Thursday, October 24, 2019

Day 27, Leg 23

I'm in Yangsan City, back at the tucked-away-but-still-prominently-visible Bliss Motel, where I'd stayed in 2017. There's finally a working computer here, but it's far too late in the walk for me to think about filling out my earlier posts with the rest of the photos I'd taken. The computer can let me watch YouTube, but there's no sound, and I can't be bothered to go looking around for speakers, so I'll still be watching YouTube on my old, faithful cell phone. (Which, by the way, I've managed not to drop and crack this entire hike... knock on wood.)

Today's hike occurred in cloudy conditions, with the occasional very light drizzle. The forecast, which I had forgotten to check and had looked at belatedly, had been for a 45% chance of rain, and the sky behaved forty-five-percentishly, as if it couldn't decide whether to release any rain. The drizzle was so light and so sporadic that I never once needed to poncho up, and thanks to the thick cloud cover, I didn't have to endure the bright sun. That's been one disappointment during this hike: the heat. With fall now here, and with early mornings being cool bordering on cold, you'd think the late mornings and afternoons would be cooler. But, no: as I'd discussed earlier, the fact that I've been moving steadily southward has compensated for the country-wide cooling and kept me trapped in the ambit of warm weather. You know it's fall, though, because it's very cool whenever you're in the shade and very hot when you're in the sun.

An old couple accosted me this morning, early in my hike. We discussed my adventure and my tee shirt, which proved to be a useful visual aid that the female half of the couple didn't hesitate to jab at with her finger as if she were poking at a whiteboard: Ah, so you've been here, and here, and here... At the end of our talk, the grandmother gave me two coffee candies, which I popped into my mouth the moment we all parted ways. I have this compulsion when it comes to hard candy: I have to chew it and break it up, and I can never stop myself from doing this. I don't think I'm alone in this: I seem to recall some old Tootsie Pop commercials featuring a not-so-wise owl who would try to lick his way to the center of a Tootsie Pop, only to lose patience and bite into the candy to get at its chewy center. I do this with Jawbreakers, too; they require a bit of patience, time, and saliva to break down their exteriors, but once their outer shells are thin enough, I bite right through them. Dentists have marveled at how tough my teeth are. (And Jawbreakers really ought to be named Toothbreakers.)

The walk from Nakdong-jang Yeogwan to the Bliss Motel in Yangsan was almost 21 km in length. The path didn't play any tricks, and it was as flat as I'd remembered it. The route kept fairly faithfully alongside the Nakdong River, and I noted with amusement that the untrustworthy milestones had dropped radically in their countdown to the Nakdong River Estuary: we started the day at 48K to go, as you'll see in the photos below. This segment of the trek featured a lot of concrete, which triggered memories of the 2017 walk.

As it turned out, I was also re-walking the segment where my massive equipment failure had happened two years ago—faithful readers might recall how my hydration bladder slipped out of its mounting and splashed all of my precious water onto the ground in a half-second. I'd had about 15K to go, and I reasoned that I could do the rest of the walk without water and not risk severe dehydration. Luckily, though, I stumbled upon a sports field that had a watering station, and I had figured out how to repair my hydration bag, so it was simply a matter of refilling the container and stowing it more wisely inside my backpack. This time around, I didn't even take the Baen Sendi bladder along; I've been relying purely on bottled water, per the recommendations of certain hiking experts on YouTube (your hydration equipment will vary according to your personal needs and the terrain/climate), and so far, despite the sunny weather that I've been bitching about, I've never drunk a full two liters of water on any leg of this trek—not even the over-30K legs. Go figure.

In 2017, as I neared Yangsan, I started seeing what appeared to be clumps of city on the opposite side of the river, and I wondered aloud whether those buildings were also part of Yangsan proper. I suspect they might be because, this time around, I passed a series of pylons set up across the river: the obvious precursor to a bridge. When a city is bifurcated by a watercourse, it's in the city's economic interest to make both halves equally accessible to everyone so as to allow free trade (among other interactions) to occur unimpeded. I could be wrong about this, but I suspect that Yangsan City is slowly stitching itself together. Either that, or Yangsan is making itself more accessible to these riverside satellite towns.

Another gent stopped his bike and talked with me in his thick southern accent. We had a hard time understanding each other, but I ended up the temporary owner of three mini-sized Free Time candy bars (자유시간, the poor cousin of Snickers), which I quickly slaughtered to propitiate the gods of impermanence. Whenever I accept random charity from bikers (and it's always bikers helping out the hikers, I've noticed... is there some sort of hierarchy?), I get antsy about carrying around the empty bottles or wrappers or apple cores (got an apple the other day; got a persimmon before that), and I start actively looking out for garbage receptacles (with apple cores and persimmon stones, I just toss everything as far as I can onto the grass alongside the trail). Korea is trying to emulate Japan by not leaving out too many places to throw garbage: the theory is that this forces people to pack out whatever garbage they pack in to a given place. This is, frankly, a stupid theory. That psychology might work in Japan, where citizens seem to be far less prone to littering, but here in Korea, it can be a real shit show. Not to say that all Koreans are filthy polluters, but there are enough polluters out there to make the entire population look bad.

