Proud. We are looking at the mountains of Iran, and we have cycled here over the Caucasus. Two years ago this was a dream. Now it is reality, and, cycling up a 12% slope in the snow and hail I laughed. I am here. Now.

Meghri pass

Meghri pass

Today was not a day of admiring the scenery. It was hidden behind the cloud. Today was a day to climb from 800m to 2535m and down the other side to 600m. And the climb was going to be steep. My music cocooned me in a sphere of self-contemplation. Music that has accompanied me while preparing this trip.
While cycling in the arctic in northern Sweden, I was listening to ‘Alive’ by Krewella, and a shiver ran down my spine. Here I am cycling to the North Cape in Norway, through the tundra, and I had got there by bike. This trip was amazing, and, my next trip is going to be even more amazing. I was going to cycle back home. I cried with joy. I had made up my mind.

The planning of the trip took two years, and a lot of music accompanied me. My three months for Philips in Boston was a time where the trip planning took concrete form. My playlist today was full of those numbers.
‘Under Control’ by Calvin Harris and ‘Shewolf’ by David Guetta remind me of the final phases of planning in Eindhoven. And, ‘Let’s Go’, by Calvin Harris is just raw energy. Man, I was happy, rounding every hairpin bend, passing piled up snow, watching the snow turn from being flaky to consisting of small pellet-like balls. And then I watched the hail. I was here, now, doing what I had chosen to do, and what I love to do.

Snow mound

Snow mound

Iran is in sight

Iran is in sight

Coming down, the hail and snow turned to rain, and then cleared. The last kilometres into Meghri had good visibility, and we saw some beautiful mountain landscape.

Iran in the distance

Iran in the distance

Meghri valley

Meghri valley

We even ran into a couple of Dutch touring cyclists – a rare sight in these parts.

Cycle tourists

Cycle tourists

Oh. I lost my voice today. I feel fine, but sound awful. I’m sure I’ll be fine tomorrow, when we enter Iran. We’re so excited!

 


After a one-day hibernation in Goris due to total lack of energy and a thumping headache, James and I cycled through the cloud to Kapan. We have heard the road is very beautiful. Well, we saw the road (and other objects) within a circumference of 20m of our humble selves before arriving damp and cold in Kapan.

Kilometres to Meghri and Yerevan

Kilometres to Meghri and Yerevan

Today was good. I felt strong after my bear-like long sleep from 8pm through to daylight, some forays out of the room during the day, and another long night’s sleep. Today there was no wind, which made the steep climb a breeze (hehe). We climbed over the Vorotan Pass – the name makes me think of Mordor from Lord of the Rings. We didn’t see any hint of Mordor, there were no orcs, and no black riders. We didn’t see a hint of anything at all.

In the valley we could see, so I took a photo of James cycling along.

James from above

James from above

Actually, we did see hints of some things. James and I felt at home – we were riding towards the Crazy Club.

The Crazy Club

The Crazy Club

And the Velcome Disco seemed very velcoming.

The Velcome Disco

The Velcome Disco

Arriving in Kapan we ran into another cyclist from Australia, cycling from India to Istanbul. He was bursting for an inner tube, and James could oblige. We will be meeting up with him shortly for a pre-Anzac day dinner.


I slept 11 hours and still felt tired and unmotivated. Am I developing a cold? Our destination today was strategically near, in a nice town, ready for the last two mountain slog days in Armenia. A battle through the roadworks and wind brought us to Goris where we went on a nice wander in the sun.

Goris

Goris

The road made its way up a mini-pass of 2200m (starting at 1800m) through a lot of roadworks. I realised I was not myself when I found myself getting very irritated at trucks booming their horns directly behind me, instructing me to move off in into the roadside sludge so they can pass. This is nothing new, but, it irritated me today.

The road to Goris

The road to Goris

The road to Goris

The road to Goris

I was so glad to roll down the hill into a beautiful valley, with the cute town of Goris nestled at the bottom. The sun came out, and James and I had a wander around, enjoying our half-day off.

The valley surrounding Goris

The valley surrounding Goris

Watching football

Watching football

Car

Car

Shop in Goris

Shop in Goris

Soviet ice cream

Soviet ice cream


With a 1300m climb on the agenda today, and rain forecast for mid-afternoon, James and I left in the (surprising) sun and (surprising) tailwind up a river gorge. The rain and cold hit at the pass, after which we cycled through the familiar high altitude lunar landscape to our warm and snug abode in Shaki.

