Day 16: Oh Gosh, Oh Golly; Sweaty Ride to Ushguli
Last night was festive indeed. We hooked up with two SA girls (Lindy & Bridget), the Danish couple (Ella & Michael) and a Turk from Istanbul (Honour). The wine flowed and there was much mirth and swapping of stories. We got back to the guest house pretty late, though this was not the reason we decided to forgo the cool riding of the early morning. Rather, the SA girls had told us of a genuine coffee joint that opened at 07h30 – unheard of in Georgia, where most places only get going around 09h00 if you’re lucky.
We decided to delay our start in favour of coffee. We were at the door at 07h27 – CLOSED. We pressed our noses against the glass, no sign of life. Hope it’s just Georgian time and not no-show…! The pastry lady pitched with a tray of fresh baked goodies, she made a call – looks promising… at 07h45 just as we were resigning ourselves to caffeine withdrawal and getting ready to depart, salvation arrived – Yes! As she was unlocking the door we put in our orders and 5 mins later we were sipping away – what heaven! Never underestimate the importance of a good coffee in the morning!
Thus fortified, we set off on what began as an idyllic climb up the valley with little villages, all with the requisite towers, dotted on the hillside every few 100m. The snow-capped peaks were ever-present. Then as the climb was getting steeper, lots of heavy trucks, laden with gravel began passing us – must be a construction site nearby. Steve, never one to miss an opportunity, grabbed on and went sailing past me – finally he’s ahead of me up a climb! After about 2km he let go and I caught him again.” Why didn’t you go all the way?” “I didn’t want to leave you way behind”. I duly passed him and shortly heard the roar of another truck – bet he’s hooked on again – and sure enough there he went and this time he had no qualms about going all the way…
I joined him at the top of the climb we’ve toiled up for literally the last 200km since Zugdidi. What a treat it was flying down past the ever-increasing trucks…until we reached the next valley and headed slap bang into the road works to which they were headed. Eish! It was like cycling into Armageddon, with clouds of fine, chalky dust filling our lungs and clinging to every bead of sweat. I put my head down and trapped, determined to get through it asap, but when I routinely looked back to check that all was well, Stevie was nowhere in sight.
Normal, it was uphill, I’ll just wait…and wait, and wait. OK, no longer normal. I did a U turn and headed back down the hill to find him sitting dejected on a sand pile with the wheel off. “I’ve got a flat and you’ve got the tube”, “I thought you said you also had a tube”, “I thought I did, but I don’t”, ” you mean we have a skadonk with tubes and now no spares? Why didn’t you take a puncture repair kit from the rental outfit? Wada, wada, wada…” Just then the SA girls arrived in their minibus – suffice to say Steve was in like a robber’s dog along with the skadonk! “See you in Ushguli“, I said, as I trapped on.
At this point there were 20-odd km to go. I kept expecting them to pass me, but memories of the battle of Abano began to surface as he didn’t come and didn’t come, but then, come to think of it, neither did any other cars for a full 16km. Must’ve gotten stuck behind that wide truck that was watering the road, I reasoned, and happily flew on reveling in the dust-free ride with spring flowers and a kaleidoscope of dancing butterflies all around me.
I was thoroughly enjoying riding alone. I could get used to this, I thought. Certainly mine & Steve’s days of hard core cycle touring together are over. We may have to restrict ourselves to countries were we can easily rent an e-bike (but that means first world & visas & huge expense -exactly what we resolved to avoid). Or maybe Steve can be my back-up and do what he does best – drink coffee and talk shit with the locals. Or Kati and I can cycle for 2 weeks and then he can join me for holidays afterwards. Or we could consider Henry’s vespas…They finally passed me with just 4 km to go. “Did you get stuck behind the water truck?”, ” No the road is just so bumpy, its faster on a bike!”
I was filthy and badly in need of a beer when I arrived in the magical town of Ushguli. Steve saw me coming from the top of town and ran down the hill waving frantically – for sure the locals thought him dilly. Of course, our guest house is as high as you can go, but the view from our room is sublime and this little town is like something out of a movie set, except it’s 100% authentic!