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Caucasus Challenge: Day 5

Sep 23, 2012

19 September | Route: Bakuriani - Borjomi - Akhaltsikhe - Abastumani - Khulo - Batumi | Distance: 310 km

We set out early today as we were promised this would be a hard 10 to 12 hour day, but well worth it as we will be passing through the Borjomi-Kharaguli National Park. The route is very rugged and we team up in small convoys of two or three cars to help each other out in case of a breakdown. We are admonished by the organizers to try and not kill our cars. Our day’s destination is the Black Sea resort of Batumi.

I start the day as a passenger in Michael and Zach’s car, Bear Nutz. We are following John and Marco in Road Dogs. Both cars are bristling with technological gadgets complemented by multiple hardcopy maps. Almost immediately after starting off, we are waived down by a policeman and a man in plain clothes, presumably his colleague. We didn’t do anything wrong, they just needed a ride to the next town. They are young and nice, and I almost convince one of them to trade their cap with me before he realizes his superiors would not be pleased. As we move along, I notice he is breathing funny, is sweating slightly and is getting car sick. We figure these guys have been out on the town and are late for work. A quick change of seats with Zach to put the officer in the front seat solves his motion sickness. Our good deed done for the very grateful officers, we are back at cruising speed. As Marco in the car in front of figured we did have the police with us, he prudently slowed down to what seemed to be well below the speed limit.

After several hours pass, I notice that there has not been any discussion or questions regarding directions, turns and wrong turns. The confidence is striking. I ask them about this and John admits that on the second day, he told Marco, “don’t worry about, let’s just go.” Apparently that day, they made a wrong turn and got side-tracked for a stunning 30 minutes. Now, Marco spends 30 minutes each morning mapping out the day, making sure all waypoints are in the GPS unit, that his smart phone has the correct map and route, as well as the route drawn on the hard maps. Now a momentary doubt with regards to direction is simply a “vone moment please, I think vee have made an ehrror.”

Note that most teams will get lost or sidetracked for at least 30 minutes each day, and sometimes up to 3 hours.

As well planned as the Germans are on the road, I was intrigued to learn about their pre-preparation to ensure their good health on this trip. Michael and Marco have brought flasks of high-quality schnapps, one flask with Kirsh (cherry) and one with Williams (pear).

It is imperative that they take a thimble-full for the purpose of sterilizing the system against unwanted microbes. A thimble-full, not more and not less as that would be counterproductive. Too little and it would do no good. Too much, and it would diminish the body’s natural abilities to fight such microbes. There is a necessary stop three times a day for the purposes of sterilization. I must have missed the morning ritual, but pleased to be invited to the afternoon one. John and Zach put aside their skepticism early in the challenge as the reward was a sip of some very nice schnapps. After all, if this Bavarian precaution did not work, they would be no worse off. Strangely, it seems one can complement this very small sip of schnapps with extensive quantities of beer, vodka and cha cha, with no deleterious counterproductive effect on the body’s natural abilities to fight microbes.

The real fun begins at the entry gate of Borjomi-Kharaguli National Park. The park ranger comes out to inspect our cars to determine whether they can endure the road ahead. Satisfied, he opens the gate and lets us on our way. What follows is five to six hours of fantastic view over rough driving terrain. By the time we are done, we are all exhausted, passengers and drivers alike, but willing to do it all over again.

Over the course of the day, the various small convoys meet up as a larger group and disperse again. In our final stretch to Batumi, we are all moving at about the same pace. John decides to have some fun and simply takes off. We arrive exhausted after about 10 hours of driving. To our surprise, Virus and Enforcer and Traveling with the stars arrived 2 or 3 hours before us. In a perverse twist of fate, Mark and Eric along with James and Kevin are first. I immediately suspected Mark and Eric for a wrong turn along the way, but it was actually James who made the wrong turn somewhere. They also had a heck of a day traversing the mountain, but apparently a different one.

In Batumi, a Black Sea resort town, we stay at the Intourist Palace, formerly part of the soviet hotel chain by that name. The past couple of days in Georgia have shown us glimpses of a country on the rise. Batumi is in a feverish sprint to build a Las Vegas-like resort destination on the Black Sea. Most of us are absolutely knackered and head off to bed after dinner. A very few, head to the casino. At first Dave is a bit intimidated as a rather large Turk starts to bet on his hand, and he proceeds to have a losing streak resulting in the Turk losing 10 times more than Dave. Undeterred, and friendly, the Turk invites his friends over all of whom start betting on the Challengers. I don’t know where they got the energy, but they eventually stagger off to bed at 5 am. Luckily for them Day 6 is intended to be a relatively easy day.