Headed South

Since I left Tokyo six months ago I have been traveling more or less due west. Now as winter approaches in the northern hemisphere it is time to make the big turn and head south. Not a minute too soon. It is getting very chilly in Georgia now. I will be pedaling more or less south for the next six months or so, until I hit South Africa and can’t go any further.

I left Tbilisi determined to avoid the busy roads that took me there. So I headed out into the mountains. Sure enough there was very little traffic, and with good reason. The road quickly turned into a jumble of dirt, potholes and rocks. Instead of my planned 100 km per day I was making 40-50 km per day. On top of that it got cold and windy, started raining and I got sick –some kind of head cold. For three days I battled strong freezing headwinds, rocks, a runny nose and vicious dogs.

If you exercise in the cold you know that for some reason you have a runny rose. Well when you have nasal congestion the amount of mucous increases exponentially. Every 30 seconds for three days I was unclogging my nostrils with a forceful blow. Only, because of the wind, the sticky goo was blown back onto my jacket, my pants, my sunglasses and my face. By the end of the day I was covered in dried snot. Yuck.

Then the dogs attacked.

My guide book says be wary of the dogs in Georgia. They are trained to fend off wolves. I had several run after me but nothing serious. Then one day I was passing a herd of cattle and I saw a large dog appear and run after me at top speed. There was something different about this dog. He did not bark but just ran after me with a determination to track me down. That’s scary. You often hear of a dog whose bark is worse than hias bite. I had a feeling this one’s bite was worse than his bark.

Just then, a second, larger dog appeared. This one did bark, and he was ferocious. He was a huge black beast. I had visions of the Hound of the Baskervilles. As they bore down on me I hopped off my bike, letting it crash to the ground as I searched for a rock. As I picked one up the first dog backed off, but not the Hound of the Baskervilles. He came right up to me, a few feet away. Not just barking like a normal dog, but viciously snarling and growling like a crazed animal. It was frightening.

I threw the rock at him but he was agile and moving around. I missed him. He was circling me, inches away. I did not dare take my eyes off him to look for another rock. I was just waiting for him to jump. He looked like he would attack any second. I stuck out my arm to block him, figuring that if he bit my arm I would smash him in the head with the fist of my other hand.

We circled like two boxers in a fight. Then after about 30 seconds the herder came over and said a few words and the dogs backed off. The three of them walked blithely away. I stood there panting and shaking from the encounter. Then I got angry.

People who own dogs need to take responsibility for them. If your dog attacks me that’s the same as you attacking me. I felt humiliated that the dogs caught me unawares. I wanted revenge. So I picked up a couple rocks and went after the dogs (I know, not a great idea). I walked to within 30 yards of the herder and threw a couple rocks at him. He saw me and began cursing and yelling at me in Georgian. I gave him the finger and yelled, “your dogs should be locked up, and you too!” He started to come towards me and then the dogs appeared again. I thought, OK time to go. I could handle one dog if I was prepared, but two dogs and some wild inbred mountain man with a big stick was a bit much. I hurried back to my bike and pedaled quickly away, still seething. God help the next dog that attacks me. They will get a face full of mace, rocks and my Swiss army knife. They may be trained to fend off wolves but they weren’t trained to fend off a crazed bicycle tourist.

Moving on, let’s look at some photos. Here I am struggling uphill.

Not a happy camper.

I came across this enormous herd of sheep on the road. There must have been thousands of them.

A village by a mountain lake. This was about 2000 meters altitude.

A typical mountain road. Slow going.

I liked the contrast of the red building against the green/brown background in this shot.

Reflection of the sun off a mountain lake.

Campsite at sunrise. It was 3 deg C  (37 deg F) in my tent in the morning.

A nice meandering river.

Southern Georgia is very economically depressed. The towns seem deserted and lifeless. Many buildings, like this one, have been abandoned and left to the elements.

An old lady keeping the streets clean. Many elderly people are reduced to begging or working menial jobs. Many sit out all day in the cold just to sell a few loaves of bread. It is really sad to see.

After three days of bumpy roads I finally got on some pavement. This was best road I have been on in Georgia. Plus it was downhill for 40 km. There were few cars and lots of nice scenery. One of the best rides this whole trip. The only thing was the wind chill. At 5 deg C and going 30 kph it was COLD. Here is a shot of the road and me all bundled up against the cold.

I came across the Khertvisi fortress, dating from the 10th-14th centuries.

I stopped in one town to buy some water and these kids swarmed over me and my bike.

One of the great things about traveling is the strange things you see. This was for sale outside a butcher shop in a small town. I just cracked up when I saw it. What does one do with a pig’s head?

I leave Georgia with that familiar feeling that I just scratched the surface of the place. Not speaking the language you really miss a lot. There’s a lot more to do and learn about the country and I hope to make it back someday. Tbilisi is a charming city, very European with many English speakers. Americans don’t need a visa, and there is even a George W. Bush Highway, complete with a goofy photo of the US President. The whole country, despite its political problems, has a lot to offer. Georgia gets a thumbs up from me.

Except for the dogs.