This is the first post in a while to the Ride Earth blog because I've not been cycle touring recently.
I returned via Public transport back from France to Tbilisi at the end of the summer. I met Tom in Venice and we spent a long and strange evening sleeping on a bench drinking wine with two German girls and a American / Iranian guy. One of the girls had a Georgian name from her ancestry.
The travel was one of those where you have to wait for a day for anything to turn up. So we had to wait for the boat to leave the port in Venice and then slept in the greek port of Igominitsa, before taking the bus on to Thessolonika, Istanbul and back to Tbilisi, and Tom went back to Yerevan.
The positive side to all this public transport travel was that I got to do a lot of reading and thinking and arrived back to the city with a new-found energy and take on things. As soon as I arrived, I went with my friend Nino up to the Tbilisi sea and went for a swim, which was something I hadn't done before even though the beautiful reservoir on my doorstep. This got me thinking about how it's easy not to make the most of your location. This reminded me of something my friend Manoog said about when you are travelling, you often introduce your hosts to things where they live, they never knew existed. This is especially true for bicycle travel by which you see the world differently to a car, and avoid the highways and take the backstreets.
The weather that evening was warm, there was a lightning storm in the distance, music and fireworks blarring from a wedding and it was generally a nice way to arrive back. In addition, whilst I'd been away, my friend Vincent had decided to distill 20 litres of Absinthe and 20 litres of Georgian Chacha, with the notes, 'drink in moderation' and 'good to drink' taped on respectively. Thus constituted the most alcohol I'd laid eyes on in my life. In fact, although I did try the Absinthe, I didn't turn into Van Gogh and the huge glass cask was meant for a wedding of my friend, Aurillien, whome I had previously travelled back to France with in a bus full of Georgia dancers. Unfortunately the wedding happened on the same day as Tom's wedding so I was disappointed I couldn't attend. Apparently it was a great party and they all ended up in the swimming pool.
In the next couple of weeks, I went out Mountain Biking frequently and also took a trip to Zhinvali to visit my friend David's village home with epic grape vines and buckets full of the delicious grapes. Afterwards we went for a swim in the Zhinvali lake, which is dammed to create hydroelectric power. The reservoir is huge and the water cold but very refreshing!
Fanny arrived back in Tbilisi after the summer with her new Kona mountain bike which is very happy with. She is still working away from the city but is looking forward to using the bike more when she is back. My welded Explosif frame is still holding out after many off-road rides, so I've still yet to swap it for the new Caldera frame that Kona provided, although I'm eager to try the new frame out.
Tom's wedding happened on the 19th September. I went off to Yerevan on the 15th in the hair-raising Marshrutka (minibus). Continuing the theme of having to wait for public transport I sat 6 hours for the Marshrutka to leave when too few people turned up. I moved between 3 different Marshrutkas, and saw the world through the eyes of a Marshrutka driver, hanging about in the dust outside the train station.
Eventually the bus prepared to leave. I was bundled in with a gaggle of Armenian women who were 'smuggling' lemons in bags and crates into Yerevan. I was later told by Tom that lemons are a lot more expensive in Yerevan than Tbilisi because they don't grow as easily. The journey was cramped, the women bantered endlessly and the man lying over two chairs and crates of lemons beside me thought that I wouldn't mind if he chain-smoked failing to blow his smoke out of the small gap in the window.
However, this was partly made up for by, that fact that, when we stopped, I ate two of the most delicious kebabs and managed to sleep for a considerable amount of the journey. How on earth I managed this is beyond me because it's akin to sleeping in a pepper grinder. My dreams were like a 3D first person spaceship racing game, hurtling through tunnels avoiding objects.
I arrived, met Tom, sporting new (but old) retro haircut, and moved into the luxurious, elegant, throwback apartment that had been hired for Tom's family and friends to stay in for the wedding duration. The next 10 days were wonderful spending time looking around Yerevan with Tom's brother, family and the one friend who managed to make it all the way from England to Yerevan, Beccy. Surprisingly Allen is also her surname - the same as Tom. Entirely a coincidence, although I did wonder whether it might cause complications (it didn't).
We did the Cascade walk and visited the moving Armenian Genocide museum, which I recommended if you're in Yerevan. There is a lot of well-presented historical evidence from an awful time in the country's history. An example of how humans can act when they forget they are human and put ideas before common sense and humanity.
Tom's stag night consisted of taking over his favourite Irish bar and dancing to a cheesy selection of music. After which point things became somewhat blurry for him. Tom has been reading a lot of physics books recently and he decided to regurgate all the information he had absorbed in a random order for most of the night. The following morning, the photos told the story of a man who had taken certainly managed to fulfill the required criteria of a stag night, although that man was no where to be seen until the afternoon.
