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Sweaty in Svaneti: Lord Nerd Beta

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At first, the best part about planning a trip to Georgia is the confusion which happens without fail because apparently Georgia-the-country is on nobody’s mind.

  • Hey mom, how’s it going? Yeah, things are cool I guess, or whatever.
  • Yeah.
  • Nope.
  • Yup, they played this weekend, won 4 to 1, coach says Otto is the real deal and Oliver saved a PK.
  • Oh wait, you know what, I’m actually pretty excited about planning the next Dead Reck. We’re going to Georgia. They got horse peoples, towers, hot-pockets and the mountains are big-as-fuck, like glaciers and shit.
  • Wait what, no, no, nonononononono, the Appalachians don’t have year round snow, that’s not what I’m saying.
  • Listen, Mom, the other Georgia, the fake-Russian one with the cool flag and the Caucasus.

But then, after weeks of similar exchanges, it gets tedious and you think wow, this is a problem. I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking you can’t say that about Georgia, you can’t call it fake-Russia. You’re like, dude, that’s racist or xenophobic and/or possibly just callous and inconsiderate. First of all, lighten-up. I was on the phone with my mom and I was trying get her thinking about the right continent—which that brings up two other issues which are: on which continent does the former Soviet Republic lie, Europe or Asia?, and is Eurasia a continent or a notion? Second of all, saying Georgia is fake-Russia is as good as saying it’s the real Georgia. So boom.

More importantly, a year ago we had a choice to make. We knew that in the late summer/early autumn of 2016 we had one more international once-in-a-lifetime ride to plan. And as I’m sure you’re aware, the world is a pretty pretty big place. Antarctica was out for obvious reasons, though apparently you can fix your bike to a packraft and drag it while skiing for days/weeks/months through a featureless whiteout, which dooooes sound exactly like the kind of riding we’re into. Africa was also out, but only because of snakes and lions. Also, Africa, let’s talk, I’m sure we can work something out but seriously those mambas are a buzzkill. Lions I can work with, I’ve seen The Revenant. Australia and New Zealand, been there done that. South America, same. And Europe—we have a friend (Marko!) in Slovenia, that would have been easy—has soooo many rules and designations, just like America. Boring. At any rate we had a short list that went like this:

  1. The Canol Heritage Trail in the Northwest Territories (Canada). Between Ross River and Norman Wells. Mostly riding but lots of packrafting too, and bush planes. I’m sure it would have been EPIC. I’ve been to Norman Wells and it is, literally, the proverbial end of the road. But also, more bears than people and not exactly the birthplace of culture.
  2. Iran. Right! We were so into it. Kyle was SO INTO IT. But you still need a guide (at all times), at least legally. And it’s still not the best place to take peculiar photographs which, as you likely know if you’re here, reading this, are kind of our favorite photographs to take.
  3. Kashmir. For so many reasons we wanted to go to Kashmir. Here’s the thing. We know a guy. For various reasons that will soon become clear, we need to protect his identity, but for the sake of the story let’s give him a name, how about Dave, David Marchi? Anyway, “Dave” has been there several times leading back-country Alpine ski expeditions. That’s what he does, Dave is a guide. Anyway, he’s been there several times and he’s got it all figured out. Where to go, where to stay, how to not accidentally ride into Pakistan or Afghanistan, or any of the other ‘Stans. But here’s the other thing. Dave almost killed Kyle and I once in Northern California. And I mean, dude, if you can almost get your company lost and dead from starvation in Northern Fucking California, what trouble are you going to get them into in a border dispute conflict zone in space at the top of Himalayan Mountains where you don’t speak the language–not even kinda. In spite of all this, most of the way through the year, Kashmir was clearly in the lead. But then we piled timing and scheduling difficulties onto this problem and Kashmir lost its luster.
  4. Georgia. I don’t know why. Georgia was my idea and I don’t (really) know why. I mean, I think it must have something to do with the mountains, the Caucasus range. And the Olympics in Sochi. And Google image searching Black Sea beaches. And Anthony Marra’s A Constellation Of Vital Phenomenon, wherein (spoiler alert) eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as Russian soldiers abduct her father in a midnight raid, accusing him of conspiring with Chechen rebels. And, finally, Bike Magazine’s Kazbegi trip. Also, come on, it’s the Alpine intersection of everything. Russia to the north. Azerbaijan, Armenia, Iran and Turkey to the south. To the west, the Black Sea. The east, the Caspian Sea. It’s in, when you think about it, a magical spot.