A lone Western dude rode by me, wobbling on his bike, and flashed me a thumbs-up sign as he passed. Like all the other distance-biking Westerners, his bike was laden with way too much unnecessary crap. As I wrote earlier, this logistical problem could be solved by just learning to speak and read enough Korean to be able to (1) recognize ads for bike-tels, minbak, yeogwan, and other lodging, and to (2) talk one's way through paying for meals and sleeping arrangements. As I noted before, if you can bike more than 60 km a day, you'll never find yourself obliged to camp or to starve. The country has some empty-ish, quiet-ish spots, but on the paths, you're never more than 60 km from civilization. This is less true for hikers—for whom 60K is a two-day hump—but I somehow managed to reduce my nights of camping from four to two just by seeing and reading ads for lodging. I wonder whether I could do even better if I hiked this route a third time. If I did figure out a way to hike the Four Rivers trail without camping, I would ditch the backpack altogether and walk nearly unencumbered. I'm sure my feet would thank me.

Otherwise, today's walk was smooth and fairly straightforward. One might almost call it boring, in terms of the level and number of inconveniences, but the scenery was beautiful, and even the brooding rain-or-no-rain clouds possessed their own special charm.

So I'm in Yangsan City, the final stop before the end. I'm here for two nights, and I've already seen how much things have changed since 2017, back when so many construction projects had been under way. Those projects are finished, and new apartments, shopping centers, and restaurants all cluster around the town's center, close to the nearby train station, Mulgeum (물금역). I'm turned off by the proliferation of tacky advertising, but I like the explosion of new restaurants. There's a Japanese place that I might try tomorrow. Sushi plates never fill me up, so I'll probably order an obnoxious pile of food and make my wallet cry. You only live once, though, right? And as I've been telling Koreans all along this path: I just turned fifty, and this walk is my month-long birthday party. Memento mori, but live it up while you can, and occasionally laugh with the sinners instead of crying with the saints.

And now for some of the day's pics.

I took my time and left the yeogwan late this morning, around 7:45 a.m. Had to double back a bit to pick up the bike path. The initial stretch of trail:

The backside of the yeogwan, which was fairly clean in the sleeping area, but remarkably filthy in the bathroom: I normally wipe down the bathroom floor after showering because I don't like walking on wet floors, and when I used the complimentary white towel to do the wipe-down this time, the towel came away sooty. I'd never seen that before, not even in dirtier yeogwans. Was the place worth the W30,000 price? I don't know. Aside from the floor-schmutz in the bathroom, I had a comfortable sleep and enjoyed decent Wi-Fi once I realized I needed to switch on the power strip to power up the router, the fridge, and the water cooler. Backside:

Supposedly 48 km to go, according to the marker below. That's close to my own Naver-driven reckoning: today's walk was almost 21K, and Saturday's final walk will be close to 29K. The marker is only 2 km off, which isn't as bad as some markers have been.

Plenty of grand views like this:

Below: selfie. The scab on my nose will need to be looked at when I get back to Seoul, just to make sure I didn't get skin cancer from sun exposure. I had the same thing happen last time, and no tumors resulted from that experience, but one doesn't remain invincible forever.

Much of today's walk took place on decking like this:

For a moment, I almost thought I was in Europe:

Below: I took a rest here for half an hour. No one was around when I popped my pills and lay down to rest on the shwimteo, but as is normally my luck, some fucker rode up on a bike, pissed noisily in the bushes a few steps away, swigged some water, then just stood there breathing, inflicting his presence on me, before he finally decided to bugger off. I'm an asshole attractor; I know this. I can't have a moment's peace in a public restroom because, even if it's empty when I enter, someone will show up within sixty seconds to ruin my shit. I've trained myself not to care about that anymore, so I no longer pucker shut when others enter the restroom, but it still burns me that people show up like goddamn clockwork whenever I'm trying to enjoy some quiet BM time. Shwimteo:

Wherefore the shape of these... divots? Trenches?

A unique shwimteo:

A riotous clump of flowers growing out of a wall:

Concrete, concrete, and more concrete:

In which I try to using framing to create an artistic effect:

Path, land, mountains, river:

More cosmos:

The aforementioned pylons:

More decking:

The beginning of the final approach into Yangsan City. I had forgotten that Naver leads you through a bit of a maze to get you to the town's center. This isn't a bad way to begin the maze, though:

A very broad way:

Will shwimteo never cease?

You do a U-turn, walk down a set of stairs, pass under a tunnel, walk up a set of stairs, and pop into this rough-looking part of town (which nevertheless caters to bikers) about a block away from the city center:

True downtown, where all the action is:

And finally, the Bliss Hotel (motel, really, for W45,000 a night):

The Bliss isn't a bad place to stay, but there are several other, spiffier places that I might try should I ever come this way again. Oh, yeah:

Photo essay:


  1. Another mostly great day. Well done.

    So, here's a thought--next time walk the trail starting in Busan.

  2. That would make for an interesting reversal.

  3. Would love to try the Easy Coast trail.