A Trip to Georgia
This winter, a friend told me that the Bzhuzha race in Georgia is part of the Extreme Kayaking European Cup 2018. So Tom and I decided to go there. I was really looking forward to this trip! Mainly because it was something new. I have never been to Georgia before so I didn't know at all what is going to expect me there. With this article I want to provide you some information I would have been happy about.
Before the Trip
Like always when you have to fly somewhere, the trip actually starts at home: Booking the flight, organizing a car, trying to keep your luggage under the allowed weight, etc...
First, I booked the flight. It was pretty easy this time because Wizz Air is cheap and there are no problems with transporting kayaks. They offer you to travel without a normal luggage to get it even cheaper. Obviously, I chose that one. So I could just bring a hand luggage and my Jackson Nirvana. On the one hand, it made all the packing easier because I wasn't allowed to bring too much. On the other hand it was quite a challenge because I had to pick the most important stuff. In the end my boat was way too heavy and I had to wear almost all of my clothes. But usually they don't even check the weight, fortunately for me.
Finally arriving in Georgia - in the middle of the night. Luckily we found someone who could pick us up on the airport. With little sleep and a lot of driving we came to the first river: the Machakhela. The russian guys said that there is a nice upper part where you have to walk for half an hour. So we decided to go for it. After 15 minutes of hiking we were stopped by a georgian soldier. He told us that it is not allowed to go there because we are close to the turkish border. Altough our russian friends tried to explain him that we are descending to the river in a few hundred meters he refused... At least we didn't have to walk all the way back because they let us join on their Pickup. Considering they were racing along the dirt road as if there were no tomorrow I should have decided to walk back. In the end we paddled the middle Machakhela and it was really nice. Continious class IV with lots of small drops. There's one rapid in this section you better scout since there are some siphons in it.
Afterwards, at the take out there were some georgian people relaxing and invited us to join them. They offered us some self made wine and a classic georgian food: Kachapuri. Yummy! Unfortunately we couldn't really talk to the guys because of the language differneces. But it is unbelievable how friendly the people there are!
Food and Sleep
For dinner, we didn't cook by ourselves, instead we went to a restaurant. The prices there are very cheap, it's ridiculous! Two big portions and a drink for 5 Euros, awesome. And the food is really tasty. They use a lot of meat, potatoes, cheese and butter. We also went to the restaurant for breakfast because it saves time, tastes good and is cheap.
For the night, we had a small room in a hostel. After a few days we started sleeping in the tent close to the festival site.
In general wild camping is no problem in Georgia. It is similar to Norway, the people seem to be happy when they see someone liking their country.
We also decided to make some sightseeing during our trip. Actually it was Egor who told us to do it.
The Bzhuzha Race
Some days before the race we started to train and get confident with the lines on the Bzhuzha river. The russian guys told us that the Bzhuzha is one of the most beautiful rivers in Georgia. And indeed, it was really amazing! You have both easy whitewater and pretty steep and challenging rapids. There is a top section starting from the dam. It is not very long but super nice. I would classify it as a class IV+. After this one you have the middle Bzhuzha - a long continious class III-IV section with one solid class IV rapid in a small gorge. It is a 1 meter drop which is quite hard to boof and you go deep if you miss the boof...
The Bzhuzha Race Festival started on Thursday evening with the beginning ceremony: All the participants went to Ozurgeti town. Then the mayor gave a speech as well as Egor - the organizator and the chief of the georgian kayak club. Afterwards there were some georgian dancer and they delivered an awesome show!
On Friday the race started with the qualifications. The course started on the last rapid of the middle section going down about 400 meters of class III. I had a pretty good run and got the fastest time.
In the afternoon, the first 32 of the qualifications were allowed to participate in the Boatercross. The course was brutal! Two downstream gates and two upstream gates where fighting was inevitable...
In the finals with Marco Babuin, Vladimir Kazanskiy and Filip Jancar I felt like a cat surrounded by lions. In the second upstream gate it was like being in a pinball machine! Somehow I still managed to get third.
The first day had already been really exhausting but the second day was pretty intense too:
In the morning we had the long race on the middle Bzhuzha. I knew the lines and tried to keep my speed all the way through. I have done quite well and won this race.
Afterwards the top 15 athletes from the long race were allowed to do the Slalom race. This course was very challenging.
For me the goal was to get all the gates without touching them. I managed to do it but I wasn't too fast so I ended up on 4th place.
At this point I was looking forward to the last race – the extreme sprint. This one was on the upper part so difficult whitewater and no gates... Oh yeah! Altough I was really fired up I felt a little tired from the other races on the same day. So I didn't have perfect lines but no big mistakes neither. I was so happy when they told me that I won this race! Because then I knew that I was the winner of the overall Bzhuzha race, the first Championship of the Extreme Kayak European Cup! What a great feeling!
For the full results, check this link: Full Results
After the winning ceremony the party started. It was an awesome night! But take care, it's a russian party. It might destroy you more than the racing...
All in all it was a great experience and I would definitely go to Georgia again!