Our experience on the ferry from Istanbul to Odessa had left us feeling like wizened old seadogs. Sailing to Georgia, we rocked up to the port two hours before our scheduled departure and headed straight for the bar. Eventually setting sail at 3am, we had already polished off the entire supply of champagne. By the time the sun peaked over the horizon we had guzzled vodka with ukrainian truck drivers and toasted our health, families, friends, countries and journeys until there was nothing left to toast.
Two days later, we disembarked in Batumi. Night had fallen, but thankfully an unexpected cycle lane guided us from the port into town. We planned to leave Batumi the next day but a series of catastrophes delayed us for seven. The first hurdle was a mysterious flu that knock us both for six. Then the storm came. Then food poisoning. Despite our disastrous start, we managed to explore all Batumi had to offer- the ferris wheel, the seaside, hipster coffee bars and of course the wine.
We finally escaped and started our adventure across Georgia. Although we had a few days riding in Ukraine and Moldova- this was where the real cycling began for me. Two hours of propelling myself and my fully loaded bike up some fairly minor hills had left me exhausted. I hadn’t eaten properly in three days. I watched in dismay as Liz confidently pedalled up and away, and eventually had to get off and do some pushing. Thankfully Liz is an incredibly patient travel buddy. There is no denying that after crossing Europe by bike, she now has legs of steel compared to mine of jelly. Before my arrival, she was whizzing along doing 100 km+ days and now was reduced to 70km with me huffing and puffing behind her.
As storm clouds and the night rolled in on our second day, we sought refuge in an abandoned school yard, where we set up camp surrounded by inquisitive calves. We cooked our pasta in the dark- cackling about the ghosts from the abandoned buildings that were certainly going to haunt us in the night and fell asleep with thunder crashing all around.
Spurred on by tailwinds and a brand new empty stretch of motorway- we hurtled eastwards at speeds even Mark Beaumont would have been proud of. That night however, we weren’t so lucky. Stopping short of the next major town, we eyed up a potential spot in a local cemetery. Superstition got the better of us and we cornered a group of passing farmers to see if they knew of anywhere. Delighted, one of the men directed us to a field, brought us melon and introduced his cows. Unfortunately, both him and the cows had ulterior motives. I turned my back for five minutes and the cows stole our melon.
The farmer returned with a bottle of schnapps and settled down with us for the evening- trying to make us drink with him. We became increasingly worried when it didn’t look like he was going anywhere. It was dark at this point so we didn’t really have anywhere to go. He suggested we stay in his house. We declined. With some effort, we got rid of him and retired. Later that night, we heard shouting. “Lizzy, Miranda”. I froze and shouted to Liz in her tent to check if she was ok. I scrambled around for my head torch and saw the silhouette of the farmer and his dog right outside, trying to get in. We shouted at him for a while and he eventually left. Panicked, I picked up my pedal wrench and bicycle lock and tried to get back to sleep amidst my arsenal of “weapons”. Thankfully, he didn’t persist and we got through the night, but left with a sense of growing dread the next morning. The road ahead was long and there weren’t any guesthouses or hotels.
We headed towards Ubisa monastery, hopeful that some friendly monks would and let us camp on the grounds. They didn’t. The local police took pity on us and led us to the local school yard. Soon after, we were visited by one of the kindest people I have ever met- the caretaker Jabva. He brought his grandkids so that they could practice their english and gifted
us fruit from his garden. A couple of hours later, he returned with some chacha- brandy that he had made himself. We toasted and then said our goodbyes and made dinner.
It wasn’t long until we were disturbed by some shouting. Two men stood looking over the wall, shining torches. It took a minute to realise that they were the police. Much to our horror and disbelief, we noticed a man in the yard with us. We shone our headtorches at the intruder, who then disappeared into a tiny shed, reappearing a minute later. It was Jabva. It turned out that he was sleeping in the aforementioned shed, to make sure that we were left alone and safe for the night and the police were just making sure we were ok.
The next morning we stopped for coffee and were treated to an unexpected lunch by the wonderful couple who ran the cafe. The generosity of these two combined with Jabva restored our faith in Georgia once more. It’s a good thing they fed us- the minor hills we thought were ahead turned out to be a torturous 7km steep climb. 2 km in, I got my first puncture. I had told Liz to keep going if I stopped so I was all alone on the mountain. Earlier, a man had stopped us not once, but twice, to offer us a lift to the top. Halfway up, the sky darkening, all alone I screamed at the sky and promised if that man came back, i would pay him a thousand dollars for a ride. He didn’t. So I pushed on. Eventually, I reached the top. An hour after Liz who was patiently waiting with a cold beer. We descended the other side and checked into a guesthouse for a well earned break. Drinking wine from the garden and chatting about the past few days, we decided we were doing this right. It might take us a lifetime to get around the world at this rate- but we have all the time in the world.
Yesterday morning, I realised once again how lucky we were to have found our refuge in Ubisa. Rcheuli turned up at our guesthouse and over breakfast in broken english and russian told me about his disastrous night. He had just unpacked his tent before being surrounded by a pack of jackals. His only option was to cycle through the night, in a torrential downpour until he reached this little haven this morning, somewhat worse for wear. It made my puncture seem pretty minor.
After a night of good food, and music curated by the hitchhiker from Crimea, Denis, who turned up in the middle of a lightning storm we are ready to tackle the rest of Georgia and head towards Tbilisi.