Well, here I am again.
I left Tbilisi about three o’clock this afternoon, which was about two and a half hours ago, and now I am sitting in the middle of some nondescript hillock totally devoid of trees, sweating obscenely. Here again, alone, dirty, overheated, grumpy, tired, and not a little nauseous.
Why am I doing this again? I send the question off and hear nothing but an echo as it bounces off the far side of the inside of my skull, totally disregarded, unopposed, unaddressed. I suppose it is good that not even my cynical self bothers to say anything, not even a pathetic “because you’re a fool.” I tell you, there is nothing like shitting your brains out for three days to really bring home the fact that you have learned nothing, that you have refused to give up precisely what it is expedient for you to sacrifice, that you are kidding yourself. Likewise, the opinion of any philosopher who hasn’t starved or lived through a war or been near death in some way is almost useless. Perhaps they have some good theories, some sound extrapolations, but unfortunately, a thinker accustomed to relative comfort must hypothesize where a less fortunate man can simply recall concrete experience, cite real data gathered from first-hand encounters. So it seems to me that I really ought to give up on all this lofty philosophy. Existentialism is a luxury. I just don’t want to feel the way I felt two nights ago.
I intended to leave two days ago, but after watching Croatia beat England in the semi-finals I went home feeling a bit queasy. I did not lay in bed long before I concluded that I needed to throw up. I did, violently, until I got it all out. I was hoping perhaps I would feel better after this, but it was too late. Cold shivers, diarrhea, and horrible aching pain throughout my entire body had me convulsing in agony all night, unable to sleep, and almost too weak to get out of bed. Unfortunately, I was on the top bunk, and had to make multiple trips to the toilet through the night, which required a superhuman effort each time. It was one of the worst nights of my life, one of those sicknesses where you feel so bad you actually think you might be dying, and in so much pain that you kind of hope you do. Of course, I told myself it was not permanent, that it would pass, but the thought did nothing in the way of comforting me.
The next day I dragged myself out of bed around 2 p.m., showered, washed the bile out of my mouth and drank two liters of juice. Then I slept in between short stretches of reading until about two the next day, and woke up feeling a bit better. Hungry, even. I had gotten skinny, and was still peeing out of my butt, but felt better. Marine helped me make some food, and that plugged up me bunghole nicely and I decided I was on the mend. I followed a group out to the big market around and under the Station Square metro station to get my blood flowing, and kept them company at the bar while we celebrated Niels’ birthday (obviously I did not drink).
Today I woke up at about eleven, feeling hungover all the same. I’m not pooping as solid as I would like, but I need to get on with this trip. I almost stayed another night, for I knew I wasn’t a hundred percent, but I could clearly see that I had a small window in which to escape the velvet rut that is Tbilisi, and I took it, even though it entailed fleeing in the heat of the day. Yes, 33 degrees and humid, perfect weather for a man recovering from an aggressive gastrointestinal bug. It’s hot and muggy, but you sweat so much your throat gets dry and you drink warm water until your stomach is bloated, totally unsatisfied.
So I’m in a bit of a mood. Really when I think about it, I’ve been in a mood since, say, Albania. From there I was just trying to get to Turkey. From Istanbul, to Goreme. From Goreme, to Tbilisi. Now, from Tbilisi to China. Hell, to Singapore. I am thinking exactly the wrong way about this trip, precisely the way I was hoping to unlearn, to train myself out of. I was doing pretty well in Croatia, Montenegro and into Shkoder. After that it went downhill. Then I hit Istanbul, and I was happy again, it was all worth it. By the time I hit Tbilisi, I didn’t give two shits about the bike trip. You know what has been sabotaging my trip? Meeting good people. I had a little family in Shkoder. I was lonely when I left, I felt bad for leaving! Istanbul really knocked my socks off. When I left the wind kind of went out of my sails, but I was excited to see the caves and balloons of Goreme. In Goreme I met four of the group from Istanbul, and felt like I had another family. I met two of them again in Tbilisi.
I’ll be frank, I was racing towards Tbilisi to see one of them again. Now she’s gone. May never see her again…although it is more likely that I’ll see her in seven months or so.
So what now? Connections with people far outvalue the cycling. At the same time, the cycling factor is a very significant one, and it provides me a unique and powerful counterpoint to the fraternizing in hostels. Really, if I didn’t have the time in between to detox, meditate, reflect, and exercise, this trip would almost just be a booze cruise. Of course, the first few days after a long break (I have been in Tbilisi for almost three weeks!) are difficult. I am sick, and my will is significantly enervated. It is hotter than two squirrels shagging in a sock and I have a good thousand kilometers of desert ahead of me. I am lonelier than I was before, sick, and tired, tired, tired. Cycling isn’t something I have gotten used to. It is always hard. I always push myself. Since Albania, I have been trying to fly through this trip, now dissatisfied with less than 100k a day, unless the terrain is really severe.
You know, up to this point I figure I’ve cycled about 7,500 kilometers, at a glance.
