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Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Hardest Things I've Ever Done?

I am fairly proud to say that, between the 10 days of silent knee agony known as Vipassana and the 100ish kilometers of burning thigh agony known as the trip from my apartment to Geochang Farm School, I have accomplished two Relatively Difficult Feats this July. [I am also fairly concerned about what mental issues may lie behind these recent quasi-masochistic compulsions, but I think I'd rather keep such thoughts out of the public sphere.] Given how much I wrote about Vipassana, I'll opt for a shorter, bullet-list style for the description of the voyage.

- 1 hour from my house to the last subway stop in Daegu. Another 20 minutes until I couldn't see any massive apartment buildings. Another 10 minutes before I stopped at a random gazebo and had an apricot.

Another 30 minutes before I hit the first hill I couldn't pedal up. Another 30 before I stopped for lunch (mixed sides with rice cooked in a bamboo tube). An hour to eat and massage my thighs.

Another 20 minutes before I stopped at a rest stop and a Saxophone Instructor/Jehovah's Witness from Daegu asked if I'd give him private English lessons and gave me a pamphlet full of teenagers telling me about why I should avoid premarital sex. Another hour until I realized there were no other cars on the road. Then an hour of alternately biking, pushing, eating apricots and almonds, and lying down on the side of the road wondering if I'd make it. An hour of second wind, strong enough that I decided not to stop despite seeing a hotel with a nice view and a hot stone bowl rice and tofu shop. 20 minutes eating fruit n nuts at another rest stop and begging to fill up my water bottle. Ran into another pack of cyclicsts coming from my destination and was assured that the rest of the way was mostly downhill or flat. About one more hour of closing out the trip, hoping to find a farmer with "We Accept Guests" spraypainted on his wall. No luck. All in all: left my home at 10:30 in the morning, arrived at my penultimate destination at 6:30pm.

- I had heard that Korea was 70% mountains, but I hadn't felt it in my bones until this trip. Some were so steep that even in my lowest gear I couldn't pedal up (I blame the bag of apricots). And in some cases, the wind was so freakish that after panting my way up the mountain, all the while looking foward to flying down, I was met by headwinds strong enough to make my descent even slower than the way up.

- I had heard that a liter of oil contained about as much energy as a man would expend working for 5 weeks. Not sure if that's exactly right, but after experiencing how hard it was to move myself, my bike, a few shirts, a jacket, and a bunch of fruit over that distance, and how it only takes an hour on the bus, I think I have a more visceral sense of how much power sits cooped up in fossil fuels.

- Discovered, confirmed, and had occassion to curse an unavoidable truth about biking: you will spend much more of the trip (time-wise) battling your way up hill cursing yourself than you will ecstatically coasting downwards.

- Despite the things people usually say about driving/drivers in Korea, I didn't have anyone honk at me or come dangerously close. Also, the roads were in really good shape, well-marked, and with good, clear, bi-lingual directions at almost every important intersection and junction.

- The Farm School is about 20km out of town. It was getting late and dark when I got to Geochang, so I decided to stay at a hotel. Had my biggest fight ever with a Korean person: the hotel manager at the motel who kept yelling at me demanding money up front, while I kept asking why he wouldn't show me the room first. It culminated with me saying "That's enough. Don't be so rude to your guests." and biking off to find another spot. What venom!

- Found a hotel and paid about 25 bucks for the night. Not long after I had checked in and showered, the owner of the Farm School called to say he was coming to town and he'd give me (and my bike) a ride back. I checked out of the hotel, received a 33% refund (these places all have hourly rates for special rendezvouses, which explains the mirrors everywhere and jacuzzi showers), and wound up spending about 17 bucks to take a shower and cool off. I was a little frustrated that biking wound up being more expsensive than riding the bus - after all, shouldn't the world be rewarding me for my virtue? - but mostly I was exhausted and happy to have been able to lie down for a while.

All in all, a pretty good trip. The scenery was generally quite nice, and my road ("normal country road number 26") ran next to a river for almost the whole time. I got to see lots of green rice paddies nestled between the mountains, and at one point, a huge field of pumpkin leaves blowing in the wind.

Had a few nice random chats at restaurants and rest stops and received free water from a few people along the way. I hope the trip back is more or less the same, though a little less opposition from the wind this time would be nice.


Dave said...

It's cool that you're getting into cycling--both for pleasure and for transportation. Can I count this as a "trend I started"? There really is no worse feeling than the I-just-made-it-to-the-top-of-a-super-steep-hill-and-now-have-a-blustery-headwind-to-look-forward-to phenomenon.

Good luck on the ride back.

Mike said...

Hrm. It's not that I don't want to grant you another trend, but to be honest, I wasn't at all thinking about emulating you when I was planning the trip. Mostly, I think credit goes to Chris, who sold me the bike cheap and got my ego stirred up by saying that a friend had biked to Haeinsa, a temple about 2/3 of the way between my home and my destination.

However, I will allow you to claim some subconscious credit, if that's worth anything. I remember reading your bicycle road rage posts and being very impressed.