The thing about my new job is that I don’t really have enough time off to do all the exploring I’d like. So when a long weekend finally comes along, I’ve got to take advantage, even if that means cycling during the hottest days of the summer.
This time I started by taking a bus to Gumi, about two hours north. I wanted to skip all the local bike paths I’ve ridden too many times. It’s easy to put a bike on an intercity bus here and the buses are super cheap. My other secret weapon is KakaoMap, an app that will show all the bike paths as a layer. It’s in Korean but once a friend showed me how to navigate, it’s relatively intuitive to follow. The major bike paths are red, the smaller routes are blue.
Once I got back on the path, it was just a matter of riding in the heat. The bike path follows the river through country, past dams and farms. In some places the path goes out on these amazing boardwalks. Occasionally it jogs around to a little bridge to cross a minor stream. Underneath every bridge there are clusters of old men and their beat-up little motor scooters, fishing or having a nap or drinking in the shade. It’s extremely mellow and tempting to join them on such a hot day.
Every so often I came to a bike passport stamp stop. I still don’t have the Korean Bike Passport, so I’m using a little notebook. I have plenty of tiny cute notebooks due to this being the land of tiny cute things. (Seriously, there’s this store called ArtBox that makes me weak with the cuteness.) Even though I can’t send in my passport for the medal, I can participate in the stamping and it’s a good place to take a break. I am not the only sweaty fool out cycling in the sun. Some of the passport stamp stations have vending machines and we all stand in the shade gasping and sucking down energy drinks. A nice woman gave me a handful of caramel chews.
Towards evening, I spied some giant ducks and rode across a little bridge to check them out. They turned out to be rentable duck cabins at a campground. I’d been planning on camping in some random field but I couldn’t resist the ducks. I asked at a building near the campground and they said I could camp for free! Okay, thanks!
There were even hot showers and camping platforms. I set up my tent but then ended up sleeping outside, on my wooden platform. I had my rainfly handy just in case but it never got damp. I didn’t even have my sleeping bag, just the liner.
The next day was Thursday and just as hot as the day before. The path followed the river’s edge all day. No cities, just farms and fields and tiny villages. I listened to podcasts all day long and nodded hello to my fellow cycle tourists. The way to politely greet people in Korea is with a bow, which looks like a deep nod on a bicycle.
That evening may have been when I got off the northern path. Either that or the next day. I was still on a bicycle path but not the one headed towards Seoul. Either way, I didn’t realize it till Saturday and by then it was too late to correct. Oh well.
There were some military jets performing manuevers above me for a few hours. I know they’re war machines and all, but I can’t help getting a thrill from that Top Gun jet noise. It’s all very hot shirtless volleyball and guitar riff-ish.
I found a hotel that night. I was running low on cash and the hotel didn’t take cards, not even from a Korean bank. I counted out 25,000 won and the boy at the hotel accepted it without missing a beat. So I guess that posted price was negotiable. He even carried my bike up to the second floor for me, so I guess he wasn’t pissed about not getting full price. I was super excited to have a bathtub. I don’t even have a bathtub in my apartment. After two days of hot riding, my heat rash was crawling all over my legs.
The next day I was heading up some mountains. It was a nice change of pace from the flats. I dribbled sweat all over myself in my efforts to beat the guys on their road bikes. I could usually pull ahead when they pulled over to smoke a cigarette. None of them seemed overly upset about getting passed by a girl on a loaded tour bike. I got lots of thumbs up.
Later that day I came back into a more populated area. The transition from endless farms to huge factories and apartment complex construction is very abrupt. I rode into Daejeon around sunset and started looking for a place to camp along the river somewhere. It’s a pretty huge city. I considered some overgrown paths by the water but then realized that fishermen would be tromping through at any time. I ended up in a little parking lot off the main path. There were fisherman pulling in at dawn and some guy flying his toy helicopter. No one even glanced my way. It was hot and sweaty, even well after sunset, so not the most comfortable night. I’m really glad I brought my water bag on this trip. It’s black so the water is always hot, but I don’t have to worry about running out and I can keep a wet handkerchief handy all night.
The next day was the hottest day yet. Easily 40 degrees Celcius and not much shade. For some reason, I rode 128 kilometers, my biggest day the whole trip. In one town, I spent an hour in a cafe eating ice and charging my phone. I leapfrogged with a couple other gluttons for heatstroke all day. One couple on a tandem. There was one little hill that felt like a giant in the heat. At the top there was a stamp station and a convenience store. With ice cream. We all sat around the parking lot, sucking popsicles and grinning at each other.
Sunset found me pretty far from town still. I was okay continuing on once the sun went down and turned off the heat. But evening brought new obstacles in the form of giant spiders. Apparantly sunset is when they start rebuilding their gigantic webs from the trees to the bushes on the other side of the path. So picture an eight foot long spider web at neck height and a hand-size spider busily slinging more web. Okay, maybe not quite hand-size but anything bigger than an inch is way too much spider. I am not squeamish but I don’t want anything that big crawling on me. I rode along hunched over the handlebars, eyes peeled for webs and creepy crawlies.
Then I found this little campground, right off the path. Yay!
It even had a shower. Except it was one of those gym type showers where you have to be naked in front of everyone. I’m not usually shy but after all those hot days, my legs were rashy tree stumps and the other bathers were tiny elegant Korean ladies with no tattoos or creepy skin disease. And their adorable children. So I was a little gross…. but not enough to keep me out of those showers.
The next morning I rode the 10 kilometers into Gunsan, which is a port city on the Yellow Sea. It’s pretty much on the opposite side of the country from Busan. In five days I rode across the country. Not bad. The first bus station I came to only had buses to Seoul. I had a little moment of panic about that. But then I spotted the tandem couple, headed up the road so I followed their lead and found a second bus station. There was a bus to my town that left in a few hours.
Me and my weird bike tanlines were at school the next day, showing off the Strava maps and my tiny notebook of random stamps. And I guess my coworkers were impressed.. sort of? If you’re not into it, cycle touring is a hard sport to understand. We’re kind of crazy.