More clear skies, and from the orchard in which we camped the road flew downhill all the way to the valley floor, a perfect start to the morning.
Flat easy riding for most of the day, passing by farms to the the right and the foothills of the Caucuses to the left. Very sparsely populated, a few small houses here and there but we were on our own for the most part, except for the occasional lorry or Lada passing us by.
We pulled off the main road and into the town of Kvareli for lunch. It’s a town that seems to be expecting a big tourist boom soon, or maybe it’s just packed in the summer. There were a few large hotels, presumably not all that full and some wine taverns offering wine tasting to tourists, but were closed for the most part. We found a little bakery and had kachapuri for lunch.
Similar riding again after lunch, as we got closer to the border we passed through some bigger towns. These long towns snaked all along the road, with high fences and walls running continuously almost right up to the road which made the riding feel a bit claustrophobic, as if in a tunnel.
Flat for most of the day, but towards the end there was a short steep hill that we had to climb. Two young Georgian kids in full cycle lycra (one of them in what looked like a national team kit) came racing up past us. I was quite envious of their unloaded road bikes, so mobile and quick. Down the other side of the hill Finn had gotten talking to a local guy on a scooter. He seemed to like bikes, I think he had a small shop, or knew someone who did.
Anyway, we were hard pressed finding somewhere to camp what with the whole side of the road built up with houses and farms and fences and walls. This guy on the scooter whose name was Iosef (like Stalin, he told us) said he knew where we could camp and to follow him.
So we got in line behind him, and soon one of those kids who had passed us out on the hill rode by and decided to join in our little convoy. We went for a good 7 or 8 km, right into the town of Lagodekhi and we were beginning to wonder where he was taking us. Maybe there was something lost in translation, was he taking us to a hotel? We didn’t really want to stay in a hotel but there really was nowhere to camp.
We started riding up towards the foothills, up a long incline through the town. It was starting to get dark. Eventually we arrived at a big new wall and a set of gates that led into the Caucus Mountain National Park! Iosef led us to one of his friends who worked at the park. There was a nice grassy garden area at the front near the gate with a visitors center. Iosefs friend (with perfect English) told us we could camp out on the garden of the visitors center no problem and even showed us where we could get fresh drinking water and, if we wanted, a place to build a fire.
We didn’t build a fire in the end. We put the the tarp up under the supervision of Iosef. It was a clear cold night so we broke out the big winter sleeping bags that we’ve been carrying since Istanbul.