Saturday, October 12, 2019

Day 15, Leg 13

So much to talk about, but where to begin?

Let's start with last night. I arrived at the "art village" campground, and while the art school obviously had plenty of grassy areas where one could theoretically make camp, there were no signs explicitly saying anything about the school's doubling as a campground. That may have been a fiction made out of whole cloth by Naver Map. As I think I wrote yesterday, I encountered a gent on site who was working on a different project at a building off to the side. I don't know whether he had any authority to say so, but he told me to camp anywhere, and he said there was a spigot if I needed water, as well as "old style" toilets (i.e., squat toilets that were merely rectangular holes cut into concrete floors, such as might be found at certain Buddhist temples) if I needed to do any business. He handed me a little box of juice, the kind with the tiny, foil-covered hole that you punch through with the included plastic straw, and I went across the school's lawn to pitch my bivy sack.*

Here's a pic of the space where I camped:

See how there's a raised, rectangular platform with a dust-covered table and some equally dusty chairs around it? I laid out my bivy on the grass right next to that platform, right where the tip-top of my shadow is. I left my backpack on the table while I settled in and waited for the sun to set and the air to cool.

My feet were killing me, and because I had elected to camp, I didn't bother with the usual self-care, e.g., washing my clothes, brushing my teeth, taking out my contacts, etc. So I didn't remove my socks to examine my feet, but it felt as if I had developed a bone bruise and/or a blister in and on my left foot. My right foot wasn't feeling so hot, either, so it was awkward, inside the tight confines of the bivy, to find a recumbent posture that didn't make my feet scream.

Night came, and I heard the older gentleman get into his truck and drive off. And here's where things got weird: around 8 p.m., when it was fully dark, one or two guys pulled up to the art school, crunching the gravel across the school grounds. Their car's lights turned off; the guy or guys got out of the vehicle. I thought I heard voices talking into a cell phone. Were these staffers? Were these burglars? What could they possibly want to steal?

I lay quietly inside my bivy, perfectly still. One dude (or maybe it was the only dude; I couldn't see anything clearly through my bivy's mesh) seemed to patrol the grounds in periodic circles, swinging close to my campsite but seemingly never noticing me. Every time the guy orbited close, I could see his lit cell phone swinging in his hand. The phone was constantly playing music, so I could hear the guy approaching every time he looped around. I don't know how long this went on. An hour? Two? No idea. I found it hard to believe the guy didn't notice either me or my large backpack sitting on the table nearby. All he had to do was turn his head to the right, and all would be revealed. I kept expecting him to approach my bivy and demand to know what I was doing there, but he just circled and circled and circled like a frustrated shark, and then, just as suddenly as he (or they) arrived, the music stopped, the car started up, and the guy or guys were gone.

I didn't end up sleeping very well. I kept tossing and turning and waking up. I had set my alarm for 5 a.m., but I said "fuck it" at 4 a.m., crawled out of my bivy, and struck camp. This meant re-stuffing my sleeping bag into its compression sack, re-rolling my foam bedroll, cleaning off and rolling up my bivy, and putting all my various knickknacks back into my backpack. I did most of this by feel, in the dark, because my phone's battery was down to 1%, and one of the last things I did was to change out the phone's empty battery for a fresh one. With the new battery in my phone, I used the phone's flashlight to patrol the area and make sure I hadn't idiotically forgotten anything. By the time I was walking off the grounds, it was 5 a.m. Official sunrise wasn't until 6:30 a.m. I walked into the dark, quiet neighborhood on my way back to the Nakdong River trail, my path lit by occasional streetlights, faint starlight, and distant light pollution from somewhere. It's never completely dark in South Korea, even in the boonies.

I tried taking some photos in the dark, but I don't think I was very successful. When the sunrise happened, everything was blanketed in mist or fog, and I got some pretty good pics of that.

Let's back up a bit. You may recall the reason why I camped: I was avoiding staying at the unpleasant Sangju Hanok Guest House that had done me wrong two years ago by suddenly canceling my reservation, hastily refunding my money, and brusquely sending me off to another, equally unpleasant guest house. It seems, though, that this part of the journey is some sort of Bermuda Triangle of misfortune, because as it turned out, I had indeed both bruised my left foot and gotten a blister on it after wasting time walking those extra kilometers in search of an ATM in Mungyeong. If it's not one problem, it's another.

