The bike path along the Nakdonggang river is an extraordinary feat of Korean infrastructure, providing a channel for bikers to get from Busan in the south up to the middle of the country, whereupon they can find more trails to take them all the way to Seoul. I am one of these grateful and hopeful cyclists, but my gratitude and hope suffered some blows the last few days as it seems even the cyclist’s dream isn’t all downhill.
It took me three hours to cover 20 miles this morning. Three. Cursed. Hours. Entering my third day with still 100km between me and Daegu, the town I expected to meet by the end of the second or third day, I had recalibrated my expected itinerary in case my steadfast pace of ten miles an hour truly couldn’t be conquered. The extra time I imagined I’d have to get to Seoul suddenly vanished in the new math. With new pressure to make sure my conservative estimation isn’t any slower, I started out around 8:30. Early mornings and late afternoons of summer past aren’t available now in winter. With temperatures in the low forties (not such a bother), and winds head-on but milder than the 30km/hr they’ve been the last two days (bigger bother), there was one other threat- almost certain rain or snow throughout Korea. Chin up, captain, this is adventure! Well, damn it all to hell, I decided on another climb an hour later.
These aren’t meant for bikes like Hermes with cargo like I’m carrying. Actually, I’d argue they’re not for bikes at all, because literally 85% of all the ones I pushed Hermes over today were at least 8% grade. Many were 13% for a kilometer at a time. Some warne dof 18% grades. E.I.G.H.T.E.E.N. percent. Pushing Hermes was difficult on foot, but pedaling was impossible. And so, each kilometer walked was almost twenty minutes gone, the impending rain a constant threat. Indeed, today seemed strategically designed to whack me once I had collected myself. A head wind as soon as a climb resolved, rain stopping as soon as I finally gave in and pulled out my rain gear, an ill timed stomach ache, a poorly marked turn in the path. I felt betrayed and confess a but ashamedly to consoling myself on each climb by immediately falling into a heaving mess of tears.
By the end of the day, the trail had driven me enough extra miles and climbs to finally make me break up with it, and I was surprised to feel instantly calmer upon returning to a marked road that I could follow on my map. I got to my goal point much faster, and have found a motel and a bowl of udon to end the day. The bike path is quiet and a relief from cars, but it doesn’t go through towns to give me a feel for what Korea is completely like. I don’t see stores or people, hear conversation, or encounter many sights while I’m achingly pushing out the miles. That drives me to the roads, which truly aren’t as safe, but at least I’m not a nervous wreck repeating, “Lies! Lies!” as the bike path disappears or parts from perfectly flat ground for another climb. I’m not sure what I’m going to do except to start synthesizing roads with the path when possible.
I really want to bike all the way to Seoul- it just feels wrong to get a bus or a train now when the going is tough but the end is in sight. But then again, this may be out of my hands- the snow has come, and it’s a matter of ice in the days ahead.
Still living the dream, just a little more restlessly.