Saturday, June 29, 2013

Korea bike touring wrap up

While it’s tempting to fall into the trap of writing in the style of “Day 1, I woke up, had some breakfast, and rode my bike through the Korean countryside until I found a nice motel and had a really interesting dinner before a settling into a much-needed sleep” I find those kinds of tales to be the least-creative and most-boring types of tales, so I’ll avoid that.  And my en route post of last week was a good general summary of what my trip was like, so I’ll add a little to that here. 

Generally I found the cycling in Korea to be great; they have put in an ambitious effort to create a lot of long bike paths (I was able to ride straight into the heart of Seoul with nary a single car to deal with!  Just needed to watch out for the many cyclists) and off those paths the secondary roads were generally lightly traveled with slow, courteous drivers.  The only thing lacking was detailed maps using english characters; this was actually a bit surprising since – fortunately – all the road signs were done in both Korean and english, which meant that I didn’t have to spend a lot of time trying to decipher the Korean characters.  As I had moved off of Jan Boonstra’s map I was navigating by a very large-scale tourist map and the sun, which worked fine until it started raining and the sun was gone.  As I was trying to exit a biggish city I rode for a couple of hours trying to navigate my way out north of the area using smaller roads only to stop at one point and realize that I had done an exact loop back to an earlier spot.   But at least I knew where I was!  But the day ended nicely as I sniffed out a riparian bike path for about 50km that whisked me down to a town with not only a motel to dry off but also a super-cool museum of Buddhist carvings and artifacts.  And that town was on the Four Rivers cycling route, so the next day I rode the last hundred km along it to Seoul. 

Once in Seoul I had gotten the beta that the Bukansan national park was worthy of a visit.  This is a great place: it’s literally within the Seoul city limits, and to access it I took the subway for 45 minutes, got off, ran through an urban area (that included brand-specific stores by The North Face, Mountain Hardware, Merrell, Gregory, etc) and hit the relatively burly trails.  The trail I chose went up 750m (2300 or so feet) in 2.5km (less than 2 miles) for an average grade of approximately 30%; they don’t mess around with silly low-angle trails and switchbacks!  Not surprisingly, this national park officially (according to the omnipotent Guiness) has the highest visitors per land mass of any national park in the world; ie it’s the most crowded!  Clearly the aforementioned mad Korean hikers love to take advantage of the convenience to the 8M people in Seoul.  Regardless of its popularity, it’s got some dramatic granite faces with brilliant splitter cracks, and I know that there are two classic climbs called “Chouinard A” and Chouinard B” from YC’s time spent there as an Army guy (NOT the Korean war; he’s not that old!). 

Overall Korea is a worthy cycling destination in that it has all the correct components:  nice rolling terrain in rural areas, not a lot of traffic, relatively quiet cities, cheap/nice/well-spaced motels, a deep, rich culture that is quite different than ours, great food, and  - a bit unusually – incredibly simple access in and out of the major cities on perfect bike paths.  The only negatives are the lack of maps in english, lack of ANYONE outside of Seoul who speaks english and a challenging language to “learn” (though the numbers are quite easy), high heat/humidity in the summer, and lack of decent camping opportunities (no campgrounds and pretty much every inch of arable land is cultivated and otherwise there’s thick undergrowth.  But the cheap/plentiful/nice motels make up for the lack of camping, and that means less stuff to carry…..

Following are 90 pics with captions, if you are so inclined....
As I left Busan on the bike path, they had some benches that provided beautifiul freeway overlooks. 

The concept of Korean “exercise” is mostly unresisted movement.

This guy had a mobile bike shop; he parked alongside the bike path and sold bike stuff

Tubes, bells, blinky lights, tools, etc

This bike path is right on the outskirts of Busan, a city of several million people.  Hard to believe.

The Koreans do not mess around with lame bikes

A few km from Busan I met this owner of a bike shop.  He was excited to hear that I was from Reynolds (wheels) hometown.

When I saw “information” at the top of this sign, I was psyched  Unfortunately, the rest of the actual information was in Korean….

This guy wouldn’t sell me half a melon, understandably.  I couldn’t really fathom eating a whole watermelon, throwing away half, or toting most of one, so I didn’t do anything

Not really sure of the reason for or appeal of this “building”

I remembered that the Nazi swastika was an adaptation of this, which is a holy emblem on Buddhist temples.  Such painful irony. 

Leaving the idyllic bike paths for the roads wasn’t that bad.  A pretty typical scene, with pretty typical traffic. 

a clearly very-staged photo

taking a break from the burly flat terrain

I found out later that Korean “bullfighting” is actually that: they put two bulls in a ring to do a sort of bovine sumo match. 

