Across Continents

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“Who’s afraid of the big, bad wolf?”

An apt end to the day. Sat in the dining room of a small hotel, the tables far outnumbering the rooms, listening to “Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?” playing on a radio in the kitchen. Still in my damp cycling clothing, they’d quickly prepared khachpuri – cheese bread – sensing food a more pressing need than a shower. I’d spotted the small establishment – it had just two rooms – a few kilometres south of the top of the pass through the Surami mountains that divide east and west Georgia. Pretty basic, but, after such a cold, wet and tough day, my needs were pretty simple.

Surami hotel

It’d been raining pretty much continuously since I’d left the small hotel above the casino, some hundred and ten kilometres back near the town of Kutaisi. Not as heavy as the previous day, but it wasn’t the sunshine I’d expected. I’d stopped briefly in the town to draw some cash out, the bank’s security guard watching over Emma. He’d spotted my nervousness, came over, tapping his holster to reassure me all would be safe.

A brief stop in the small town of Zestaponi, forty or so kilometres beyond Kutaisi, then up into the mountains, heading for the Rikoti Pass. Over four thousand feet, mostly a steady climb along a steep sided wooded valley. Just the traffic for distraction. A good many Ladas and Mercedes, darkened glass, and plenty of Turkish lorries. Roadside shacks selling oil, something the older vehicles seemed to use in copious amounts.

The final pull to the top of the pass, and the two kilometre tunnel, had been hard going. I’d reached the apex about six thirty, just an hour or so of light left, with another ten or so kilometres to be covered on the other side. All the advice I’d received had been clear. Do not cycle through the tunnel – potholes, poor lighting and dangerous driving to contend with – instead follow the detour that winds over the top. But I was tired, the traffic light and it didn’t look too bad. So I’d gone for it.

The next day was bright, sunny, the temperature quickly rising to the mid twenties, the road to Gori, Stalin’s birthplace, flat and fast. Just a stiff headache to contend with, probably the result of the small woodstove in my room the previous night. Would need to be more careful in the future.

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