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.
Any information about cycling in South Korea.