So today's long walk, which was essentially ten hours of very painful limping, ended up netting me a higher step count than yesterday's, despite the shorter distance walked today. Then again, I did walk an extra two or three kilometers both to find an ATM and to end up at the motel I'm currently in, the Havana, which is across the river from the hotel I stayed at two years ago. I also think the limping deceased my stride length, thereby upping my step count.

I stopped by a water fountain next to the bridge leading to Gangcheon Island. An older ajeossi was noisily doing stretching exercises next to the fountain; I ignored him, filled my water bottle, and marched onward. But the ajeossi caught up with me and started peppering me with questions about my walk, and within a few minutes, it became obvious he had elected himself to be my travel companion for the next little while. It turned out that he lives in the Gangcheon area, and he used to be an all-around athlete who did triathlons and marathons. Now, he walks several hours a pop several times a week. I didn't always understand what he was saying, thanks to both his southern accent and my limited Korean skills, but our conversation did manage to cover many topics. When we reached the Sangju Dam, one of two dams on today's walk (the other is the Nakdan Dam), I told the ajeossi that I wanted to go into the admin building and recharge my phone, and he was fine with that. "I have nothing else to do today," he shrugged.

I recharged the phone to 80% so we could get moving again. While I was in the admin building, I encountered two staffers who saw my tee shirt and became interested in my project. One of them, a lady, asked to take my picture, and she wanted shots of both sides of my tee shirt (by the way, every day that you fail to buy my tee shirt from Teespring, a baby harp seal's skull is crushed). The other staffer, a jovial man, told me about how he'd suddenly decided to walk 60 km over two days, and he ended up with blisters all over his feet. I avoided saying, "Well, duh," and instead told him about the importance of finding footwear that works for you.

I walked out of the admin building with my persistent travel companion, and for a while there, he didn't talk so much as sing old Korean songs, which I found rather lovely. We eventually parted ways when we reached the road to his village; "Take your time today," were his final words to me.

I limped on. Sometimes the pain was front and center in my consciousness; sometimes it was in the background, but it was always there somewhere. I encountered another Korean gentleman several kilometers later: a certain Professor Park who lives in Seoul, not far from where I live, and who teaches at Gyeonggi University. Professor Park was dressed in spandex biker regalia, absolutely covered in brand names. He even asked me, in excellent English, whether anyone was sponsoring my walk. I said no. He took an interest in my tee shirt and in me, and he proposed that we go somewhere nearby to drink makkeolli. I told him I don't drink alcohol, and that I was on a schedule, so he gave me his card and bade me look him up when I was done with my trip.

I had hoped to finish today's segment by meeting the puppy that I had encountered twice before in 2017, but the dog was nowhere to be seen when I passed by the residence where I knew the dog lived. I had even bought some dried squid at a convenience store to offer the pooch, so it was with great sadness that I trudged past the dog's home and made my way to Nakdan Dam, the near-endpoint of the day's journey.

I wandered around the neighborhood where I had originally wanted to grab a motel, looking for an ATM. The lady in a small grocery store told me I'd have to cross back over the river and into the main part of town to find a Nonghyeop Bank with an ATM. That side of the river also had a slew of motels, so I resolved to find a nearby place to stay after finding the ATM.

One guy at a gas station told me the bank was "400 meters up that way," but this turned out to be closer to 600 meters. At the end of a 32-kilometer day, every additional 100 meters can feel like its own slice of hell. I had to reach an ATM because some inns only take cash, and I had already used up most of the cash I'd gotten at the start of this trip.

After obtaining the cash, I limped over to a restaurant and ordered a pile of food. Now stuffed, I limped back to where all the motels were, found the Havana on my second try, and paid W35,000 for what seems to be a decent room with a bathtub. My feet had finally had enough, and the pain was becoming so bad that I was almost afraid to walk anywhere inside my room. But I managed to wash my clothes, then brush my teeth and wash myself, then soak in a hot bath for fifteen or twenty minutes before realizing that the soaking wasn't helping much.

