Saturday, October 26, 2019

Day 29, Leg 24: it is accomplished

I was expecting to average 3 kph and arrive at around 4 p.m. Instead, here I am, and it's not even 1 p.m.

Will sit here a bit, nursing my Pepsi and my Chilsung Cider, then I'll cab over to Gwangalli Beach and find a motel. There are apparently tons of motels right next to Sol Taphouse, so I might just get a pizza first, then waddle over to some lodging. We'll see. I have lots of time, and it's a beautiful day.

I did it!

NB: WATCH THIS SPACE. There'll be more to say about my final day of walking, but I think I'm going to enjoy my current (very expensive) hotel and just chill tonight. An update might appear Sunday night once I'm back at my place. If not, updates will be happening during most or all of next week, so please don't walk away thinking this is the end. There's always an epilogue, always an after-party. If I can endure a 633K trek, surely you can wait a little bit for the rest of the posts and updates to appear. Thanks in advance for your patience.

October 28, 8:17 a.m.: I'm paying $132 for a night at this lovely hotel... and a fucking mosquito was buzzing in my ear all night. We really need to set up a laser targeting system to blast mosquitoes when they enter rooms. I look forward to getting back to my old, rickety apartment building, where I don't have to worry about skeeters.

So this hotel, located one street back from the shore of Gwangalli Beach, is called the Hound. The name alone attracted me to the place, and it turned out to be a full-scale hotel, not merely a motel miscalling itself a hotel. A room with an ocean view starts at $200, US, so I opted for the non-ocean-view room. Everything is spic and span in my room except for some ugly scuff marks on some of the walls. Decent A/C, two giant-screen TVs, and a plush bed that's a little too soft for my taste. It might have been a decent night's sleep had it not been for the mosquito.

I'm shoving off for the express-bus terminal around 9:15; will take the bus to Masan to meet my friend Neil and his family for lunch before I bus back to Seoul. Expect more updates soon.

Photo essay:

Summary of the Final Leg

This was the day when everything finally went right. I didn't wake up blearily; I didn't fervently wish to go back to sleep. Once I was out of bed, I didn't fumble around groggily, taking a million years to pack my gear. Everything I did was crisp, focused, and energetic. I took my painkillers and strode out the door. It was dark outside because it was exactly 5 a.m., well before sunrise. As you can see from the photos above, I did try taking some pics early in the day, but only when there was a lot of electric lighting about.

I had mentioned before that, early in this day's walk, there was a beautiful, wide-open park that I remembered from 2017. I think, though, that I got up too early to see it in the light this time: I probably walked right through it in the blackness without even noticing because, as I discovered to my surprise, I was at the northern fringe of Busan by the time the sky had lightened and allowed me to see Busan's first wave of apartment complexes.

I saw that, in the intervening two years, the city had repaired much of the path that had been cracked and worn-looking in 2017. That was a welcome surprise. The path itself was as straightforward as I remembered it: there were stretches of paved trail, stretches of packed-earth path, and long stretches that went under parallel rows of trees. The way to the final goal was also noisy: most of the path ran parallel to a freeway or some major artery. At one point, I was flanked by a freeway on one side and a railway on the other. This final stretch wasn't the place to be for people seeking the solace of silence.

For the entire length of the walk, from Incheon onward, I never drank more than 1.5 liters of water per day while walking. I'm going to chalk this up to the cooling weather which, despite still being too warm for my taste, was certainly not as unbearably hot as it had been during the summer months. On this final day, having decided not to buy any extra water, I had only 1.5 liters of water (3 bottles) in my pack, which made my pack the lightest it had been the whole trip (I normally carried 3 liters of water with me). This in turn resulted in my being able to walk significantly faster, and it probably helped that I felt buoyed by the knowledge that today was the final day of the walk. The kilometers scrolled by, and when I stopped to do a speed/distance check, I was shocked to find myself walking at 4.7 kph—way the hell faster than I had been going for most of the trek.