Arctic Lake

Arctic Lake

Easy does it. The road climbs and climbs. The skies were grey and it was a bit hazy, not making for great photos. Still, it was a pleasant cycle.

Poppies

Poppies

Village shop

Village shop


Lake Sevan has an arctic feel. With the sun out, we had amazing views of the lake, the barren land, the snow-capped mountains and rusted paraphernalia. Today we had sun, gale-force wind (side and headwind), rain, snow, hail, thunder and lightening. And a 1300m drop into the most amazing valley. Cool!

Rusty train on Lake Sevan

Rusty train on Lake Sevan

The wind was ferocious – mostly a side-wind along the lake. It added to the arctic, deserted feel of the lake. We stopped numerous times for photos.

Lake Sevan

Lake Sevan

Lake Sevan

Lake Sevan

Lake Sevan

Lake Sevan

It was 15:45, and we wanted to get over the high pass and down the other side to the valley below. Well. The pass was a monster slog against the headwind, and through the snow. On the 2350m plateau at the top, it started to snow/hail/rain, the hail like bullets blown into our eyes. But my, it was beautiful!

Up out of Lake Sevan

Up out of Lake Sevan

The high pass plateau

The high pass plateau

Almost at the top of the pass

Almost at the top of the pass

The view over the valley from the top was nothing short of spectacular. It was a long, long way down.

View from the top of the pass

View from the top of the pass

And we rocketed down. We needed to find somewhere to stay. Camping was not too appealing with this weather, and the next town of any size was 25km down the valley. We are now snug as a bug in a rug (well, two bugs in rugs) in a little hotel on the corner of two roads.


Sometimes you want to meet the locals, and have a local experience. Sometimes you need quiet and to be by yourself. Today we wanted peace and a good night’s sleep. We had a beautiful day’s cycling in the sunshine to Lake Seven – a beautiful lake surrounded by snowy mountains. And then a 10 hour sleep. Wonderful.

Fisherman on Lake Sevan

Fisherman on Lake Sevan

Today was up, then down, then up, then down. All in the beautiful sunshine in the Armenian mountains. We got an early start from our kind host in Vanadzor as we needed to climb quite some metres today.

View on the way to Dilijan

View on the way to Dilijan

James on the way up

James on the way up

Emerging from the tunnel before Lake Seven we found ourselves in the snow. Cruising down the river, we saw a gap in the mountains open out with each bend in the road, which turned into a wide expanse with snow-capped mountains on the horizon. Beautiful.

Entering Sevan town

Entering Sevan town

All along the road following the lake shore were little huts, and fisherman waiting for cars to pass. They held out their arms, indicating the size of the fish they could sell. They must have mighty big fish in this lake!


’44? I wish you marry very (very) soon and have many children. Then you call: Ashot – I return to Armenia with wife and children.’
We toast (again), downing more of the 25 year old herbal alcohol beverage dating back to his friend’s wedding. And all this takes place in the Dutch language in his friend’s living room. Armenian hospitality at it’s best.

image

We met him in the mobile phone shop. James and I were huddled over our phones with super fast Internet like herion addicts getting our first hit for weeks, injected directly into the arm.
‘I saw James’ orange shirt and I thought – they are from Holland. I am so happy.’
I took over as the translator, and James and I found ourselves in Ashot’s humble abode eating sausages and bread, and drinking an almost pure alcohol vodka poured from a coke bottle. Then his friend came and we were invited to his place for even more hospitality.

Our friends in Vanadzor

Our friends in Vanadzor

In the living room, watched over by the dead parents’ portrait above the wall sized carpet hanging, Armenian music pumping out from the 5 thigh high loud speakers, we danced, hugging each other and collapsing into neighbouring armchairs. Ashot’s preficiency in Dutch meant we covered topics like the Armenian genocide, the role of the wife, and many configurations and permutations of how wonderful it is that we met and could share the first night of our lifelong friendship together.

Our friends in Vanadzor

Our friends in Vanadzor

And this, after a spectacular day cycling up an amazing cliff adorned valley in the beautiful warm sun and lovely tailwind.

I passed 8000km at a small village and celebrated with James and a young frenchman who is hitching around the world.

8000km

8000km

And then onwards and upwards. For this valley, it’s a case of pictures tell 1000 words.

Rubbish valley

Rubbish valley

Alaverdi

Alaverdi

Alaverdi

Alaverdi

The road to Vanadzor

The road to Vanadzor

The road to Vanadzor

The road to Vanadzor

Armenian hospitality and Armenian landscape. What a wonderful combination. As Ashot would say:
‘I wish you have many many special days like today!’