I hid under a bus stop, as the rain continued to pour. My Armenian isn’t great – I speak 0 words to be exact. I look to the old man seated next to me, and do my sign-language best to say: “It’s pouring rain out here!”
That morning, I awoke in my tent just 50 meters across the Georgian/Armenian border. I had crossed the night before. Then, it was also raining, hence my decision to camp close, instead of pressing on. I showed my passport, paid my visa ($8, 21 days, available at all land borders), and took dinner in an adjacent building. It wasn’t a café, per se, but more of an establishment for border officers to unwind in after work, drink vodka, and tease women. This is how it appeared to me. I entered, soaking wet, and asked for food. The woman kindly made me a plate of bread, poached eggs, cheese, butter, and warm chai tea to sip. Officers entered shortly after, drinking vodka and teasing the woman. They offered me shots, yet I declined. Instead, I swapped my helmet for a hat, and snapped the picture below.
Back to the bus stop. I had cycled roughly 120km to this bus stop, from my camping spot just across the border. It was only 65km more to Yerevan – the capital, and the promise of a warm bed. I wanted to get there, and I had the energy. But it was pouring rain.
After some time, the rain relented. I pushed on. I cycled through a small town, passed a gas station and a small supermarket, and continued into the countryside. The rain came back quickly. This time, there was hail too. While cycling in the rain is no more than a slightly less safe and less dry endeavor, cycling through hail is out of the question. That shit will take an eye out.
In a rare move, I doubled back – back to the gas station. I’d take a tea, dry my clothes, and wait. There wasn’t much else to do.
I entered the supermarket, asking for tea. “No tea here,” they said. “Not here, nor next door.”
“There must be tea,” I said. “Y’all are always drinking tea. And this is a supermarket. I’m cold, foreign, alone, and wet: there’s gotta be a cup of tea.”
Minutes later, I was obliged, and placed next door in an open bakery. There was a wood-fire oven, a small table and chair, and a rack for clothes. I hung my shirts and gloves next to the whispering fire, put my coat on the seat-back, and took a deep breath. The women returned with a cup of hot tea and a chocolate brownie, and placed it in front of me. My crankiness subsided, as I was once more met with the unrelenting kindness I have come to delusionally expect from the strangers of the world.
An hour passed, and the rain poured. I had ants in my veins, as I believe the Germans say. I wanted to continue. I’d poke my head outside, survey the clouds, solicit the meteorological insight of the gas station attendant (with no common language, one must remember), and wander right back to my warm seat in that open bakery. I repeated this a few times. The hail and rain both continued.
The clock neared 5:30pm – it was time to make a decision. I could either find camp in this tiny town, or push brashly on. I preferred the second, of course. I stepped back outside, and surveyed the clouds once more.
This time the rain and hail had stopped. However, it was clear that they had merely moved further ahead, and after a few minutes of cycling, I’d hit them head on. Draw a square in your brain. Yes, do it. Draw a square, and then divide that square into four smaller squares, or quadrants. You should have a 2×2 square in your head. Now, plate that square against the horizon – you’re now looking at a 2×2 square as big as the sky. Still with me? Let’s keep going.
The top-left, top-right, and bottom-right quadrants of our square were filled with dark stormy clouds. However, the bottom-left quadrant was clear. This is the quadrant that loomed right over the road. This is where I was headed. The sky gave me a lane, and I took this lane. I didn’t hesitate much. I got back on the bike and gunned for the empty space. I put on my raincoat, my neoprene Turkish-flag face-mask, and started to pedal.
I pedaled for a while, enjoying the open air. But the while didn’t last. The rain came back. Luckily, the hail did not. I was now several kilometers from town, and doubling back once more would mean the end of the day. And I really didn’t want to the day to end.
So I pedaled, in the pouring rain. I like these moments, you know? I like the light, ironic feeling of battle. I like the feeling of feeling alive. I like walking to class as the snow is pounding my face. I like walking up 100 steps, instead of taking the elevator. I’m crazy about the notion that comfort is relative. And I liked blasting my bike through the pouring smashing rain.
The road began to dip, in a series of large highway hills. I climbed slowly up the ups. On the downs, I kicked it into a higher gear. There’s few better things than flying down a hill on a bicycle. And in the rain, with the right frame of mind, it’s a whole lot better. I put Linkin Park in my ears. I pointed a strong, direct, and playful finger into the eyes of passing drivers, gaping at the crazy guy on a bicycle blasting right past. It must have been nice in a warm SUV. On a bike, it wasn’t so bad either. I was dancing, yelling, screaming, and pedaling – pedaling my heart out, really. In that pouring rain, speeding past an ambling cow and a thoroughly perplexed, wryly smiling local, I felt more alive than ever.
45km from Yerevan, I passed a motel. It looked lovely, in fact. There was a crackling grill outside, plastic tables under wilted umbrellas, and the warm smell of the now-whispering rain. It was about 7:00pm, and I could have pushed to Yerevan. Instead, I decided to stay the night, dry my clothes, and sleep in a well-earned bed. I’d reach Yerevan the following afternoon. I’d done enough cycling for the day.
One grand thing about travel is the feeling of excitement: we see new things, and we can’t help but smile. You don’t need to travel for this excitement, though. The feeling is everywhere. Stick your head out of a train and let your face feel the breeze. Stand up from the table at the bar, and start dancing on your own. There’s plenty of ways to feel alive in this life, traveling or not. Keep things exciting for yourself. Whatever works, you know? Maybe even cycle through the pouring smashing rain.
I’m back in Colombia,