Day 40. Thursday, September 7. Ikalto to Tbilisi. 123km, with 2,076m of climbing
Today’s route was a bit of a test for us riders. It was going to be our second biggest climbing day so far in our tour. More importantly it was also the first of three similar days over the next week here in Georgia then in Turkey, making this section the hilly heart of tour. Coping well today would boost our morale for the days ahead.
Though I’ve done a number of long bike tours over the years, they’d only partially prepared me for this one. Long tour, long days, some rough roads, multiple countries beyond my experience, extreme heat plus many other factors have made the past six week’s riding a learning experience…to put it mildly.
In the first week I struggled badly with dehydration, nutrition and digestion issues. Focusing on getting on top of those left me little time or energy to be particularly sociable or to enjoy the wider world around me. But I never despaired. I still found some fascinating things each day. Once I’d got those body basics under control, my stamina and enjoyment just kept growing.
Yet, the tour keeps challenging us, as we found today. As soon as we (the Dane Train of Nina, Jette, Soren and Lars, plus Warwick, Joanne and me) rode out of the vineyard that hosted us last night, we were climbing. And we kept doing so over the next 25km to the top of Gombori Pass.
The road surface was good and the steeper stretches were in the comfortable 6-8 percent range of gradient, tho we had some brief bits over 10 percent. All up, we gained 1,000m.
The view from the top was gorgeous. In the second photo I’m with Lars and Jette, while Warwick and Soren are having a stretch behind us.
We descended into the next valley and then on to lunch at the 53km point of the route. Knowing we had a lot more riding to do, we didn’t linger. Some 20km down the road we started our second climb of the day up into the Sabaduri Forest, which is part of the Tbilisi National Park.
It was a glorious climb over 8km on a steadily rising road through the dappled forest. In the shade of the trees it was a pleasantly cool 20C, a relief after so many long, hot days. Apologies I didn’t stop to take a photo. The one below I found online.
But the descent was horrible. Badly battered by storms, the road is under heavy reconstruction. Some 20km was jolt and shake, rattle and roll all the way down.
Then just as the road works finished, we hit the outskirts of Tbilisi. This was a surprise because our exit from the city of some 1.5m people early last Sunday morning to the east, up the Kura river valley, seemed quiet and quite brief. We were now returning from the northwest, and clearly the city has grown out that way.
Quickly the roads became big and busy. But our route was downhill so it was easy to keep up 25-30k/h and the traffic was generally considerate. The very best part was the last 10km along the left bank of the Kura River as we followed it down the valley. The inside lane was wide and might have been reserved for buses – there was no signs saying that; just few cars in it.
It was an exhilarating urban ride, topping off a day of climbing in beautiful countryside. I felt I’d ridden well.
But in the end, the city got the better of me. I had to get off my bike and walk up the steep cobbled street leading up from the river to our nearby hotel.