Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sokcho to Gyeungju to Busan Bike Trip (FINAL)

I'm back home from the bike trip! It was awesome, F-R-E-E-D-O-M for 4 straight days, no teaching, no classrooms, no students, just time to explore South Korea. During the trip I bicycled across many coastal mountains, passed seashores, forests, and met many kind and friendly Korean people of all ages.

In Gangneung, I stayed at a Jim-Jil-Bang and repaired my Ipod at a local PC Bong. I met a helpful guy named Sanghwan Lee "Mr.Lee" who gave detailed directions to find my Jim-Jil-Bang (sauna/sleeping house) for the night. Sanghwan sent word after my trip, Thanks Mr. Lee! ^^++ After I repaired the mp3 player, I soaked in hot tubs and saunas for a few hours and relieved all the stress from my muscles. The sleeping rooms are spacious, but people are moving around for most of the night, if you want to sleep eight hours, better take a motel room ^^++. The bike ride was already paying off, I had seen so much beautiful scenery already from Sokcho down to Gangneung, a 6 hour bicycle ride for the first day.

The next day, from Gangneung, I rode through drizzle and occasional pouring rain (cats and dogs!) and finally stopped at a cozy restaurant in Samcheok. The meal was delicious and I was sleepy, everything I was wearing was completely wet, everything else in my clothing selection was also soaked. I spent an hour and a half reflecting on the rain outside, while watching a wooden waterfall paddle-wheel rolling in the front yard. When I paid the bill, I explained that I was traveling to Gyeongju, the mother/owner and her two sons urged me to take a bus, they suggested it might be 350km's to Gyeongju...and it was still raining. I agreed with them, and the truck/bus/car traffic was noisy along the highway with the wet pavement. In a way, I "wimped out" and rode to the Samcheok Express Bus Terminal.

In about 30 minutes, a bus was arriving bound for Pohang in Gyeongsanbuk-do province. It would slice 3.5 hours off my entire bike trip, but considering my circumstances and the weather, I chose a warm, dry, and comfortable bus ride to Pohang. Since, I shortened the trip by an actual 20 hours (my average speed on those mountains was a mere 10km/h...and 50km/h on steep descents). Only 3.5 hours to travel an actual 200km on the deluxe express bus, unbelievable!

I arrived in Pohang around 6pm, and asked around for directions to the nearest Jim-Jil-Bang (sauna/sleep/family guesthouse). Everyone was helpful again...Koreans always want to help, I see this everywhere I have gone on this bike, truly sincere people, I love them! ^^++ The Jim-Jil-Bang in Pohang was clean, comfortable, and welcoming too! It was also so inexpensive, I stayed the entire night, soaked in jacuzzi tubs, saunas, and cold tubs, and ice rooms, and ate traditional Korean food, and had a 20-minute massage ($1.00 automated leather chairs) all for less than an entree at an Outback Steakhouse or something similar. I also met an amazingly friendly family whom I spent most of the time with. They took some pictures of our group together...I really hope they send them shortly, so I can post them on this blog ("POHANG FRIENDS" photo). The father worked for POSCO Steel 30+ years, and had three children, 2 daughters (Josette/Eun) and her sister(both attending universities in Seoul, and his son Matthew who was a middle school student. His English name is Matthew, and he and his cousin and another close friend followed me around the Jim-Jil-Bang...the restaurant...the cold rooms..the hot sauna rooms...and the family recreation/relaxtion area where I met their entire family! The boys told funny jokes and playfully made fun of each other. They also suggested names for my first baby, we're expecting this coming February. I really miss them and hope they send email soon to keep in touch!

The following day was rainy (what a surprise!) but I had laid out all my cycling clothes in the 40 degree Celcius sauna rooms (never do this in Korea!!!) and everything was dry. I geared up after grabbing hot shower and another 3 hard-baked sauna eggs at the Jim-Jil-Bang. I ate those eggs everyday of my trip! They are full of protein and easily digested on a light stomach...makes cycling a lot easier. I loaded my thrifty tupperwear travel case on my rack, and started off the next morning for Gyeongju. It was an easy ride for a single day, although it was still rainy, it was only a mist and this was certainly a blessing compared with the previous day's ride.

