An adventure with Jenny Tough

Adventurer, mountain runner and cyclist, Jenny Tough, tells us about her recent expedition and invaluable tips for planning your own trip…

The Caucasus Mountains have been calling me for years. In my global, long-term project to run solo and unsupported across a mountain range on every continent, the Caucasus were always one of my planned expeditions. With international borders, strict no-go zones, and autonomous regions, they were always going to be tricky, and the thrill of true adventure captured my imagination. Unfortunately, as this expedition was originally planned for 2020, I had to let it go, but this year I finally had my chance to visit.

I went out to Tbilisi with my mountain bike, packed as lightly as I could get away with, and a grand plan to try and cross the High Caucasus from west to east, skipping out Abkhazia and South Ossetia. When Azerbaijan didn’t meet their proposed deadline to open their land border, I had my first spanner in the works. When the Caucasus experienced some of the worst June weather on record, I had my second.

Adventure, by definition, shouldn’t go to plan. Landing in Tbilisi with a route already loaded to my bike computer and discovering that route would never go – a closed border and many closed mountain passes left a flimsy small amount of trail that I would never get to ride – I had to pivot my plans.

In hindsight, the weeks I spent bikepacking in the Caucasus Mountains was an objective failure – I set out to ride the length of the mountains range, from sea to sea, and I didn’t get to do that. But am I disappointed? Not really. In the end I did some fantastic riding in western Georgia and then some more fantastic riding around the Lesser Caucasus in Armenia – a country and region I had not even originally considered. I had an incredible time bombing around hidden trails, hauling my bike through thick mud in the middle of intense storms, hiking it up snowy passes, and staying in welcoming and charming small villages. I didn’t meet my main objective – two years on, a full traverse of this culturally rich mountain range remains elusive to me – but I still had an adventure.

Trip Planning
Researching routes, making lists, booking tickets, and finally packing your kit – adventure prep is easily one of my favourite parts of the experience. I’m lucky to work in the outdoor industry, meaning that I am almost perpetually unpacking from one journey before washing my kit out and repacking for the next one. I’ve got my systems dialed, my luggage always ready to go. One thing that is absolutely essential to keeping well-loved gear in motion is to treat it right. With proper care and love, your favourite outdoor products should last you years, and keep you dry and comfortable on many, many adventures.

Packing for my bikepacking trip in the Caucasus Mountains was tricky – I knew I would hit scorching heat, intense thunderstorms, and perhaps even snow or hail, often in the same day. That’s how it goes in the mountains in June. I needed my good waterproofs, my warm insulation, and my coolest wicking base layers. The other factor is, of course, that on a trip lasting a few weeks where I’ll be unsupported in the wilderness is that I won’t have access (or inclination, if we’re being honest) to laundry facilities. My gear needs to be solid. Here’s my routine for what I needed to pack on this adventure:

  • Cycling clothing: My favourite sweat-wicking t-shirt from Velocio is a go-to for mountain biking. A wash with Nikwax BaseFresh®
    enhances and revitalises its wicking properties, so it will hopefully last me three weeks of sweaty riding.
    (As a side note – I always somehow get chain oil on my jerseys, and Nikwax BaseFresh magically cleans that off!).
  • Waterproof: I’ve always maintained that if you can only invest in one item, it should be your waterproof. However, without taking proper care of your waterproof jackets, they will be rendered useless over time. Between trips, I always freshen my jacket with Nikwax.
  • Sleeping bag: To keep my bivvy system light, I usually go with just a hydrophobic down sleeping bag, and no tarp. The trick is to continually treat the bag a couple times a year with Nikwax Down Proof. Sleeping bags should last you a very long time!