Tbilisi, Georgia/თბილისი, საქართველო to Oltu, Turkey, via Armenia/Հայաստան– 589 km this section (Total Mileage: 10,016 km/40,075 km)
Ten thousand kilometers. A quarter of the earth’s circumference.
In northeastern Turkey, at the mouth of a long, narrow gorge, I passed that first major milestone in my tour around the world.
It was near sundown and the road wound on down out of sight. A sign indicated a 12 km downhill grade ahead.
I let fly.
A half-hour later, I was dragging my bike up a steep dirt path. The gorge had failed to open out onto something more forgiving, and the sun was just setting.
I crested the top of the path, laid down my bike and took a breather. I looked up, and saw something like the apocalypse.
The gentle red-orange of a summer sunset brushed the bases of black thunderheads. They were rolling over the lip of the opposite side of the gorge, and they did not end. They rose up until they were straight above me. A wind blew up, and the air was suddenly humid. Lightning flashed across the valley, and I grabbed my bike and scrambled downhill.
The moment I hit the road, I felt the first drops fall. I pulled my raincoat from a pannier. All color had gone from the clouds, and I could see the mist of the rain coming off their bases.
The sky fell. Within seconds, I could hardly see through my glasses. By the time I had my tail light flashing, the road had a half-inch sheet of water running down it. The light of the day had gone diffuse and gray around me. I tried to ride further, but I found I could only go a few miles an hour if I wanted to see the road in front of me. I pulled to the side again and took stock.
If I continued, I could end easily end up in a ditch, by my own doing or others’. If I tried to bivvy for the night and the rain kept on, I’d be in the floodpath of the roadside creek, and at risk of landslides besides. If I climbed up the sides of the gorge, there was lightning.
A silver van pulled alongside me. A man, bald and with a long white beard, looked over from the driver’s side. He indicated the back of the van. Resigned, I nodded.
I sat on a stack of carpets, dripping. We attempted conversation, but found we shared no common words, and contented ourselves with awkward chuckles. He called the name of God a few times under his breath.
At some point after night had fallen, we reached a point below the storm, then a town, and finally the small city whose name we had repeated a few times. He dropped me on the side of the road and waited until I had safely rode off to start the van again and take his own way home.
This section of road, passing through Georgia and Armenia and northeastern Turkey, has been one of my favorites of the tour so far. The country here is stunning, there is history at every turn, and the elevation has given a nice respite from a long, hot summer. Food culture is slow and local, and gives few signs of adopting the packaged fat and sugar that westerners so adore. I now feel certain that I have tasted the best watermelon that has ever grown on a vine. I could go on, but instead let me show you:
My route through Georgia, Armenia and eastern Turkey.