Well, I arrived in Gyeongju and it started to rain, so I just kept riding until I found the Train Terminal, and when I did it stopped raining completely, and then the sun came out, oh yeah! It was gorgeous, glorious, and I just couldn't believe I had finally arrived. At the information center, next to the train station, they gave me directions to the Seo-Cheon Guesthouse, which is the cheapest accomodation with rooms for two, I stayed alone in a private Korean-style room complete with TV,etc..for only $15 a night. Most guests were staying 2-4 per room, or $7.50...$2.50 per person. What a deal for a clean and comfortable accomodation...better than the HILTON! Ha! ^^++

Here's a complete list of Gyeongju accomodations for you to choose from - Use this link to the Seo-Cheon Backpackers & other inexpensive hotels/yeogwons. The Seo-cheon Guesthouse or Yeogwon in Korean is operated by Mr. Park. The yeogwon was basic, but the rooms were comfortable and clean, the owner is very friendly and helpful too! It's located two blocks from the Gyeongju Express Bus Terminal, easy to find from the train terminal downtown. First, I cycled through the shopping district downtown and had a few tasty cold ones before returning to the Guest House. There, I met a group of Economics majors from Shanghai and did a night tour of the Daereung-won Royal Tombs. Later I met a group of Super-Cool, Expat-American English teachers that invited me in for cards, and conversational English (heehee!) they were all warm and welcoming. I had coffee and Korean Song-Pyong with them in the morning and gave Jenn (NYC) my contact info before riding south to Seokguram Grotto and distant Busan. These Song-Pyong are similar to Mooncakes I ate before in China. Later the same day, I met Dirk from Belgium in the early afternoon nearby Bulguksa Buddhist temple and ate Bi-Bim-Bop under deep blue skies with white pillowy clouds rolling overhead. Gyeongju was miraculous, full of history, interesting places, and friendly people (Korean & foreign) from everywhere. I recommend reading Jenn's accounts of Korea, she's informative and entertaining in her reports. Link to: Jenn's Adventures of an Ex-PatI also met a couple who are teaching at the English Village in Paju, they really recommend that job for enjoyable ESL teaching/living conditions in Korea. You can find more information about Paju English Village by searching Google. Finally, it was farewell time for Gyeongju city, and time to ride 18km's southeast to Bulguksa Buddhist Temple, and Seokguram Grotto home to a well-hidden treasured stone Buddha. ^^++

After visiting Mt. Tohamsan, I was back on my bike heading south along Route 7 to Ulsan. After passing Ulsan-si (city), it was getting late and the highway was not well-lit (completely dark actually, apart from headlights of the passing cars). I climbed a 3km grade over a mountain and stopped 50m from the top. My energy was totally consumed. I ran out of water and didn't have even a candy bar to nibble on. I dreamed of falling asleep standing up. Finally, I gave it one last push and reaching the Hyundai Oilbank station. There I met two more wonderful Koreans, Gwang Myeong Lee and Mr. Park and they welcomed me for Korean Thanksgiving with hot coffee and Korean Ddukk rice cakes. They were extremely welcoming and they took some photos of us together. They gave me a place to rest so I could finish the final 40kms into Busan. Thanks Guys! ^^++ Heaven!

The ride from Gyeongju city to Busan was very long for a single day. I was a little rushed to get back to Mi Sung, so I started at 10:30am and didn't quit until 9:30pm. I finally reached the Busan city limits and followed directions from people I passed along the way towards the Express Bus Terminal. It was impossible to miss, and my bus to Seoul was leaving in just 30 minutes, the timing was return bus trip during the Chuseok Thanksgiving holiday, took 8.5 hours, traveling only 400kms, now that's a lot of traffic!

In just one day, I rode from Gyeongju city, to those shots of Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple on Mt. Tohamsan. Then, onto Ulsan, South Korea and finally Busan, South Korea. The trip took two parts, each segment took 20 hours. I completed the trip in 40 hours crossing over 450km of mountains, peaks and valleys, police, new friends, 4 holes in the rear tire, free coffee at every gas station we stopped along our route, and a return to the bike, my two-wheeled friend. I haven't ridden any distance like this since 1990-1991 when I rode to Grand Bend, Ontario with Ciro Viviano a couple times, those trips were 240km each way relatively flat terrain, it took us 10 hours each way (6am Windsor, 4pm Grand Bend, vice versa for the return). What I learned from all those hours of huffing and puffing over one mountain and the next, was that Korea is a really mountainous country!

The missing second half of this trip took 2 days and I completed the entire journey a few weeks ago. Samcheok, South Korea to Pohang, South Korea covered 200km. Since I missed this segment of the trip during the rainy Korean Chuseok (Thanksgiving), I returned to complete the entire distance on a bike.

