Day 36. Sunday, September 3. Udabno to Sighnaghi. 80km, with 1,071m of climbing.
Today it rained! It was cool too! …for the first time in the 36 days we’ve travelled so far.
Actually, the rain started last night, just after we’d taken to our tents for the night. Intense but distant lightning continued for hours. When the rain finally stopped, it was just after 4am, my phone told me. It was by far the heaviest rain my tent, now four years old and on its third long cycling trip, had ever experienced. It performed magnificently. Inside my belongings and I remained perfectly dry.
But the rain resumed modestly just as we started our day’s ride at 6.30am. We donned rain jackets for the first time so far this trip. The first 20km or so of the route took us through expansive, rolling hills. The terrain and rainy weather reminded me of Scotland, tho the vegetation was very different.
These two photos give you a glimpse of it. Please excuse the disorderly mob of fellow riders on the corner. They’d stopped riding to see buzzards hovering, unmoving about 10m above the ridge, just out of the left of frame.
Further along our route we had some 10km of very stony back country road which, thanks to the storm last night, was also very muddy, which made for tricky riding. No sooner had we returned to tarmac we spotted a very good looking drink stop…even with proper coffee making equipment, we eagerly spied through the window. But tauntingly, tho all the lights were on, there was no sign of anyone working there. I took a photo to capture our agony over the inaccessible coffee.
Then Soren thought he could see someone, below the windows, with head down on the counter by the til. He knocked very loudly several times before a young woman blearily raised her head and finally registered she had customers. It was only 9am on a Sunday morning. She looked as tho she’d had a big night out last night. Only when I looked again at the photo I’d taken did I spot her fast asleep.
This was only our second day of riding in Georgia and we already realise there are a lot of dogs here and many of them loving chasing bikes. The nastiest are big cream/light brown dogs used to control livestock. Soren told us that he learnt about them when he and Nina were here last year from Denmark – their chef-restaurant owning son is very keen on Georgian food and wine.
Farmers leave these dogs to look after mobs of sheep on remote hill pastures for a month or so at a time – without the shepherd being present. They fiercely defend their flocks. When they’re puppies, the shepherds go to extreme lengths to prepare them for this tough and responsible life. First their ears and tails are cropped so they are less likely to suffer wounds in fights. Then the shepherds repeatedly submerge them in water until the puppies are about to drown, but ‘rescue’ them so they develop loyalty to that person alone.
These big dogs are also very fast. Yesterday, one chased us for several hundred metres. Fortunately, a wide irrigation channel separated us. We were doing about 25 km/h but it sprinted ahead as if to cut us off. So its peak speed was closer to 30 km/h. But thankfully there was no way over to the road so it gave up.
One of these dogs turned up at our tour lunch stop today. It just stood and watched but it kept its distance. When I edged cautiously closer to it to take a zoom photo, it backed away.
Plenty of other varieties love to chase bikes too. A small but fierce brown dog shot across the road at one point, despite heavy traffic, to chase us. Its owner called it back…and it hobbled quickly back across the road favouring a leg deformed perhaps by contact with a vehicle.
Several of our riders today said they’d had to take the advice we’d been given: don’t try to out-run a dog. Stop, get off your bike and put it between you and the dog. Usually that’s enough to cool their chase instinct. If not, throw stones at them – as the locals do.
The last 10km or so of our ride today to Sighnaghi, our delightful hilltop destination town, suggested the area bore the brunt of last night’s storm, judging by the downed power lines and lots of debris on the road.
Even the outdoor café in town, where we stopped for coffees at ride’s end, was carpeted in storm-blown leaves. The village was peaceful and beautiful come dusk, tho.