Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Day 5, Leg 4 (rest day)

The good news is that I'm still alive. The bad news is that, when I started out from the Baro Hotel in Hanam City yesterday, something in my right foot popped barely ten minutes into my walk. It was a muffled thump/thud of flesh and bone, so loud that I not only felt it, I also heard it. Obviously, when that happened, the first thing I wondered was whether a metatarsal had just broken, or whether a tendon had just snapped. Testing either hypothesis meant walking a bit more. After a few hundred more steps, I still felt a little pain and some post-popping weirdness (i.e., the conviction that "that sound and that sensation were both inappropriate and very much outside the normal range of my experience"), but I wasn't in agony. I've broken my wrist before, so I'm familiar with the all-consuming ache and swelling that accompany broken bones. And while I've never had a tendon snap on me, I came close to that in 2008 when I tore my ACL (anterior cruciate ligament, in the knee), so I'm pretty sure that an out-and-out tearing of a tendon would also have resulted in my being in agony and unable to walk any farther. As things were, I knew I could continue, so I continued.

At some stopping point, I drugged myself up with more painkillers and resolved to keep plodding onward unless the pain became unbearable. By this time, I've developed a hierarchy of painkillers: Advil ranks highest, being the strongest; second is the el-cheapo Korean version of Advil, which requires me to pop twice as many capsules to produce the same pain-dulling effect; last is good old aspirin, of which I have a whole bottle. I'm trying not to pop these NSAID pain relievers too frequently because, when you overdose on NSAIDs, you start to bleed out of holes that were never meant to know blood. Trust me on this: I popped pills relentlessly during my 2008 walk, and I came away wondering whether I was one strong sneeze away from a brain hemorrhage. This was after I'd had blood coming out of my nose and... other places.

On Day 1, I left my motel in Incheon a bit after 5 a.m. On Days 2 and 3, I left my lodging late in the morning because I was so exhausted—10:30 a.m. on Day 2 and 10 a.m. on Day 3. This meant that my arrival time at the end of those segments was also late, which in turn pushed my departure time forward the following morning in something like a domino effect. Being able to rest for two nights at my current motel guarantees that I can wake up and be out of here at a reasonable hour come tomorrow morning: I'm aiming to wake up at 4:30 a.m. and be out the door by 5:30 a.m. at the latest.

Did I say "ten-hour walk" in my previous post? I meant eleven hours. I left Hanam around 10 and arrived in Yangpyeong, in the dark, around 9 p.m. The final few hours of the walk took place in darkness, except for street signs and street lights, so I didn't take many photos once the sun went down. I did, however, have the most lovely pre-sunset nap I've ever experienced: this was from about 6 to 6:30 p.m. I had gone 36,000 steps (my strategy was to rest every 12,000 steps), and I found a raised platform that looked as if it were meant for sitting/lying down/lounging around. I popped some pills, drank some water, propped my calves on my backpack, used my rolled-up towel and hat as a makeshift pillow, and sank into a blissful thirty-minute repose. By the time I opened my eyes, the world was darkening, but it was also pleasantly cool.

We need to talk about the weather. I normally consider September a summer month in Korea, where summers are four months long. A bit like March, with that whole "in like a lion, out like a lamb" thing, September starts out with the angry remnants of August's heat but gradually relents as the month goes on. This doesn't make September a cool month toward the end, oh, no: it's been in the 80s Fahrenheit (high 20s to low 30s Celsius) ever since I began this walk. I'm hoping the weather will cool down as we approach mid-October, which is when Seoul gets markedly cooler, as if a switch has flipped. The problem for me, though, is a sort of time/temperature/latitude paradox: in theory, all of Korea is cooling down as we move through October (happy October, by the way), but as I move southward, local temperatures are higher than they are in Seoul. End result: I might not experience as much cooling as desired. I remember living in Daegu for a year and noting that winter came to Daegu only grudgingly: Daegu sits in a huge depression that acts as a heat collector, gathering heat into itself and skewing the local climate. I don't recall how cool Daegu was in the fall; I guess I'll be getting a refresher on that soon enough.

In terms of weather: it's also raining, just as the second "Ohhhhh!" guy predicted. The radar image for the current typhoon shows most of South Korea completely covered by rain activity. It'll be raining tomorrow, so I'm going to get soaked, poncho or not.

