On the Road, Day 1

 It’s on!

Note:  It’s currently the end of day four and I’m still alive!  I’ve biked between 100-110km a day and as I approach the (maybe better not to mention the name) border am heavily considering mounting a one-man invasion armed with my steed, two pocket knives, and several packs of sesame leaves.  I’ve been camping every night and eating raw breakfasts, stove-cooked lunches, and dinner smorgasboards most nights. Every day is pleasant, even the hard ones, but day one was the craziest.  Thus, I present you with the diary I wrote that night.  I’m mooching on a slow wifi connection, so no photos yet… 

What a first day!  I woke up and had leftovers for breakfast: eggplant pancakes* and some leftover beastly vegan rice cake chock-full of kidney beans, black beans, green peas, and slices of kabocha squash.  I set out in a timely fashion and rode about 30 km to Hayang meet my pal Murray, who showed me the vegetable patch that his school let him plant on campus and gave me a bright, reflective, yellower than you can possible imagine safety vest.  Another 20km later, I stopped in Yeongcheon to have a little visit with my buddy Luke, who let me convince him to order noodles made from acorn powder while I went with the old barley rice set.  50km down in 2.5 hours!   I was speeding away the day.  Until I took an hour nap at Luke’s place.  And spent ten minutes eating his wife Tanya’s ice cream.   

 Homemade brekky. Cost: less than $1.

Standard Korean set meal.  $5.  

I set off again, making good time up and over a mountain pass that was hard but much easier than expected and kept chugging on until I got to Yangdong Village, a UNESCO world heritage site about 2/3 of the way to my destination.  I had already made nearly 80k and it wasn’t even 5PM.  I took a short break at a bus stop, took off my ridiculously sweaty arm bands, read a few pages, and chilled for a few.  

the view on the way down the mountain
Less than 3k after resuming, I thought I heard a hissing sound coming from the front of my bike.  I leaned in and listened, but concluded that it was just the air rushing through the spokes as I sped downhill at about 45km/h.  I thought myself pretty cool until the bike started weaving to and fro and my mind flashed back to my first night in Sadhana Forest, when I had been given a moped and told to follow the gang out to a vegan pizza shop about 5k away.  And also, to give a cute young blonde American girl a ride.  I didn’t know how to ride the moped, and said so much to my embarrassment, but they told me it was a piece of cake, so I gave it a shot.  We reached the pizza slowly but surely, and had made it about 80% of the way home when the moped started to slide left and right.  Terrified, I couldn’t think of anything to shout to Kate, my passenger, except “It’s not my fault, I didn’t do anything!”  I managed to pull over without dumping either of us onto the road, and we got off to inspect the moped.  Verdict: a flat tire!  So, all of this flashed through my mind as me and my  40ish kg of bike and luggage were swerving down the hill.  Suddenly the hissing made sense and I looked down to see that what ought to have been the vertical walls of the tire were instead squished flat to the ground.  First day, first flat!   

I was a little peeved, since a friend of mine who’s currently biking from Barcelona to Korea recently posted on his blog that he had just gotten his first flat on day 98, though he had been hoping to make it to 100.  I failed to make it even to 1!  Nonetheless, I was glad that it happened here and not in China.  I busted out my superbly stocked repair kit and tried to recall what I could from having seen others change tires.  I had received one lesson and seen it done several times, but this was my first solo attempt.  I managed to identify the culprit: some sort of rusty road staple had pierced the tire.  The tire came  off pretty easy, and the tube was releasing so much air that I could see and hear the problem spot.  I used my little patch kit, pumped the tube back up, verified that it wasn’t leaking, put the tire back onto the rim, and pressed.  It had gone soft again.  Leaning my ear in, I could hear the air escaping even through the tire.  On to plan B: I started over again, this time swapping out the entire tube for my backup.  All went smoothly and before I knew it (I.E. an hour later) I was back on the road.  
I decided to change course – I had been heading up to Wolpo, where some friends and I had played on the beach and stayed at a highly underused beach condo belonging to my dentist, but I figured it would be better to head into the city and find a bike shop pronto.  After asking a dude in a moped shop and then another dude on a bicycle, I managed to track down an MTB shop where the dudes fixed my old tube, telling me my patch kit was shit and I should buy one of theirs which I did.  It was already getting dark, so I got directions to the nearest beach with a campground.  
On the way out, I passed through the outdoor market and had a debate with myself about whether it was right of me to ask for a discount on rice cakes (from 2000 won to 1000) since it was late, they were no longer fresh, and nobody would likely buy them anyway.  I couldn’t gather up the courage, though, so I just wandered around until I found a restaurant.  The owner agreed to make me the japchae (julienned veggies and sweet potato glass noodle stiryfry) without meat or seafood, which I wolfed down before heading back out. 