On the wedding day itself we all went to Tenny's family's apartment, and were greeted by the whole family dancing in the traditional Armenian way, and it seemed the socially acceptable thing to join in. The dancing in question tended to involve holding your arms in the air twisting your hands, and creating shapes, or clapping, to the medley of Armenian pop music. Tenny went and got changed into her gown and arrived to much excitement, emotion and hysteria. She did look beautiful and it was a lovely moment to see Tom and Tenny together in their full regalia.
Tom had organised a little surprise for the transport to the wedding in the form of a cycle rickshaw and the membership entirety of a local cycle club following behind.We followed the procession down to Republic Square where they did the traditional 2 circuits before going to the church.
It was a small, peaceful church in the suburbs, which was doing a roaring trade in weddings that particularly Saturday. I followed them down the aisle with Tom's bro and then did my duty of holding a cross above Tom's head for ten minutes, whilst the couple were married by the priest. It was a nice, simple ceremony. Afterwards there was a party at a hotel, and I made my first ever best man's speech, which thankfully the preparation for, paid off, and it went down very well. The night passed eating, drinking and dancing away. Well and truly a celebration!
There were numerous more meetings between the families before everyone went home. I got the bus back to Tbilisi. I arrived back and realised that I'd had such a good time and also realised a few things through my experience and change of scenery. Namely that I needed to get out of Tbilisi on a wild mountain bike adventure in the mountains (as you do), and also that I would return back to England again at Christmas to spend it with my family even though it would mean another arduous 6 days of public transport, intensive mediation and further draining of funds.
I decided that the future of my bike travel is more likely to lie back at the root of the original idea of Ride Earth. A progression of long distance off-road mountain bike adventures, rather than on-road slogging epics. For me an on-road tour is a totally different experience to a true venture into the wild. My views have also been partly influenced by two cyclists I hosted last week. One of which was Koen Degroote, a Belgian, not shy of taking his racing style touring bike off the tarmac (he is a big fan of the Belgian cobble-stone races). Of course in some parts of the world the roads are no more than dirt tracks and a mountain bike is better suited than a traditional touring bike.
Tom, myself and some of my Georgian friends are planning a ride, leaving next Monday, akin to the May 06 Scotland mountain bike ride which you can read about in the archives of this blog. An off-road route into the mountains with camping equipment. It was something that I'd been planning to do but that I realised I couldn't wait any longer for it to happen and now I'm really looking forward to it.
Last weekend I DJed (first time- ambition achieved!) at a party in some woods outside Tbilisi in a beautiful mountain setting. Some friends had found the location and hauled generators and speakers there in order to make the party. The following day we awoke to electronic beats still pounding, delightful weather and an incredibly beautiful landscape of mountains and forest which Fanny mentioned was akin to the Haute-Province Alpes near her home. David, my Georgian friend, again spoke of off-road mtb routes he knew that it was possible to take in that area and I was thrilled at being in such an incredible place with such potential for riding.
We are going to make a cross-country race on the 1st November in Tbilisi. There should be up to 30 participants riding the course marked out in Vake park, and above the Turtle lake. Email me if you're interested in participating.
I recently met an American guy working on a project to promote the OpenStreetMap website in Georgia and to get people to have 'mapping parties' to create open-source, free to use maps of Georgia. I have been looking into adding mountain bike routes and making them available through the Mountain Biking Georgia website.
I'm not finding a lot in the way of design work. I have odds and ends but nothing sustainable. However, I have been teaching web design which is a fantastic process of sharing and organising my process and knowledge. I am continuing to write the book of the travels from England to the Caucasus and so far I've written 156k words. I'm currently writing about the first trip to Armenia back in 08 when Tom and I parted ways and cycled through the country in the snow to Yerevan. The process which eventually ended up in Tom meeting Tenny, but that's all history!
I've taken up running again in the mornings, which I have realised how much I missed. I used to run a lot when I was living in the UK. I like the different kind of energy a run gives you. Compared to cycling, I work up more of a sweat in a shorter time and go through a more taxing mental process to keep the rhythm. I think that thought process of keeping going and holding a rhythm is one of the things I enjoy the most because it clears my mind for the rest of the day.
And so I'm taking each week as it comes. With the longer term projections for travel reasonably far away, I'm feeling happy to be fulfilling the task I set myself to keep busy and stimulated in whilst I'm here in Tbilisi. However, setting a limit to the time I will be here, has given me a boost to get moving and motivated as an open-ended 'another year' was starting to hang over me and seem like a long time, causing me to stagnate.
Since the round the world or bust idea petered out I've been thinking about places I would really like to visit and I intend to follow up with more research. The adventure continues, but it's become life, with real friends, community and activities in my current location. Something that it's difficult to have whilst travelling alone in a new location everyday.
Photos to come shortly
Until next time...