At any rate, the deciding factor was some miscommunication about dates. The details are boring. The bottom line is this: a month before our trip, in a mild panic, we booked tickets to Tbilisi, the capital city. We figured that in time, the rest would work itself out. We had no guide, no route and no plan, just plane tickets. Also, no internet access or time to properly plan the trip for another two weeks. Which, when you do the math means this: we did all the planning for our trip (from scratch) in the 14 days leading up to our departure. Maybe that sounds easy to you. Maybe it is easy, who knows? But it stressed us out, like big time. I mean, we can and do run loose sometimes, but this felt egregiously, maybe even gratuitously, loose. But it worked out; here’s how it all worked out:

  1. With Kyle’s help we called Joey Schusler, an adventurer, photographer, and videographer who was integral in pulling together the Bike Magazine Kazbegi project. He told us about Rooms Tbilisi. Soooo good. Thanks, Rooms Tbilisi.
  2. We found this site and emailed its author. He responded, we skyped, he was SUPER helpful. We could have done it without him, but only because his site is so detailed and accurate.
  3. Kyle found a guide in Armenia, who put us in contact with Tamaz aka Tazer. Who, really, when it comes right down to it, made so much day-to-day shit either easier or just plain possible. He was a wealth of historical and cultural insight. Also, side note, this is the first time we’ve ever travelled with a guide; in the past that piece was always built-in in the form of a friend or friend of a friend. But Tamaz was 100% an unknown quantity. He was tough and he can ride. But we brought him a bike. This was his first time bikepacking. Maybe that’s irrelevant and/or maybe it at least adds a little dimension to an already dimension-full experience. You be the judge.

Regarding Georgia, one more thought. My whole life, I’ve been fascinated with intersections. And incongruences. Intersections should be obvious, that’s where things meet, duh. Have you ever sat on a corner and just watched shit? I mean, you have, right? Comings and goings, goings and comings. Language, fashion, culture, trade, spices, whatever, all of it, it’s all coming together at intersections. Now look at a map. Africa meets the Middle East meets Western Europe meets the Mediterranean meets Russia and Siberia and the Baltic meets Asia (India, China, Japan, Korea, et cetera et cetera) in Georgia. So, I mean, if I’ve got a thing for 14th and Everett in NW Portland, you can only imagine how I feel about Georgia. Incongruences is harder to explain. I think I like shit that’s confusing. And you know what, intersections ARE inherently confusing. And double you know what, Georgia is a confusing intersection. It’s in the middle of everything and has been since forever which means it’s seen its fair share of comers and goers. As such, and not surprisingly, many (maybe most) parts of it have been conquered several thousand times by everyone from everywhere, while other parts of it have never been conquered not once by nobody. And those parts, the parts that have never been conquered are, no surprise, in the middle of a frosty plate tectonic fortress called the Caucasus Mountains. Which is exactly where this story takes place. So yeah, Georgia, it’s amazing, let’s talk about it.

Sweaty in Svaneti Official Art By Dan Funderburgh
Brian Larson, @bclarson/@missionworkshop: Scientist, Marketer, Knots Man, Trooper, Enthusiast, Mission Workshopper.
Tamaz "Tazer" Tamak Tikanadze, @N/A (because Georgia): Georgian, Advocate, Guide, Translator, Special Ops.
Kyle von Hoetzendorff, @newantarctica/@yonderjournal/@manualforspeed: Writer, Problem, Problem Solver, Ennui Antagonist.
Daniel Pasley, @yonderjournal/@manualforspee: Founder, Photographer, Producer, Writer, Polymath.

Five FYIs

  1. The Caucasus Mountains are no joke. They are glacier nurseries. Climbers die on them all the time. They are insanely beautiful. Be prepared.
  2. In mid-August the temperatures in the Svaneti are nice, bordering on too hot. We suggest that you come prepared with a rain jacket and some cold weather clothes. But plan on sweating—a lot.
  3. Water is readily available on this route. But so are cows, so be sure to bring a filter and use it.
  4. There are many hostels, trekking lodges, and guest houses on this route. You should come with back up food, but the right move is to plan on eating in the towns along the route.
  5. You need to keep and eye out for Turs (the local big horned mountain goat), the Georgian Sheepdogs (these things are massive and it’s obvious that they can inflict danger), and Delica drivers who are in a hurry.

