Days 91 Through 100

Day 91

Georgia here we come. Actually took me a bit by surprise, as I ended up at the border crossing about an hour before I expected to get there. I even had to stop myself and double check that I was indeed at the right place. Of course I was, there was only one road... Possibly sensing my doubt, the border agent felt it necessary to explain to me, "This is Georgia" after scanning over my passport haha. "Yes, I know" I said with a big smile and the least amount of condescension I could muster. First think I noticed was that the road on the Georgian side of the border was much worse than in Turkey, we'll see if that's a sign of things to come.

Into Batumi, a nice, although bit strange place. Not sure if I could tell you exactly why its strange, just a vibe I got. Anyway, happy to be here. Happy that my rack made it here. First thing tomorrow, I WILL get a new rack. I need to, I think it is finally time...

Weird border crossing into Georgia

Day 92

Ok get a new rack, get a new rack, get a new rack.... I can't leave Batumi without it. No more kicking the can down the road. Was directed to some random street, where I found a shanty little bike shop, with just what I needed. Returned to my bike to replace the old rack, and disaster struck. You see, my old rack has been with me forever. Its actually about the only thing I have left which has been with me since my first long distance bike trip down California in 2010. Since its old, the bolts are very rusty. This was particularly true for one of the bolts which connected the rack to the frame. It was impossible to loosen it, and in my attempt to get it off, I accidentally snapped it, leaving part of it lodged inside the threading on the frame of the bike. With it stuck inside, it would be impossible to replace the bolt and install the new rack. I took it to a bike shop to see if they could help me. I knew I was in trouble when they started laughing and told me "problem" before sending me away without being able help. Luckly though, my friends at the shop where I bought the rack were able to help. I was quite worried when they took a grinder to my bike and started hacking away with sparks flying out, but I needed to dislodge the bolt fragment, or else get a new bike... After some time, they finally got it out, and even refused to let me pay them. They just said, "Georgian people like tourists." What a great shop. I wish they had a bumper sticker to put on my bike, but no luck... Anway, things are going well. I'm really slow at fixing things, but I'm fairly certain that everything should definitely be good to go by tomorrow.

My awesome bike shop

Day 93

Big list of things to do today. Buy a sim card, tune the brakes, get the rack ready to go, send couchsurfing requests, sew up a hole on my back pack, deal with graduate school stuff, etc... Of course, get the blog updated... I'd have to say succesful day, heading out towards the mountains tomorrow. Excited and nervous for the big climb over the mountains and into Russia.

Sentimentally a bit hard to throw away my old rack

Day 94

I started today at sea level. Before I finish this stretch I'll climb to above 7000 feet on my way up and over the Caucus mountain range into Russia. I've always viewed this ascent as one of the more difficult aspects of the trip. Add to that the unstable relationship between Georgia and Russia, and the constant reports of possible road closures, and this leg was shaping up to be interesting.

On my way out of Batumi I saw a friend running across the road. I had met him at the hostel a couple days ago, before he walked out of town to go camp in the wild. This guy way crazy, an Istanbul native who randomly left for Georgia with no plans and no intention of returning anytime soon. I think there was a bit more to the story than that, but his English wasn't perfect. Anyway, just another example of the cool people you meet out here, best of luck to him....

Today I finally said goodbye to the Black Sea, then headed inland. Despite the upcoming climb, today was pretty flat. Taking advantage of that, I pushed an extra 30 km past my destination before stopping for the night. I made two mistakes when planning this stretch. First, I undetcalculated the distance by about 50 miles, not really sure how I was stupid enough to so that. Second, I accidentally put almost the entire climb up the mountain into one ride, inadvertently creating a hellish day with 2000 meters of climbing. I figure the best way to mitigate these mistakes was to go hard the first couple of days on the flatter land. So pressures on to get the mileage in. 

Day 95

Last night met two other traveling bikers from Ukraine, doing a regional trip for a couple of weeks.Their nice bikes and fancy gear put me to shame haha. Anyway, bike tourists are slim pickings around here so its always awesome to find some. They also had very interesting things to say about everything going on in Ukraine right now.

Out on the road for the first day of real climbing. Cool views at times, but the ride was scared by heavy traffic as I was traveling on the main highway connecting Batumi to the capital and largest city, Tibilisi. Going over a mountain pass, I entered a mile long tunnel and immediately realized there was a major problem. The poor ventilation of the narrow tunnel, mixed with the exhaust spewing, smog test failing trucks and buses meant the tunnel was filled with cloudy, heavily polluted air. This made it difficult for me to see, others to see me, and, most importantly, for me to breathe. I choked my way through, crossing my fingers that I could make it to the other side without getting hit or passing out of carbon dioxide poisoning haha. Made it through alright and again blew past my stop for the night, heading an extra 50 km to Gobi, birthplace of Joseph Stalin. If it wasn't already closed for thru night I totally would have headed over to their Stalin museum. They had a big statue of him in the town center, can't believe they decided to take it down... 

