Luke is only the 5th Scot I’ve met since I left Barcelona over 2 years ago. The others were a mate in Portugal, a clown at a festival and two volunteers in Athens. So when he asked me if I wanted to cycle over the Goderdzi Pass with him, how could I refuse?
There are really only two routes out of Batumi to the rest of Georgia. The first, and for sure the more popular option, is a main road jaunt north and then east, cycling along the smooth plains towards Tbilisi in fast and dangerous traffic. It’s nearly all flat. The second, is the gruelling 2200m (7217ft) Goderdzi Pass through the lesser Caucasus mountains. And this was the road we would be taking.
I use the term “road” rather loosely, the Goderdzi Pass is more like a dirt track of boulders twisting and turning its way up the mountains. It is almost certainly the most awfully surfaced road I’ve ever been on, and it was only when we were half way up that Luke said, “Oh yeah man, you know this road was featured on ‘The World’s Most Dangerous Roads’ TV show?” Great.
The first part of the climb consisted of more dodgy traffic than dodgy road. “It’s like Wacky Races!” Luke shouted. He wasn’t kidding. Minibuses would randomly and unexpectedly pull in front of you and stop dead. Cows were scattered across the road like well placed objects in a computer game to slalom through. There seemed to be no centre line and everyone was just driving wherever the best surface was, which was still full of potholes and boulders. Cars are spitting out horrid blue smoke and nobody is looking where they’re going. MOT’s are just a fantasy and some trucks look like a welded scrap heap with wheels.
After the first day, we thought we had gone pretty far, but we had only made it 700m of altitude. We camped hidden in some trees near the road and aimed to get over the pass the following day.
But the road deteriorated into a crumbly nothing and we were lucky to be averaging a pace of a punishing 6km/h. The traffic dipped off, and we were mainly alone, slogging it up for hours through tiny villages which offered nothing more than tomatoes, cucumber, eggs and junk food snacks. But the people were friendly enough, often shouting and waving, if a little bit too trigger happy with the horns.
The traffic by now was either transit vans or 4×4’s, often Russian Ladas struggling up the steep climbs. A storm came in and we had to sit out for an hour in a roadside cabin watching the road literally turn into a river. A good excuse to drink coffee.
We couldn’t make it much further, but we got near the top, to an altitude of around 2000m, and were sure we could get there tomorow. We had come from an awesome, humid jungle into some alpine-like mountain-top pasture and could camp pretty much anywhere we pleased. It was maybe the most scenic camp spot I’ve had, and made for a much welcomed rest after the terrible road.
The following day we finally made it to the summit. There wasn’t much of a view, and only a little shop and some shacks. A few kids came by to try and sell us sweets. And shortly afterwards a guy started shooting out his car with a handgun for no apparent reason.
We had assumed that since there was a small ski centre at the top there would at least be some kind of road on the other side, but there wasn’t. Going down was exactly the same as going up, and I rolled down for 17km holding the brakes until we finally got back to a paved road. We even had to cycle through a couple of rivers and a waterfall that had spilt over the road. Nothing like wet feet to make everything that bit more enjoyable.
We made it to the town Akhaltsikhe and absolutely stuffed ourselves with Georgian food and beer. From here we part ways. Luke will take the road north to Tbilisi and I’ll head up the river valleys to the plains of Armenia. This was a tough ride, but incredibly no punctures or broken spokes! If you’ve got the time (like 3 days), the tyres and a friend, everything will just about be all right.