This is why I lumbered to my goal, the Nakdong River Estuary, so many hours earlier than anticipated. I had assumed a painfully slow speed of 3 kph, which is what I'd been averaging for the past month. This meant—if I included rest breaks in my travel time—an ETA of about 3 p.m. or even 4 p.m., depending on how arthritic I was feeling. But I got to the endpoint around 12:45 p.m.—go figure. One major change was that the convenience store was no longer there: instead, there was a closet-like space serving as a replacement convenience store; the sour old guy manning the cash register greeted me in English with a "What do you want?" He didn't say it in a confrontational tone; if anything, he sounded only inadvertently terse, as if he had a poor mastery of English and didn't realize how rude "What do you want?" might sound to a native speaker. But he didn't sound particularly welcoming, either. I got my Coke and my Chilsung Cider, plus a nondescript chocolate bar to gnaw on, and went back out to sit in the admin building's shadow and contemplate my victory. A random guy signaled to me from out of the corner of my eye; when I looked over, I saw him bring me another chocolate bar, which he gave me along with a thumbs-up sign to show he understood what I had just accomplished. I'd gotten a lot of thumbs-ups during my walk, including shouts of "Good job!" in English from some Korean bikers who had passed me. Now that I was done for a second time, the whole thing felt a bit quiet and anticlimactic, and unlike last time, there was no group of handicapped people biking around happily to consecrate my arrival at my goal. There was no one, in fact, and after a few minutes of soda-slurping and chocolate-munching, I gathered my wits and my gear and headed out of the commemorative park, crossed the street, hailed a cab, and told the driver to head toward the Homers Hotel.

The cab ride was a quiet one. I asked the cabbie whether he knew about the SOL Taphouse (it turns out that SOL is an acronym for "Slice of Life," the name of the pizza kitchen that works in conjunction with the taphouse); he said no, so I turned one last time to Naver's GPS navigation to figure out where to tell the cabbie to turn. The Homers Hotel was actually about 600 m to the north of where I wanted to go, but when we got close enough, I was able to see, on my phone's map, where we needed to turn to reach the taphouse. The driver let me off in that neighborhood, and since it was only around 2 p.m., I elected to find a hotel/motel first. A hotel called the Hound caught my eye, and at first, I thought it would be some low-end motel that was billing itself as a "hotel," like the Bliss Hotel in Yangsan, where I had only just spent two nights. But, no: the Hound turned out to be a legitimate hotel-hotel. The desk clerk, dressed in a suit and serious as a librarian, told me quite unabashedly that a sea-view room would run me $200, US. I chose the non-sea-view room for $135. I got Room 807, which turned out to be beautifully and sumptuously appointed, and its A/C system was one of the best I'd experienced along my arduous route. Unfortunately, that night, I was plagued by a lone mosquito that kept flying into my ear, preventing me from having a decent night's sleep.

Once I'd gotten my room, it was just a matter of walking back out to the beachfront street and finding the pizzeria. I found it easily enough; it was right where I had left it. I took the elevator up to the building's fourth floor, walked up a single flight of stairs, tugged open the bar-resto's heavy metal door, and let myself in. All the wait staff spoke English, and I explained I was there to celebrate my just having walked 633 kilometers from Incheon to here. Some eyebrows were raised when I ordered an entire meat-lover's pizza for myself, plus a Coke, but I assured the staff that I'd be able to down the whole thing.

The pizza turned out to be... okay (see pics of it above). That first slice was glorious, but by the time I was halfway through the pie, I was noticing one of the 'zza's flaws. It was way over-herbed, and it was obvious that Slice of Life was using dried herbs. Dried herbs are fine in moderation, but if they begin to dominate a tomato sauce even a little, they take over completely and give you a bitter undercurrent that only becomes more unpleasant over time. This is why so many pro cooks insist on fresh herbs over dried herbs whenever possible: the end result, when you're cooking, really is like night and day. A large SOL pizza was six plate-sized slices; along with the hugeness, everything else about the 'zza was fine. I loved the lack of modesty with the meat (pepperoni, sausage, and great bacon); the crust was perfectly Noo Yawk style. The herbs were the only problem. All in all, I liked the pizza, but if I were to order such a beast again, I'd stop myself after three slices.

I wasn't even full after downing the pizza and the Coke. I walked out of the resto, went straight across the street to the beach, ambled up to where the waves were lapping the sand, and touched the sea by allowing the waves to flow around my feet (see pic above). I thought about shopping for Busan specialties to take back to Seoul with me, but there was nothing along the seaside street but restaurants, convenience stores, and coffee shops; the shopping district was obviously elsewhere, and I no longer had the energy or the motivation to seek it out. So I went back to my hotel room to settle in and rest.

While sitting at the edge of my bed, I chewed over the idea of removing the Leukotape from my right pinky toe to see what the toe looked like after a month of abuse. The toe had been a constant source of pain the entire walk; I'd had frequent visions of just lopping the thing off and being done with it. I was a bit afraid to remove the medical tape, though, because I knew the tape's reputation for being super-sticky. I had applied the tape during the first week of my walk, right after a toe-surrounding blister had formed around my poor digit. I knew, therefore, that the toe was wrapped in loose, post-blister skin. Would the skin rip off painfully when I tried to peel off the tape, exposing new, raw skin underneath? I also knew that my toe had become the source of a persistent, unpleasant, and subtle odor of rot, so I was morbidly curious as to how leprous the digit had become over the course of a month. The Leukotape had remained on through miles and miles of darkness, heat, pressure, friction, and moisture. The Leukotape had also added to the diameter of my toe, which made for an even more painful squeeze inside my shoe. All in all, I can't say that I'm any more a fan of Leukotape than I am of using moleskin to handle blister-related problems.

