And so begins Day 2 of Bike Across S. Korea….
I left Boran at 8am– everything in the town was closed and covered in heavy fog. I would soon find that the rest of my trip would be marked by cold mornings, fog, and sleeping, rural towns. I really wanted a cup of coffee but it seemed that that would not be a possibility, for a long while at least. At this point, I had two route options: I could follow the 4 Rivers Route or I could follow Boonstra’s Seoul-Busan Route as I had originally planned.
The 4 Rivers Route runs along the… wait for it… the 4 main rivers that cut across S. Korea: the Han, the Nakdong, the Yeongsan, and the Geum. Generally speaking, it is a nice, “scenic” route as it is clearly marked and it runs alongside old farmlands and Korea’s many bridges and dams. That being said, it is not necessarily “foreigner” friendly as any sign that is related to the trail is written almost exclusively in Hangul, S. Korean’s written language, and the path becomes incredibly rural and isolated after the first 120km or so from Seoul’s Banpo Bridge, which means that finding food, motels, or help is nearly impossible between some of the more rural tracks of the route. Furthermore, there are usually tons of cyclists on the path so if you are into quiet, solo cycling, the 4 Rivers Route doesn’t really offer that.
Boonstra’s route is definitely a “foreigner” friendly route. The maps (all 17 of them!), although worked into a Korean map (written in hangul), have English directions and note motels, bus/train stations, hospitals and even feature close ups of more complicated aspects of the route. I made the mistake of printing them in gray scale and only highlighted Boonstra’s route and motels, so I had a hard time distinguishing between rivers, highways, and other bike routes marked on the maps, which made navigation difficult at some points (lesson learned!). At various stretches, Boonstra’s route overlapped the 4 Rivers Route (among other bike routes) before deviating and running through the occasional farming town or small city.
Here are some pictures of Boran that I took while trying to decide which path to take:
Anyway, this particular morning, I wasn’t really interested in following the river so closely (it becomes a bit tedious after awhile) and I was eager to get my hands on a hot coffee, so I ultimately decided to use Boonstra’s route which would take me through a few small towns.
If I had decided to take the 4 Rivers Route, this is the direction I would’ve gone (and that I did go for a couple kilometers before finally deciding against it):
It was absolutely beautiful out, with the fog. But as I said, I eventually decided to take Boonstra’s route, so back through town I went.
Day 2 of the bike trek marked the start of HELL (or FUN depending on whether you are me or my partner). Fairly soon after I made my way out of Boran, I began to hit incline after incline (and would continue to do so on Day 3 and 4).
But with hills come two glorious things: 1.) killer views and, 2.) the coast down. At the top of of several of these hills, I found grave sites and my breath.
I biked for quite some time before finding anything that even resembled a town and I was pretty much alone on the roads, save the occasional car. But, it was lovely out and I was enjoying the relative quiet and yellowing fields of the North Chuncheong province.
Finally, a little before noon, I came upon a mom and pop convenience store and I decided to stop in to purchase a soy milk and a red bean bread confection (aside from chips and cigarettes, they didn’t have much else). The man running the place tried to figure out where I was going and if I was going there alone. When he got his answers, he quickly made me a coffee as his daughter brought me out a plate of noodles and they bade me to sit down and eat. After eating every last sesame seed, I wished them a happy Chuseok and hopped back on the saddle… Next stop, Chongju.
Getting to Chongju was simultaneously fantastic and confusing. Essentially I was biking on old farm roads that criss-crossed small soybean crops, corn stalks, and squash patches. The roads cut in between old homes and barns and I felt as though I was seeing Korea for the first time. I wish I could have documented the homes and the location more thoroughly, but I was pressed for time and I wanted to get down to Mungyeong, the destination for the day, before sunset (6:30pm).
Soon after getting out of farm country, I found a roadside rest stop where I could relieve my bladder and was confronted with a squatter. Normally I’d be all about it, but my bike shorts and tight knees were having none of it…
Pedal, pedal, pedal… the day was warming up and I was feeling fairly good, aside from the fact that cell phone (i.e. GPS) battery number 2 was not keeping up with me. I would need to stop off in Chongju and recharge before continuing on for the afternoon.
I stopped in a PC Bang (internet cafe) to check my route and charge both cell phone batteries. I love my Samsung but it takes forever to charge (1.5- 2 hours). And, prior to and during this trip, I had no idea that I could just pay ₩1,000 for a 30 minute quick-charge at a Family Mart or CU Mart. Knowing this would have saved me a lot of trouble… or, maybe I just need one of these gadgets.
I was frustrated by how much time I had wasted trying to recharge my batteries in Chongju and as I was heading back out on the road, I saw this awesome house and felt much, much better:
I biked for quite a while, trying to make up for the time lost PC Bangin’. Before too long, night fell and for the second time in two days I found myself biking in the dark, trying to reach some out of the way town– only this time, I was alone.
Even though I was riding along horrifying Route 3 (I somehow managed to miss the much safer bike path that ran alongside it), I made it to Suanbo, a busy micro-town located near a ski resort, at around 7:30 and in one piece no less. I contemplated grabbing dinner and then continuing on through the night to Mungyeong, the city where I had originally planned on stopping for the night. But as soon as I sat down to eat my veggie pajeon (with a tentacle bonus!), I knew that there would be no more cycling for the day. I called the waitress back over and asked for a beer. “Eh, I’ll make up the mileage tomorrow,” I thought.
After dinner, I found myself a “cheap” room in a “spa” hotel, took a hot bath and then crashed. I definitely needed to rest up for the mountains promised in Day 3’s leg of the journey!
Day 2 Stats:
Distance: 52 miles (Boran to Suanbo)
Money Spent: ₩4,300 (soy milk + red bean bread + 2 coffees), ₩2,000 (PC Bang) + ₩8,000 (dinner) + ₩40,000 (discounted hotel room)= ₩54,300
Times Lost: 3