Motorcycle Explorer Issue 17 - Page 54

Travel Story: lawrence bransby - georgia

Later, on a small, deserted road, Gareth sees an abandoned bridge high above the grey turbulent waters of the river. We stop to play. Old bridges with missing and rotten timbers, like mountains, need to be crossed: because they are there. Not being stupid, we check the planks, rearranging some so that we and our bikes don't end up drowned. Gareth crosses first. I follow, but too close. His bike kicks a short plank loose and quickly I have to choose another line to miss the gap that has opened up, wide enough to swallow my front wheel. A YouTube moment just averted.

A short while later Gareth pulls over: puncture. I think the score is 6-0 to me. It's a six-inch nail. He must aim for them. The tube is ripped and cannot be patched. Hot and sweaty, we replace it with our spare on the side of the road.

Finally we reach the dirt and life becomes interesting with some mud and rough stuff to keep us honest. Filming doesn't encourage sedate riding and we fly along the rutted track that still follows the river.

The mountains are sparsely populated; villages we come across seem desperately poor with many buildings abandoned and falling apart. And still the defensive towers, abandoned monoliths to a forgotten people defending themselves against a forgotten enemy. In one small village alone we saw twelve of them standing tall and silent, rising high above the roof tops.

We pause to explore deserted farm buildings built alongside one of the towers. There is something beautiful about its sad desolation. To reach it we must ride across a small wooden bridge and scramble up a steep earthen slope. It's like an old Norman motte and keep fortification. It appears that the enemy now is poverty. The rural way of life here seems more tenuous and insubstantial than the towers that have about them an eternal quality, mysterious and enduring.

In the late afternoon we reach the village of Ushguli, Europe's highest continuously inhabited settlement, a cluster of stone houses that have gathered themselves around the protective skirts of the towers. We find a guesthouse that we share with hikers and cyclists. On the horizon, snow-capped mountains beckon. Our host is an old crone, dressed in black. We enjoy our first beer in days.