It had been clear most of the day yesterday, but just as we went to sleep a rain set in that hung around all night. In the morning it was reduced to a light drizzle and low clouds hung around just overhead. We set off along the same route, today should take us up over the pass at around 1000m and down the other side to the River Mtkvari, a significant point of progress as that’s the river that our destination Tbilisi lies on, and the first river we would ride beside that drains into the Caspian Sea. As you can probably tell I end up thinking about the rivers we pass a lot these days, I guess because they sort of tell the lay of land and our progress through a country a bit better than passing through roads or regional/county boundaries.
Road was the same as yesterday, so in similar condition – run down, muddy and potholed. It was some real rural riding along roads bordered only by trees and, very occasionally passing through settlements of one or two run soviet apartment blocks and a train station – the train tracks ran beside or near the road all day.
Cresting a hill in the morning we saw for the first time some snow capped mountains I front of us – until now they had always been to our North, at the top of the Greater Caucuses. The cars that passed us on the road were either big, gnarly old Russian trucks, which you would expect to be the type of vehicle necessary to navigate these roads but, bizarrely, the other type of vehicle were tiny, beat up old two seater cards. The splutter up the hills beside us and I had no idea how they got through some of the muddier and more flooded parts of the road – brute force I guess.
A bit confusingly we were also passed now and then by pretty new pick up trucks. Chinese pick up trucks, and always crammed full of Chinese guys. We were really scratching our heads, why were they all out here on this backwater road when the highway was nearby and served the same towns. After lunch we got our answer, turning a corner we came upon a huge construction site, manned entirely by Chinese guys. It seemed they were digging a tunnel through the mountain, but to where I don’t know. Looking on the map it didn’t seem like it would connect any major settlements at all. Strange.
As we climbed higher and the day wore on, the road got worse. It went from being potholed compacted earth to just rocks. And with the heavy rain, a stream was flowing down from the top of the pass along the road all day. We passed by some flooded sections of road with just enough space on the side to wheel our bikes past. The poor riding conditions meant it took the best part of the day to reach the top of the pass, it was close to three o’clock by the time we made it.
Down the other side, through the small town of Surami and into Khashuri, where we finally got something substantial to eat. Once we finished it was starting to get dark so riding out of town on the main road to Tbilisi we found a wide empty field next to the road and pulled off into it. We were down in the flat plains now near the river Mtkvari and framed North and South by mountains, but tomorrow we would be going East along the flat to Tbilisi. We were hoping to make some good distance today because I think overall we barely cycled 50km today! Much of the field was waterlogged but we set up on a patch of dry raised ground. Got the tarp up in the gloaming just before proper darkness and then a nice cup of tea and bed.