Specialized Fuse

This might actually be the most adventurous of adventure bikes.
01
SPECIALIZED FUSE PRO

02
MISSION WORKSHOP HAUSER (NOT PICTURED)

03
SRAM EAGLE

04
PORCELAIN ROCKET MR. FUSION

05
PORCELAIN ROCKET FRAME BAG

06
REVELATE GAS TANK

07
PORCELAIN ROCKET MCA

08
FLOWERS

SPECIALIZED FUSE PRO
  1. This might actually be the most adventurous of adventure bikes.
  2.  27.5″ wheels are stable and consistent when loaded, fast and grippy when unloaded, and don’t take up nearly the same amount of space that standard Fatbike Tires do.
  3. SUSPENSION FORK!!! Buds, we admit it, we’re late to the suspension fork on our adventure bike game. Like any born again, we are now unrepentant believers. Especially when the terrain you are covering is made up of centuries-old herding trails.
  4. CUSTOM PAINT and STICKERS. So we thought, “Hey, we’re going to Georgia and after all that their people have been through, what with the Soviet Union and the most recent incursion’s from Russia, we should really do our part to impart the wealth and ideals that are fundamental to the USofA. Namely GOLD. What’s more, we couched the gold in a matte black canvas. Because if gold ultimately represents the sun, giver of life, then matte black represents the eternal black void of the universe. This is the dichotomy that is an integral to the USA psyche and one we felt must be shared. (Thank you Brian!)
MISSION WORKSHOP HAUSER
  1. Numero Uno importance on this trip was the Hauser’s ability to carry a big pouch of water. And this water gets to your food house via a long rubber straw. Genius, PURE Genius.
  2. So comfortable. Here’s the thing: you don’t want to wear a backpack; but if you do, it might as well be comfortable. And look cool.
SRAM EAGLE
  1.  Any normal drivetrain would just be mentioned as part of the bike. But this is SRAM EAGLE! I mean just look at the size of that cassette! Its medium pizza-huge. AMAZING.
  2. GOLD, so GOLD. It matches, it definitely matches the vibe of the whole bike.
PORCELAIN ROCKET MR. FUSION
  1. Stable: it has a girder system that stifles any bag sway.
  2. Dependable: we’ve used these on SO SO SO many trips.
  3. Spacious: because the material is like Navy SEAL approved or something, you can stuff to your heart’s content into these bags and not worry about them ripping. Go ahead, go to town.
PORCELAIN ROCKET FRAME BAG
  1. Made for our fatbikes. It turns out they fit this frame pretty well.
  2. Roll top means that there are no zippers to break. Just one big clip to hold everything in place.
REVELATE GAS TANK
  1. So small yet so essential. We had our phones, wallets and passports stashed in this little deal. By which we mean our life. When you have your life stashed in something, it’s doing a really important job.
  2. Easy to access. I mean it’s right there, it’s the closest thing to your face.
  3. It’s not a knife or an axe head, neither of which you would want so close to your face.
PORCELAIN ROCKET MCA
  1. If my Sea to Summit stuff sack, filled with our tent and dry clothes, were a mental patient with superhero strength, there is no doubt that the MCA would still hold it in place.
  2. It also has this little coin purse deal on the front of it that you stuff bars, mini tools, toothpicks, and gum into for easy access.
FLOWERS
  1. We were told that if we ate the pedals of these flowers on the morning after a full moon, we would be able to locate a secret door in the mountains—a door to another kingdom. One of music and dance. Unfortunately, we missed the fully moon by 2 days. Otherwise this could have been a very different story.

Mitsubishi Delica aka “The Trolley Bomb”

It is INSANE that the Delica was never imported into the states.
01
BIKES ON THE ROOF

1. Since Yakima can't be imported into the Republic of Georgia due to certain tariff and trade issues, Georgians employ the time-honored Bikes in Australia Technique.
2. By which we mean the bikes act as if they're in the Upside Down. It takes a little training, but can be very effective.

02
BRIAN LARSON

1. Ex-Scientist, Current Marketer, Future Shaman.
2. Brian has the gift of both the left and right brain.
3. He also broke his hand a week before the trip.
4. Pugnacious and determined he filed his cast down to work on his bike. Did he give us any lip? Not once.

03
TAMAZ "TAZER" TIKANADZE

1. Georgian MTB guide/diviner.
2. If you go to Georgia you need a Tazer.
3. If you don't have a Tazer you'll never ever EVER get the full Georgian experience.
4. Basically without Tazer we wouldn't even have had the chance to ride in this trolley bomb.

04
MITSUBISHI DELICA AKA THE TROLLEY BOMB

1. It is INSANE that the Delica was never imported into the states.
2. Yeah I know, you can get them now, but they're used and right hand drive. Point is someone, somewhere fucked up. Simple as that.
3. In Georgia they convert these things to hybrids that run on both propane and gasoline.
4. That giant canister there? That's the propane tank.
5. Scientists like Brian will probably tell you that having a huge propane tank as your rear bumper is about as safe as having a tank of gasoline as your skid plate. But that's the kinda next-level thinking that scientists have been cooking up for ages. Like electricity and super glue. Sometimes you just have to put your faith in science.

05
PARACORD

1. Pretty nice stuff. Not only is it useful for parachutes, it's useful for securing bicycles with the Australian Technique.

