Hi We are Elmar and Ellen and our mission is to discover the world on a bicycle and to share our experiences with other cyclists. We travel the world by bicycle, write about it and share our experiences on Bicycle Junkies.
We are on our way to the Unesco village of Ushguli. A small town located at an altitude of about 2100 meters and right at the base of Shkhara, the highest mountain in Georgia. It is said that Ushguli is the highest continuously inhabited settlement in Europe. A lot of superlatives and we can’t wait to see for ourselves.
We leave Mestia with the sun shining and a clear blue sky, slowly climbing to the first unknown pass. As we reach the summit, we meet three Spanish cyclists heading the opposite direction. It’s great to speak Spanish again! They tell us about the two dogs that have been following them for about 80 kilometers or so! Wow, good we brought a Dazer to scare them off… little did we know.
Tarmac is finished and a dusty and muddy track continues to climb slowly towards Ushguli. The weather is changing as clouds roll in again. And by the time we reach Ushguli mount Shkhara has completely disappeared from our view.. a bit disappointed we find a place to stay at one of the many guesthouses and hope tomorrow will be better.
Off road track to Ushguli
Upper Ushguli and the high Caucasus mountains behind the clouds
Last night thunder and lightning kept us awake and this morning it’s not much better. It’s raining cats and dogs as we leave Ushguli to ride up to the Zagari pass. All other tourists head back the same way they came, this means no traffic at all! Apart from one guy on a horse, it’s just us here. Well, that’s not entirely true.. as we left Ushguli this morning, two dogs came running to us with only one goal: join the pack. Remembering the conversation we had with the Spanish cyclists, we quickly grab the Dazer to scare the hell out of them. They tilt their heads when hearing the high sound and start wagging their tails! Wow, that will teach them a lesson! NOT.. maybe throwing rocks will help? They start fetching them! Yelling? More tail wagging… I guess we are stuck with them now.. we are going uphill, so it’s easy for them to follow us. We decide to keep going and hope they will loose interest when we ignore them. They don’t…
Cycling up to the Zagari pass
In the tiny town of Mele we are invited to stay with a family and looking at the mud and the rain, we decide to accept their invitation. Their guesthouse is just too nice to pass!
Yesterday one of the dogs decided to exchange us for two cyclists going the other way, but the black labrador is still with us. I guess, giving him food was not the best idea.. but we feel so sorry for him. Last night he slept under the stairs at the guesthouse and as soon as he sees us this morning, he is so happy, but we have no intention of keeping the dog. What to do?
A couple of kilometers after Mele pavement takes over, but it’s a bit of a rollercoaster ride and every time we think we lost him, he catches up with us. Completely exhausted… for 20 kilometers he keeps running and running. In small villages he almost sticks to our bikes, seeking shelter from other dogs… heart breaking. Then, finally; hairpins, a long fast downhill, this time he can’t keep up. It breaks our heart to see him still trying… crazy dog! It’s time to move on.
Wild camp spot on route to Kutaisi
Elmar cleaning the bike
We are not able to reach Kutaisi in one day, but we find a great camp spot near the river. The next day it’s a quick 40 kilometer ride into town. We stay here an extra day to visit the Prometheus Cave, with it’s disco lightning and the Motsometa Monestary. After all, it’s a holiday!
Grey, Russian building blocks with few paint left on them. Abandoned building amidst newly build ones. Traffic is crazy and judging by our first ride from the airport, they apparently receive their driver’s license for free..! Welcome to Georgia!
Tired we quickly wonder off to another world and we are alone with our dreams, anxious to find out more about this country. After a good night sleep, we are full of energy to get ready for our ride. We have a few things to take care off: the bikes need to be assembled, we have to buy train tickets to Zugdidi and we want to discover the city of Tblisi. We use the subway a lot, with it’s deep and scary escalator, roam around the narrow streets in downtown Tblisi and walk up the hill to visit the large Sameba cathedral.
Assembling the Avaghons
Tblisi Sameba cathedral
Sunset over Tblisi
After fullfilling our cultural needs, we leave for Zugdidi. A 6 hour train ride takes us to the Western part of Georgia, where we start riding into the mountains. The railway guard acts like taking your bike on the train is normal, apart from a small extra fee, that we are happy to pay for. Since it’s just two thirty in the afternoon as the train reaches its destination in Zugdidi, we decide to start riding immediately. The sun is burning, but a cool breeze comes down from the mountains. We are aiming for the small town of Jvari, 30 kilometers down the road to Mestia. At one of the guesthouses in this small community we have our first encounter with Georgian hospitality! Lia is really friendly and we can have a conversation in German. Well, she teaches German in the local school and we digg deep for some highschool German sentences, but we manage! While talking to her, she cooks for us and the first Kachapuri is a fact! Kachapuri is bread filled with cheese.. you see, I’m crazy about both of them, but this Kachapuri.. well.. not really my cup of tea I’m afraid…
Train to Zugdidi
But, what I really like is Georgian yoghurt! Who wouldn’t with 15% fat… we finish it off with Georgian bread (Puri), eggs and fresh fruit. A computer in the kitchen is endlessly playing Georgian music on a Youtube channel, while Lia’s husband is getting ready to harvest grapes. With full tummies we are ready to hit the road again, Kaisha is at least our goal for today. Immediately after saying goodbuy to Lia and her husband the climb starts for us, after which we drop down to a turquoise lake. A rollercoaster ride further we reach Kaisha in the early afternoon. Too early to stop and we continue as the climb really starts with some steep sections. At the end of the day we cross a wobbly bridge to find a camp site near the river and out of sight.