People continue to react to my tee shirt (why haven't you bought one yet? click the image on the right-hand sidebar!). While I was crossing an old, converted rail bridge, an older man who was walking barefoot gave me an open smile and even clapped a few times in applause and/or approval, punctuating his applause with a thumbs-up. That same bridge has coffee shops on either side of it; I passed the first one when stepping onto the bridge but stopped at the second one after stepping off, and the coffee ladies peppered me with questions about the walk.

The Seoul-Yangpyeong segment was Day 2 during the 2017 walk; it was Day 4 this time, but just as arduous if not more so, mainly thanks to my concerns about my popped foot. The foot held up just fine, though, and I kept the pain at bay with periodic meds. When I did finally reach my current motel (the VIP House Motel, not my usual River House), I had the chance to palpate my foot to feel for snapped tendons and/or broken bones, but there was nothing. This leads me to wonder whether the popping—whatever it was—was more of a "chiropractic" moment, e.g., when the chiro twists your spine in a hyperextension that forces certain bones and joints and ligatures to pop harmlessly. It's a cute theory, but the problem is that chiro-popping is supposed to be beneficial, and in my case, my foot still experiences pain: I can't stand on my right foot at all. I can walk on it because walking involves a rolling motion that distributes stress across the whole foot in a brief period of time, but standing on the foot puts me in a static position that cruelly applies pressure to my sole, especially my arch. So yeah, the pain sucks balls, but it's manageable, and I won't cancel the walk unless the pain becomes much, much worse. I'll know when that moment comes: it'll be when I can't move forward anymore.

I've hit a hitch with my next stop. I had assumed the nice lady who manages the Yeongneung Baek Ga Guest House, 26 km away, would be just as accommodating as she had been two years ago, but when I texted her today, she said she regretted to inform me that she didn't have a guest room available. I did some poking around on Naver Map. The lady's guest house is close to the Yeoju Dam (여주보), which is, in turn, not far from Yeoju City. I found a motel not far from City Hall: the Yeonghwa (여주시, 영화모텔—Naver it!). Unfortunately, it's 32 km away from where I am, but while I'm in no hurry to do a 32-km walk hard on the heels of a 35-km walk, I'm banking that the next day's walk will be all that much shorter. And from what I can tell, that seems to be the case: the following day's walk to Jangsu Pension (Friday, October 4) will be a bit less than 17 km—a blessed relief after a string of harsh marches.

I recall Jangsu Pension as being no more than okay for the price I paid. (See here for what it looked like.) I recall hearing insects tick-tick-ticking as they crawled across the pension's floor in 2017. The place wasn't particularly clean or well-maintained, but it had a roof and a floor and some blankets to sleep on/under, and that's all that mattered. After Jangsu, I have a string of four motels that don't require calling ahead, won't have any insect invaders, and are mostly decent accommodations. After those four, my next pension is called San Gwa Gang, and I remember it fondly. Instead of using numbered rooms, the overnighter is invited to go to "the Mango Room" (that's where I stayed), or to rooms with similarly fruit-themed names. It's all very cute, and the digs are nice.

My first night of camping happens the following day, October 10, close to the Sang Poong Bridge. It won't be real camping: there's a campground up the road from the awful guest house I'd stayed in last time, and I'd rather go with those austere accommodations than ever have anything to do with the guest house that had treated me so poorly last time around (tale of woe here). Later in the walk, there'll be three more nights of camping, only two of which will be true (and probably illegal) camping. It's funny to think that I carry this backpack only because I have to camp for a few days. In theory, were I able to motel my way across South Korea, I wouldn't need a pack at all. Of course, because the backpack is as much of a conversation piece as the tee shirt I'm wearing, losing the backpack would mean becoming very uninteresting. So there are pluses and minuses no matter what a person does.

I suppose you've been waiting for some photos, ja? I have over 40 in this latest pic dump, but if I'm going to be this exhausted every time I stop, I need to think about putting up no more than five pics per post and writing no more than, say, 300 words. If brevity is the soul of wit, then the time has come to hone the wit.

