Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan by Ural

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Suqsuda, Jan 25, 2010.

  1. motoreiter

    motoreiter Long timer

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    OK, this must be the first adventure ride complete with dancing girls? Awesome!
    :lurk
    #21
  2. Tarka

    Tarka Strangely strange. Oddly normal.

    Joined:
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    Across the pond.
    This is an incredible Ride Report.

    Pure Uralling adventure at it`s best with fabulous photographs.

    Thank you so much for continuing to share it with us.

    I`m eagerly awaiting the next instalment. :clap
    #22
  3. Northern Rob

    Northern Rob Con Brio!

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    Brilliant! Thanks for sharing this.:lurk
    #23
  4. Suqsuda

    Suqsuda Secret Sharer

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    As I said, we were nearing the end of a day's ride from Tbiliisi to Tsalke. I can't say it better than Ian did in a report he sent some years ago to friends and fellow Oil Odyssey veterans:

    "Within 20 minutes of leaving Tblisi the sidecars were plunging down dirt tracks, plumes of dust rising from each wheel, covering riders, passengers and bikes alike with a thick covering of grime. This was more like it! The group naturally split into 2 sub-groups. A leading group who were determined to extract every last drop of performance from the bikes in a wild enduro cum Paris Dakar style race and those who wanted to travel at a more measured pace. What a wicked, wicked morning ! Mile after mile of vestigial tarmac and pure dirt roads were covered with the steering damper on its loosest setting to enable the inherent instability of the outfit to be used to swerve between and around a constant stream of potholes."

    But the bikes were taking a beating that led to as series of small delays that added up. Matt's bike shorted out after he rode it through deep puddle; Ian's bike too kept losing electrics until he secured the errant battery with bungee cords; two of the bikes lost their mufflers (but following riders picked up these hot potatoes and stowed them in sidecars). And two of the bikes had constant plug fouling and missing.

    We stopped for a late lunch of fried potatoes and cheese and cold beer in Tsalke and, dusk setting in, we began to ascend on a rugged track into the Javakheti Mountains west of Tsalke.

    This was shortly before I had to ask my sidecar passenger, Mike, to get out and walk -- the bikes didn't have the power to carry passengers as it got steeper, the road studded with melon-sized rocks:

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    Tom:

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    What Tom is looking at is a breakdown of Ian's bike -- we were stopping and starting as bikes ahead of us stalled out or got stuck -- it could often be difficult to get going again on the steep pitch. When Ian stopped for the bike in front of him, then tried to get going again, there was an audible snap and as he put it "an ominous clacking from the shaft and rear bevel drive."

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    We had to push other bikes out of the way to position the support vehicle and trailer.

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    We got Ian's and Ann's bike loaded into the trailer and they joined the procession walking up the mountain:

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    Now it was getting dark, the temperature was plummeting and there was not a shred of natural cover. It was increasingly clear that we were nowhere our intended destination of Bakuriani. The problem was, all our overnight gear -- tents, sleeping bags, warm clothjing -- was on the Magic Bus which had taken the paved, northern route to Bakuriani. It began to look as if we were facing a bivouac situation. Matt and I began to fill our sidecars with dried brush and wood, as we would need a fire and were headed above the treeline.

    Tom was vague about how far it was to Bakuriani. He had taken this route once before by SUV on a scouting trip, but all he could say was that it was over the pass. The decision was made to press on as Bakuriani could only be over the next ridgeline.
    #24
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  5. HighTechCoonass

    HighTechCoonass Living the Dream....

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    land of the swamps!, Cajun Country LA
    WOW what a great adventure!!! this is over the top! Thanks for the report!!! keep it coming please!:clap
    #25
  6. Suqsuda

    Suqsuda Secret Sharer

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    As we forged on the track began to level off to a gentle incline, those walking hopped back into sidecars and we picked up the pace for an hour or so. But we were now in pitch darkness and as the evening pressed on any traces of a track petered out as we emerged onto a broad grassy saddle between two mountains, laced with streams.

    To quote again from Ian:

    "Where were we? Thomas's normal confidence was strangely absent. Had we wandered into Armenia? Were the shepherds that were approaching us with guns and dogs friendly or not? Opinion was sharply divided. In the end we all came to the conclusion that there was no way we could continue over a mountain with no idea of where we were going."

