Before coming out here I had a scout about on some Georgian motorcycle tour sites and their routes. One of them had an off-road route south from here across the mountains right down to the very south of the country where it joins with another road to the east coast that I’ve ridden before. The road to the coast was about 50km of rough road but from what the locals say, it’s got worse. Brian’s old bones are being held together with gaffer tape and elastic bands. He doesn’t want to do a few 100km off road so he takes the main road route to the west and south and we head for the hills.
The road is good. Too good. Surely this can’t be the right road. Sure its very narrow, steep and slippery with running water crossing it everywhere but its smooth with not even a ripple in sight. Either everyone was wrong or their information is 20 years out of date. There is a hotel on a bend. A local Mr Big is parked outside, time to check.
Well its the right road. Thats strange. As we’re leaving an electric van goes down the hill. Electric van? WTF? This is Georgia FFS.
The answer lies just a few miles up the mountain. A big, brand new and extremely posh resort come spa perches smartly on the side of the mountain. Polished and slick and obviously frequented by Georgia’s most affluent. All tight skin and fixed smiles, bins full of fat sucked from bellies and butts, not a grey hair in sight. People thinking you can cheat father time but he’ll always have the last laugh.
We get about 10ft past the spa, the tarmac road abruptly ends and the fun begins. This is what we were looking for.
The road isn’t too bad here. Lots of big drops and very narrow sections though. We’re not alone up here and one of the riders has a very near miss on a blind tight bend when a small kamaz doormobile comes hurtling round at him. It was a very near miss. I rode though his personal puff cloud just after it happened ..
Up we go through more clouds, twisting and turning and climbing in the mist. Slipping and sliding and seeing the ghosts of huge boulders and rock faces lunge out of the fog at us and then just as quickly fade back to grey. Horizons come and go, a big orange spotlight fades up and down, and then suddenly you just pop through into clean air and bight sunlight. An isolated farm sits astride the ridge at the top with a clear view of the roller coaster descent.
I find going down harder than getting up .. ummmm .. anyway.. the descent is very very loose with and seems to have been constructed with a million fist sized rocks. Its rough and hard on the body and the bike. I’ve not been feeling well at all this morning and the ride is really taking it out of me. By the time I’ve done the last 10 sandy kilometers I’m feeling fucked. Just as the proper road looks like its going to appear I see one of the other fast riders bike parked at a cafe by a stream. I stop, put my foot down, and .. nothing. The bike just falls to the ground. I’ve got no energy at all. My leg just gave way and folded. Still, the bike didn’t hit anything and fell on sand. Time for a brake while I wait like a mother hen for the others to arrive.
Well, thats the difficult bit of the day done anyway. Or so we think… We treat ourselves to a few miles of tarmac in the sunshine. Let the concentration muscles recharge as we all ride along in auto pilot. By this stage of a trip you just forget you’re on a bike. Forget you’re wearing a helmet. You’re just in motion and it all just feels completely natural, a man/machine blend, like you’re wired in. It’s a lovely place to be.
We had to wait a while for lunch.. a very very long while. I think we had to wait for the alevins to turn into trout.. whatever .. its now getting on in the afternoon. Good job we’ve only got about 100km to go.
We get to the turn back to the coast and it’s as rough as I remember but last time it was about 50km and then smooth tarmac all the way. Piece of cake. Home in time for tea and cake… make that Horlicks and a nightcap.
The road has been completely and utterly destroyed. It’s taken a lot of time and hard work to make it this bad. Not one metre of it is flat. It’s all big holes, ruts and lots and lots and lots of dust. Still. It’s only 50km. The place is a fuck fest and its much worse than the ride through the mountains in the morning.
We come to a section where there is a huge excavator working. He’s paused to let a car go past the other way. The car goes past, and I press the (soundbomb!) horn to tell him we’re coming through the other way. I set off and just as I approach the body starts spinning and the fucking great weighted rear end starts to appear across my path. That woke the auto pilot up .. FUUUUCKKKK .. I feel someone open the throttle wide and the bike kick out the tail as I duck my head and just hope for the best. When something like that happens I immediately delete all the details. I wipe it from my recall. I just don’t want to think about it.
After a few hours we reach a scabby couple of shacks at the top of the pass. It feels a bit like the restaurant at the end of the universe. Quite a few bikes and lots of cars whose passengers have spent hours being thrown about like balls in a bingo barrel, nursing bruised heads and elbows and knees, asking just how long this shit goes on for. One of the car drivers says he has taken 4 hours to reach here from the place we’re headed to tonight.
After about 50km we get to Khulo where I’m hoping there is tarmac. It’s there. It’s smooth. It’s quiet. It’s about 1km long. Still there are shops here so I can refill my bruised bladder and rest for a few minutes. My throat is sore and my nose is blocked solid and I feel completely shit. Thats not good.
What was once tarmac between here and Batuni is now like riding across a massive zebra crossing with a km of tarmac.. a km of broken shit .. a km of road .. repeat until dead. Its quite late by the time we roll into a very basic hotel in Batumi in the rain. We’re not only in the arse end of town tonight, we’re at the spot where the wiping takes place..
Still, the main criteria are met and there is food across the car park. We’re just passing through, we just need somewhere to pause horizontally for a few hours and we’re out back into Turkey in the morning.
When we wake up, Georgia is crying. Huge tears are running down its grey face. Georgia is obviously sorry to see us go. Don’t worry .. you’re beautiful and you’re a lot of fun Georgia. I’ll see you again.