It was after my foot had popped, and I was on my way out of Hanam City when I encountered these two ladies. Turns out they were Christians; they were embarrassed when I took their picture, but one of the ladies ran after me and tried to hand me a vitamin drink and a small packet of wet wipes with her church's information on it. "Do you believe Jesus?" she asked. I was sorely tempted to tell her she needed to add the preposition "in," otherwise I'd have to ask in return, "What—does Jesus have a reason to lie?" I told her I didn't need the vitamin drink, but I accepted the wet wipes.

No more Christians in sight as we march back toward the Han:

I'm always a bit miffed when the walkers get the gravelly path while the bikers enjoy smooth asphalt:

Below, the three signs pointing rightward are to (1) the Namhan River bike path, (2) the Paldang Bridge, and (3) the city of Yangpyeong:

Up ahead, we cross the stream and head toward the Han River in earnest:

The Paldang Bridge, from a distance:

The big blue sign points optimistically to Yangpyeong:

To cross the Paldang Bridge, you actually have to walk past it, then up this ramp, which curves misleadingly to the left, then back around to the right before it leads you to the bridge. In 2017, I got confused about how to do this. I missed this ramp because I never walked past the bridge, then I illegally crossed a freeway that was up the hill, and I somehow made it onto the bridge. That was a scary game of Fat Frogger for yours truly. I didn't discover my mistake until later, when I pulled out Naver Map on my phone and really, really zoomed in on the path to see where it crossed the damn bridge:

The ramp up to the bridge, and part of the bridge itself:

Crossing now:

Coming down the ramp on the other side:

I know what my obituary photo will be:

So there's this set of sculpted angel wings randomly placed on a wall. The idea is that it's a photo op—a place for a boyfriend to take a pic of his angelic girlfriend, now with wings visible for all to see. Taking a selfie, though, is a pain in the ass because it's impossible to get the right distance. That's why I took the selfie and then took the wide shot of the wings. Taking two pics is as lame as trying to explain a joke you just told, but at least you now have some context.

We very briefly cross into, and then out of, town:

Thus begins one of the more beautiful stretches of the day's path:

Shwimteo. Couldn't help myself:

The second major man-made structure of the day is the Paldang Dam:

Another shot as I near the first major tunnel:

The tunnel approacheth! There are around ten of these.

More quiet countryside:

I've now done the Seoul-Yangpyeong-Seoul route several times, and one restaurant that I always pass is this one, called Bonjour (봉주르), which may or may not actually be French-themed. The wooden statues of the married(?) couple and child never fail to amuse me; the family's expressions, however, don't make me eager to try the resto's fare:

Below: something about bread. Color me circumspect when it comes to Koreans and French bread. Some bakeries actually do excellent baguettes and croissants, but many of them never earn above a participation trophy:

We're at Neungnae Station, which used to be an actual train station, but which is now more of a bike-themed center and minor tourist attraction. There are drink machines; I guess there are things that tourists can do there (including a walk to a nearby cathedral). You can rent a bike, buy biking gear, and even get your damaged bike fixed... as long as you come on a weekday. If it's the weekend, then I'm sorry, but you're fucked.

A vestige of the past: an old, dilapidated train car. I've seen people moving around inside the car before, so I guess it's still functional in some sense:

The sign below says Yangpyeong is 21.5 km away, which means I've gone a bit less than 15 km at this point. The first third of any such journey is usually filled with happiness and optimism; it's the middle part that wears your soul down and convinces you there is no God.

And here's that old, converted rail bridge I talked about earlier. The blue circle says "Yangpyeong Travel"; the swooshy parts say, very roughly, "Where Your Feet Take You" and "Where Your Heart Takes You":

I tried to snap a pic of a KTX as it was passing:

The bridge, in all its bridgeyness:

There were a few of these glassed-over holes cut into the floor to inspire fear and awe. This was about the spot where I had encountered the barefoot man who applauded me:

In places like Pennsylvania and New Jersey, there are plenty of rusty old bridges like this, so I experienced a bit of nostalgie:

A peek at Yangsu Station, one of about three or four functioning train stations that one passes on the way to Yangpyeong:

It's a long trek between the first tunnel you encounter and the remaining nine or so. I can't remember whether this tunnel, below, was the second or third one, but I snapped a photo of its entrance for you:

The tunnels proved to be a relief from the relentless sun. A walker can feel their cool exhalations fifty meters before entering them. I was tempted, several times, to stop walking, curl up, and just nap against a dirty tunnel wall as the bikes whizzed by:

One of many such homes, tucked away in a tiny valley, with enough land to grow some small crops. Must make for a peaceful life... unless such households are actually infernal pits of alcoholism and domestic violence:

Nature works slowly and quietly to deconstruct a tree:

Deconstruction up close:

And here is Shinweon Station (I think they're romanizing it "Sinwon" here):

A few kilometers later (and after that lovely nap described earlier), we're now at my favorite station: Guksu Station. I do wonder what the hanja (Sino-Korean characters) are for Guksu; normally, guksu means "noodles," but I somehow doubt this is Noodle Station. I would eat at a resto with that name, though:

A closeup of the station's sign:

It's officially nighttime:

And this is my favorite creek: the Satan Creek (to be read as "sah-tahn," not Satan):

After this point, it didn't seem worthwhile to blog the rest of the walk to Yangpyeong. If you want to see a ton of Seoul-Yangpyeong photos, look here.

Final thoughts for today as I contemplate another painful, thirty-plus-kilometer walk out to Yeoju City: why do we distance walkers do it? I'll tell you why: because compared to sitting in a shoebox of an office, clickety-clacking at a keyboard for eight hours a day, walking long distances imbues us with a sense of purpose and accomplishment. We feel as if we've done something that has meaning and value, and we reap the fruits of such labor immediately. We can write material for an English workbook, but we have no clue whether the kids who use our material have been positively affected or influenced by it. By contrast, when we walk thirty kilometers, we feel as if we've done something. In the meantime, the simplicity of walking allows the mind to open itself up to the sounds of the world, to Mother Nature and her cacophonous children (yes, even the hairless primates with their loud, polluting technology are her children), who are teaching us something new at every moment. Walking is meditation, and it's a way of reconnecting with the beating heart of the universe. There are other ways of touching such depth, of course; I'm not claiming that walking is something everyone must do. But if you want to know why I engage in distance walking, well, that's why. Or that's one reason, anyway.

Oh, yeah—stats:

NB: the above stats show ten hours' walking, but my time on the trail was from 10 a.m. to about 9 p.m. True, that includes rest periods, but even when you're resting, you're sweaty and tired. Eleven hours, I say!

Photo essay (October 1 images):


  1. Definitely not a torn or snapped tendon--you would not be able to walk on it. Ask HJ what it feels like to snap a tendon.

    Are you experiencing any swelling in that foot? If not, then it might not be immediately serious. Hard to diagnose from afar--although I don't know how much better I'd be in person.

  2. Yeah, I kind of figured re: torn/snapped tendon.

    No swelling. I simply can't stand fully on the right foot. If this "injury" is anything like the ACL in 2008, the pain will get progressively worse over the coming weeks. I was able to walk at least two months after my injury in 2008, though, so I could still, in theory, tough out this walk to the end even if there is a substantive problem. But we'll see: if the pain becomes unbearable, I'm not going to pretend to be noble and limp my way to Busan: I'll simply take the "live to fight another day" approach and stop once I can't go on.

  3. Hmm. Well, good luck. Here's hoping that the pain will subside.

  4. Good luck! I rode my bike from At a West Sea locks to Busan 51 weeks ago and my knee blew out on the last day, 50km from the end. Made me appreciate the clip in shoes as I pedaled the last 50km with one leg.

    Do those shirts ship to America?

  5. Being alive is good news indeed! You ain't ready for those angel wings just yet.

    Hope the mysterious foot pain walks itself out today, good luck with that.

    Love the pictures. After being away awhile, the quality infrastructure even in rural Korea is quite the contrast to what I see here in the PI.

    Nice thoughts on why you walk, reminiscent of the Everest climbers "because it's there" sentiment. I'm not half the walker you are (even on a good day) but I can relate to the meditative qualities of spending time alone on the trail.

    Looking forward to the next installment!

    1. "Not half the walker"??? John, you eat mountain trails for breakfast and average over 20K steps per day! I'd never be able to keep up with you or with any of your Hashers if I somehow got drunk and ended up in the Philippines.

  6. When you get a chance, take a look at Candace Owen's lucky husband. Oh, you two have something 'major' in common.