709 kilometres over 10 days, 7 of which cycling.
Three days exceeding 120km with one being a record 152km.
Two countries, Georgia and Azerbaijan, with very different road conditions to those in Europe.
Temperatures reaching 50 degrees celsius, an average of six litres of water drunk per person per day, dozens of mosquito bites.
6 nights wild camping, 6 river showers, 2 punctures.
Click here for all the photos of Georgia.
Click here for all the photos of Azerbaidjan.
Eight months we’re on the road. We are fit, trained and used to the life on the road.
Flo, Noémie’s sister
18 years old, just after finishing her Bac (equiv. to the A levels exams in the UK), packed her brother’s bike, took a plane by herself for the first time, got lost in Moscow for the connection flight, had to manage in English, and arrived at last, super motivated. Without having trained.
For Flo to be able to cycle with us between the end of the Bac and the results, we had 10 days. From the 24th of June and July the 4th. The initial idea was to follow the main road linking the two capitals in just 580 kilometres with next to no elevation gain. 80 kilometres in Georgia, the remainder in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan requires an e-visa, which was refused to the three of us the first time for forgetting mentioning our middle names. On our second visa application, the date of entry into the country was 30 June. We came to a quick conclusion. 3 days for 500 kilometres was too optimistic for us, and even more for Flo who is not used to so much exercise. We had to change the route. In Georgia we’d take the north road, much more mountainous but we now had time to spare in the country. In Azerbaijan, we’d get as far as possible and take a train to get us to Baku in time.
What really happened
Reunited, a visit of Tbilisi, setting up the bike, eating local specialities.
Departure at 11 instead of 8. We start with 25 kilometres of highway to get out of the Georgian capital. When we finally leave it, the road on which we get is actually a dirt track for 20 kilometres. No worries, Flo is smiling. The horror of the highway made her realise that she loves being offroad. Listening to the birds, zigzagging between puddles, avoiding potholes … We camp next to a river, perfect for a wash and a cool night.
The track is still not finished and today it goes up. After 10 kilometres, we finally reach a village and the paved road for another 15 kilometres of climbing. 10% gradient in places, intense sun, 1000 meters of elevation. With car horns, waving and thumbs up from drivers, Flo realises that she likes up-hills. After a well-deserved descent, the tarmac disappears again as we cycle through green pastures. Camping on the bank of another river.
We start with 2 kilometres of very technical and rocky climb. At the top, two puppies run to meet us. They were abandoned there. What should we do ? After an hour playing with them, they are loaded into Flo’s bag to be dropped off at the next village. Problem. They keep on jumping out. Adam decides to take them in his backpack. A few bends later, we discover another puppy. Carrying two was already complicated but three, it’s not possible. We leave them there, all three, with water and knowing that they won’t survive more than a few days. We cross a bitch after 15 kilometres of hard downhill but still no village in sight. We did our best. It is now flat and we manage to cover enough distance to consider taking a rest day tomorrow. While we are looking for a camp near the biggest river in the valley, a shepherd approaches us. Red faced and breath heavy with alcohol, he insists on showing us where to camp. For more tranquility, we refuse and move away as far as we can. The shower at the river is now our evening ritual.
As we wake up, the shepherd of the previous day rides his scooter not far from where we are and sees us. He comes back a few minutes later with a huge bag full of food and two litres of homemade ‘wine’. He spends more than two hours talking to us as loudly as possible thinking it will help us understand. He tries to convince us to drink with him and finishes the bottle himself. He is now drunk and he does not want to leave. To make him understand that we have things to do, Flo and I leave with the laundry to wash and Adam takes the opposite direction keeping an eye on our stuff. Thinking he is alone, he runs away hiding our backpack behind a tree hoping to retrieve it by scooter for a quick get away. When he turns around, Adam is seated on his moped and waves at him. He finally leaves without a word, lowering his eyes in shame. We strike the camp and leave in search of a more isolated place to rest. Ten kilometres further, we find another river, a hidden field in the middle of the forest overlooking a fortress to visit.