Day 96

Off the nice interstate to Tibilisi (or at least the closest thing Georgia has to an interstate) I headed north up the Georgia military highway. As one of the few roads connecting Eastern Europe to the Middle East, there's a really interesting mix of trucks and buses which use the road. Today I saw license plates from Ukraine, Armenia, Russia, Turkey, Iran, as well as several plates which I didn't even recognize. Up to about 1100 meters tonight to some middle of nowhere road stop cabin. Tossing logs into the wood burning furnace to stay warm tonight, cool place.

Day 97

I woke up today full of dread. I had spent the past hundred miles going up 1100 meters, now I was going to climb 1300 meters in about 15 miles... On top of that, I woke up to rain, which surely meant snow up above. I was worried about the impact of the altitude, the road conditions, getting into Russia, the freezing temperatures; today was the big day.

Headed out just wanting to get the climb over with. I soon saw another biker stopped on the side of the road. I saw his South Korean flag on the back of his bike and immediately shouted out an "anyanghauseo" (hello in Korean) as soon as I was in screaming range. This guy... Man, Korea to Finland I believe (with the occasional public transit), all with a folding bike and close to nothing gear. If this guy was on the road with that set up, surely I could make it.

Actually didn't and up being too bad, just kept pedaling in the low gears and eventually made it up to the top. Met some Russians right before the pass that were stopped by the side of the road taking pictures of the views. As I approached they started turning their cameras towards me haha. We started talking, as well as you can without speaking a common language that is, and they gave me some baked goods. They were delicious and a very welcomed snack as it had been a day and a half since I last saw a proper bakery.

I had spent so much time worrying about getting to the top that I never actually though about how awesome things would be when I got there. Fields of snowy plateaus with the clouds indistinguishably blending with the mountains. Just awesome stuff. I felt like I was on that planet from Star Wars, you know where Luke has to go inside that camel thing to stay warm. One of the best things I have seen in my life, possibly the best view ever.

As the adrenaline wore off and i started the descent, I realized I was freezing my ass off. Some sections of the road were covered with over a foot of ice, others parts filled with cars stuck in sleet. It took me a while to get down. Towards the border the road was filled with unlit tunnels. Going through them was really difficult because I was totally blinded. I was really worries I might hit the side of the tunnel on the curves. Right as i was approaching Russia, I got my first dog bite. They didn't actually get me, but a pack of dogs bit through my rain cover. As soon as i stopped they ran away. Still haven't got to use that peperspray... The border crossing took a bit of time, but went smoothly. "Enjoy Russia Federation," the border guard said as he sent me on my way.

Definite learning curve here in Russia, as evident by me taking three hours to find a place to stay. Nevertheless, a big success this past week. Matter of fact I got into Vladikavkaz a day early and under budget. Sweet. 

Folding touring bike

Other biker from South Korea

The top

Day 98

Russia is expensive. At least compared to what I have become accustomed to. I am not super happy about that. Decided to just spend one day off here in Vladikavkaz, partly for monetary reasons, partly for scheduling reasons, and partly because I just don't really feel like I need two days.

Today's main mission, find a place to exchange my extra 100 Georgia Lari for Russian Rubles. Sounds easy enough, seeing as I am on the only road that connects to Georgia, a country 20 miles away which you can literally see out the window of my hotel. Nope. Not a chance. I've been to almost a dozen places, no one exchanges them and no one knows of a place to exchange them... I decided my only two options are to go back to Georgia (definitely not happening) or try my luck when I get back to the US. If anyone in SF or LA knows any good places to exchange Georgian Lari, please let me know... 

Definitely not Burger King

 Day 99
Never mind what  I said yesterday; woke up today to rain and decided I might as well take that second day off... Didn't really do much. First time in a long time I have a day with absolutely nothing I really was pressed to do, was nice.

Day 100

Into Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, a region which has a recent history filled with conflict which still persists a bit today. Lots of check points on the road. I definitely get the feeling like someone is always watching me around here. I didn't even feel comfortable stopping on the side of the road to take a piss haha. While getting into town, a guy drove up and started talking to me. We stopped in a cafe and he insisted on buying me some tea. He showed me around town a bit, found a cheap place for me to stay, and then refused to let me pay for dinner. Real nice guy.

Grozny couldn't feel more different than Vladikavkaz. It has a much more modern and has an interesting vibe consisting of a mix between cosmopolitan and old soviet communism. Also the people are a bit different. Predominately Muslim, grand mosques in the center of town, I feel like I am back in Turkey.

Friend in Grozny