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Start – Stop: Mazeri – Mestia

Distance: 15.0 mi

Elevation Gain: 5546 ft

Riding Time: 7:00

Time Awake Spent in Pursuit of The Trip, Roughly: 9:00

Day 02 Objectives & Points of Interest

  1. To ride over Guli Pass. We failed. Had we set out to drag our bikes over Guli Pass we would have fulfilled our objectives.
  2. The many beautiful and stunning views.
  3. The innocent flirting with exotic trekkers in the bars and restaurants of Mestia.

We all do it. Sheepherders, bro-grammers, Yanomamo Warriors, archaeologists, your Aunt Johanna, the dude with the weird ear that pumps gas on Lombard across the street from the Fred Meyer—everybody, all of us, we all do it.

“From a place of comfort in the now, we agree to do something that we know will be painful, in the future. And we do it for myriad reasons.”

  1. We think we like pain.
  2. We gloss over the imminent pain and focus only on the good stuff like exotic foods and the chance to fart a few thousand postcards.
  3. We think we need a challenge.
  4. Peer pressure.
  5. We like telling stories and that’s where you get stories. Out there in the shit.
  6. Wanderlust.
  7. Shame.
  8. #EPIC.
  9. Doubt.
  10. A Type-Two Fun addiction.
  11. Endorphins.
  12. We’re paid to.
  13. Adventure, whatever the fuck that means these days.
  14. To impress in the pursuit of a love interest.
  15. Et cetera, et cetera.

The point is, whatever the reasons, we all do it. Sometimes we even pay for it. In fact, we almost always pay for it. With money, sanity, our time, and all kinds of other shit we seldom squander because they are finite resources we consider precious and hold dear. To recap: throughout our lives we all pay—over and over again—for the pleasure of fucking ourselves up. It’s a thing. In fact it’s so much of a thing I don’t want to talk about anymore. It’s boring and you already get what I’m saying. Because like, you wouldn’t even be here reading this if you didn’t have an active interest in paying for pain. I mean, we here at Yonder (for equality purposes) try to run the whole spectrum of the Epic Scale and all, but even easy AF bike-packing causes discomfort. For example, that day in Virginia when we rode to the river for tubing and to eat the World’s Largest Pizza, well it was hot and I personally got bitten by a shit-storm of mosquitos. Also my phone didn’t work in that campsite. Which, when you think about it, we spent a lot of time in the campsite without service.

“Hey there’s no shame in my game, those non-internet-having hours, of which there were many, was a form of pain for me.”

Again, all that masochism hoopla is a given. Moving on. To the second part. The part that comes after (the royal) we have agreed and committed to the doing of something exceptionally stupid. The part called Pathological Underestimation. I don’t know if PU is as ubiquitous as the propensity for pain thing, and maybe that’s why I wanted us to talk about it, to flush it out, to see if it, too, is as common and universal a thing as the first thing, but whatever the case, what I do know is that I am, me, personally, a big time offender. Consistently, invariably, always, 1000% of the time, no matter how hard I try, no matter how much experience I have to draw from, regardless of the research, in spite of generous contingency allowances, and on and on and on, I get it wrong every time. You know what, it’s almost funny. Almost. Except I’ve been doing this adventure shit in one form or another my whole life. At first for fun and because I was compelled to. And lately, as in the last ten years, because it’s my job. Speaking of which, the route for this trip was fluid up until the veeeeery last moment. Going into to the Route Planning & Finalization meeting in the lobby of Rooms Tbilisi roughly eleven hours before our Delica minivan bomb trolley departure to Svaneti we had a rough-but-solid outline for our trip. We had a start. Actually, we had two starts. And we had a finish. Actually, we had three potential finish options. And we knew what day we were likely to finish on, either Wednesday or Thursday, we just had to pick one.

I chaired the meeting. We sat on a sofa: Brian on my left, Kyle on my right, Tazer across from us in a chair. Laptop open, we began the process of commitment and solidification. Sure, sure we left some options open, in this biz contingencies are a must. But you know how it goes, we had to get dropped off specifically somewhere. And we had to get picked up just as specifically somewhere else, and while a window of an hour or two is normal in these situations, we had to narrow it down to a single day at least. Anyway, the planning went really smoothly. An hour later we had this itinerary (reproduced verbatim for the purpose of integrity):

