At the information centre we pick up a map and a little passport booklet with it. The idea is that you can collect stamps along the way and then get a certificate when you've completed the ride. The certification points are in little red kiosks every 35km or so. The map is only in Korean. The woman helps us decipher our route and explain some of the map symbols. The one that confuses me is the 'drinking water' sign. We have an old guidebook that advises not to drink the tap water, but the Koreans we asked say that tap water is okay. But on our map the next drinking water available is after 385km. Interesting. We eat lunch before starting and watch as young Koreans, all men, arrive on their bikes. Most have come from Seoul and appear to be carrying very little - a small backpack, maybe a bag on their back rack, one water bottle. All are wearing lycra gear, helmets, buffs, long sleeves. It feels as hot and as humid as Japan to us, but these lads are dressed for a chilly day. One youth tells us how hard the route is. We laugh. We've just come from Japan. Don't tell us a riverside bike path is tough. We ask him how long it took him and he replies "4 days and 3 nights". Too fast. No wonder he looks exhausted. In fact, everyone looks exhausted. They must be amateurs.
The weather is sunny and there's a breeze off the river when we head off. We follow the river on a newish path and by late afternoon have left the city behind. There are rest places on route, with toilets and benches, picnic tables and little octagonal pagoda-style arbors. We pass plenty of folk out on their bikes, some clearly finishing the long ride but others just enjoying the late afternoon. The guidebook describes cycling on Korea's roads as almost suicidal so it's no surprising the popularity of the bike path. We stop at a rest place and cook our evening meal. An American cycles past and stops to chat. The Koreans say hello, and smile at our loaded bikes. Some almost gape in shock. Hardly anyone seems to be carrying anything. And then a father with two sons pulls up. He has a trailer and from it they extract a tent. So we're not the only ones camping. After the sun sets the breeze off the river inevitably drops. We have a flannel wash by the tent before getting in. It's dark now, but incredibly there are still little groups cycling past, all heading to Busan. They must be mad. They have lights but it's getting past 9 at night. Who's that daft?
Over the next two days the path gets busy with day riders out at the weekend. But the river begins to wind it's way away from the towns and the cyclists we mostly see now have all come from Seoul. They are all uniformly in full "Tour de Korea" cycling regalia, including long sleeves and buffs up to their eyes. The aim is clearly to keep the sun from burning. The effect is oddly alienating - we see no-one's face. We have no idea if they are male or female, old or young, happy or grumpy. They look like something from a crap sci-fi movie.
|these two lovely women gave us snacks|
The path mostly follows along the dykes built on both banks of the river. We sometimes switch banks. At one point the path turns inland, around a hill and then climbs inordinately steeply into the forest. The slope is about 20% and concrete. We push and sweat our way to the top just to go down another steep path back to the river.
On studying a map on a signpost it turns out that there is a detour via a road which would certainly have been easier but there seems to be a pathological desire to keep the bikes separate from the traffic. The next day we have another awful climb which is thankfully not as long. There's a young Korean couple just in front of us on new bikes and they quickly succumb to pushing before the climb has really begun. I notice the man hasn't changed from his largest chainring and I wonder if he knows how to use his gears for climbing uphill. It's our third day. I'm not a huge fan of bike paths normally - I think there's room for bikes on the road if drivers are taught how to overtake sensibly. Roads are usually kept in a better condition than bike paths and they don't take unnecessary detours. Roads also pass through villages and towns and this bike path is trying to avoid them. After three days cycling it's hard to remember we're in Korea. But on the plus side, there is no traffic and we are free to gawp around us and let our minds wander. Holy Hannah! A snake!
Day four is a killer. The skies are clear, the sun is high and bright and the river has just turned northwards so we have the sun on our backs. We are making good time but the temperature is definitely rising. We stop for a break by a rest stop with a drinking fountain. The water tastes of rusty pipes. We decide to have an early lunch and sit in the pagoda. Despite the shade we are getting hotter. To make matters worse, Gayle is not feeling too good. Sunstroke? We try to doze but it's even hotter if we lie down. There's not a breath of air. We know there's a certification point about 5 kilometres away, at one of the big new weirs they've built. Often there's also a water company building with toilets and a convenience shop or space to sit in and sometimes the buildings have air-conditioning. Gayle is hesitant. She feels too ill to ride. But she isn't getting any cooler sitting here. Finally we make the move. It's a painful 5 kilometres. The sun is merciless. But the decision pays off - there's an air-conditioned lobby where she can lie down and recover. And there's a shop where we can buy ionising drinks. (We have taken to these drinks since our last week in Japan. Normally we'd just be drinking big bottles of coke, but who could resist something called 'Pocari Sweat'??
Ionising drinks were first developed in Jamaica in the mid-seventies by Rastafarians looking to replace lost israelites. Jamaican athletes took the drink to training camps in the States and their popularity spread. Now we are hooked.)
|searchng for shade|
We set off again late in the day to find somewhere to camp, down by the water's edge. It's peaceful and pretty but we're still too damn hot!