Its a long soggy wait at the border but at least we already have all the insurance sorted, unlike these Russians. Note the ‘wear once’ Russian rain gear. That’s a boy called Max. His mum, Julia was a Russian that had moved to Georgia and she had met up with some other friends that had come from the far east of Russia. She was taking Max as her pillion. The group was going as far as the Bosphorus where their welcome ran out and they could go no further.
Good to see and old AT and an 1150GSA in the group. I really miss my old GSA. That was a proper bike…
As anyone that has been along there will tell you, the coast road along the south of the Black Sea is shit. It’s shit when it’s sunny, and its extra shit when it’s twatting down. It’s just a miserable, dull and boring ride, especially going west. You seem to just ride past a never ending strip of dirty grey random buildings. There aren’t any beaches on the coast here and its a straight drop into the sea. There aren’t many services on the westbound side either so when we eventually see one we stop. Stop and look out towards where all the shit is kicking off.
The traffic is bad as we get to Trazbon and we all get separated on the way in. 4 of us get to the hotel and one of us doesn’t turn up. I wait for 30 minutes. Nothing. So I get on the phone to the local Just Eat concession and ask for a Brian to be delivered, and sure enough, 15 minutes later this arrives
Brian does have a GPS but out here its purely for decorative purposes. He is happy to rely on his bag of lucky stars that he carries. This time he stopped, threw one in the air and as luck would have it hit the nephew of the bloke that owned the hotel we’re staying at.
I’m curious as to why there aren’t any beaches, especially round here where there are loads of hotels so I take a wander down to the ‘sea front’. Ahhhh… OK … its a liquid equivalent of land fill. Fuck what a mess. As I’m walking back I snap a couple of pictures of the trucks and a posse of blokes come running out of their port-a-cabin and start shouting at me. I obviously don’t give them whatever response they require because the next thing I know they’re picking up rocks and throwing them at me. That’s probably the most physical work they’ve done all day.
Yea.. I really do fancy a swim in that. That looks exactly like I feel at the moment..
I get a message from the others having a beer way up on the terrace of a nice hotel. Apparently the view is much better from there. Best go and see. Yep… don’t leave the hotel and you’ll be none the wiser.
Go out to dinner at a place where they keep armaments on the stairs just in case the conflict makes its way across the water.
We’re staying round here because we want to ride the D915. Another one on the worlds most dangerous roads list. Another idea that sounds great from the comfort of your couch in Eastleigh, but maybe not so good when it’s time to point your front wheel at it. We’re still quite a way from home but at least we’re closer to a hospital so off we go. But first, another monastery.
SÜMELA is stuck into the side of the mountain like a giant sticky bogey flicked at a rock face. Its unnatural, it’s odd and today it’s hiding in a thick veil of mist. Public service announcement: If you visit there on a bike, change into your comfy shoes before you make the climb up otherwise you’re feet are likely to end up looking like they need an all day appointment with Dr Pimple Popper. Like a lot of these places though its tourist central. Such is the vacuous nature of many travellers competing in the Instagram MEMEMEME challenge, nobody is interested in the actual place, they just queue at the best selfie spots and spoil the view with giant fish lipped pouts.
I’m back on the waiting game. Standing and tracking the tourist traffic, waiting for a gap or a brief moment before the next set of lips is locked and loaded. Its a frustrating game, but if you play it long enough you just might get a selfie-less shot.
Snap… nope ..
3 hours later ..
I can’t avoid it any longer. We head for the D915. Turn off the main road and its all good for a while, but you can feel it getting almost in-perceptively narrower with every passing mile. Like riding down a long funnel. We start to climb up a new road section and it suddenly just filters right down to a single lane cut into a hill towards a small village. I wonder what the others are thinking sometimes. I wonder if they get as apprehensive as me about these roads. I wonder if their stomach’s are tied up in knots and their arses are closed tighter than a submarine door. Well, if I’m going to die, let’s at least eat a few biscuits with the locals first.
Head off on the road and and suddenly you’re living life on the edge. It’s not so much scary as just intimidating. Sometimes you kid yourself you could go over the edge and you would probably survive but here that’s just not an option. It would be the sound of rushing wind and bouncing bones as your body turned itself into a human airfix kit.
On a small dirt bike this would be quite an easy ride, but on our bikes and with the occasional oncoming traffic appearing round a single track blind turn its not so straight forward. It’s a really beautiful ride though and the views are enough to push the thoughts of death aside and replace them with feelings of just being properly alive.
Before you know it, you’re through the clouds and back on smooth land.
Aaaaaaaand relax… If you’re ever out this way then do this road. It’s worth every scary moment. And the road back down the other side is delicious too. You feel just like a Sycamore seed dropping from the tree and spinning to the ground. Smooth, sinuous, open, fast constant radius curves take you down to the plains below and the sunshine pushes you fast through through the fields towards lunch.
We get to a small town just as Friday prayers are about to start and the place is mobbed. I’ve never seen this before and it’s a very odd sight. There isn’t enough room inside the mosque so everyone has just stopped where they are, put a mat on the ground and kneeled to pray. The centre of the town is a mass of bodies going up and down in unison as the prayers are read. Its a real sight to behold.. from the comfort of a cool cafe ..
Turkey is such a melting pot of people but they seem, on the surface at least, to be quite tolerant of other people’s choices. You’ll see groups of girls out walking, some in their full religious dress while their friends are in tight jeans with their lady bumps being tortured by tight tank tops. A strange place indeed.
Anyway .. back to the planning ..