06
HIRED DRIVER/WEEKEND WARRIOR

1. I thought I wrote this dude's name down, but now I can't find the note.
2. Anyway, if you want the bomb trolley to work, you need a bombardier.
3. And this dude was RIGHT for the job.
4. He power drank coffee and energy drinks while texting and praying for the entire length of our drive.
5. Did he subject us to off-brand Neil Young and some harrowing vehicular maneuvers? Yes, of course he did.
6. Also, obviously he's got driving shoes on.

07
ROOMS TBILISI

1. If you go to Tbilisi, you have to stay at Rooms Tbilisi. And I'll tell you why.
2. The breakfast is unreal. It's a fantasy breakfast. The kind the witch would set out for Hansel in order to fatten him up. And no one looks down on you for going back three or four times to restock your plate. And they just keep filling your coffee.
3. The staff was so accommodating. Even when we performed a play about a bicycle hospital in their courtyard they didn't get upset. They even ordered their porters to carry all of our props down to the courtyard.
4. Go here. Don't let yourself, or us, down.

Packing List

Food

  • ITEM QUANTITY SUGGESTED
  • Freeze-Dried Meals 1/day Mountain House Mexican Rice and Chicken a la King Pro Paks
  • Instant Oatmeal 2/day Quaker Oats Brown Sugar and Maple
  • Bar #1 2/day Clif Mojo
  • Bar #2 2/day Clif Kit's Organic
  • GORP 3oz/day Bulk aisle
  • Jerky 3oz/day Hot & Spicy or Mangoes
  • Candy 3oz/day Haribo Gummy Bears
  • Chips 2oz/day Kettle Sea Salt
  • Tortillas 10 Fajita sized
  • Coffee 3/day Stumptown
Packing List

Clothing

  • ITEM QUANTITY SUGGESTED
  • Bibshorts 1 Specialized SWAT
  • Overshort 1 Mission Workshop The Stahl
  • Gloves 1 Specialized BG Ridge
  • Cycling Cap 1 MFS
  • Socks 2-3 Outlier or Swiftwick Merino
  • Shoes 1 Specialized Recon
  • Helmet 1 Specialized Airnet
  • Shell 1 Mission Workshop The Meridian: Phase
  • T-Shirt 1 Mission Workshop The District—usually unbuttoned
  • Underwear 1 Icebreaker
  • LS Baselayer 1 Icebreaker
  • Puffy 1 Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer
  • Camp Hat 1 Pink Poler Rayon Hat
  • Camp Shoes 1 Luna Sandals
  • Camp Shirt 1 Mission Workshop The Sector
  • Camp Shorts 1 Poler River Chino Shorts
Packing List

Gear

  • ITEM QUANTITY SUGGESTED
  • Seat Bag 1 Porcelain Rocket Mr. Fusion
  • Frame Bag 1 Porcelain Rocket
  • Handlebar Bag 1 Porcelain Rocket MCA
  • Top Tube Bag 1 Specialized Burra Burra
  • Minitool 1 Specialized EMT PRO MTB
  • Patch Kit 1 Rema
  • Tubes 2 Fresh
  • Tire Levers 2 Specialized
  • Bottles As Many As Possible Get deep in your personal library for something weird
  • Parts 1 Leatherman w/ pliers, tire boots, chain links, shifter cable, nuts & bolts, derailleur hanger, zip ties, Gorilla Tape, etc.
  • Tent 1 Snow Peak Fal 2
  • Sleeping Bag 1 Mountain Hardwear Phantom 30
  • Stuff Sack A few Sea to Summit eVAC
  • Sleeping Pad 1 Thermarest NeoAir XLite
  • Tool 1 Leatherman Wave
  • Headlamp 1 Snow Peak Mola w/ fresh batteries
  • Cup 1 Snow Peak
  • Spork 1 Snow Peak #sporklife
  • Bandana 1 Something with a cool map on it
  • Teeth STuff 1 Personal program
  • Book 1 JA Baker's The Peregrine
  • Lighter 2 Bic in a ZipLock
  • Sunscreen 1 High SPF, waterproof
  • Sunglasses 1 Oakley Frogskins
  • Repair Kit 1 Needle & thread, sleeping pad patches, Tenacious Tape
  • Sharpie 1 Wrap it in Gorilla Tape
  • Wet Wipes 1 Soft pack
  • Water Filter 1/2-3 people MSR Sweetwater
  • Soap 1 Dr. Bronner's Almond
  • Stove 1/2 people Snow Peak GigaPower
  • Fuel 2/week/stove Snow Peak GigaPower 220g
  • Cord 50ft Paracord
  • First Aid Kit 1/2-3 people Homemade