Life has been busy and my bicycle and blog has seen less of me than I would want, but an adventure is waiting around the corner. I have a lovely 2-3 weeks available with a partner to take on some of the longer routes that time has not allowed. And this time we're going to try camping along the way.
Usually I don't like to plan bike trips too much, just book a bus, hop on the bike, ride till we're tired, find a motel and do it again the next day. It's so stress free and satisfies the wanderlust. But this time as it's a 2 to 3 week trip, we've decided to go all out, especially since we want to plan our buses and camping locations.
Just looking at the places on the maps, planning the kilometers and camp sites is already part of the adventure! I hope to share lots about the East coast route soon, even though it's not completed yet. We will go from Busan to Goseong to Chuncheon to Seoul to Ara, the Han and down to the Nakdong. Happy and safe cycling to all!
The Seomjin river in the Southern part of Korea is not one of the main four river cycle paths. It will not help you earn a cross country or grand slam medal and it does not connect or go through any well-known places.
But what this river lacks in credentials, it makes up for by being one of the most beautiful and pleasant cycle routes in Korea. The Seomjin river runs past the Gurye mountains and through the fruit orchards of Korea. Instead of the endless flat and monotonous views of the Nakdong river, you are rewarded by tree-lined lanes ready to burst into their autumn colours and winding paths against the shoulders of the surrounding mountains. Even the river itself is filled by interesting rock formations and seem wilder and more untouched.
Sadly I found it hard to capture the beauty of the route with my camera while cycling, I just drank it in along the way and now and then took a picture, which still failed to capture it's true essence. Like any cycle trip during Chuseok the late summer weather was perfect, with flowers, insects, lots and lots of spiders and more heron's than I could care to count. The lack of other cyclists was also refreshing, 90% of the time we had the path to ourselves.
As for accessibility, the Seomjin path is as flat as it gets, with not a single hill of worth to mention. And yet it's twists and turns and short ups and downs with the ever changing scenery keep it interesting and enjoyable. We barely ever opened a map or looked at our phones, as the path is very well marked with every twist and turn. Every certification center had ink and stamps (and a few spiders). We also forgot our cycling passports at home, so simply bought new ones at the Southern starting point of the route.
The beauty of this river is also that anyone can do it in a weekend. Just take a bus to the start on Friday night. Cycle 80 to 90km on Saturday, cycle 60 to 70km on Sunday and take a bus back Sunday late afternoon. I am already thinking of when I can come back for a weekend to do it again if I had the chance.
Wheel pressure check, lights check, batteries check, patch kits and extra tubes check. We are out the door and on our way. While most of the cycling community will be trying to complete Seoul to Busan we will be heading to hopefully less crowded paths.
The beauty of this moment, sitting in the bus to Gwangyang is the unknown. The only surety is our bus tickets from Busan to Gwangyang and back from Mokpo to Busan. Tonight's accommodation, tomorrow's lunch and the cycle path are all wonderfully unknown and exciting!
There are two main obstacles for myself to completing some of the cross country cycling routes, those are finding enough consecutive days off from work and someone else who has the same days off and would like to join me in such an adventure. Of course nothing stops you from a solitary trip, but sharing accommodation is cheaper and I like to have some company.
Until then I would like to share some information about the Seoul to Busan route from Fergus Scott, who completed it with a partner in April. With his permission I share his detailed and useful account below.
A quick cycle early on Thanksgiving morning reveals Andong dam emerging from the mist, our starting point and the first Certification centre along the Nakdong river cycling path, the longest river and longest cycling path in Korea. With childish glee I open my cycling passport and pose for a photograph as I stand inside a red telephone-booth-like box to stamp the Andong Dam stamp. This would become my ritual, cycling towards the next certification centre and taking a snapshot of my stamp at it’s red box.
Promoting cycling, health and local tourism has never been so practical and so fun. Resting in the shade of a brand new wooden traditional structure build for tired cyclists, we encountered a middle aged couple. They told us they started cycling at 2am that morning and the wife proudly shows us her cycling passport filled up with stamps. She only has the end of the Nakdong river path left before they’ve cycled all the 4 river cycling routes in Korea.
Our first day of cycling takes us through the countryside along the great Nakdong river, bees, butterflies, snakes, frogs, all kinds of birds and the constant hum of dragonflies keep us company under the clear blue skies. As the cycling path follows the river instead of highways, it does not often go through cities or towns, so we pass mostly farms, green-golden rice fields, old historical buildings, campsites, tree covered hills, cliffs next to the water and some local farmers.
The clear consistent signs on and next to the road make it hard to get lost, but just to make sure the KTO (Korean Tourism Organisation) recently published free detailed English map booklets with sections for each part of the cycling route, hotels, restaurants, certification centres, tourist attractions, distances, time and elevation charts indicated on each page. Together with the help of our smart phones and GPS, navigation was a dream.
One of the only challenges we faced along the 3 days were when and where to find food and accommodation. Sometimes you can plan it, sometimes you are lucky. The first day just as we gave up trying to find some kind of food or town in the countryside for lunch, we happened upon a farmer’s makeshift building for selling their rice and noodles to the locals. Luckily they also sold some instant noodles and basic side dishes. Cycling the whole morning makes any food taste like a banquet and cold water like wine. With full stomachs we rode to the next shady platform rest spot to enjoy a quick 30 minute power nap among the rice fields and the drone of insects.
As with any sport or activity with many participants, there is a certain camaraderie between cyclists on the paths. While waiting at the red box to imprint your next stamp, it is common to inspect all the other species of bikes and the variety of gear. Chatting with any cyclist on the river paths usually starts with “Where did you start from?” and “Where are you going?”, and most often the answer is Incheon or Seoul as a departure point. The 5 day Chuseok weekend gave people a chance to complete the paths all the way to Busan. Late afternoon on our first day we joined up with a group of 4 cyclists, a father and son pair and another pair of friends. We decided to cycle together till we reach the city of Gumi, as it will ensure accommodation for the night and also bring our total for the day to +/- 130km.
That night I remember the golden sunset accross the Nakdong’s clear surface, the red and white blinking lights of other cyclists in the dark and my tires singing under the light of the Chuseok full moon.
It is Wednesday, the day before Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) and I’m busy dodging the crowds in Emart in search of some energy bars. As a foreigner without historical and cultural ties to the Chuseok holiday, usually the few free days from work are used to relax, take a trip overseas or maybe see a bit of the country (if you can somehow deal with the migration traffic.)
For me the 5 day weekend and the warm but not humid summer weather only means one thing. The perfect chance for a long distance trip along the dedicated cycling paths created alongside the 4 biggest rivers in Korea.
And so with my friend Dong Jin, an avid cyclist and bike handyman we set off to Nopodong bus terminal in Busan, with our bikes and gear in the last subway car. At the bus terminal we load our bikes into the luggage compartment at the bottom of the bus. Within 3 hours we arrive in the city of Andong, known for it’s traditional village and the famous mask dance. But we have no time to explore and be tourists, the next morning we would be heading out at 7am on a 382km cycling trip, our destination, back to Busan, my home..
Any information about cycling in South Korea.