Today is the day I go for it! All rested up and feeling good with my route it is game on for hitting the border. In order for me to get to the border and back before it gets dark I had to start running/walking at 4am as it would be a 32km round trip but most of it off track and very steep with a total elevation gain of 2,600 metres. This is definitely going to be my most challenging day of this adventure so far as I am predicting it to take me 14 hours.
It is difficult to prepare for a day with so many weather and environmental variables ranging from road running to alpine climbing. For this to work I had to go minimal with my gear and fast to keep warm on the mountain. Rich somehow manages to get our Rental van Boris 6km up the gravel road clearly only made for 4wd cars but I was much appreciated as every km up would mean less for me to have to run back down. As I ran ahead I could hear the scraping chassis on the rocks followed by Rich’s laugh behind me. Boris reached her final resting place when the road crossed an impassable river so I said goodbye to the team and head off to battle.
This was the first time in the trip that I would truly be alone with no support, cellphone or internet reception and I was totally pumped for it. To this point both Rich and Zarina have been fantastic as I know it is not the easiest job dealing with a tired and cranky Dave Williams but I was ready to take matters into my own hands. Countless hours had been spent on the computer researching and looking at topographical maps planning the best logistical route to the border from both sides and I was finally here standing in the spot I had seen only as a satellite view from google earth. The picture I had built up in my mind did not even come close to comparing the the marvel that was in front of me.
I continued along the military vehicle track and passed a couple of locals on horse back who looked more confused than a chameleon in a bag of skittles as to what I was doing there. The track continued along the river north towards the border and past several small huts where the local farmers lived self sufficiently. It is pretty special to see people living the same way they have for thousands of years and it really gave me the mindset that I was now truly adventuring in the Georgian wilderness. It was now around 8am so I had been on the track for about 4 hours and almost climbed 900m when suddenly I came across a herd of cows making a racquet with bells around there neck. I heard a mans voice and saw a hand raise in the air signifying me to stop, he was dressed in camo so he was difficult to see at first but I quickly realised I had just walked into a military border control checkpoint. He escorts me over to a small table outside their barracks where I notice three more soldiers all in uniform carrying guns over their shoulders. One of the men sits down next to me and in broken English asks me for my passport so I reluctantly handed it over hoping I would get it back. He then asks me “where you go?” So I showed him my plans on the map, the three men start talking in Georgian and all shake their heads. I am getting pretty worried at this point and the soldier who speaks English hands me my passport back and said “Nakra closed by military, go Mestia for permit border from Mestia” this made my heart sink as I now had to head back to the van but if I had to get to the border from Mestia it meant I would have to run an extra 45km of road plus the 8km to the border across a glacier. This also means an extra couple of days on the Russian side as I will be running away from the mountain and from memory the terrain is a lot steeper on the Russian side of the border towards Mestia.
As I head back down the river my brain is in logistical overload trying to figure out my options and then I just start laughing. I couldn’t help it but moments like this are what it’s all about. As doctor Kelso from scrubs once said ‘nothing worth doing is easy’ and just as I thought I was sailing my way to the border on my final day in Georgia, boom I get slapped with another curve ball. Some sick part of me thrives on things going wrong and having to figure out a solution. It may be the masochistic side of me that actually got excited about the extra distance, as for me one of the best feelings is finishing an adventure and your body is so wrecked that you cannot even stand.
I get to the van and start to put a plan in motion, I call Zarina and ask her if she can try organise a permit for me to get to the border while I run an extra 12km of the road to Mestia, then I will return later to do the other 30km which would add up to a 54km day total (smiling). That would give me the whole next day to get to the border and back over the glacier from Mestia. I finished the 12km in the full heat of the day and get a call from Zarina, she had just met with the head of the Georgian border control and explained my mission and why I was doing it. He loved the concept of it as he is an avid climber. My beautiful little translator had organised me a special one day pass allowing me access into the closed military zone of the Nakra border which had never been granted to a foreigner before. This would mean I could continue with my original route and be the first tourist ever to be in this valley let alone climb the mountains to the border.
We finally make it to Mestia and I meet with the head of the border control and he outlines the special conditions that go with my permit. He explains that I cannot cross the border even for a second as the Russians will arrest me and this will be really bad for relations between the two countries and I am also not allowed to spend any time on the border, so it is in and out as quickly as possible. The will also provide me with a military escort in the army jeep to the control stop which turned me around, so I did not have to run back in. He said the river is to dangerous for me to cross with the snow melt so two of his comrades would meet me with a horse in the mountains to take me safely across the river. These were the conditions of the permit so I had to accept and to be honest they were pretty epic conditions!
Zarina translated that he believed in the story of Sea2summit7 and he would do everything in his power to make this chapter of the adventure happen safely under the eyes of his comrades and God. I was extremely touched by this motion and it showed that no matter where I have been in the world people have embraced what Sea2summit7 is really about, which is the journey not the destination.
Unfortunately due to poor internet I cannot upload any more photos. When I reach Russia I will be able to upload all of my footage so you will be able to see first hand the beauty I have not done justice in describing.
Make sure you read the next post as it is bound to be something special.
When the military were not looking I managed to sneak this quick photo.