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.

9 thoughts on “Headed South

  1. Ben Kilpela October 23, 2008 / 8:36 pm

    Still reading from Michigan, Kev. You haven’t offered up any challenging philosophical questions of late, so I’ve kept my tongue. But you’re getting better and better at photography, I must say. I enjoy your work and the whole blog immensely. Thanks for doing it. The shot of the girl on the train in Georgia that was a little blurry was excellent. Very expressive. Love the shots of those lonely villages out in the hinterlands. Keep ’em coming.

    Ben

  2. Kevin Koski October 25, 2008 / 3:25 pm

    Steve– great photo. Did you take it yourself?

    Ben–Thanks for the compliment.
    I guess I need to be more explicit in my challenging philosophical questions. I have obliquely suggested several interesting topics of debate but no one has responded. For example:

    – Is it right or wrong to give money to poor begging children?

    – What are the merits of Ramadan from a Christian point of view?

    – The Aral Sea disaster. Is it wrong for humans to try to control nature? (Think of New Orleans and hurricane Katrina)

    – How people selectively remember history (eg, was Timur a great nation builder or a bloodthirsty butcher?)

    – Is it wrong for a state to pacify its citizenry with subsidies to keep them quiet and peaceful? (Turkmenistan)

    – The Russian influence in Georgia–justified protection of its citizens or unwarranted meddling?

    – Are wars inevitable?

    – Should dog owners be held responsible for the behavior of their dogs? Should the owner be punished if the dog attacks someone?

  3. Ben Kilpela October 27, 2008 / 7:47 pm

    O.K., Kev. Here goes:

    – Is it right or wrong to give money to poor begging children? It’s right and good, assuming the children are truly “poor,” but it might not be smart or truly helpful. Hard question.

    – What are the merits of Ramadan from a Christian point of view? Are you saying you’re a Christian? In any case, physical denial can help the spirit in many ways, Christian or otherwise. It’s always good to fast, to retreat, to wear a hairshirt, to lie in a coffin, to whip oneself with thorns, etc.

    – The Aral Sea disaster. Is it wrong for humans to try to control nature? (Think of New Orleans and hurricane Katrina) A pointless question. Humans control nature in so many ways, large and small, that deciding it’s wrong would lead to the end of humans. Of course it’s right. I don’t know for sure whether the Aral disaster was immoral (it probably was, in my view) but it sure was stupid.

    – How people selectively remember history (eg, was Timur a great nation builder or a bloodthirsty butcher?) Back to Pizarro, are we? Timur was both, though he really didn’t build a “nation” as such, but founded an empire that decayed. He was a killer, true. But not much more immoral than most conquerors of his time. All their actions deserve moral condemnation. But saying that he was a “great” founder always makes one feel as though one is open to the charge of praising Hitler for bringing order and prosperity to Germany. Which he did, darn it. That’s one of those knjock-down examples that a thinker can’t get around.

    – Is it wrong for a state to pacify its citizenry with subsidies to keep them quiet and peaceful? (Turkmenistan). Wrong? No. And even if it were, would that stop the practice. Hardly. The practice was recommended by Machiavelli in “The Prince” a long time ago and practiced for millennia before Machiavelli’s time. And it’s practiced now in the U.S. and throughout the West. Porkbarrel spending has become a big topic of discussion in this year’s presidential election.

    – The Russian influence in Georgia–justified protection of its citizens or unwarranted meddling? Too tangled for me to sort this one out at this point. I don’t know enough. We of the US usually support self-determination, but this is a complex issue that has roots centuries old.

    – Are wars inevitable? Yes. 100%. For reasons I have given a few times. Our goal should be to do our best to minimize them and their severity. But there will always be wars, and some wars will always be just, and it’s a good thing too.

    – Should dog owners be held responsible for the behavior of their dogs? Should the owner be punished if the dog attacks someone? Of course. That’s fairly obvious as a moral question. But what’s the law in Georgia on dogs? I suppose you have a moral right anywhere to seek justice vigilante-style, but perhaps there are laws against vigilantism in Georgia, but not against letting your dog run free and attack others. In the U.S., owners are solely and wholly responsible for the behavior of their dogs in almost all cases.

    Kippis, Ben

  4. Steve October 28, 2008 / 3:06 am

    Kev – yes, it is a nice photo, but it is not mine. The fellow that took it has many, many others like it at his Finnish photo blog. He is a real artist.

    And your photos are first class, too.

    – Is it right or wrong to give money to poor begging children?
    Its OK. I give Karl a few coins, once in a while.

    – What are the merits of Ramadan from a Christian point of view?
    Had lunch at the Ramada after a funeral coupla months ago. It was OK.
    Sat with the minister.

    – Is it wrong for humans to try to control nature?
    Good question. I’m taking pills for that.

    – How people selectively remember history.
    I used to whup Ben’s rear in Monopoly and chess.

    – Is it wrong for a state to pacify its citizenry with subsidies to keep them quiet and peaceful?
    They’d better decide on that one in Michigan pretty quick.

    – The Russian influence in Georgia–justified protection of its citizens or unwarranted meddling?
    Is it worse than the Finnish influence in da U.P.?

    – Are wars inevitable?
    Hey, its October in Houghton County. Its gonna get wars before it gets better.

    – Should dog owners be held responsible for the behavior of their dogs?
    Listen, if you didn’t want pups, you shouda had the dog fixed.

  5. jenearliverpool October 28, 2008 / 1:01 pm

    hey you whats happening trull enjoying your blog and i feel as though i am on the journey with you…… just be careful sweetie cause you are nearly home … as i would sy a little closer to trini and believe me trini misses you so BLESSINGS from the rasta in the sweet isles of Trinidad and Tobago ………….. ps call when you can

  6. Debbie Black October 29, 2008 / 3:26 am

    Hey Kev –

    Have you sent in your absentee ballot???

    Debbie

  7. Wendy November 17, 2008 / 1:00 am

    Kev, I see your being attacked by alot of dogs, please be careful! Try not to look at them when your riding pass them, keep you head straight, they will bark a littlebut once they see your not paying them any attention and your not trespassing their territory, they will leave you alone. I cant believed you still tried to attack the dogs after they walk away; typical thing for men to do. Most man cannot handle humiliation. I actually laughed when you say you went after the dogs, i couldnt help it, was that bad? lol

  8. JoJo March 1, 2009 / 4:24 pm

    Really enjoying your trip Kev, telling everyone I know about it. Most people respond with a “How can he do that?”

    When I took up running (jogging slowly) the other people in the running world warned me of dogs. To date (3 years later) I have not encountered one single weird dog. knock on wood. But I’ve checked behind me several times for a cougar or black bear following me.

    I decided for the first time this year to tackle my own snow removal (instead of paying someone 125$/month) Well, when you’re out there bundled up except for your nose and mouth, it’s kind of hard to pull out a tissue and blow. so one time, I just blew it out and I couldn’t believe how easy that made snow removal. I stood there in the sub-zero temp with the snow and wind whipping around me and said to myself “It’s official, I’m a U.P.er”… & I’ve never looked back. Makes skiing easier too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.