Gully! What a gorge-ous couloir, canyon not defile it?

What I may lack in pun quality I try to make up for in exuberant quantity.

Having spent a comfortable pagan night camped amongst the stone sentinels my morning began with another high pass to reach. At 2260m it was only a few hundered short of Selim and constituted a hearty mornings work.

But safe in the knowledge that my destination for the day, Goris, was only 25k beyond I could relax and enjoy the growing majesty of the surrounds.

It hadn't rained here for days but the snow hung on even on the road side making me glad of warm gloves and hat despite the high sun and bitterly lamenting the loss of my buff as the cold wind came down off the peaks.

Ancient Armenia

A deliriously fun descent from Selim was the first order of the day and with Handel's Trumpet Concertio pushing away thoughts of my frozen feet I could concentrate on soaking up the beguilingly hazy views offered up by every twist and turn.

Working my way down the valley I watched as winter fell away replaced by the last of autumns leaves and the beginnings of pretty riverside orchards.

Back on the road again

I had said my goodbyes to Spitak on the Saturday allowing me to take my leave unobtrusively on a clear and crisp Sunday morning. Retracing my steps, taken over a month previously, to Vanadazor.

I had to reach the Iranian border by the 6th of December putting a less than welcome time-scale on my progress. Still after some initial wobbles my confidence returned and the going was fine. If I was stopping rather more than previously and feeling a touch discombobulated it wasn't sufficient to prevent me making steady progress.

South of Vanadazor I entered gentle hillsides.

The last of Autumn still hanging on picturesquely in places.

Dark clouds over Yerevan

I took a Marshutka to Yerevan which meant going to some wasteland behind a pharmacy and saying Yerevan to various loiterers before lucking upon a driver, who pointed at this glorious vehicle.

The bus doesn't leave until full and so people enter, put a bag on a seat, and then get off for a cigarette, go shopping, or talk loudly into mobiles. How this doesn't result in the bus never leaving is a mystery to me but through some magical process passengers re-coagulated at a seemingly unappointed moment and we were off.

The recovery of Thom-Jan

Safely in Spitak I sat on the outside wall of the YMCA tired and unable to summon the will to enter. Within minutes a friendly greeting came to find me as Haykuhi and Alva ushered me inside and showed me to my room.

Both the welcome and the room couldn't have been further from my Vanadzor experience.

Homage to Shatalonia*

The cold morning of my third day in Armenia soon wilted and a gorgeous sunny day rapidly had me stripping-off layers. The road steepened as I closed in on the Vanadazor plateau and despite stopping to inhale the last of my provisions (bread and nutella) I wasn't making great progress.

In truth I felt tired - which was odd given I had slept like a log from 9pm-6am. Still, I was in no rush and so under the guise of letting my tent dry I gave in and stopped sometime late morning. Having stretched out my Hilliburg I promptly laid down and slept - cold floor chilling my bum while the sun warmed my face.

Waking an hour later feeling not very refreshed I loaded back up and wobbled on.

Something didn't feel right and so I pulled in at a petrol station and attempted to make use of the facilities. Nothing doing - but if the clammy sweat and stomach cramps were anything to go by that state of affairs was unlikely to persist,

Half a mile further up the road things reached their predictable climax. If the sight of a fully loaded English touring cyclist didn't attract enough attention one suddenly projectile vomiting off the bike surely would have. Blessedly there was no one around to witness this low point or indeed to knock me over as the sheer force of my convulsions sent me zigzagging across the tarmac.

Debed Canyon

My days in energetic Tibilsi coincided with the city's annual independence celebration and thus necessitated greater than even usual Georgian alcohol consumption. Vague recollections of drunken horsemen clattering up cobbled streets filled with festive Georgians like some Tolstoyan nightmare bubbled up as I awoke hungover.

I'd enjoyed my time in the city in an aimless way: Meeting a trio of Anglo-Australians driving from Tokyo to South Africa via London, ineptly wooing a pretty Georgian girl named for their warrior queen regent and eating outrageous quantities of khachapuri and dumplings.

At first light, having had my fill, I fled the capital which I have failed utterly to document. Leaving behind its steep valley setting, hilariously bad luminous Eiffel tower rip off and sulphur springs,

The good.

The bad

A crisp sunny autumnal morning greeted me as I followed the course of the Kura heading due south.