It seems to me that the colder it gets, the warmer the people.
In the last few weeks on the road we camped less than a hand full of times.
There’s a few good reasons for this.
This far north we came across the military everywhere, even in a temple, where they gave me enough sweets to last for the rest of my time in Korea.
On the road every third vehicle seems to belong to the army, we see them in restaurants and shops.
Barbed wired walls, at least with smiley faces.
In Korea even defence does things cute…
We tried to find a nice place to camp along the river but were a little worried about all the mine-signs.
Not feeling much for getting blown up we rode until the small village off Haean-myeon, where a young girl tried helping us find a good place to camp.
She handed me the phone and a voice said;
‘You can’t sleep outside! You will die!’
That might have been a slight exaggeration but he was right that the temperature here is well below zero at night. So they organised for us to stay in the local community centre. Where not only did we have the luxury of sleeping on a heated floor, there was also a hot shower, fully equipped kitchen and a massage chair!
The next morning the care taker called around to invite us over for breakfast and took it upon himself to give us a private guided tour of the area.
Including the viewpoint where you can gaze into North Korea. I was not all too convinced we would see a thing as a thick fog hang around the valley, but as we climbed the road we came out of the mist and were greeted with the most spectacular view!
Our original plan, to ride up there, seemed a little silly as I had no idea you have to bring your passport and go through various military checkpoints to get there. Not to mention the 18% gradient.
You’re not allowed to take pictures in the DMZ, the demilitarised zone. It’s some sort of agreement, a young soldier explained. As pictures would give evidence you have been there. But looking back over the south we could snap away freely, which we did.
He then took us down to see the 4th infiltration tunnel.
You are not allowed to take pictures there either.
But I found this picture here.
Apparently there’s 10 tunnels from the North to the South, 4 have been discovered so far. This being the last one in 1989. They (South Korean army) are still looking for the others by drilling holes and filling them up with water. If the water disappears there must be a hollow/tunnel underneath. Nifty.
Every young man has to serve in the military 2 years . That’s not too bad if you compare it to the neighbour where it’s more like 10. For both man and woman.
Cycling through the small town of Bangsan we noticed a gathering on a sport field.
In no time at all we were invited to joined the BBQ and Mohammad played soccer with the kids.
When it got dark the party continued in a local restaurant,
and then at home.
Her husband had been to town for a wedding and walked in on a party in his house. He didn’t mind at all and quickly joined for Soju and roasted chestnuts.
It is getting a bit fresh up in the mountains. Our timing is perfect as we cycle through Korea’s coldest province, Gangwon, in winter.
After a spectacular downhill,
we got back onto one of Korea’s famous river trails.
This time we located a track along the river from Hwacheon.
Happily we started peddling against the wind towards Chuncheon, where we were to catch up with some friends. But the trail had a different plan.
At first it was a clearly marked bike road.
Just after the 99km marker the road stopped and became a lovely path along the river.
We found a cave that would’ve been an excellent place to camp were it not 11am.
The path stopped too and suddenly there was just a small track that went straight up a hill.
It was lucky we were together as there wouldn’t have been a way to get up this hill without taking all my bags off the bike and walking up and over a few times.
After this surprising vanishing river trail we found the bicycle road again,
that got us to Chuncheon where we discovered we both have very different ways to navigate through cities.
Where Mohammad tends to look at a map, finds the shortest way across and shoots through traffic like a rocket. I stick to the bike-lanes as long as possible. Even if I have to ride a few km extra. I do not like traffic. I wait for red lights and stick to sidewalks.
But we made it and were warmly welcomed by Katie, Nikki and Stephen. All english teachers.
Katie & Stephen have ridden their bicycles halfway around the world already and run up hills, triathlon and marathons, just for fun!
It’s really nice to meet people you’ve been friends with on Facebook for years already.
Korea has (in my opinion) a slightly ridiculous education system. Most Korean teenagers spent everyday from 8am ’till 11pm in school! They have their normal classes and then there is about 100.000 Hagwons, or private schools, all around the country.
It made Korea the fastest growing country in the world in the last 50 years.
But I know what I rather did when I was a teenager. -and see where that got me 😉 –
We spent three days relaxing in their comfortable home before setting off again. There was a place I liked to get back to and Mohammad didn’t mind joining me.
