A Day with the 49ers

Finally, it happened. One of those “bad things that hasn’t happened yet but is bound to happen eventually” that I listed way back in September after Mingyu and I had completed our first month on the road, getting away scot-free despite all of our (well-intentioned) antics. I mean, you can’t have just good luck for nine months straight, can you?

No, I wasn’t attacked by dogs. Nor was I robbed. Nor did I get rained on and have no choice but to keep riding. Nor did I get into an accident or come down with food poisoning. But I did get discovered, and lightly chewed out, while trying to renegade camp.

I had pulled up at this building slightly before dark/ After scoping it out, I decided it was some sort of abandoned dormitory, six or so rooms, all locked, as were all the windows. Some dogs and chickens were wandering around the yard, but there wasn’t much sign of human activity – no clothes on the line, no collection of beer bottles, no pile of trash in the yard. Plus, from what I could see through the windows, the beds didn’t have bedding and the kitchen didn’t seem to have any meat or veggies in it. I plopped down on the stairs and made myself a salad for dinner, figuring that if someone came by I’d ask permission to camp out and if nobody came by I’d be home-free. At about 9, I started unpacking my stuff, and by 10 I was up in the second floor hallway, all asleep and cozy inside my sleeping bag, itself inside my plastic tarp, mostly unnecessary since I was protected from the intermittent drizzle by the overhanging roof.

I awoke to the sound of people chattering and checking the doors. Within moments they were headed up the stairs; I did my best to get out of my tangle of bad and tarp and to look presentable and sincerely apologetic when they found me. I bowed, to the three of them, said sorry, and white-lied that I had been stuck in the rain and so had stopped here. I guess I was pretty lucky – all they said in return was “You can’t sleep here, there’s a hotel down the road.” They watched me pack up and sent me on my way.

Luckily, the story has a happy ending! I rode on into the night, wearing my cycling clothes on top of my PJs and carrying my big old backpack on my back, wondering whether their directions to “guo qu” the bridge meant to go over it or to go past it. I guessed right and 2km later wound up at the motel my ousters had mentioned, where I ran into four young dudes playing computer games, smoking, drinking Red Bull, and just having a good time. They marveled at my bike and my story about having been given the boot, friendly-ly welcomed me into their room, gave me some snacks, let me use their internet connection, and invited me to go hiking with them the next day. I had just started traveling again after two days off in Nuodeng and was kind of eager to hurry along on my way, but I figured I’d take the opportunity anyway.

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When I woke up the next morning, they were all wearing camoflauge. A car came to pick us up and took us about 20 minutes up the mountain to a little concrete building where there were about ten more dudes, all camo-ed up, with one lady cooking. Who the hell are these guys?

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They’re gold prospectors! Crazy!

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After breakfast, we rode another hour up the mountain, during which time they asked me all about life in Korea – what do we eat? when do we marry? how much money do we earn? – and I figured out that they work six days a week, fifty weeks a year. Jeez. Oh, and I also taught them how to use cruise control and Overdrive in the car. After the ride, we did that “hike” they had mentioned, about twenty minutes up the mountain, after which they busted out the above high-tech gold divining device (made in the USA!).

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Basically, this guy wanders around holding these two little nunchucks so that the skinny attachments go straight out in front of him. When he walks over gold, they’ll cross automatically,

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and then this guy marks the spots on the map so someone else can come over later and blow up the mountain.

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Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to do on the mountaintop, so while the two peons wandered around looking for their precious, I played pinecone baseball and worked on my juggling skills.

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And took a nap.

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I let the boss man, who also spent the whole day doing nothing, play around with my camera.

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Bossman is also apparently pretty good at entertaining himself in the woods.

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For lunch, we started a fire in the middle of the forest

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Spent all afternoon juggling, napping, and watching TED talks and reading Buddhist sutras on my phone.

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Then back to the home base to horse around a bit before dinner.

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Bossman breaks out his fancy camera tricks…

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Don’t know what bossman was trying to achieve with this shot.

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Meat for breakfast, more meat for dinner. I didn’t mention the whole vegetarian thing. Actually, I didn’t talk about the environment either – I sort of realized that if I had my way and people stopped blowing up mountains and manufacturing electronics, these guys would all be out work. Sure, they could find something else to do, like farm or install solar panels, but it wouldn’t be easy. What a mess we’re all in…

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Niu bis!

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