    Yes, there were men approaching us warily on horseback, leading large, mastiff-like dogs.

    Turns out they were a nomadic Turkic people with whom our Azeri speakers could communicate, who were camped in tents on this high pasture. We had stumbled into them by pure dumb luck.

    In the best tradition of Muslim hospitality, they quickly chained their dogs, slaughtered a sheep to feed us; gave us felt blankets to get warm; and were able to spare us one of their tents.:

    I don't mean to offend anyone -- there was blood in the grass. That was the reality:

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    I kept wearing my helmet to keep warm:

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    Kazim wears one of the felted capes they loaned us:

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    They lit a tractor tire on fire and that warmed us up:

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    The gas canister on the bomb bike came in handy for roasting pieces of lamb and warming hands and pieces of bread:

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    Alexis samples a roasted lamb's testicle:

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    We stayed up as long as the tire burned, to maybe 2:00 a.m., drinking whatever vodka and raki we had, passing around flasks and bottles. There was room in the one tent for a few of us, so we circled the bikes in a laager and the rest of us laid down inside the circle. Our hosts gave us as many sheepskins and felted blankets as they could spare. They released their dogs to guard the sheep against wolves and told us, 'Do not leave the circle -- the dogs will attack.' It was bitterly cold -- maybe in the teens, Fahrenheit. We were at about 13,000 feet altitude. Too cold to actually sleep but a beautiful star-spangled sky. Mike took off his fleece jacket and cut both sleeves off, have me one sleeve to wear as a hat and pulled down over my face, he wore the other one the same way.
    #26
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  7. Yellow Pig

    Yellow Pig Allergic to asphalt! Supporter

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    incredible report!

    keep it coming. :freaky
    #27
  8. Motomuffin

    Motomuffin CSMC

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    :lurk
    #28
  9. windburn

    windburn Long timer

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    The Willamette Valley, Oregon
    It is likely that I will never ride this route in my lifetime but with The ADVrider community you have taken me along.
    It's a great report.
    Thank you
    :clap
    #29
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  10. FarKurnell

    FarKurnell Lost Aussie

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    From Kurnell, living in Melbourne
    I dream of journeys like this! Excellent report..
    But I'd pass on the roasted lamb's testicle!
    #30
  11. shepoutside

    shepoutside Canadian - eh!

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    somewhere in Ontario, between many Great Lakes !
    :clap Wicked !!
    #31
  12. achesley

    achesley Old Motorcyclist

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    Fantastic report from an unknown part of our world. Thanks so much for the time and efforts to share.
    #32
  13. Suqsuda

    Suqsuda Secret Sharer

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    It wasn't until the morning when it dawned cold and clear that we could see our surroundings:

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    The air was soon perfumed with smoke from cooking fires:

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    Steve, a journalist who rode along in a sidecar, took notes:

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    The shepherds' kids were curious about us and the bikes:

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    Tom and his brother Vince:

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    Tom takes tea:

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    Fresh milk for the tea:

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    Valeri, our Georgian rider, spoke with one of the shepherds:

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    Some of the shepherds exercised their horses as we kick started the bikes to life, so the inevitable happened: a race between horsepower and horse:

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    With the horse taking an easy lead by leaping over obstacles:

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    And winning easily:

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    Sasha returns after the race:

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    The mounted shepherds led us up and over the mountain pass. There was no road, just horse trails meandering through the meadows. I'm not sure we would have found the way without guidance. I'm told this is called the Ilgaz pas. It was the high point of the trip, both literally and figuratively, for me:

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    <img src="https://s3.amazonaws.com/advrider-photobucket-images/images/S/Suqsuda_OilOdyssey_MASON01-R4-044-20A.jpg">



    My bike:

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    Morning and the way forward:

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    #33
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  14. EricD10563

    EricD10563 Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Nov 15, 2009
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    899
    Location:
    Central Arizona
    I get inspiration from good ride reports and this is one of them, thanks for sharing.
    #34
  15. captainchaos

    captainchaos should know better

    Joined:
    Mar 30, 2009
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    Lynchburg, VA
    Wow, this is by far my favorite RR so far. Keep it coming!
    #35
  16. uraldog

    uraldog vagabond

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    Nov 1, 2007
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    west of the rock
    what happened to the 'Rest of the story" ? :huh
    #36
  17. BusyWeb

    BusyWeb Adventurer

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    99
    Great RR, thanks that we can have many different cultural experiences here.
    :clap
    #37
  18. Suqsuda

    Suqsuda Secret Sharer

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    I have very few photos of this day after what we took to calling the 'night of the shepherds.'