The Proposed Itinerary

  1. 15th: 8:00am Breakfast, 9:00am Drive to Grand Hotel + Relax Mazeri
  2. 16th: Mazeri – USHBA Glacier hike (says 9 motherfucking hours, we ride the start, we can do in 7hours), ride back to Mazeri, grab lunch, 6 miles bike drag-push-hump over Guli, get to lakes, camp.
  3. 17th: Lakes – Mestia 6 miles down, ride to the bridge, ditch bikes, 2 hour hike, hike CHaladi glacier Stay in HOTEL Svaneti
  4. 18th: Mestia – swimmery – 12 miles
  5. 19th: – Swimmery – Adishi 10 miles
  6. 20th: Adishi to Ushguli / 18 miles – 4-5 mile climb, punch over pass, 7 miles, 6 up to ush (1k feet climb)
  7. 21st: Ush – Lat – Chevre END 2:00pm , 15 miles 2k for first 5 miles, then flat then send, Tblisi
  8. 22nd: Sulfur Bath, chill like a Georgian

Let me tell you something right now. This itinerary is a pile of shit. And you know what, you know how quickly it goes to shit???? Watch.

The Itinerary Goes to Shit

  1. “9:00am Drive” 25 characters and less than halfway through the first line and we’re off course. Is it a big deal that we didn’t leave Tbilisi until 11:30 am?, nope. But you know, it’s like foreshadowing or something.
  2. “Relax Mazeri” kinda but not really; we got in pretty late and we almost missed dinner.
  3. “9 motherfucking hours, we ride the start, we can do in 7hours)” Nope, it took us 9 hours, maybe even more, even with (because of) bikes.
  4. “ride back to Mazeri, grab lunch….lakes, camp” Nope, we stayed in the Grand Ushba Hotel again.
  5. “6 miles bike drag-push-hump over Guli” This one is the crème de la crème of the whole fucking trip, let me tell you.

This is PU at its finest. First, let’s be clear: four full-grown adults collectively authored this little declaration of intent. Shame on all of us. But really, to be totally fair, shame on Kyle and I. Brian doesn’t know any better. Has he been on some Yonder rides in the past? You bet. Have any of those unraveled properly?, that’s the thing, no not really. Also the thing about Brian, he runs kinda irrationally exuberant anyway, like that’s his default. If anything he’s pathologically optimistic. And Tazer, how the fuck should he know about this stuff? While yes he was our guide, he made it clear from the start that if it were up to him we would take the road, because you know, we’re on bikes and bikes go on roads. Even in almost-Russia. But he was a good sport and figured we knew what we were doing, lolz. So yeah, this is on Kyle and I.

I just wish you could have been there to hear us discussing Guli pass. We had the elevation profile up on our route planning software. Which the elevation was something like 5,000 feet in four miles. Which describes a ladder essentially. And we had several descriptions of the route including this one from a Caucasus Expert: “Hard – during the day you will have to overcome considerable distance and elevation (distance 20km, 1500 vertical meters up and down). If you want to do it in a day, start early!” And still, even with all these tools, and even after much thought and a great deal of analysis, we basically concluded that we could readily bang it out after a nine-maybe-seven hour hike.

“What the fuck is wrong with us? How many times am I going to woefully underestimate distance and elevation, along with how difficult it is to push a fucking bike up a mountain?”

Well, not only did we fail to do it after a hike, we barely got it done in one day when it was the only thing we had to do during that one day. Reader, did you hear that, are you listening? We barely completed a six-mile hike on a mid-summer day. At any rate, this brief account of what actually happened up there on Guli Pass is the consequence of textbook Pathological Underestimation.

