whereas we have found any hotel or guesthouse in there? The answer is obviously no. Thus, we stayed in the basement of an Armenian restaurant that was located in the middle of nowhere. A great Western movie scene.
The next day we cycled for about 83 kilometers, which made us feel like superheros. Travelling on the bike is so different from any kind of travelling I have tried. The sense of freedom, fresh air, burning sun, endorphins from working out, enjoyment while freely cycling downhill, adrenaline boost on the tricky roads with its tricky turns, dozens of motivational speeches in the head that was helping me to climb steep hills. Oh, and not to mention the views! Those landscapes that made us cry and laugh at the same time. If I was a talented writer, I would have tried to explain the fountain of emotions I was experiencing on the way. Although, I am not, so you have to try it yourself to understand what I mean.
The nights were rather cold than we expected, so taking only one sleeping bag for both of us was not a sharp idea. Thus, cuddling with my friend was a required necessity. Although, keep in mind to have your own sleeping bag in any time of the year, It will make your life much easier.
After four days of cycling we returned back to Tbilisi. On the way from Tsalka to the capital I have remembered how bad is the situation with the traffic in Georgia. In case if you are a driver and you are reading this, let me remind you: cyclists are having a rough time to keep their heavy bikes balanced on the road. The wind is pushing them to a certain direction, so the car, or in worse scenario truck, passing by, changes the airflow and makes them lose balance. Reducing the speed for 2 seconds will not change driver’s life, but it can change the life of the cyclist on the road. Although, no panic, as a cyclist you can always slow down and let the rushing driver pass.
In the end, we have had 250 kilometers long enjoyment. The fact how easy it is to arrange the trip that will be full with memories motivates me to continue conquering the world. Furthermore, we were right – it is a huge social statement for two girls to cycle in Caucasus. Passing by the local people in villages we received a lot of respectful high-fives, car beeps, smiley faces, shocked men, inspired young boys and girls as well as lots of help. We live in a great time, when travelling stops being associated with tourism. Instead, it has become a synonym for learning, seizing the day, finding friends and finding yourself. So, no more waste of time, I hope to meet you on the road!
P.S. the navigation app we used is called Kamoot. Try it out.
P.P.S. in case you want to cycle abroad, there is a CouchSurfing-like website that can help you to find a host in a country you are travelling in – https://www.warmshowers.org/