part one - part two - part three
If you've ever spent any time in Korea you'll be more than familiar with the population's obsession with taking hobbies to the limits, spending obscene amounts of money on professional gear for amateur activities. You see couples taking photos of each other on DSLRs worth thousands of dollars and people throwing their money away on golfing gear when there isn't a golf course in sight. Cycling isn't exempt either. Just take a ride along the river Han and you'll bare witness to hundreds of people cycling along on the most expensive hi-tech bicycles at the most casual pace imaginable. This applies to clothing as well. In Asia people like to stay pale and keep covered in the sun. There are many cyclists who can be seen cruising along without a single bit of skin being exposed to the sunlight because they are covered head to toe in black lycra, with sunglasses, masks and gloves to boot. It dawned on me that if one of these cyclists chose to attack me it would literally be impossible for me to identify them. "CYCLOPATH" was born. I think this would be a great premise for a B horror movie. The title and concept is there, it just needs to be made!
Day Three: Chungju to Bongyang.
Day Three Route: 150km
The weather was pretty grey for most of day two so it felt good to emerge from our slumber to bright blue skies. We didn't realise it at the time, but this was to be a very long day by our standards, so it was good to have weather on our side.
Not another 7/11! We stocked up on some snacks and powerade to tuck into whilst on the road. We would soon be sick of drinking that filth. Then we located the closest and cheapest restaurant we could find - you guessed it - Kimbap Cheonguk. There's always one knocking about in the vicinity and they are dirt cheap
For the first part of the day we went along the highway. It wasn't too bad so we though we could shave a few km off this way, but the terrain started to become more mountainous and when that happens road tunnels come with the territory. I've cycled through the shorter of the tunnels going under Namsan in Seoul and that was a horrible experience. None of us had the desire to try anything similar on a highway where the cars would be flashing by at 100km and the tunnels so long that the air quality would be toxic.
At this point we exited and took an old winding highway that makes its way up over a few mountain passes whilst the new highway just goes straight under them. The cycling was going to be tough but much more agreeable. These roads were almost completely dead, so we could wind across them and take our time without worrying about getting flattened by oncoming traffic.
On these roads you can find a lot of abandoned restaurants that clearly lost all of their business when the more direct highway was built. Of course our curiosity meant a stop was in order so we could have a little rummage through the debris.
It's a little odd to think that at some point there were diners wolfing down their food at this spot.
Looks of glee after a spell of epic downhill coasting.
Another beast lies ahead. I think this was to be the highest climb of the tour. It was a long and slow climb. Tim had it coming on his single speed. Actually, we all had it coming with or without gears.
The climbs begins.
Unflattering photo break.
The first flowers of spring. They really stand out when the rest of the landscape is brown. In Korea colours don't really come to life until summer and autumn. Of course there are some beautiful flowers coming into bloom, especially the cherry blossoms, but the rice paddies are just brown all winter and spring. This in contrast to the UK where the fields remain green all year.
Like I said before, this road was so empty that you could just zig zag back and forth to make the climb a little shallower.
Finally we arrived at the top of the pass "Ihwaryeong". We rolled into a service station with a car park that made the most of the view of the surrounding valley. True to form for a service station old-fashioned Korean trot music was blaring out, fast-paced and keyboard heavy with wailing vocals (not dissimilar to some of the tunes on the Radio Pyongyang compilation by Sublime Frequencies). It's a popular place to go hiking but there wasn't a soul around. It was a Tuesday after all - I guess that's one of the benefits of cycling midweek.
This chilli fiend was the only person I remember seeing up there. Thumbs up!
Now for another epic downhill into the next province - Gyeongsangbuk-Do.
I rode ahead to get some footage of Hassan, Tim and Gibby cruising down the hill. They took their time so I took some vanity shots! Facebook where are you?
"I SHOULD HAVE PUT ON MY WINDBREAKEEERRRRR!", Gibby.
Looking back towards Ihwaryeong pass and Joryeongsan mountain.
Tenpin Bowling, country style! I wish we'd had time to stop off for a frame or two.
This is the start of a detour we made. It was a pleasant mistake. We headed up along this river next to an old rail track that didn't seem to get much use.
After this we back tracked a bit and headed along the highway for a few km. Some old lady nearly drove me off the road despite there being 3 lanes and virtually no other traffic. Some people just hate cyclists (or maybe just bicycles)! Needless to say I didn't take any photos on that stretch because it was a highway and I didn't fancy dying. Also I had no desire to take any pictures of that sort of thing.
