Today I leave the coast near Uljin to ride the amazing roads 817 and 36 through the mountains. The road runs along many rice paddies with their grains bursting to be processed. In some fields it looks like farmers have been cutting the rice by hand, judging by the small patches that have been cut and bundled. It’s a lovely sight but probably not such a lovely job.
The road climbs and drops and climbs and drops. I am happy to be away from the hustle and bustle of the coast and to be heading towards more rural landscapes. My first stop is this 350 year old tree. 350 years! That’s amazing. It even has it’s own monument to mark it’s location and history.
I come to the Buryeonsa Valley. I wasn’t expecting this at all and here I am on what might be one of the most beautiful roads in the world on a perfect autumn day when the changing colours of the leaves create such drama. The road follows a steep sided valley that has been cut by a river. Everywhere I turn there is something to see. From the crystal clear waters in the creek to the rocky cliffs that tumble into it.
Mountains extend forever and I find myself relishing every meter of the long climb. This is cycle touring at its best and I feel so grateful for the opportunity to experience this adventure. Where just a few short hours ago I wanted to be on the first flight home, now I am on an epic high that only Mother Nature’s beauty can create. I climb for hours from the base of the valley, stopping often to take photos and admire the view. Korean drivers slow down and clap as they drive past my slowly grinding progress. A few take photos of me as we both stop at viewing point.
I reach Buryeonsa (temple) itself. The temple is a good half hour hike from the carpark and I join the busload of Korean tourists on the trek. The temple is set in a quiet spot in the mountains. It has a solid calm about it. I drink water from the spring as the locals do. It is cool and refreshing on this warm sunny day. The surrounds are magical and I savour the moments while I am there. Even the walk in and out of this place are stunning. Pines rise above me as water bubbles down the rocky creek bed. The mountains envelope everything into their embrace.
Back out on the road I continue to climb ever higher into the mountains. I feel strong on the climb and am amazed at how quickly my body has adjusted to riding in such terrain. Just a few short months ago I’d never actually cycle toured and was still only riding 25-40km on flat roads. But in the mountains when the scenery is amazing it’s nothing to climb all day and then climb some more.
I stop at Lovers Rock to admire the view. The rocks are the embodiement of two spirits: a brother and sister. The brother and sister eked a living selling medicinal herbs they found growing wild in the woods. One day an important man became ill and it was said that the only medicine that would cure him grew high up above a cliff. The brother and sister prayed for three days for safe passage before venturing out into the wild. Not long after they scaled the cliff and found the herbs, the brother fell to his death. The sister mourned his passing for three days before she threw herself off the cliff to be with him. The gods took mercy on the siblings and reunited them as this rock that stands watch over the valley below.
I camp in the Tonggosan Recreation Park. I asked at the gate whether there was any camping allowed and the guard appologetically told me I would have to pay. I could see from the sign that four people cost KRW35,000 ($AU/US35) because the sign was similar to one I had seen at the campground in Yangyang. The guard spent a long time umming and aahing over a price. Eventually he let me camp for KRW5,000 ($AU/US5). It turned out to be a bargain because I had access to water, bathrooms, showers (all-be-it cold showers) and a platform on which to place my tent. The campground was gorgeous and I shared it with a couple of Korean families.