And then, there were two

The final stretch through Georgia to the border town of Lagodekhi was again spent weaving in and out of little villages, this time in single-minded search for a bungee cord to attach the litres of water I was carrying to the back of my bike. Action Man Amund, in perfect harmony with his name, had swiftly produced a bungee cord as soon as he had noted my plight. Alas, it was microscopic.

I managed to swerve into a hardware shop, family-owned and family-filled, where the grandmother took my order, the grandson handed me a makeshift cord, and the aunt took my payment at the Kassa. I felt like in the scene where Porco Rosso’s seaplane is repaired by the whole extended family.

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Miyazaki’s Porco Rosso factory scene

The final stretch was also spent in single-minded hope that Charlie’s tyre would not succumb to a flat every two kilometres. Poor man, he probably had more of a work-out pumping that inner tube than on the uphills. After the first puncture fixing, I lost a nut from one of my pedal toecap’s bolts. Luckily, the mechanics across the street had one. Travels like these are always full of little moments where people provide the missing link to find a solution – sometimes a small one like the missing nut, sometimes much more crucial ones (a superbly efficient tourism office lady in Croatia had organised a ride to Dubrovnik airport when I had just a couple of hours to make a plane home a few years ago). Charlie told of a time when he had turned up to a car mechanic where all the nuts and bolts were truck-sized but the undaunted, skilful blacksmith fashioned one of correct size out of raw metal. It is energising and humbling to be met by constant support and ingenuity at difficult times on the road.

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Gulf Oil employees observing Charlie’s puncture fixing

We emerged out of the hills onto the plain, thankfully as the heat was getting to be a bit much and the hills were never-ending. Something like what I imagine Kansas to be like, though with the promise of forest and more mountains up ahead. The Caucasus separate Georgia from Russia’s Chechnya (and Dagestan to the East). I had been dreading cycling up to them, knowing that a few kilometres separated us and the concentration camps where gay men were being rounded up in a final bid to “eliminate” homosexuality before the end of Ramadan.

Along the plain, I sped along, faster than the boys – finally! – now that the road was flat (and I was did not have to pedal the 30kg of gear I had stupidly packed with me up a mountain). My speed was not much use though as Charlie’s persistently punctured tyre continued its attention-seeking. Rhys and I waited up ahead, searching for a suitable campsite, preferably by some water, but failed to find anywhere comfy. Instead we pushed on, once Amund and Charlie had joined us, to a field where cows ambled by to greet us. Rain and a few lightning bolts popped round too during the night.

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Wide plains, Caucasus in the haze

The next day was the final stretch to the border. Cyril, my stepdad, was to join us in a couple of days, cajoled into flying to Georgia by my worried Mum. Action Man Amund had thought ahead and already obtained a letter of invitation to Uzbekistan (required for Norwegian nationals) – he had to power on to Baku to see about obtaining the visa at the embassy. Charlie was eager to learn from the master (AAA) and start the all-consuming admin battle that is the Central Asian visa process. And so four became two, Rhys stayed back – cool as a cucumber, content with a few kilometres a day as we waited for Cyril, whilst the other two sprinted on (or perhaps fitfully as Charlie’s tyre would not let up).

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