After we got off the highway we hit a patch of almost unparalleled perfection for cycling. It was completely flat and there was zero traffic. The roads were lined with cherry blossoms and we were about to hit up an amazing restaurant for lunch where we would eat so much food we could barely get back on our feet let alone our bicycles!
Looking back into the distance, flatness!
Cherry blossoms! We went to a restaurant at the end of this road and took a break for over an hour. The best bit was the cheongukjang and the fish they gave us. Burp! We couldn't resist having a beer or two with the meal.
After our late lunch we would be cycling for a very long time along paths and roads with virtually no cars. It was heaven. The son shone down across the rivers and the light was becoming more golden as it approached sunset.
I fell off this sketchy bridge whilst taking this photo. Fortunately only my back wheel ended up in the water. That served me right for not focussing on the job.
Time to push. I was loving my gears at this point.
Don't look back in anger, Tim!
After following this river for quite some time we headed into deepest darkest farming country. It felt great. Boonstra's advice was "if in doubt turn left". It worked! The wisest words I've ever heard! Thanks Jan! This was seriously remote and it was good to feel so far removed from Seoul.
As the sun got lower in the sky we knew we had to start thinking about getting some accommodation. We passed through a village with a load of motels called Gudam. It would have been the perfect spot to settle down for the night, but we knew there was a huge hill coming up ahead. It made sense to get that beast out of the way before we called it a day so that we could have an easy start the next day. There was a little village about 10km further on called Sinpyeong. According to Jan Boonstra's map there were no motels there, but we were sure we would be able a little minbak there to sleep at.
This hill was a beast. We sure couldn't wait to get to Sinpyeong. The sun was setting fast.
The reward for getting up a hill is the view... and of course bombing down the other side. This downhill in particular felt amazing! There were heaps of hairpin bends switching back and forth all the way to Sinpyeong. As soon as we pulled into the village we tried to sniff out somewhere to sleep. This place was much tinier than we had imagined. We looked around but couldn't find any accommodation. Boonstra's maps were correct, there was nowhere to stay in this town. We went to the police station to see if they could point us in the right direction, but they had shut up shop. We asked a couple of locals and we eventually got some information out of them. We would have to cycle a further 30km to the next town before we would find anywhere to stay.
Leaving Sinpyeong this fire was the last substantial amount of light that we would see until we got to Bongyang. It got dark pretty much instantly after this, but the real ball ache was that only two of us had decent enough lights for cycling in the dark. Before leaving Seoul we didn't think we would do any cycling at night, it wasn't part of the plan, but as everybody with an ounce of sense knows, not everything goes according to plan. Bollocks!
The road from Sinpyeong onwards was a slow gradual uphill. We had to creep along in a pack so we could share the light from two bike lights we had. Luckily the light which I had was outrageously bright, the type that an ajossi would use on his bike, so bright it would leave you dazzled if you were cycling in the opposite direction. With fresh batteries it could light up the side of an apartment block! It did the trick and lit up the road ahead enough for us all to get a clear view of the road surface so we could avoid any potholes. Obviously traffic should have been a danger factor but there was virtually none so that was that.
In the daytime it got pretty hot when cycling, but after dark the temperature dropped dramatically. With wind chill thrown in for good measure our 40 digits were freezing and the gloves we had were - put simply - crap. Soon all of our water bottles had emptied, and the very last of our snacks had ran out. It was a sluggish grind. We were running on empty.
At one point we pulled over at some kind of office or workspace. We badgered the people working there for more information in the vain hope that they would tell us there was a motel or something close by, but they didn't. We had to head to Bongyang no matter what. I dreamt of going to sleep in that office. They let us fill up our bottles then we pressed on.
When we eventually got closer to Bongyang we could see the neon motel signs from way off in the distance. It felt like were were chasing those signs but they were trying to get away. My knees were starting to complain. Reaching Bongyang should have been a relief, but we were so shattered we didn't enjoy the moment. Hassan negotiated with some motels and we ended up staying in one that had a restaurant and a sauna. They kept the restaurant open for us and cooked us up some much needed dinner whilst we drank some cold beer. Having cycled 150km we crashed out.
Had we chosen to spend the night in Gudam we would have cycled only 110km on day three.
part one - part two - part three