Saeng-gok to Unknown locality 25km west of Yangyang (Gwangwon-do)

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It’s a good day that starts with a Korean pancake. I’m becoming relatively good at whipping these up for myself having bought some Korean pancake mix back in Seoul. You just add water so there’s no need to carry eggs or milk around. The pancake batter does not appear to be made of wheat flour; a friend suggested perhaps it’s buckwheat, whcih is commonly used to make noodles here in Korea. Whatever it is, I like them and have been adding a sort of grass-like onion, leafy greens and spam to mine. Yes, that’s right: spam. Meat here is expensive and spam is cheap and transportable. Not something I would usually eat at home but hey, I’m not at home.
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My campsite was part-way up a big long climb so there is no warm up for the day, not easing into things. This is the mountains and I am straight into a climb that goes on and on and on. Actually, it takes me almost two hours to travel the first 10km (6 miles) of my journey for the day so I must have climbed for ages.
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I even got to ride up my first ever proper mountain switch backs. I have seen roads like this in magazine and blogs for years. The pictures I saw looked so exotic and I just wanted to be out climbing on those roads. I can tell you that looks can be deceiving: it’s still a climb. But I just took it a couple of switch backs at a time enjoying the views.
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Mountain climbing brings mountain scenery and isn’t that why we do it? About 4km from where I had camped there was an amazing campsite and hiking area. If you are ever in the area, definitely check it out. There was no indication you had to pay either. A stream flowed right by the campsites and little rock paths led through the trees.
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The higher I climbed the less rice I saw. Mark did tell me the other day when we were hiking that I would eventually be above the altitude where rice is grown and he was right. Farm buildings sat betweeen fields of vegetables. These strange root vegetables were being harvested everywhere.
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And kim chee can’t be your national dish if you don’t grow a lot of cabbage. And I mean a lot. There is cabbage growing everywhere and the smell of brassiacas ready for harvest is very strong.
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Despite the challenging riding, I felt happy all day. These are the toughest roads I’ve ever cycled and the first mountains (or hills for that matter) I have attempted on a loaded touring bike. But I found that once I settled in and just ground along looking at the scenery and stopping to rest when I was too tired to continue, I made steady progress.
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And with scenery like this how could I not enjoy the day.
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Everywhere I looked my eyes feasted on autumn colours breaking through the greeen.
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And endless mountain ranges cut by deep valleys running off into the distance.
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At around lunchtime, right when I was starting to daydream about eating a big juicy steak with chips (not going to happen here in Korea), I came to a little market. I still don’t know what it was about but I did manage to buy some chicken on a stick and some other random meat stuffed with something white. I have no idea what I ate but it was mashissosoyo (delicious – I am trying to learn some Korean words).
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Belly filled it was time to hit the final climb of the day. A long 5.5km at an almost constant 7% gradient with some 9% pinches that took me up to a pass at 1,013m (3,300 feet). Had someone told me that this was going to be here I would not have come this way, and look what I would have missed then. Yes, I can read a topographic map but the map I bought for Korea (a 1:15,000 map published by International Travel Map) is hideously inaccurate so I couldn’t rely on it for specific information about climbs. When I say hideously inaccurate I mean that it looks like they have just plopped dots and put town names anywhere in the general vicinity of where towns might be. And they have used town names that do not match anything you see on road signs. I mean, they have Seong-gok marked as a town when it is just a petrol station but Seoseok nearby is not marked when it is a big town. The publication date is 2011 so it’s not even that old. At least it has the road numbers marked on it so I can follow them and trust they will at least take me in the right general direction. But yeah, if you are going to produce a driving map, at least send someone to drive the main roads and check your map is accurate.
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The climb is great value for energy output because from here I head downhill for over 15km and back into rice country. A farmer has hung their rice harvest on the roadside guardrail to dry. I suspect I will see more of this as I travel further south and deeper into the harvest season.
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At around 2:30pm I spot this cute building next to a small shop. I’m not in a town but I think the sign says that this is accommodation. A closer look at the website on the sign shows the word ‘pension’ in the website address so I take a punt at organising my first Korean accommodation that I didn’t book through an English-language website. A bit of ‘lost in translation’ later and I hand over KRW60,000 ($AU/US60) for a fantastic large room that is more like a small studio apartment than a hotel.
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And with views like these from the back balcony I settle in for the evening to catch up on my blog, do some work, watch some television shows online and Skype home. Just what the doctor ordered: a night off from travel to hide away in my own private world. We all need it sometimes.