Some locals who got a big kick out of the traveling gringo

The guy on the left surprised me by speaking good english; he had served with Americans in the war. 

A far cry from my buddy’s Pinarellos and Ridleys!

Tilling a rice paddy.  Pretty impressive that the engine wouldn’t get flooded.

I rode through what appeared to be a big garlic area.  I think it’s the national flower! 

I was there during the harvest, and I could smell garlic in the air. 

Traffic Jam

More traffic

This bike’s name was not thought of by a marketing expert….

12.9 percent at the end of a hot day took its toll on me....

Apparently “KOM 1km” needs no translation (if you’re a bike geek, that is; “King of the Mountain” in one kilometer, for non-geeks; consider yourselves lucky!)

More great bike paths

Traditionally Korean people have slept on the floor. 

At the end of a 150 km day, I ended up at this “motel” that was a traditional-style home. 

My nice proprietoresses

I stumbled into a cool museum of masks; it focused on local traditional masks like these

some more awesome masks

cracking myself up

some ladies psyched to have their picture taken

At a traditional village that servd aed as both a museum and a "real" community, people apparently didn't want to actually walk the 1 sq mile. 

another way to avoid walking
It was a great place to continue my quest to create a coffee table book called “Tourists Around The World”

This was a presentation that only happens on weekends at one time, and I happened to bumble into it.

It is a big favorite of kids, which was a bit weird considering that the climax was the evisceration of the “cow

I went to a cave that was actually quite cool and tried to take some pictures until I realized that photos of caves are totally lame

This city was completely relocated in the mid-80’s due to displacement from a dam

The best bridge to nowhere I’ve seen.  Pretty big bridge that was pretty much done, but literally went from nowhere to nowhere.

It was nice to know that I was entering a “Heavenly Blessed Land”. I was hoping that it would manifest itself in not getting hit by a car.

I got pretty hammered by the heat/humidity and got pretty de-electrolyted; I hoped that Korean pizza was a good recharge!

Koreans make plenty of money, and many of the big American athletic companies are queued up to separate the Koreans from their won. 

I like trying street food, and Korea had plenty of opportunities for it

with plenty of chilies! 

As I tried to exit the only big city I encountered I saw these cranes/herons doing some fishing; and later I was psyched that I had taken noticed it and taken a picture because after 2 hours of riding I found myself right back at the exact same spot

I’m not sure how this could possibly happen, but it looked like an exciting opportunity

This path had a couple of miles of trestles

So stoked to have gotten out of the city and off the main highways in the rain

I stumbled into a super cool museum of Buddhist artifacts and wood carvings done by a Korean artist who lived on the grounds. 

How can you not think Buddhism is cool when it’s full of guys like this?

This is an example of a Boddishativa, which enlightened beings who give up their sweet state of enlightened peace to go back among the sentient beings to help them attain enlightenment.  Nice guys! 

Some locals

Out on a hike up into the mountains I came across this temple, which was quite a ways up a steep trail.

There was a chain called “Paris Baguette” that took me a few days to discover. 

The gratuitous Buddha.  Impressive that they were able to carry it up into the hills to the temple

Because the trail was steep….

The Koreans are mad hikers.  

 And they take their “trail building” seriously. 
 They take their gear seriously:  “Technical Expert”
They also take their summit picnicking seriously!

 this guy was definitley "Extreme"
I really got into appreciating the Korean culture….

One of the few english speakers I met; she gave me a personalized tour of the buddhist museum. 

 a pretty typical Korean dinner (and lunch, and breakfast) spread....
And a pretty typical gringo enjoying a typical spread

I wasn’t the only one appreciating the bike paths; Koreans are pretty avid cyclists, both for getting around….

I'm not sure, but I think this says "Korea loves bikes!"

As I approached Seoul there were a good handful of bike path-based restaurants

Completely supported by cyclists

The lovely proprietress, who served me a great dish of spicy-but-iced noodles

I worked a paceline with this “team” for about an hour as I got closer to Seoul

to reiterate: these guys don't mess around with cheap bikes! 

I took a beautiful, quiet bike path along the river right into the heart of downtown Seoul.  This guy helped me navigate off it into the city. 
Some awesome street food

I asked “is this pyrannha?” (in English) and she nodded vigorously, so I went with it! 

Seoul has a national park within the city limits that you can take the subway to. They proudly point to the fact that it’s the most crowded national park in the world. 

Gratuitous summit shot.   750m in 2.5km; an average of 30%!

It was so hard to resist not giving this temple bell a huge ring!

it was nice to see a brand near and dear to to my heart was there to separate Koreans from their wons. 
All in all a great country for bike touring; very user friendly, nice people, good accomodations, hilly without being burly, good food, and an interesting and rich culture.