Cycle Georgia: The Battle of Abano
The alarm woke us to a beautiful day with sunlight streaming into the room, but I would be lying if I said that I was feeling fresh as a daisy. On the contrary, I was definitely worse for wear, but I dragged my sorry arse out if bed, put my damp, smelly cycle kit back on, loaded my bike and was not-so-good to go. The household was still fast asleep, except for the sweet old man, who was busily working in the garden, so we said our fond farewells and headed towards the mountain – head throbbing and feeling vaguely nauseous.
Kati had made a point before leaving, of utilizing the wifi to book our accommodation at upper Omalo 82km hence – we calculated would take us approx. 12 hours.
Hangovers aside we quickly left Steve behind and Kati in her usual analytical way began to calculate how were going to make this work with the big gap in fitness – ” I am NOT spending 15 hours out there!” she declared adamantly. ” Let’s make sure Stevie has enough food and we go ahead. He is anyway going to get into a car at some stage, so there’s no point waiting and then getting left behind”.
She had a point, of course, but in the light of the 2 against 1 Atsunta Saga, from which I knew Steve was still smarting, I thought it in the interest of good marital relations that I hang back with him. ” You go ahead” I said, ” see you when we see you in Upper Omalo…”
The Slothful Cyclist
When I say we were slow, I mean really, really SLOW! At times I found it hard to stay upright on the bike and honestly, this would have been ok if Steve was upbeat, but he was so overwhelmed by the prospect of what lay ahead, that he could only focus on the suffering.
I listened to an endless litany if woes – we hadn’t had any breakfast, we didn’t have enough food to last the day, we had to be realistic, he’d done the calculations and at this rate we’d get in at 23h00, maybe me and Kati could survive on a handful of nuts, but he needed real food, I was pushing him too far, maybe today the bite if the elephant would be too big, I hadn’t read the map and had no idea what lay ahead, he knew exactly what was coming and it was pure insanity, I didn’t understand or care how hard it was for him, Wada, Wada, Wada, wada, until I could take no more negativity and we had a full blown blarney on the mountain side…
“Actually I don’t give a shit how long or hard or far it is. The only thing I care about is this moment in time and the road beneath my wheels right now. I am in the most beautiful place with one of the most incredible challenges lying ahead of me and I LOVE the prospect of conquering it and I KNOW I can if I just keep pedaling and focus on the amazing privilege of being in this indescribably majestic place. Maybe I do rush in where Angels fear to tread, but that’s the essential difference between you and me – you operate from fear of what might happen, I operate from faith that no matter what happens, I’ll deal with it. If you could just change your mindset, everything would change…I don’t care if it takes us 15 hours and I’ll happily stick with you if you can be positive, but I’m not listening to any more negativity and I’m NOT getting in a car”.
His response: I do care if it takes 15 hours and I will definitely get into a car at some point”. My response: “In that case there’s no point me sticking with you or I’ll end up riding alone into the night” and with that I rode off.
I knew Kati must be a good hour or more ahead of us by now, but I put my head down and steadily made progress, determined to close the gap. Every car that came by I expected to see Steve, but he never passed and never passed. I stopped and squinted down the mountainside, straining for a glimpse of an orange helmet and sure enough, way down through the trees I could see him pedalling. Shit, he’s still riding and I have all the food! I thought he’d be in a car by now.
Regret started to plague me, I’d been too harsh, I should be more sympathetic, I should try harder to see his perspective, I should be more gentle and kind and loving, he’s always so tolerant and I’m quite the opposite. I can’t tolerate weakness in myself or others.
What if I pushed him too far this time? What if he passed out from lack of food or worse, had a heart attack? I would never forgive myself! The loop tape went round and round in my head as I kept pedalling up and up, still impossibly far from the top and checking every car that came by, but no Steve…Then I caught sight of Kati and a new energy filled me.
I redoubled my efforts and when the burning in my legs and the pounding of my heart grew hard to bear, I thought of the Assault on Atsunta and suddenly it felt easy again – the beauty of relativity!! It wasn’t long before I heard Kati’s voice calling from just above me. I put in a last spurt of effort and just like that we were back together again (these experiences are SO much better shared).
My guilty conscious came spilling out and I told her I’d been a complete bitch and ridden away from Steve and left him without any food and now he wasn’t getting in a car, as he said he would and I was stressing. She told me he was a big boy and could take care of himself and I should not worry – she was right, but that did not stop me checking every car that passed and straining to catch a glimpse of him coming up the mountain.
Eventually I thought I saw a speck moving slowly waaaay off in the distance and we both agreed it must be him and calculated that he was about 2 +1/2 hrs behind us. We were certain sense would prevail and he would catch a lift soon, but alas every car drove on by and when we stopped them to ask if he’d tried to hitch a lift they all said “no”.
Clearly he had taken my lecture to heart and decided to dig deep and see this thing through. Thus it was we finally reached the blustery summit at 2826m and had no choice but to continue and leave him to his devices
Danger and Descent
The descent was fast and exhilarating until we came upon a raging glacial river that disappeared into a deep, scary looking cave – no ways we were riding or walking across this!! We decided to wait for a vehicle that could get us safely through, but on exploring, we found a way round over the top of a dirty ice drift, which seemed stable enough.
But what about Steve? If he assumes we went through he may foolishly attempt it and come unstuck and disappear into the cave … We decided to leave a “beacon” for him to show the way round and proceeded to set up some sticks with a Day Trippers sock and some snacks, which surely he could not miss and on we went down and down and down and then finally back up the last 15 km to our guest house in Upper Omalo – oh how we cursed ourselves for booking the “upper”, which was 2km and 200m higher than the village below and felt like an eternity.
In total we climbed 3000m over 85km in 11 + 1/2 hours, conquering the highest pass in the Caucasus! We were on a high and all pain was instantly forgotten when we checked into our relatively luxurious guest house, ordered cold beers, showered and came straight to dinner. The only shadow that still lingered was the missing Stevie and though we expected him to emerge from every car that drove into the village ( fewer and fewer as the day drew to a close), alas, there was no sign.
Just as we were getting ready to hire a van and go out to look for him, a bedraggled figure came over the hill towards the guest house – 14 hours later he too was victorious and as I rushed out to greet him, all was forgiven and he was clearly exhausted, but elated. “Did you find our beacon?” I asked, “what beacon?”. He never saw a thing, but rode straight through the treacherous river with hardly a thought!!! I am SO proud of him – winning the battle of Abano in his own sweet time, which is a whole lot more than most could ever claim!