    Satellite image showing the terrain from Tsalke to Bakuriani:

    <iframe marginheight="0" marginwidth="0" src="http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=bakuriani,+georgia&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=53.035373,89.384766&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Bakuriani,+Georgia&t=h&ll=41.674963,43.80249&spn=0.282079,0.685272&z=10&iwloc=A&output=embed" frameborder="0" height="275" scrolling="no" width="500"></iframe>
    <small>View Larger Map</small>

    We descended from the pass, led by one of the shepherds on horseback leading us on meandering paths that at first were merely flattened grass in meadows, but which as we descended turned into rutted, stony tracks. It was the opposite of the progression the previous evening, with the road taking shape instead of disappearing. At the higher altitude were meadows of mountain flowers and tufts of grass but at lower elevation, there was high, golden hay or grass growing in long, wide valleys. The road, such as it was, gave access to villagers' tractors; they harvested the hay for silage and some valleys had been cut to stubble and the grass put into haystacks. But some valleys were unharvested and it was easier to cut a path straight though the uncut hay, than to ride on the rutted tractor path. It was an ecstatic feeling top race at top speed for miles through the golden, chest or shoulder-height grass. You couldn't see the ground in front of you and if there had been a culvert or boulder, you would crash. But it was impossible to resist. Hawks circled overhead to catch whatever small game we flushed out.

    All I have here is a bad scan:

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    We came to a small, ethnically Armenian village called Tabatskuri on the shores of a vast lake -- then started another long, steep ascent on rugged dirt roads.


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    Pause at the top of the pass -- our destination, Bakuriani lies at the foot of this mountain:

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    We consulted a map:

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    View of switchbacks from the pass:

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    On the descent into Bakuriani:

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    Matt riding and Steve in sidecar nearing Bakuriani with our support vehicle behind:

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    Beers upon arrival in Bakuriani:

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    Bakuriani is a dilapidated ski resort; we spent the night in a alpine-style lodge. We were way behind schedule -- we were supposed to be in eastern Turkey where hundreds of people were awaiting our arrival at an event but that destination was a border crossing and another another six hours away -- and we'd already been on the bikes for ten hours.

    Next morning from Bakuriamni to the Turkish border -- at first on a winding, paved road through alpine forests, then along through Borjomi and along the banks of the Mtkvari (Kura) River.

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    On the way to Turkey:

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    Tom crossing the Kura River on a suspension bridge:

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    The paved road turned to gravel and we were slowed down by flat tires on two bikes; amazingly the main road from Turkey to Georgia was dirt and gravel on the Georgian side; I think ByleNaKaukaz who wrote recently in ADV on his trip to Georgia said that, almost ten years later, it remains a dirt road on the Georgian side.

    It was Ian's and Ann's wedding anniversary -- somehow Thomas found out and surprise them with champagne at the border.

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    We were greeted by dancers on the Turkish side of the border:


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    Turkish border:

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    We were met by two Turkish oil ministry representatives at the border who accompanied us the rest of the trip, riding in the support vehicle or sometimes in the sidecars, and who helped with everything we needed in terms of logistics. We also picked up a security detail in Turkey. The Turks were very well organized and serious about helping our event to succeed:

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    It took us a while to cross the border and we still had a long way to go -- we had to get to Erzerum where we were expected to ride in a Turkish Victory Day parade the next morning (August 30). My Shell bike broke down and I hopped on pillion behind Sasha for a while. That gave Vagif, the mechanic, the opportunity to ride it to catch up with us and give it back to me after he fixed it, which he very much wanted to do after being cooped up in the support vehicle all day. Sasha and Roma, the main mechanics, didn't have their own designated bikes to ride but ended up doing a whole lot of riding anyway, spelling tired riders or 'testing' bikes they had just repaired.

