I bought my bike back in March, with the main purpose of getting it so that I could complete this trip. As the weather got nicer, I tried to put in a 50km ride a week to get my legs back into cycling as it has been years since I’ve ridden regularly. My road bike was a tad on the small size for me, but for the price I couldn’t complain and it would do the job whilst I’m here. My bike has been great for just getting around Daegu as well as for training rides. The roads are a nightmare here for cyclists, but I’ve gotten around unscathed.
A month or so before my trip I got in touch with my friend Will in search of camping gear and panniers that I could borrow and ended up with not only that, but also a ride partner for the trip. Going round the week before I added a rack and bags onto my bike and changed over my pedals so that I could clip in. I was a bit worried about my bike’s rear tyres surviving with the added weight over them and the closeness of my heels against the panniers were very tight, but it was always going to be a makeshift touring setup and I’d have to make do.
We had a tent, couple of sleeping bags, mini stove, coffee setup and our cycling clothes for the week. It was remarkable how quickly our bags loaded up, and the bikes were going to take some pulling compared to how they usually ride.
The bit of the ride I was least looking forward to was the morning ride from my apartment to the bus terminal. The roads were a bit wet from the overnight rain, but luckily, against the forecast, it had stopped raining. The handling of my bike with all the luggage made me a bit more nervous in the morning traffic, but I got to station with plenty of time to spare and we were first in line to load our bikes onto the bus. You hear stories of people arriving for the bus only to find that the luggage storage is full and they’re left stuck – something we definitely wanted to avoid.
The journey was smooth and arriving into Incheon we jumped on the subway up to river where we would be starting our journey. The weather was perfect, a nice bright day, but not too hot. We got going into our journey along the fairly busy path into Seoul.
Our start wasn’t the smoothest. At 58 minutes in, what I had been worried about happened, with the leaking of air out of my rear tyre, a small hole straight through it. I’d brought a spare tube with me and Will had a spare tyre, but upon examining it, it looked worse for wear than what I was riding on. So I threw in the tube and inflated it carefully to make sure it was nicely seated and off we rode again. I was very careful over the bumps, looking carefully for any little stones, having very little confidence in my bike. Images of punctures hitting every hour or so were strong in my mind.
We got going and up to fast pace, day one excitement and freshness pushing us too fast. Unfortunately we weren’t paying a ton of attention as we followed the river path, and after a while realised we’d spent a good 30 minutes riding down a detoured river path and had to backtrack for a while.
We were back onto the right track and cruising along the river, when a rider passed us on a short climb. We were riding at a pretty fast pace and not used to being passed, so top of the climb a quick glance back confirmed that we were definitely chasing down whoever had just passed us. We caught the guy pretty quick and after drafting for a little, pulled passed to put in some work. The guy stayed with us and upon passing again after drafting turned to shout what speed we wanted to go at. We zoomed along, slowly leaving the tall buildings of Seoul behind, and getting more into the countryside.
Dusk was drawing in and we all three pulled into a chicken stew place to refill on carbs. Our newest rider, Callum, another Brit in Korea, turned out to be doing the same route down to Busan as us, so our pair turned into three for the trip. Having an extra person to ‘pull the train’ – where you’re riding at the front of the pack hitting most of the wind resistance was great and definitely upped our overall pace. If it had been Will and I the full journey, I think we’d have dropped off quite a bit in the following days.
Having not got started until 2pm after our bus journey, we rode into the night on the first day. Night riding was a ton of fun, the wind dropped, the paths were nice and empty, and the area we were in had some old train tunnels lit up in soft colors that we flew through. We eventually arrived at our chosen town for the night and after paying extortionate prices for some showers got a second late night dinner of chicken and beer, before finding a really quaint camping spot by the river.
Camping along the route had been strongly recommended from various blogs that I’d read and waking up right by the trail to natural sunlight and the distance sounds of an early morning soccer game being played definitely beat the glare of a motel room.
We took our time getting ready, making some fresh coffee and packing up. We put in a long stretch on the bikes before we stopped for a lunch after a 100km. It had been a fairly easy morning of riding, with nothing too hilly and a nice smooth rhythm.