From Ansan-city, Gyunggi-province, I took a subway to Seoul Express Bus Terminal, and traveled back to Samcheok to complete the northeast to southeast route. It was tough to pack 200kms in a weekend, so I rode 'like a Phoenix rising out of the ashes', and with Mr. Cho-In Gwang's help, we covered 140km in a day together. The weather was extraordinary (near perfect with lots of sunshine and only a few clouds in the sky) we hammered the pavement for hours and hours together. I started off from Samcheok, Kangwon-do province at 11:30am...while Mr. Cho started from Gangneung north of me at 10:00am. After my police escort to leave the Asian highway, then a miserable 4km mountain climb to the coast (photo of the red posted "danger" sign written in Korean Hangeul), I dropped into a small Korean town and had ice cream with Mr. Cho. He happened to be riding in the same direction that day, actually his destination was Daegu, South Korea. We didn't know each other previously, and had no idea we were heading in the same direction until that moment. So, we decided to team up and I shut off the mp3, I didn't need it anymore because I had someone to talk to. It was an amazing ride that lasted until 2am! We were both so beaten up from riding the distance we finally rode into a small town and Mr. Cho located a comfortable Yeogwon/Guesthouse. These accomodations have spacious single rooms, traditional Korean style, similar to the Seo-Cheon Yeogwon in Gyeongju. We slept like rocks in the bottom of the ocean that night, all for $20 split between the two of us. Korea bike travel is simply, inexpensive. ^^++

"Life is a highway, I want to ride it all night long!" Tom Cochrain.

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About the Korean-World Author

Brian Perich was an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) lecturer for a decade, father, and adventure cyclist based in South Korea.

Previously, Brian has led Canoe adventures in Quetico Provincial Park, Atikokan, Ontario, Canada (1993/1999); led Grand American camping adventures (2000); lived at Paramahansa Yogananda's SRF Ashram for 5 months (see the film "AWAKE"), formerly worked in titanium welding at Agilent Technologies, formerly worked in Winery industry in Marin County with Kendall Jackson in California; Surfing and Meditation continued for several years in California, British Columbia, South Korea, Yoga training in California 1999-2000.

Between 1994-1998 - Brian completed his own adventures with motorcycles. His motorcycling marathons took him across the United States and central/western Canada, while traveling solo over an astounding 24,000km in 60 days! Brian endured 900 mile/1300km average days in the motorcycle saddle and apparently loved every minute of those adventures.

Today, he has given up motorcycle adventures altogether, but finds an outlet for his enthusiasm in outdoor recreation while bicycle touring and micro-blogging about those experiences on his mountain bikes.

While employed as an English teacher in South Korea, Brian has became an advocate for bicycle touring on his mountain bikes. The Korean-World blog originated from those small adventures in Korea, now expanded to cover his recent trek down the TransMongolian highway to the Gobi Desert, cycling 900km east through the Khentii grasslands and in 2012 crossing Mongolia in 45 days, 2500 kilometers 1553 miles. HimalayasX expedition Brian previously cycled across western China, the Taklamakan Desert, the northern Himalayas of East Turkestan Xinjiang/Uyghur Autonomous Region, the corrugated back roads and mountains of Kham Tibet. Brian successfully completed his 2011 mountain bike expedition with 3200 kilometers / 1988 miles unsupported, on/off road MTB adventure cycling.
Brian has completed his second mountain bike journey, MongoliaX expedition - Crossing Mongolia 2012, an unsupported mountain bike MTB expedition across 2500km of Outer Mongolia from Ulanbaatar to Altai Taven-Bogd National Park bordering China, Russia and Mongolia.

In 2013, as a sequel to a trilogy of cycle tours, Brian enjoyed a more leisure bicycle tour onboard his Koga-Miyata World Traveller seeing the northern tier of the United States and western Canada covering 3400 kilometers / 2000 miles in 30 days. This North American cycle tour was called Totherocktour. Enjoying the adventure of bicycle travel and every great conversation started while traveling on the road - has refueled his inspirations to cycle around the Earth. In 2013, while he cycled solo from the Great Lake State of Michigan, United States to Banff National Park in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. He weaved through local communities and reconnected with friends, family and community after spending almost a decade in Asia.

Brian is now supporting several non-profit foundations through expeditions: IDEAS Foundation of Canada IDEAS is the acronym for Intestinal Disease Education and Awareness Society which supports the IBD community, those suffering from IBD-inflammatory bowel disease, also known as Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis.

The second non-profit foundation is ETE.ORG - Education Through Expeditions, UK which supports educational outreach programs inside schools around the world. ETE connects explorers with students in the classroom, through an interactive online program in development (Beta).

Brian is researching support for a 18000 kilometer bicycle expedition across the Americas: North, Central and South America - ONE -Arctic to Argentina
Please contact him if you are interested in helping out.

Twitter: Cycleagain
Location: Gangneung, Gangwon-do, South Korea or southern Ontario, Canada.

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Brian's friends have also been...Cycling in Korea!

Brian's friends have also been...Cycling in Korea!

Cycling in Korea, Warning: always wear a helmet! (I gave mine to my friend)

Cycling in Korea, Warning: always wear a helmet! (I gave mine to my friend)

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