Day 43. Sunday, September 10. Tsalka to bush camp near the border with Turkey. 117km of riding, with 1,437m of climbing.
The wind was ferocious by dawn this morning, and getting worse. Winds of 50k/h, a temperature of 3C and a wind-chill factor much lower at the top of our day’s first long climb were forecast. That prompted Carolina, our tour leader, and her crew to work out three options for the day. She laid them out in our pre-breakfast riders’ meeting.
Stick to the plan, if you feel you can cope with the weather; take the vans to the lunch stop and ride from there when the weather was forecast to improve; or take the vans to tonight’s campsite.
Even those choices represented a big logistical challenge between our three vans – the lunch and dinner ones have lots of cargo space but only five passenger seats each; and the support van seats eight. Not to mention finding room for all the bikes not ridden.
Five riders plus two crew members opted for the first choice; three riders for the second; and 11 (including me) for the third. Here were five of the first group, in high spirits about the challenges ahead.
While the crew packed up camp and bikes, we vanners coffeed in a local café. Its humble exterior gave no hint of its opulent interior. Rather than serving us in the cafe, the proprietor hosted us in his own living room.
The van ride through the stormy weather produced some fabulous photos of the second of the Tsalka lakes.
Along the way, the intrepid cyclists sent a video clip of the conditions that forced them to walk up some of the climb. In the second video, some of them are trying to load their bikes in the lunch van for a short lift over the top because they estimated the wind, blowing continuously not in gusts, was at least 60k/h.
For the three who started riding after lunch, it was still in cold and very windy weather but soon eased to give them a pleasant 60km afternoon ride to camp.
Only two riders – Lars and Warwick – managed the whole route without vehicle assistance. But it took them some nine hours. They rode into camp just after 5pm with the other four who’d ridden most of the way – Soren, Rodger, Will and Jo, plus Michaela, the crew member who had ridden as sweep from lunch on.
Meanwhile, the rest of us were very glad to be out of the extreme weather, which we gladly recorded in some vivid photos.
I was in the dinner van with two crew members and three other riders. Along the way, we stopped for a particularly crucial chore – crew members Mitch and Ryan laboriously filling the van’s freshwater tank from a public drinking fountain in the small town of Ninotsminda.
Nearby I spotted a mobile phone repair shop…so just on the off chance I went in to see if I could replace the battery in my heart rate sensor. Because it has a very strange type of screw holding the cover on I had tried fruitlessly in Tbilisi to do this small but useful task. Tho, my efforts did get me via the deep underground subway to the throngs of shops and stall traders in Station Square.
Sevak, owner of the mobile shop, couldn’t help but he led me across the road to his friend Karen’s computer repair shop. Amidst his array of tools, Karen had the right one for the job. Sevak went back to his shop for a battery and in less than 10 minutes I was all set.
They, and Hovannes, Karen’s young assistant, only spoke a bit of English. However, I did convey what we riders are up to. I showed them my website and promised to write about them. So, thanks, guys!
Tonight we’re camping at 1,850m, in an open field about 10km from Georgia’s border with Turkey. It’s lovely as I write this about 5.30pm with the sun still shining and the wind back to a breeze. But tonight will be a bigger test of my sleeping bag. Thankfully, the odds on a wedding party in this remote spot are absolutely zero.