Pathological Underestimation on Guli Pass

  1. We rode down a paved road on the way out of Mazeri.
  2. We turned onto a dirt road and rode for hours and hours until it was too hard to ride. At first we passed a group of trekkers. So long suckers, we have bikes! Then, ten minutes later, they passed us. We never saw them again. Until the top, more on that later.
  3. The humidity was 140%. Apparently this part of the world HAS NEVER SEEN A DROUGHT. The glaciers are actually growing here; sorry Al Gore but dude, it’s true. I guess when you’re sandwiched between two dead ocean-sized seas and half your country is at 10,000 feet, there’s A LOT of moisture to go around.
  4. But listen, this humidity is ungodly. It’s debilitating. I almost died. I drank so much water. I just kept drinking and drinking and drinking. I felt like a car that got its oil changed three times in one day. It made me sad and claustrophobic.
  5. We pushed our bikes through a nearly-vertical poop chute.
  6. We lost the trail a lot. We got passed by trekkers a lot. We didn’t get laughed at directly. But we caught sneers and we def got stared at.
  7. For sport (and morale) we mounted and rode anything that was possible regardless of how short it was. Ten feet? Fuck it, watch this! [Also, gotta get those snaps!]
  8. We filtered water from small springs.
  9. At first it was foggy and then but suddenly it was SUNNY AND HOT AND SUNNY all day.
  10. We stopped a lot. So many times. We never really ate lunch but we stopped to catch our breath all the time which is almost the same as eating I guess. Also my back hurt.
  11. It just kept going up and up and up. It was so steep. It was stoopid steep. We joked about it.
  12. Back in the hotel days before, we had read on the main trekking site that the finish would come suddenly—we also joked about that. And but then it did. Which was like, weird, in the sense of how can the end of a 47-year prison sentence “sneak up on you.” Also at the top we talked to the same trekkers we saw 10 hours ago at the bottom. Apparently for three hours they’d been intermittently dozing off and following our slow, comical progress up the mountain. They were impressed? Whatever, they fell asleep on the grass in the afternoon sunlight watching an episode of Stupid Human Tricks.
  13. The back side was steep and deep my bru. At first it was all shreds and sends but then we got lost after a little too much send. For a second we were going to take Option B. But then we were like “fuckit” cause it looked like the opposite of promising.
  14. While crossing a creek I accidentally tried to throw myself down a river, into the mouth and subsequently the belly of a glacier. #YOLO
  15. I got stuck on a steep slope and toiled for like ten minutes trying to get up it with my bike. Everyone else went the other way. The high road. They didn’t outwardly laugh at me but inwardly, well, I’ll never know for sure.
  16. I got petulant and we filtered water. Ugh, again.
  17. We finally hit some more one-trak. Was rad. Tazer fell into a muck wallow hidden by plants. Kyle jumped off the trail into a lot of steep and rocky nothing. He was fine but he fucked up some of his gear.
  18. Brian had a cast on but didn’t fall down. Go figure.
  19. We came to a fire road. It was almost dark. We rode at top speed down the fire road and still it took like an hour and half to get to downtown Mestia. Think about that, 90 minutes of 20 miles an hour. That’s a long descent.
  20. It tooks us an hour to check in.
  21. We all shared one room. Brian wanted to shower first but I needed to poop so I did. It didn’t flush. Sad face. Then I accidentally locked the poop in the bathroom. Tazer busted the door down. The water shut off during Kyle’s hand-held shower, he was covered in soap. We didn’t eat till ten, but it was one of the best meals of my life. I was cranky for a lot of it, but only because I had supremely low blood sugar and my brand new Leica flash wasn’t working on account of the humidity being 140%. It works now, as I write this, because I’m home in Portland instead of in an Alpine Sauna/Green Room.
  22. We started riding at 9:30 and finished at 7:45. That’s the reality of a six mile climb in Svaneti. When will I learn?

I don’t know about you, but often when I find myself at my physical limit in a deeply challenging environment, for hours and hours on end, I talk to myself or sing. I think, basically, I start to meditate. And the phrase I repeat over and over again is effectively a mantra. That and hearing my own voice out loud is proof that I’m still living and breathing (if only just barely). It can be infectious too. In this particular case Brian immediately adopted my mantra. And so it was, for hour and hours and hours up this mountain:

“Climb to the glacier, come back, hike six miles, go to the lake, and camp.”

“Six miles then camp.”

“Climb to the glacier, come back, hike six miles, go to the lake, and camp.”

“Six miles then camp.”

“Climb to the glacier, come back, hike six miles, go to the lake, and camp.”

“Six miles then camp.”

“Climb to the glacier, come back, hike six miles, go to the lake, and camp.”

“Six miles then camp.”

“Climb to the glacier, come back, hike six miles, go to the lake, and camp.”

“Six miles then camp.”

Good Morning from the Grand Hotel Ushba, Take 2

Today we will not be coming back here, I swear.
In Georgia, these things (cows) are everywhere.
Little buddy came out of nowhere. Pretty sure he had a knife in his hand
I don't want to spoil the rest of the story but this cow shit-covered mud chute was probably our low point for the day. It was only two miles in, we were already pushing our bikes, it was one click away from raining, and we could not escape the stench of cow shit. This photo is of me, taking a note to make a note in this post about how bummed I was about this shit slide.
Tazer is fastidious, verging on OCD-like, about cleaning his gear. Here he's cleaning his shoes. We can't even see the top of the pass and he's cleaning the bottoms of his shoes. Kind of futile if you ask me.

Guli Village’s Church of the Archangel

We took a little rest and maybe someone prayed, because the sun came out. But then it became really hot, so maybe whoever prayed was being punished and we were being punished for hanging out with him.
The trail was this steep. And it was this steep all the way to the top of the pass.