I wanted to go back to Kwon Hey Keyng’s place. My dear ‘unni‘. (see last post)
And there were a few roads I noticed on the map I liked to see too. It didn’t seem all to difficult to get to her house. And the warning that it was 100km of unpaved roads seemed a little exaggerated. As the whole country is only about 200km across.
When we got to the start of the road over the hill at 6pm we figured it wouldn’t be too hard just to get up and over that evening.
And that probably would’ve been right had we not taken a wrong turn-off. The exaggeration of 100km unpaved road was probably truth if you look at the amount of roads/paths/tracks that criss cross this mountain. The actual distance shouldn’t have been more than 3okm though.
But after about 3 hours of pushing the bikes up a very very steep and slippery track the path stopped going up. “As long as were not going down we should be alright” mentioned Mohammad. Just before the road started going down.
By this stage it was 10pm and already about -15 degrees. And even though he told me he happily keeps going all night. He used to go on overnight hikes and loves the dark forest. One of my favourite things to do at night is sleep.
And we agreed to pitch the tent at the next opportunity. Since there was no flat spot I thought the logging camp we passed seemed a perfect spot.
That feeling was only confirmed the next morning as the crew had built a nice fire and offered me some coffee as soon as I stuck my head out of the tent.
And I didn’t pitch my tent in an inconvenient spot for them at all…
We were told the best way to get where we were going is to get back down and take the sealed road around the range. But that just didn’t sound like fun at all.
As it turned out Mohammad likes backtracking as much as I do. As we passed another track heading up we figured that must be our direction. All we needed to do is get over this hill and into the next valley and we should be alright. We found ourself on the power line maintenance tracks.
They are not very well maintained.
After a few false turn offs that ended up nowhere we managed to find the way down the other side. It turned into a bit of a road and suddenly I recognised the place. We made it!
Sadly, because we were so late my Korean sister was very busy as she was about to set off on a trip to China. We had an interesting evening with her friend,
and set off the next day to find this road Alleykat had told me about.
It proved a gorgeous day for cycling. There was some entertainment in Jeongsong as we rode through
and just after town we found our road!
Coming down the hill at enormous speed suddenly I had the feeling my bike wanted to do something else. I just managed to break without coming off. Turned out my tyre met a nail.
And didn’t like it much.
I fixed the it while Mohammad made a coffee. But as I started to pump it seemed something was a little more wrong. The whole valve had come off! I knew for sure there was a spare tube somewhere in my luggage. But for some reason I just couldn’t (or maybe didn’t want to ) locate it.
Luck would have it that this is Kim, Hyung-Goo’s territory.
He’s an artist. And a teacher. And he runs the local community house.
He just so happened to be a keen mountain biker too! He and his wife let us stay in the community house where the heating was not working so we danced to warm up. (I can’t show you, seems I lost my little camera for real this time)
Ready for a big day on the road and actually planning to end up in Seoul we broke a record.
I don’t know if you can match this but we had cycled the whole of 6km when a jolly man in orange called out from the bank (we were riding in the river at this stage) “Welcome to my world!’
And it didn’t matter we just stopped for a coffee 400 meter down the road we couldn’t just roll by.
Mainly because the road was a little too rocky to roll.
A wonderful place here in one of the last unpaved valleys in Korea.
Truly a spot we couldn’t pass by. So we didn’t and stayed the night.
We had lunch together. His reply to my question of what it was we were eating was :
“Don’t ask, just eat.”
He later told me it was the back-end of a cow. A bit chewy but not bad.
It rained the next morning. And with a mission to end up in Seoul our new friend dropped us off at the bus station.
If you ever happen to be in the area (and if you can read Korean) Make sure to call in!
This was my final destination.
My visa for China that cost me so much hassle to get will not be used.
I got on a plane at Seoul. It was a little delayed.
I don’t like flying at the best of times but after two movies in the air and with a ground speed of 768km/h I opened the little window to have a peek outside. And I saw this most awesome view. Beautiful snow on mountains and a wide river going through it.
Unfamiliar names on the map like Krasnojarsk and Novosibirsk. A new plan starts forming in my mind.
But for now I have some new family members to meet. And friends to catch up with.
Great to see mum, dad and my three sisters all waiting for me at Schiphol Airport 🙂
It has been a little while.