Last night we camped at 885 meters altitude and Mestia is supposed to be situated at an elevation of about 1400 meters; piece of cake! But, today is an up and down rollercoaster ride and by the end of the day we still have climbed more than 1100 meters. Just before it starts to rain we reach town and find a place to stay at one of many guesthouses. Time to treat ourselves to great Georgian dinner: Egg plant salad and Ostri (kind of goulash soup); we finish the day with a good espresso!
The road to Mestia
We have plans to ride up to the Koruldi Lakes, but weather forecast is not great. The next morning it doesn’t look that bad and we decide to go for it. No more than 10 kilometers up the hill and according to some other cyclists you’ll need no more than 3 hours… Well, little did we know!
As we reach the start of the 4×4 track it immediately skyrockets up the hill. But, anything for a great view of Mount Ushba and the many glaciers. As we slowly push our bikes up the hill, the clouds start to roll in. Sections are between 13 and 18% and more and most of it we have to walk up. By lunch time we have only managed to gain 400 altimeters, but we won’t give up!
Steep 4×4 track to Kuraldi Lakes
We keep going and as we reach 2100 meters, storm hits us. Hail, wind gusts and a temperature drop. At a flat piece of land we quickly put up our tent for shelter and we wait for it to pass.
To the Koruldi Lakes
It can’t be far now! We pack up our tent and continue to push our bikes up the steep hills. Hikers look at us with sympathy.. even for them it’s steep. And as expected, after every hill, there’s another one. But, we can’t go back now! We have reached 2400 meters and it gets crazy steep now with grades of 31% and more..!!! Are we nuts? At 2600 meters and still almost a kilometer to go we look around us as black clouds are rolling in. It’s like seeing the top of Mt Everest and knowing it’s better to turn around and find a safe place to pitch the tent. We linger for a while, but reason takes over and we call it a day. We’ve been pushing the bikes for more than 6 hours now and we would have to push for at least another hour more. With the storm rolling in, we turn our bikes around and slowly roll down the steep hills back to 2300 meters. The thunder and lightning scare the hell out of us as hail hits the tent. Glad we are not camping up there at the lakes…
Two days off, rainy forecast and a new tent to test. So, what do you do? Right, pack everything, drive to Alphen in Noord-Brabant and have a great microadventure!Holiday season hasn’t started yet and we find ourselves mostly alone on campsite ‘de Hoevens’ near Alphen. After pitching the tent, we grab our bikes and ride off into peaceful and quiet Noord-Brabant. I plotted the route via car-free tracks and through forests and it’s a great dayride. I even manage to squeeze in a couple of kilometers in Belgium, which adds to the feeling of a real getaway.
Who says you can’t go for a weekend ride in the Dutch winter? It’s cold, it’s wet and the sun sets early, but camp sites are empty, there are very few other cyclists and we have red wine to keep us warm!
Saterday evening we head out for another microadventure in the Netherlands, this time we pick the Veluwe. In the summertime, the area around this National Park is filled with E-bikes, now we have the road to ourselves. Near Otterlo we set up our tipi tent in a wooded area and as the night falls and the temperature drops below zero, we warm ourselves with a bottle of wine we brought. After a long week of hard work the alcohol makes us sleepy and we hit the sack early. The next morning the tent is icy and we quickly brew ourselves a cup of coffee to get going. Armed with warm clothes, shoe covers and gloves we meander the Veluwe with a cold wind fiercely blowing into our faces.
It’s quiet on this beautiful Sunday morning. Maybe you won’t believe this, but it’s quite a hilly ride! After one last climb we drop down to the river, where the waterlevel is so high, that the ferry isn’t going. Even the picnic seats on the shore sit below water level. Crazy how much water! It means we have to go around and find a bridge to cross and it also means we leave the shelter of the trees behind us and we are riding through wide open spaces.
High water level
I’m beat. The low temperature, the hilly ride and the cold headwind has taken it’s toll. Apparently we missed all the restaurants and shops too, so it doesn’t really help that I’m hungry! We stop behind a couple of trees and Elmar digs up some old sandwiches, that taste extremely good. We really needed the energy. With a hot cup of tea we brought in our thermos flask we are ready to ride the final kilometers to a campsite near the city of Deventer, which we reach just as the sun is setting.
Sun peaking through the trees
The next day we circumnavigate back to the campsite where we stayed the first night and where we had left our car. But this time we have tail wind!