Shut Up, NERD!

A Brief Scientific Explanation of a Particular Georgian Experience & the Conversation That Sparked It. Science by Brian.

Kyle: “This trail is SO steep. I bet if you rolled a rock down this hill it would never stop. It’d probably roll all the way to the South Pole.”

Daniel: “No, it’s so steep that if you rolled a rock down it the rock would go back in time and probably kill some roving gang of warriors patrolling this place 500 years ago.”

Tazer: “No Dani-yell. No. It is so steep that the rock will turn first into gold and then into diamond. Here, grab this rock and start rolling.”

Brian: “The acceleration of gravity is 9.81m/s^2. Each second the rate of change in velocity of a given object, falling from a set distance and towards the center of the planet, is 9.81m/s (or 32.17 feet per second). After a single second an object (falling in a vacuum) will have a velocity of 9.81m/s; after two seconds the velocity will be 19.62m/s; after three seconds 29.43m/s. (Note: air friction makes things considerably more complicated.) This acceleration constant of 9.81 m/s^2 is unique to Earth as everything that has energy has its own gravitational force. This force can be calculated using Newton’s Theory of Gravitation: F=G(m1*m2)/R^2. Where F is the attractive force, m1 and m2 are the masses of the objects interacting, R is the distance between the objects and G is the . . . ”

Daniel: “SHUT… UP… NERD.”

This guy couldn't believe we were trying to get our bikes up over this pass. He looked at us like we were just this side of brain dead. Well you know what, who's walking a pallet of hamburgers down a hill? Not me bud, not me.
Maybe we should have packed horses.
At this point Georgia was exhibiting some Bolivian vibes. For example, there was this section of road across the valley—seen in the above photo—that appeared to have been recently made. How? Why? The answers weren't obvious, but it was obviously a section of road. Was it magic? Black magic? Treachery? Happenstance? We dared not find out.
r bikes for about 300 yards. We celebrated by taking a photo.
You may not be able to tell, but Tazer is actually fucking pumped in this photo. He's into it INTO IT, nah mean?
Watering hole.
This. For hours. Literally.
Five miles. 6-ish hours. Not expected.

Passing Guli Pass

We made it. It took so long. We were very tired.
Albequerque - 6173 Km. Tokyo - 3457 Km. Metz - 2130 Km.
As it turned out, the way down was also steep.
If you dream in color, welcome to your dream.
Yonder Journal will now be charging $89.99 to receive a personal blessing from Kyle, who has been touched by God Himself and tasked with the healing of those who suffer.
At this point the sun was low enough that we were in the shadow of Guli Pass. We weren't worried about getting off the mountain before it went completely dark—we were worried that we wouldn't get to Mestia until after all the restaurants closed. We flirted with the idea of following this creek downhill, which our internet beta said was possible. We even tried this shortcut for a few hundred yards. But when the canyon started to close out and the trail faded we turned around, came back to this point, and continued along the "main" route.
Okay, this was right before the most terrifying moment of the trip. We had to cross this creek that ran down the little valley. It was really steep and narrow. Daniel went across first in order to take pictures because that's the right thing to do. After we were all across, it seemed like he had a good chance of regaining the trail by going down creek a couple ten meters. The problem was that the banks of the creek by that point were mud walls. I hiked down to help him. He tried to hand me his bike. It didn't work, the mud walls were too steep. It seemed like there was better spot another 10 meters down creek. As he was walking to it his footing gave way; Daniel and his bike slid down the ravine about 20 meters before he was able to stop himself. Below him the terrain pitched down even steeper into a glaciated patch of snow. It was one of those creeks-into-snow deals that, as a human, you don't want to go into.

The Road to Mestia, Finally

It was a long day. A long, hot, sweaty, long day.
In this image we are happy. We are happy because we are now in sync with gravity. It's pulling us and we're letting it. As Bruce Lee said, "Be like water." We were doing water. Well, we were doing our best.
We even passed this SUV. Eat it SUV.

Maldoba Mestia

MOOve over.
Steer clear.
Next time we climb Guli Pass? I vote we ride these quadz.
Our hotel room sucked. Daniel clogged the toilet basically the moment we got there. Then, when it was my turn to take a shower, the water went from hot to cold mid soaping before shutting off altogether. So there I was, in this tiny bathroom, naked except for a film of soap suds, shivering next to a toilet filled with crap, halfway around the world, with cow shit mud all over the floor because in Georgia there are cows everywhere and for cows the world is their toilet.
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