This whole adventure was Sean's doing. It was a trip he had previously done in February, during the winter. Billy and I had a few days off so we thought we would bring our bikes down to Jeollanam-Do and punish ourselves.
This three day trip involved two days of cycling and one whole day of cycling. Day one we rode from Sean's place "Damyang House", which is located in a small farming village next to Gwangju Eco Lake Park to Naejangsan (49km). Day two we hiked the whole mountain rim over six peaks. It was an all day hike. Day three would involve looping back round the north side of the park back to Sean's place via Damyang town.
Let's not forget day zero! Billy and I took the bus from Seoul and arrived into Gwangju early evening. The first stop was one of my favourite galmeggi-sal restaurants. I love the food in Jeollanam-Do and miss it outrageously! It's always a good idea to eat a ton of food the night before you ride. I mean, seriously, what is the point of exercise? It's so you can stuff your face.
That is some funky, old, sour kimchi right there. Mouthwatering stuff.
One of the best things about staying at Damyang House is the fire pit. You can't beat some drinks around a campfire -some beer, some whisky- the perfect way to sabotage your own ride!
We got a late start on Thursday. You see campfires have a strange effect on people, keeping them up until the early hours! We all woke up feeling pretty rough, but having a bamboo forest teeming with wildfire made emerging from our collective hangover much easier.
Meet Gouda! The coolest dog on the planet.
Our bikes: a Donhou, a Bianchi and a Giant.
DAY ONE: Damyang to Naejangsan (49km)
On day one we rode for 49km. There are a couple of climbs totalling 895 metres elevation gain. The ride only took four hours, but we were a little worse for wear from the night before, so it was by no means easy. The route follows the 887 all the way to Damyang town, then you head onto highway 15 until Bukhamyeon, which is by the south entrance of Naejangsan national park. From here you head north on the 49 up the large climb then follow signs to Naejangsan.
The 887. Breezing along just fine, the mountains barely in sight.
I quickly replaced my handlebar tape at the most inappropriate time...as we were leaving. I went for a summer time vibe!
That summer time vibe got dampened pretty quickly! This was the first of much roadkill on the ground. We saw plenty of dead birds, chipmunks and snakes. We even saw a dead cat. Damn those cars!
After Bukhamyeon -on road 49- the mountains and the trees close in on you as the approach the longest climb of the ride.
Switchbacks! Hairpin bends!
Almost at the top Sean!
The first view towards Naejangsan national park.
Jeollabuk-Do...the northern Jeolla province.
For some reason they put a lot of money into developing the 49, but nobody uses it. We had this whole 4-lane highway to ourselves. It was odd.
The downhill begins...and it was one of the best downhills I've ever ridden: lots of twisting and turning and stunning views at every corner!
"IT'S LIKE THE LOST WOOOOOOOOORLD, MAN!!!"
Sean, aka 독스리 finds the perfect momento to take home.
My personal favourite was the bike/penis combo sculpture - both adventurous and good for fertility.
동동주(dong dong ju)... It would be rude not to sample some of the local stuff! And so it begins!
There is a huge abandoned hotel by the park. It's long past it's glory days. Whoever is planning on redeveloping this is out of their mind. It is far beyond repair. There were huge holes in the concrete on most of the floors.
We stayed at a cheap minbak with garish lights. It only cost 30,000 KRW per night for the room. Having planned to only have a few drinks we got a little carried away. We started off at the local CU mart then headed back to the minbak. 6 hours later and several more trips back to the store we eventually hit the hay around 3am. Key conditioning for the hike, of course! Morons!
DAY TWO: Naejangsan hike
The dreaded 곱등히 (cave crickets). The blighters were EVERYWHERE out doors. The road was covered in them either hopping around or just splattered. They were huge, but not even close to to the size of the ones we saw on Tsushima Island in Japan in 2012.
The trail head is about 2km from the village. There is a shuttle bus that costs 1,000 KRW that takes you right into the park, but we just walked it.
The start of the hike is a very steep trail up through the lush forest all the way up to the rim of the mountain range. Naejangsan is a range of peaks shaped like a horse shoe. It is hands down one of the most beautiful national parks in Korea yet we barely saw anybody up on those trails. Apparently it is incredibly popular in Autumn when all the Maple leaves turn red, but nobody cares for it the rest of the year round. It's criminal.
The first proper glimpse of the mountain ridge.
You can't see much at the actual first peak, but right after it is an opening on top of a massive cliff with incredible panoramic views. It's at this moment when you realise just how far you are going to have to hike. Yikes!
"We've got to go all the way over there...and back?!"
신선봉 Shinseongbong, the highest peak.
At this point the trail seemed to disappear, then we realised we had to climb up some rocks and walk along the top of this epic humongous cliff. I wasn't amused.
Going down? Rope. Not as bad as the stairs!
And now for the stairs.
Unfortunately the most scenic peaks would be completely inaccessible if it weren't for these horrendously steep stairs. My knees are weeping just thinking about them.
"NO MORE STAIRS!"
더덕 동동주 Deodeok dong dong ju - the local style which is made using deodeok, a root similar to ginseng, but which tastes far nicer!
I would get a coffee, but....
We finished the night with some 닭토리탕 dalktori tang - a spicy chicken soup. Protein please! We promptly passed out in the minbak. No hijinks tonight.
DAY THREE: Naejangsan to Damyang (69km)
The first 8km are pretty decent heading north out of the National Park past Naejang reservoir. Then you head along the 29, where the first and biggest ascent starts (about 8km of climbing, be warned). You follow this road all the way to Damyang town. From there the loop closes as you join the 887 and head back towards Damyang House by Gwangju Eco Lake.
순두부 찌개 sundubu jjigae. This cost 10,000 KRW and it was a very large serving. I couldn't finish mine. It was chock full of clams and an entire crab. The side dishes were also off the hook! The restaurant was just by the turn off onto the 29. But be warned, for some reason they haven't signed the turn of onto the 29 when you are exiting from Naejangsan National Park. Keep your eyes peeled. There are some marts on either side of the turn off and a big red love motel on the 29.
And so the climbing begins...again!
One of many dead chipmunks on the road.
"Eat more Butterbeans!"
"SNAAAAAAKE!!! Oh, it's dead"
Sean saw a much larger live snake, but I missed it. British people don't have the eyes for snake hunting.
I hippified my bike for a little while, until a downhill destroyed the flowers.
Back in Jeollanam-Do!
A massive toad just crawling across the road. A minor miracle that it didn't get squished.
Back at Damyang House we had a celebratory beer and compared farmer tans.
Then the barbecue! Pork tenderloin and samgyupsal. It took several hours to prepare and just ten minutes for us ravenous animals to wolf it down...
...then more beer.
It's pretty hard to tear yourself away from Sean and Jojo's house. It's definitely my favourite spot in Korea. They are hiring it out as a pension. Check out their website for more information: damyanghouse.blogspot .
Bye bye Jojo and Gouda!