Sunday, June 16, 2013

Cycling Korea - quick dispatch

I'm about 4 days into a great bike tour in Korea, and because the accomodations here are so cilivized that a $30 room has a computer in it I thought I'd create a quick dispatch.  For some reason the blogger site doesn't give me the option to add photos  -which are always a little better  - and I need to hit the road, so I'll keep it quick. 

I'm riding from Busan - the 2nd biggest city in Korea, is the major port for the country, and also the shoe "manufacturing" center (they don't manufacture any more; the Koreans, like the Americans, are "using" (exploiting?) cheap labor across the straight in China and now - more commonly - are moving production to Vietnam) to Seoul.   A couple of years ago the government embarked on an ambitious project to create the "Four Rivers Trail"; a route that uses Korea's four major rivers to enable a nearly car-free bike route the entire 450km.  It's pretty amazing that any government - much less an Asian one - would take on a project like this to enable bike touring. 

When I started looking into it I was all over the 4 rivers route, but then I started thinking wow, that has the potential to be pretty flat and boring riding, and about that same time via the interweb I hooked up with Jan Boonstra, a Dutch (I think) guy who apparently has done a lot of touring in Korea and created a really cool route that uses some of the 4 rivers route but also diverges quite a bit into hillier, more interesting terrain.  The route uses the cycle tracks to exit busy Busan - which was awesome - but then veers off about 10-15 miles from town, and despite the fact that it's no longer on the bike path, like many countries most cars stay on the freeways and for the most part the rural roads are super quiet; few cars and people drive pretty slowly here. 

After a few days following Jan's map I decidedf to veer off and head for one of Korea's revered national parks.  I have always heard that Koreans are mad hikers, and I was keen to go for a big run/hike, and it was Sunday so I'd get the full effect of the Korean hiking experience.  And I was not disappointed.   I hiked/ran up to the highest peak in Seboraksan National park, and I literally saw hundreds and hundreds of people, despite the fact that it was quite steep hike for 3000 or so feet.  The hike itself is a whole story unto itself and I've got some hilarious pictures, which I'll post about separately later. 

Veering off Jan's map was a little daunting because of my lack of knowledge of Korean, the lack of knowledge of the whereabouts of motels (I didn't bring camping gear, and feel like I'm paying $20 for a much-needed shower and $10 for a room/bed; I'm pretty much bathed in sweat all day) but thankfully all the road signs are in English as well and I'm getting a sense of how the roads work - and because of the aforementioned motel room computers I've been able to use google maps to identify a route that I can superimpose on my very broad tourist map (I suppose if I had an I-phone that little task would be taken care of....). 

I've been struggling with the heat/humidity; I've been sweating so much that I think I'm losing salt/electrolytes at a faster rate than I can put back in, and I feel like I've been pretty well-wiped out doing pretty moderate efforts.  I was able to sort of rejuvenate myself late in the day yesterday with a full bag of Korean Bugles!   (which I think I've never eaten in the US). 

I'm now in a town that was 100% displaced around 1985 due to the construction of a dam that seems sorta worthless; the "lake" is probably over 100 feet down from it's high point and appears to be about 5 feet deep, so the town is surprisingly-modern in an otherwise sort of rural part of Korea.  There's a cave here I'm about to go check out (not really sure why, but apparently it's one of the "things to do here" and then leap back on the steed to head towards another national park.  I need to be in Seoul to catch a bus back to Busan on Thursday, so will rattle my way towards that goal.

More later.....hopefully with pics, if I can figure out that part (again, if I only had an i-phone.....)

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