Ultimately, curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to use my medical scissors to cut the Leukotape into strips so as to minimize any damage resulting from the tape's powerful stickiness. This proved to be the right thing to do, and when I did finally grimace and remove the tape from my toe, the process proved painless. A good chunk of dead, calloused skin did end up coming off with the tape, but it was immediately obvious that that skin had been ready to come off for a while. The smell, as you can imagine, was positively awful, like hell's rotten cheese. The toe was calloused and swollen—so swollen that I couldn't see whether I still had a toenail there. The calloused skin was disgusting: much of it was soaked and almost pasty in feel. There was no infection, thank goodness, but the look of the skin indicated a good bit of fungal activity, at least on the surface of the toe. I used my medical scissors and convex nail clippers to cut away more chunks of calloused skin; I used a combination of disinfectant wipes and paper tissues to rub at the toe to remove more dead skin and schmutz. I then brought out some alcohol wipes from my first-aid kit to wipe the toe down and begin the process of drying it out so as to minimize the odor, which was already much improved thanks to my careful ministrations. I limped to the bathroom sink, washed my entire foot with soap and water, patted everything dry, went back to my bed, reapplied the alcohol wipes, sniffed the air, and came away satisfied that, while my toe was still damaged and swollen, most or all of the filth around it was now gone. I'd had moments where I wondered whether I'd be losing my toe; those fears proved baseless.

I knew I didn't need to wake up at 5 a.m. on Sunday, so I allowed myself the luxury of sleeping a bit late. "Late," for me, would normally be until sometime after lunch, but during this walk, I had been in the habit of waking up before sunrise or just a little after, so according to my recalibrated standards, "late" now meant 8 or 9 a.m. I slept fitfully, thanks to that fucking mosquito, but I got out of bed feeling decent enough to have a day. I checked out, grabbed a cab, and headed to the Busan intercity-bus terminal to grab a bus to Masan, where I was to eat lunch with my friend Neil and his family. I met up with Neil and his soccer-talented son; his wife joined us soon after, and we all went to a very nice, high-end food court downtown, where we sat down to a fine lunch of Korean-style Chinese food. Neil drove me to the express-bus terminal and hung out with me a bit as we waited for my 3:40 p.m. bus to Seoul. The ride ended up taking five hours, thanks in part to a traffic jam along the way, and I got home around 9 p.m. I think I'll be taking the KTX to Seoul from now on: the seats are plusher, and the transit time is much shorter.

In my apartment building, the same cheerful old lobby guard who had greeted me after my walk in 2017 was there, Sunday night, to greet me again. He applauded me when he learned that I had done a second walk down to Busan, and with that, I took the elevator up to my apartment, let myself into my studio, noticed that everything was in its proper place, and began the process of reintegrating myself into civilized life.

This had once again been an amazing adventure. It was a little harder on me this time, and a little more painful, and I plan to analyze those aspects of the trip in my upcoming epilogue post. Now that I know what sort of pain is in store for me, should I attempt this walk again, would I avoid doing such a walk in the future if I had the time and the means?

Not on your life, man. Not on your life.


  1. Congratulations! An amazing accomplishment that you'll always remember. Well done!

  2. And thanks for your constant support!

  3. Congratulations! I did that on my bike October 2018 and it was nice to get your perspective as a trekker. I was so inspired I bought 2 T-shirts ;-). Splurge on a sauna and massage, you earned it.

  4. Congrats! I knew you would pull through!

    (Although I did also put down a bet on you not making it, just in case.)

  5. Mission accomplished! It is done. Twice. Where's the pizza?

  6. Many congratulations! It has been good to follow along with your journey.

  7. Congratulations on the amazing walk! Thanks for sharing and documenting it all. I hope you get the chance to hike the east sea/east coast trail you mentioned.

    1. Thanks for the comment! I'd very much like to hike the east-coast trail, but I think I've used up all my diplomatic capital at work, so I doubt I can finagle any more month-long vacations. Instead, what I'm likely to do is section-hike portions of that route, say, over several weekends. And with the weather about to turn much colder, I won't think about doing that until, say, next spring. But we'll see: if I can get another month-long break, I'd love to thru-hike that trail.