The 60 kilometres to the border town flit by before noon and we take advantage of the afternoon to chat with Johana, a very nice German cyclist. Everything is ready for a dawn entry into Azerbaijan with the aim of maximising our time.
Arriving at the border at 9 o’clock, we are informed that the doors only open at 10 o’clock. An hour to wait, chatting with friendly locals and wondering about what awaits us on the other side. Showing our visas, taking official photos, getting a new stamp, taking x-ray’s of all of our panniers… We enter Azerbaijan finally as the clock strikes 11. After changing money in a bank and doing some shopping, it’s time for a picnic and a nap. When we wake up, a silent little boy watches us, standing a couple of metres away, somewhat creepily. He is fascinated by the bikes. Back on the road, horns, waving people and dangerous hazard-light-stops for photos with us gives us a warm welcome in Azerbaijan!
85 kilometres travelled yesterday, we promise to do better today. Despite repeated stops for photos, cold drinks and to pack away all the free melons we keep on being given by the road side sellers we manage to cover 125 kilometres. Baku is 264 kilometres from here. Flo takes off in two days. We joined the main road along the railway, the idea being to take the train the next evening after a final long day of cycling.
Difficult awakening at 5:30 am. The sound of the highway and the stifling heat having disrupted our sleep. We set out to find the train schedules in order to plan the day. At the station, which we spent an hour to find, we are told that there are no trains for Baku. Never. Weird. Our Russian being more than limited, we give up. We’ll try again in another city. The kilometres are accumulating quickly and an idea begins to germinate in our minds. Maybe it could be feasible after all. Flo, initially skeptical, ends up believing in it thoroughly. It is true that “it would be cool if we reach Baku only by bike.” If we go 150 kilometres today, we will have only 114 the next day to do before noon. We still need to find a box and organise the departure. The heat is unbearable, we take shaded breaks every 50 minutes. 6pm, 117 kilometres on the computer, we stop for a pasta dinner in order to cycle again in fresh air once refuelled. An abandoned gas station seems perfect to cook. We quickly discover that it is not really abandoned, a Roma family lives here hidden from the outside world. They are happy to have visitors and set up a table, some stools, give us tea, fresh water and a very rich conversation. We start again and we quickly beat our previous record. When I tell Flo we’ve done 150km, she tells me she’s “getting tired.” Two kilometres further, we stop at a second gas station to ask if we can set up the camp around the back. The night team receives us like kings. Corn, melon, bread. The tents, the bikes, the trip, everything is a matter of questions and despite the language barrier, exchanges are managed. At midnight we finally sleep.
4:45. The alarm sounds. It’s still dark. We start moving slowly, our cramping legs remembering the long previous day, our eyes finding it hard to stay open. We hit the road as the sun rises. Driven by our exploits of the previous days and taking advantage of the coolness of the morning, we pedal like mad. A police car pulls alongside, waves at us from the window. Oh dear. They’re stopping us. They hand us a bag full of energy drinks and chocolate bars like a snickers based tour de France car. Perfect, it will save us a break. At 10:30 am, we’ve already ticked 95 kilometres, at an average of 22 kilometres/hour despite the occasional climbs. It is now very hot and fatigue is thick in the air. While we sweat heavily, Flo starts to lose hope. Too hot. Too hard. Too tired. After a quick swim in the Caspian, we try to get our motivation back. The last 40 kilometres will be the most challenging ones. 2pm. Baku. Here we are. Finding a hotel. Eating. Finding a box. Packing. Setting the alarm at 02.30. Sleeping. Finding a taxi. Arriving at the airport. Registering baggage. Big hugs. Teary good byes.
Good luck Flo. You’re a champion. Ten days for you to overcome, accepting wrist and bum pain, badly set-up gears, worn brakes, taking roads that are not worthy of the name, never complaining, always smiling and happy to go. No need for training. No need for a competition bike. Motivation will always push us further than we can even imagine. It’s all in the mind.