I wake invigorated by the fresh mountain air. After a short 800m (half mile) roll downhill to the park entry gate I return to the climb I had not quite completed yesterday. For the next 5km I ride up a steady climb surrounded by deep green mountain forest dotted by bright red and gold autumn leaves. Every time a strong gust of wind blows I am showered by leaves. I reach the first of many passes that I will cross through today. These do not have the height of those further north but they are still long hard-won climbs in a magnificent landscape.
The road takes me from mountain pass to agricultural valley and back again. Over and over this motion and landscape is repeated. But it’s something of which I could never tire.
Some valleys are deep and rice grows in the manner of quicksilver, filling every available nook and cranny of the land.
Others are higher, lending themselves more to the growing of beans and cabbage. Everywhere older couples work the fields. Women and men share the burden of farm life together. I cannot help but wonder what will happen when the older generation passes on? Who will take over the farms? Or will new technological ways of farming come to the fore?
I hear a flute being played as I descend a pass. I never do find the flautist but I do notice two tiger statues looking out over the valleys below. I am heading down out of the mountains now and wonder what the story is behind these creatures. There is a sign but it is in Korean so I will have to come up with some story in my mind.
The road takes me to a wide river in a long deep valley. This will be the end of the real climbing for the day. There will still be some steep sharp hills but for the most part it becomes easier from here.
The river is guarded by steep mountains with rocky outcrops and strange shapes.
But the water is clear and I can see the bottom even from high up on a bridge.
I feel happy and content as I ride along the open road. The traffic is light, the sun is shining and the scenery is breathtaking. I have heard many people say that they can’t understand why anyone would feel the need to travel outside Australia. Those people haven’t yet seen Korea’s splendor.
I stop to take yet more photos of the rice fields in their golden harvest readiness.
And of impossibly large apples hanging form trees. This is the valley the Russians I met almost two weeks ago told me about. The apples look delicious but I know they are someone’s livelihood so I take only photos not samples.
I only intended to ride about 70-80km today but it’s only 2pm when I mark the 75km mark with a rest in a pretty pagoda. Note the colour of the leaves on the trees behind me. How glorious. It’s been a hot day and I’ve gone through about 3L of water already. I even bought a 1.5L bottle of pineapple Fanta (my favourite Fanta flavour) to help ease the thirst. I can imagine it must be tough going cycling here in summer if this is mid-autumn. The rest is delightful and I have run out of superlatives to describe the atmosphere and views.
Before I know it I am rolling into Andong. The less said about my arrival here the better. It goes along the lines of being unable to find accommodation after the hostel was fully booked but actually sitting right outside a perfectly good and reasonably priced hotel for half an hour worrying about what to do next. After 100km day on the bike I wanted nothing more than a shower, bed and internet access. Sometimes I can be so dramatic myself just like the landscape.
After taking a room I upload some photos then wander through the nearby car-free sections of Andong to explore the sights and sounds. What I find is wonderful. There’s a lively culture with neon lights and happy people.
Not far from my hotel is the food street where vendors sell everything including my favourite Korean food, the donut and also some of the big apples I have seen on the trees.
I even eat my first decent meal since Seoul: a dish called jjimdak, which is steamed chicken. It is a massive meal but I eat all the chicken pieces, some of the noodles and most of the cabbage. It feels good and I decide to try to book a second night at my hotel to enjoy the foods of Andong again.