In September 2019 I was privileged to spend a couple of weeks leading a bikepacking expedition across Armenia, following remote dirt tracks and singletrack trails with a fantastic group of fellow riders.
The goal was not just to have fun but to test out a new bikepacking route across the country – a mashup of Bikepacking.com’s Caucasus Crossing (Armenia), the Transcaucasian Trail long-distance hiking route, and some additional connections I’d scouted out to link the best bits of both together.
With around 90% of Armenia set within the rugged folds of the Lesser Caucasus Mountains, it was always going to be a tough place to go bikepacking. The route didn’t disappoint: in the course of riding 800km (500 miles) over two weeks, we ascended the equivalent of sea level to the summit of Mount Everest – twice.
At the end of the post, you’ll find links to a map of the planned bikepacking route, plus GPS tracklogs of the ways we actually took.
But for now, I’ll let the following photos and captions do the talking. Enjoy this rare glimpse into backcountry Armenia as seen from the seat of a bicycle!
Early September. It was supposed to be dry, sunny and mild. Instead, we got hit by a week of freak weather which took the mercury down to 2ºC with black skies and cold rain for five days solid. Cue freezing extremities, more mud than any of us had ever seen (actual quote), and early-stage hypothermia in one case. Despite all of this, I was reassured to see that there were no sense of humour failures among the group.
(Pro tip: rubber dishwashing gloves work incredibly well in these conditions. Second pro tip: always drybag your biodegradable Firepot meals!)
After what seemed like an eternity the sun began to reappear, the trails dried out, and we turned south on a mix of perfectly graded gravel roads and off-trail hike-a-bike – not that anybody minded on such a spectacular ridgeline traverse. As the sun began to set, we were treated to one of the most stunning temperature inversions I’ve ever set eyes upon, ending up at the Soviet Writers’ Residence on the shore of Lake Sevan.
Next came the remote Geghama Mountains. Massive sheepdogs, thunderstorms, millennia-old petroglyphs and the occasional glimpse of distant Mount Ararat were the order of the day, as we traversed what is probably my favourite mountain range in Armenia, popping back into civilisation at the 14th-century Selim caravanserai on the border of Vayots Dzor province.
In Vayots Dzor, with the summer weather returning, we departed from my planned route and tried something completely different. I’d shied away from using trails I hadn’t previously scouted out in person, but I was by now confident enough in the group’s ability (in fact, let’s say enthusiasm!) for tackling new and untested routes. The dice-roll paid off and we found ourselves crossing between a series of magnificent gorges, all traffic-free, ending the segment at the Jermuk, whose thermal springs have long made it Armenia’s premier health spa destination.
We needed to add four days of riding to complete the route, and I was happy to find three of the group were able to change their plans and continue all the way to the southern city of Meghri. The vibe was very different for this last stretch; less of an organised group and more like a handful of riders who’d met on the road and decided to ride together. Our conversations got me thinking about next year – about whether or not I’d run this ride again and what I might change if I did so. Before we knew it, we were riding into a setting sun alongside the River Arax, Iran to our left and the whole of the Republic of Armenia to our right – a long-time ambition achieved, new friends made, and perhaps the framework of a new national mountain biking route laid down…
Keen to try bikepacking Armenia yourself? Here’s a few trustworthy resources to get you started:
- Our planned bikepacking route across Armenia (embedded map above) can be found on the CyclingArmenia.com RideWithGPS profile.
- Check out the Caucasus Crossing (Armenia) route over at Bikepacking.com, which was a big part of the inspiration for this ride.
- Actual GPS recordings of the ride can be found on my personal komoot profile.
- Finally, you might be surprised to know that I co-author an actual guidebook to all things travel in Armenia.
Road touring more your thing? Read my Five Reasons To Go Cycle Touring In Armenia. Also check out the collection of suggested routes at CyclingArmenia.com.
12 replies on “Bikepacking Armenia 2019 (Photo Gallery & Route Links)”
A great read, Tom, and an outstanding selection of photos 🙂
I noticed quite a bit of ‘check shirtage’ going on [see 1st in truck pic]
Is this the man-datory dress code for the trip??
Joking aside, I really enjoyed this article and the follow up about the 5 lessons learnt from being a reluctant leader/guide Tom. It shows a maturity of mind, self awareness and emotional intelligence to make this kind of trip truly succeed to it’s optimum. Quite a demand for a humans so you have my thumbs up!.
I relate to being an introvert/misanthrope who always goes it alone on my journeys, so this article has given me real hope that I may actually survive mentally intact if I should ever find myself ‘trapped’ in a group of cyclists for longer than a day..haha.
Thanks for the kind words, Sally! It’s not something that comes naturally, but I’ve come to the conclusion that these kind of skills can be learned, even by an introvert/misanthrope. A big part of the equation is good self-management…
Always a pleasure to read your stories Tom. You have a wonderful gift for writing and for perseverance too. It’s so easy to tail off in enthusiasm after the initial novelty of writing about your travels has worn off. I am one of those who dropped by the wayside long ago in my ‘blogging’. Happy adventures 2020!
Absolutely wonderful, fab images…….
Really great job Tom! Thank you!
A hug from Brazil.
Looks good! Are some parts of this trail in a condition you would describe as a road? It would be great if I could combine traditional on-road-touring with parts of this trail if I ever get a chance to cycle in Armenia.
This was almost entirely on dirt tracks, with a few exceptions – but you could mix and match with some of the routes on cyclingarmenia.com and find a good balance.
Great stuff and fun to read! This trip looks incredible! All the best to you!