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    We rode through a rain storm and some spectacular thunder and lightning:

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    Vince in the rain:

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    #38
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  19. Suqsuda

    Suqsuda Secret Sharer

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    We had 350 km from the Turkish border to Erzurum. But the bikes started to break down at the higher speeds brought on by the good roads and some long, labored ascents to the high plains of eastern Turkey. We'd ditched our trailer in the mountains of Georgia after its wheel bearings froze, which now required us to repair each bike where it stopped to move forward. But riders with working bikes were told to press on so at least some of us would arrive in Erzurum on time for the parade. So we ended up with three or four incapacitated bikes at different points along the road from the border to Kars and our convoy stretched several hundred kilometers. I found myself on the outskirts of Kars as night fell with my bike running well -- no sidecar passenger, which meant I was fast -- and with Ian and Anne in another bike. We were in the lead -- I followed Ian into pitch darkness toward Erzurum -- his taillights were a comfort. Then he pulled over for some reason and waved me on -- and I was out front. It was an amazing feeling riding on alone in the Turkish night. I have the greatest respect for ADV riders who go it alone -- and I had an illusion of that feeling on this leg of the ride. It was so dark it was disorienting -- like floating in space -- and the road was mesmerizing. After a couple hours I pulled over to gas up and drink some tea and after a while Thierry, our Swiss rider, pulled up on the green bike. At the outskirts of Erzurum we were waved over by a police car who had been waiting for us and he escorted us to a luxury hotel, where we arrived about midnight. The hotel staff had thoughtfully kept the dining room open for us.

    All the others got to Erzurum eventually, some stragglers and the tireless mechanics at around at 3:00 a.m.

    We rode in the Victory Day parade in Erzerum:

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    Every child's dream, to be in a parade. After the parade was a press conference and cake-cutting ceremony and Carl & Natasha and I cut out early and got a jump on everyone and rode toward our next stop, a village called Chayerli. The Turks were well organized and after a couple - three hours a policeman with a radio flagged us over and made us wait for the others to catch up. We were seething with impatience but it was for the best because we regrouped and were led by our escorts to a beautiful country road leading to the village of Chayerli, which was to host us for the night.

    Approaching Chayerli we were met by young dancing girls at a bridge who quite captivated me. Music was by two guys, one with a horn pipe and the other with a drum, with a nice hook:

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    Carl and Natasha watched the dancing:

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    Nice for once to arrive with daylight to spare. I don't know who was the mayor of Chayerli but he was extraordinarily hospitable -- had us brought to a soccer field on the edge of town -- a beautiful camp with some tents already set up -- a big fire and coals to roast kebabs which they provided -- this little village went all out to host us. Our camp in Chayerli:

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    They were very considerate in parking a firetruck to supply water:

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    Eytan dancing in Chayerli:

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    That evening myself and a few other bikers joined in a torchlight evening Victory Day parade -- riding in two parades in a day -- and our musicians and dancers put on a show to repay Chayerli's hospitality.

    Next morning departing Chayerli:

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    Outside Chayerli -- we had a police escort in a shiny new Land Rover -- they were dismayed at our pace on gravel roads and had tried unsuccessfully to divert us to paved. They soon gave up and let us go our own way without them.

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    Bridge:

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    Overlook:

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    View from the overlook; we were to descend into this valley and through Erzinjan -- the city below -- and then through the mountains beyond:

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    As sun set after all day on dirt roads we rejoined tarmac. But we were dismayed to see signs telling us we were hours away from our destination at Kangal. To be brief -- I took point -- it was bitterly cold and pitch black -- my arms were numb to the elbow. I was riding as fast as I could to get it over with -- way outrunning my headlight but trusting the signs -- fluorescent arrows marking curves. Some animal ran right in front of me but I didn't hit it -- did it go between my sidecar and the bike? Arrived around midnight at a spa outside Kangal called Balaj Kpliji. These are hot springs where fish and minnows have adapted and evolved to live -- they nibble the dead skin off your body.

    So I stayed up for all hours in the steaming hot springs, recovering from the cold ride, and being nibbled by fish. And drinking. Now this was a conservative Muslim part of eastern Turkey but our hosts were considerate enough to offer us bikers "white tea" -- the licorice arak that will give you a buzz.

    In the morning at Balaj Kpliji:

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    #39
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  20. aegeanrider

    aegeanrider Adventurer

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    Aegea
    amazing :clap
    #40