I also had to air out my camping gear, which had been covered in dew and condensation when I'd put it all into my backpack. Since the pinky-toe blister on my right foot had popped on its own, I finally decided to break out the Leukotape. I wrapped the super-sticky tape around my pinky toe; it's not doing much other than making my toe ache even more.

I also overdosed on meds: 2 actual Advil plus six regular aspirin. The chemical bombardment doesn't seem to be doing much to blunt the pain, and the pain is becoming a major issue.

So here's the thing: I'm not averse to giving up the walk if the agony becomes so extreme that I'm actually incapable of walking. As much as it would shame me to have flaunted my tee shirt and played up the fact that this is the second time I'm doing this route, I'm not so insane as to risk crippling myself just because my pride won't let me quit. But immobilizing pain is a pretty specific threshold, and I don't think I've reached it quite yet. I'm limping, yes, and I'm walking at the snail's pace of barely 3 km/h, but I'm not prostrate on the ground, gasping and unable to move.

I have a short-ish walk tomorrow of about 19 km to get to the bizarrely named but very posh Libertar Pension. My next destination after Libertar is the Lee Motel, another 32K away. That's going to be a painful trek, but I'm also planning to stay at Lee Motel for two nights, per my planned itinerary. That will be a good time for me to decide whether I can continue. If, after two nights' convalescence, my feet are still screaming and I'm limping around like a cripple, then maybe the walk isn't worth the agony. So stay tuned. Decisions are coming.

While we're on the topic of decisions, I've decided that the best way to deal with the photo-upload problem is to add all the photos to these blog posts after I'm back from my walk. Many of you won't want to bother rereading these posts just so you can scroll through long sets of pictures, but I'm assuming that some of you will want to see the 95% of the images you're currently not seeing. So instead of throwing you a link to the Google Drive folder so you can view a series of un-captioned slide shows, I'll be adding the pics, with commentary, directly to the blog posts so that you won't have to click any links that lead elsewhere. Sound like a deal?

Here are a few pics from yesterday.

Yesterday's stats:

October 11, morning sky:

Amber waves of grain:

If nothing else, this travelogue has definitively answered the question of whether it's the season to harvest rice. Big yes.

Below, we have water, land, and sky:

Making it to the Nakdong River:

A vast field of Mom's beloved cosmos:

And from today's batch of images, we begin with the walk stats for today (October 12):

Let's talk once more about why you should never trust the distance markers you see on the trail. Here's how far away the endpoint is, according to the following marker:

And 12 km later, we've moved backwards:

Persimmon trees were everywhere:

I had forgotten that there was this dangerous bridge. It has no bike or walking lanes, so you're basically playing in traffic as you cross it, relying on random drivers' skill and compassion to keep you alive. There was a moment when no cars were in sight, so while I was halfway across the bridge, I took the following shot of the river:

Professor Park, who spoke exclusively in English:

A couple of jangseung near the end of my walk:

Nakdan Dam:

And I do believe that's about it for today. I have some big decisions to make, not to mention a ton of photos to plug into these blog posts (eventually). I'm frustrated that yesterday ended with my feet in such pain; the whole thing feels so unnecessary. And while tomorrow's walk shouldn't be a huge problem, the 32K walk to Lee Motel isn't one I'm looking forward to. I am, though, looking forward to two nights' rest for my poor-but-faithful dogs.

*A bivouac sack (bivy sack, bivy bag, or just bivy) is a coffin-sized, coffin-shaped tent for one person. I found my bivy useful in 2017, but this year, I'm having some doubts and thinking about going back to tenting.

Photo essay:


  1. Damn, what a day! Lots of good in it (especially meeting so many nice people on the trail) but the foot issues are concerning. I've got a low threshold tolerance for pain and from what you describe I wouldn't have made it through the day.

    Anyway, take it slow and easy and like you say, see what happens. You'll know what's best for you. No shame if that means abortion.

    Hoping things go well today!

  2. Sounds pretty grim, man. I'll be pulling for you to make it through.