At $6.50, a bit pricey.
From there it was a measly  3km to the beach, where I rode around until I found the public bathrooms, footwashing stalls, showers, and police booth.  The chief was pretty chatty, quickly asking the name of my college and my major.  When I mentioned Italian, he gasped and said his middle school daughter,  who had just gotten back from an exchange program in China, would be going to Italy soon to see a friend.  Then he asked if I’d be willing to speak to her over the phone to test her English.  Having seen a sign stating that there was a 1000 won fee for using the shower stall, I figured I’d do him a favor and see if it paid off in the long run.  So, after chatting to the daughter (who by the  way mentioned that Chinese food is awesome!), I mentioned to the Chief that I’d like to shower.  He said that the showers were out of order but that we could go use the handicapped bathroom, as long as we both went in an came out at the same time.  I didn’t quite get it, but I’ve been to enough saunas here that the proposition didn’t particularly weird me out.  Even so, I was grateful when just before we were about to go in another touring cyclist pulled up!  
I forget the kid’s name, but he’s a college student in Seoul, riding around on a cheap mountain bike with ratty panniers and all his stuff protected from the rain by nothing more than torn up black plastic bags.   He commented on how nice all my gear was, and I told him that he was twice as cool as me for doing it the hard way.  Then he, I, and the police chief headed into the handicapped bathroom and “showered” together using the kid’s cooking pots to scoop water out of the sink and douse ourselves.  There was surprisingly little weirdness despite the absurdity of the situation, and we even bonded a little over the fact that all of us had ridiculous tan lines.  
After wards, the kid and I chilled out on the beach and talked about traveling cheap and how his friends all called him crazy for not spending his summer vacation studying English to up his TOEIC score.  What a rough life.   Let’s be glad we all speak English as a first language!  
106km ridden
Brekky: 1 Eggplant, 1/5 of a rice cake brick.  Less than 1 buck.
AM Snack: 1 nectarine.  50 cents.
Lunch: Barley rice mixed with leafy veggies, chives, and red pepper sauce.  Sides of soybean paste soup, burdock root with garlic, sweet stir friend anchovies, julienned humongoid radish, kimchi, steamed “thread-style” green onions,  and cucumber (i.e. mild) peppers dipped in soybean paste.  5 bucks. 
PM snack: one cup of ice cream, mooched.
PM Snack: remaining 1/5 of rice cake.  60 cents. 
Dinner: Noodles with onions, mushrooms, carrots, chives, and pumpkins.  Sides of kimchi, sweet radishes, and egg drop soup.  7 bucks. 
Lotsa water.   Maybe 10L. 
Vegetarianism on the road: easy as pie! 
Now to sleep for free on the beach while the cops guard my bike.  They promised me that it wouldn’t rain, so it’s just me and the stars tonight. Not that they’re visible through the clouds and over the neon

*Recipe: mix some flour, salt, and water into a batter that’s not too thick.  Heat some oil on a frying pan on low heat.  Swish the eggplant slices in the batter then fry, flipping and adding oil when necessary.  Dip into a sauce of soy sauce, sesame oil, and red pepper flakes.
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3 Responses to On the Road, Day 1

  1. Dave says:

    The complexity of your mobile lunch cracked me up.

  2. Mike says:

    It was a restaurant lunch. I’d be hard pressed to put something like that together with nothing other than my pocket knife…

  3. jboogie says:

    Awesome post.