(Distance about 65km)

Ipobo to Ganhyon (Gwangwon-do)

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Cyclists have been cruising past me on the cycleway all morning as I pack my tent and cook up some breakfast. Some are just casually meandering along while others are fully decked out in racing clothes and making good speed. As I join them, I get a few stares and what I guess is the Korean equivalent to a thumbs up: a solid fist pump in the air and a broad smile. As I ride I have to wonder whether they have bicycle pumps here in Korea because I have seen many flat tyres.
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The path winds its way surely to Yeoju. It’s relatively flat so I can see the highrise buildings from a long way off. Just before the town is a dam where a new recreation area is being created. It will be fantastic once it is completed (not so good for the environment perhaps but certainly a lovely park). I stop at the 7-Eleven for some food (think chocolate and biscuits) before visiting the Four Rivers information centre. The lady is friendly and gives me a small cup of milky sweet coffee. I don’t usually drink coffee but when in Korea just do as the Koreans do. She shows me some displays about the dam and the new park.
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After crossing the river in Yeoju I follow the signs to Shilluksa (temple). It’s a tranquil place amongst the hustle of the town. The temple itself is relatively small but the grounds are extensive and dotted with pagodas. I can see how one could spend their days here in quiet meditation.
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The 26th Annual Ceramics Festival is quite a contrast despite being only a few hundred meters from the temple. It’s quiet at the festival but perhaps that’s because it’s a weekday. But over at the plate throwing competition there is a lot happening. Women are lined up waiting to don the face masked helmet and throw plates at targets. There are three things that I find interesting here. Firstly, how fantastic is it to have a plate throwing competition. Secondly, why are the women doing the throwing earing helmets but the men standing in the plate pit sweeping up the mess aren’t. And, finally, why are no men throwing plates. Whatever the answers, I stand there taking photos with a big silly grin on my face.
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I spend quite a few hours in Yeoju before I finally get back on the road. Once I start cycling I leave the cycleway behind and start to follow the signs towards Wonju. Somehow I end up on a highway and have a scary few hundred metres in a tunnel. That’s something I won’t do again. I exit the highway by riding the wrong way down an on ramp (there was no traffic coming up the ramp) and stand with my map open near a school group who are wandering through a rice paddy. It doesn’t take long before a man from the school group comes to my rescue and points me to an alternate road to Wonju. It’s harvest season so I stay a few minutes watching a man and woman work in the rice field before I set off.
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The ride towards Wonju is fantastic once I am off the highway. Well, that is until I reach a town before it (I have forgotten its name) where the traffic turns ugly. I find some wifi and message Mark who took me hiking in Seoul. He is familiar with this area and comes to my rescue by telling me that I should have followed a bike path all the way from Yeoju. I find the bikepath thanks to a map he sends me and start to follow it. In no time I am exclaiming at the scenery as rice paddies lead me to mountains and a rocky river.
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A little further along I come to a pagoda. It’s in an isolated area so I park my bike and sit there with my laptop doing a bit of work waiting until it is late enough to set up camp.
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The view is stunning with rice fields behind me and a mountain in front. While I feel like I’m in the middle of nowhere, locals seem to know I am there and come one-by-one to check me out. Some try talking with me but my Korean is as limited as their English. But I get the gist of it. Where am I going? Seoul to Sokcho to Busan. Busan pedaling with those heavy bags (they point and some mock weigh my bags)? Yes. Whoa! Thumbs up! That part is clear as anything. Two ladies give me their chestnuts. I’ve never had them before so watch how to eat them. An old man sits next to me for ages not saying anything. He is curious about my computer so I say “work”. When he looks at the screen (boring Word document) he nods and smiles. He offers me a small bottle of yoghurt. I don’t usually like drinking yoghurt but, again, when in Korea … . When I get distracted from my work he points back at it and says something that clearly means “You should get back to work” because he smiles and nods when I do. He starts to pull on my arm hairs like the children in Kenya did. Then he gets bolder and pulls down the collar of my shirt pulling on my back and chest hairs. “King Kong” he says. We both laugh.
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It’s gone dark by the time everyone leaves. So I unroll my mat and sleeping bag before calling it a night. I somehow managed to get my work done despite the interruptions and am ready to close my eyes.

(Total distance 50km)