The killer was at the end of the day when there was 4.5km climb. Lots of people apparently stop at the base of the climb and rest up there before tackling the climb first thing. We didn’t want to start day three with a tough climb, so powered up and got to the summit just as the sun was setting. It was a fun zoom down the other side before navigating our way to the next town for saunas and dinner.
We’d met a couple of other riders at the top of the climb who were also headed down and so later met them outside a convenience store for some evening beers. These turned into quite a few beers and after a failed attempt at finding a place to pitch our tent, we ended up just crashing on the floor in their motel room, making for a less fun start to day three, but luckily the breeze blew away any head fuzziness.
The morning of day three had us sweeping through some of the most beautiful landscape of the ride as we wound our way down Korea. We hit up a mid morning noodle place once we’d gotten more into the flow, for some delicious hand made bowls of jajamyeon.
Day three was a bit of killer with a strong headwind against us most of the day, making the pushing a lot of work. We struggled to find an open lunch spot, it was the middle of the Korean Thanksgiving holiday, and lots of places had shut. We had to settle for a convenience store lunch to keep powering us through.
We reached Daegu just as the sun was setting, getting some nice shots of The Arc on the river. As the sun set, the wind died down and we could finally cruise along without the heavy workrate. The paths were all unlit, but a bright night sky allowed us to ride through without lights on as Daegu disappeared behind us. We topped 100 miles for the first time, arriving at small town and finding a lovely little spot by the river to pitch up again. We got some food and then climbed up the small hill by our camping area to enjoy the night’s views across the landscape.
Our final day was another 100 miler. The wind still pretty against us, but with some really fun climbs and descents letting us work different muscles and get some shelter from the wind.
We met some great people whilst out cycling. From locals wanting to chat as we stopped at rest points, to others out doing the route. On the fourth day we met a Danish guy who was out on a fully loaded up Brompton that he had cycled all around Japan and was now doing all the routes in Korea. He could get that small bike to climb that’s for sure, but said descending became an issue as the small wheel size overheated too fast and he’d have to keep taking breaks so that his rims could cool down.
Reaching the city limits of Busan we needed to figure out where we were going to actually finish. I’d imagined riding into Gwangalli beach, where we were going to be staying, but the geography of Busan meant that would have added another 40km onto our ride through city traffic. We settled on heading for the official end point about 15km down the trail. We didn’t have long until sunset, so pushed really hard, getting the last out of legs. We were riding at a pretty constant 38km/h into the town, it was a pretty exhilarating shoot into the centre.
We made it with about 10 minutes to spare and got some of the obligatory end of ride pictures, before grabbing some beers and loading our bikes onto the subway to Gwangalli.
We’d finished our 633 kilometres of cycling across Korea in 3 and half days. My legs quickly got used to the constant cycling, I didn’t feel sore in the mornings, just ready to get going. We had a fun celebratory evening of drinks, Hodel having also finished her cycle ride from Sokcho to Pohang down Korea’s east coast.
For those interested in our route, you can find the details of the ride saved onto my Strava.
This has been a wonderfully long Chuseok vacation, 10 days in total, so after the ride I still had four days to just relax. I’d planned to chill for a couple of days and then come back to Daegu, but the weather was so beautiful in Busan that I ended up just staying for the full long weekend.
We had a great group come down to Busan and spent the majority of our time on the beach, drinking some beers, playing some frisbee games and swimming in the sea. The weather was in the high twenties and it was the perfect way to relax after the ride.
I got back yesterday afternoon, in time to meet my friend Vic at the airport and hear all about her more exotic vacation away in Greece as we enjoyed some chicken overlooking Daegu.
This morning back at work was always going to be a tough one, the general faces of all the other teachers confirmed how not excited they all were to be back at work, but I was treated to finding out that all my morning’s classes were cancelled and that tomorrow is a field trip day, so I’m being eased back into it. I have one final section of the term and then my time here teaching will be drawing to a close.