Why am I doing this? Well, the most exciting countries are ahead of me: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Southeast Asia. The flora, the fauna, the food, the culture, and the languages are all getting really weird on this side of the globe. I’m in a rut, but I will find a way to change my way of living, carve out new drives. I wish there was a Vipassana retreat center within a thousand miles of me! (Don’t know what it is? Look it up.) I need to really learn something new. Maybe Chinese will keep me interested. I am starving for a new skill, aside from cycling. I can find camping anywhere, I can carry my home on a bike and lug it around, I can get by in foreign countries. I can go without a shower for seven days, even in hot weather. I can keep myself from breaking down, mostly by refusing to acknowledge it when it happens, which amounts to being totally unsympathetic to one’s own self-pity, which is like splitting one’s self in two.
That’s not enough for me. And boy, is that one hell of a personal problem! Am I just the type of person who will never be satisfied? Am I predestined to the life of a fool, wilk I always be exerting far more energy than is necessary, always straining, never satisfied, never content, never complete? My perception of life is fucking backwards and I am beginning to have misgivings about whether this trip will provide the catalyst I need for a significant personal transformation. Maybe I’ll get a concussion and wake up in a better mood. My friend Jack told me that he hopes something really bad happens to me on this trip, and I thanked him, for it was a very considerate thing to say.
Even so, I am not riding through Russia. I’m out 200 dollars on the visa, but Dagestan, an independent republic of the Russian Federation on the Caspian coast between Baku and Astrakhan, is just too sketchy to ride through. So, I’m taking the ferry. I never wanted to go to Russia anyways, my heart was set on Iran. And the ferry sounds interesting!
Also, I’m not going to Tajikistan or Afghanistan. I don’t need a visa for Kyrgyzstan and I’m not collecting passport stamps. I don’t care. Visas are a pain. The Afghani visa is very expensive. I have nothing to prove, so I say, but still I cannot give up on this trip. I suspect that there is something very rewarding on the far side of this mental wall looming before me, and if I can just buck up and pump my legs I’ll get through it. I just don’t want to be suffering through this trip, looking forward to the end. But golly, it is hot! I am not well-suited to this weather. Hopefully I will feel better soon and will stop whining. Of course, only I can say that. Would be nice if I met another cyclist on the road too, for once. And maybe the girl likes me because I’m such a psycho, who knows? Maybe lose interest if I throw in the towel and call it…
Same day, about 9:30 p.m.
Hahaha! Just what I get for bitching and moaning: another great story:
After writing the piece above, I checked the weather and saw that thunderstorms were in the forecast, but the sky didn’t look bad and I was very tired, so I delayed setting my tent up. When a few raindrops hit me I did so, but in the process my pole broke! It was getting windy and the rain was picking up, but there were no trees on the hill, so I ran around with my broken tent flapping around looking for a place out of the wind to fix it. I fix my pole, but now it is raining and it is too windy to set up. Lightning starts flashing and a fantastic downpour sets in. I fold my tent into the rainfly and wander around the hill in the rain searching for a place to set it up, to no avail. I am also carrying my poles, of course, and am a little worried about the lightning.
Finally I just pack my tent away again and strip down to my skivvies. The rain by now is falling freely out of the sky, blown in by the wind at a fine shower pressure, so I literally take a shower, scrubbing myself down. After that, a bit at a loss as to what I should do, I decide to be productive and I scout around for a safe spot to camp, but no luck. The whole hill is turning into mud, and I decide I have to bail. I slip and slide up a slope four times to get all my stuff back up to the dirt road, the cow trail I came in on initially is now a deathtrap. I almost fall down the hill carrying the bike up, but make it to the top of this treeless, muddy hill, now fully expecting to get hit by lightning as I pack my bags onto this giant steel lightning rod, then start walking down the road. Maybe I’ll wake up a new man…
One path down the hill is already washed out from a previous storm. I dip into a little bowl which is rapidly becoming a pond to get around. On the other side the road is a creek that is washing away all the soil, at one point disappearing into a small hole at an alarming rate, which had me worried that a chunk of the road was going to slide out from under me. The mud is so bad that it jams my wheels up so they won’t roll anymore and I have to drag my bike down the rest of the slope.
It is still pissing rain, but my bike doesn’t even work now, and I spend a good fifteen minutes cleaning it in a puddle near the paved road. Eventually I give up and set off back towards Rustaveli, my brand new drivetrain grinding as it chews up the gritty mud, without a lick of chain lube on it. It barely pedals. There was an abandoned building not a half kilometer back the way I came, but it is fenced in good. Fortunately, there is a shabby little hotel around the corner. I ask if they take cards. No.
Shit. I have no lari because I am 30k from the border. He asks if I have any manats. Nope. Dollars? Yes, I do have some dollars. So here I am in a hotel room. Thank God I left Tbilisi today! Replacing my tentpole is going to be a real pain. And I’m sort of out ten euro, but happy to be inside!