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Athena bowls with a Russian sheep

6 July, 2015

Athena bowls with a Russian sheep

To traverse the spectacular Georgian Military Road, which starts from Tbilisi heading north passing through the Terek valley and the Baidarka River canyon, makes me go through the only possible passageway between Russia and Georgia. With historic tensions between these two countries, the crossing is slower than usual, with infinite queues of cars and trucks in wait. And today it is even slower because the information systems have crashed. It took me 6 hours to cross the border, but the attention and service of the guards was very polite.

Travelling by bike and being an exception to the majority of the people from the countries of the former Soviet Union awakens sympathies. Athena (my bike’s nickname) turns heads as it goes. It also turns the heads of the unending police check points across Chechnya which make me stop several times to show documents under suspicious eyes. Therefore, although I wanted to stay in Grozny, the capital, overnight, I decided it was best to carry on until I left the region because the police check points become truly tedious.

But some 20km from reaching my destination, at the end of a turn, I find an uncontrolled flock of sheep running in all directions. While I try to break, I start zig-zagging in order to avoid each sheep, almost as a video game, until I find the odd one. There’s always one in all families and I don’t know why they call them black sheep because this one was white.

This one sheep changed its direction abruptly and I couldn’t do anything about it. If I was bowling, this would be a strike.

I imagine the worst. As I get up from the ground I noticed that the one sheep had disappeared. People run to help me pick up Athena and we place her to the side. I am OK, so I quickly check the bike and everything seems in place, except that the front break doesn’t work.

So I carry on, slowly this time, using only the rear brake, thinking of a workaround until I get to the next police control point. To travel some 20km at my current speed takes a long time. Long enough to think of solutions. I make a mental revision of the Russian phrase book I have, trying to remember whether there is anything about repairs and mechanics in there, or if the phrases only work for restaurants, hotels and airports.

And these police check points, the ones that have been blistering my journey, ended up being my salvation. At the same time I get stopped, another man on a motorbike gets stopped on the other side of the road. He’s got no luggage, so he must be local. I approach him and with gestures of complicity for a common passion, I point to the broken break and make hand gestures for “mechanic”. He picks up his phone to make a phone call. I think I understood “motorcycle”, “Spanish” and “mechanic”. He asks me to follow him.

We get to the home of Makash, president of the Black Eagles Motorcycle Club of Kyzlar. He greets me as if I was a son, or a long-time friend. He asks me to put the bike inside his garage and points me to a room, making gestures for sleeping. He shows me the bathroom and he makes gestures for showering. Lastly, while he proudly shows me the Club’s flag, he tells me: “no problem”. All of this in Russian, of course. His friends, Eric and Stanislav, arrive later and help me repair the bike. Just like that, no problems, and with all included thanks to them, Athena can now break and continue the journey.

Afterwards, while I cruise the route, I come to understand why the flock of sheep was disturbed: in the region, they use motorcycles or pick up trucks to drive cattle.

I know only hope that the next sheep that passes in front of me will be the one I’m counting to go to sleep.

PS: This will be the last published post regularly made very Tuesday. From now on I will only be able to post when I have internet access.

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