In our last installment, we were making our way out of the incredibly busy Seoul area of South Korea. The region is home to millions of people. To ride a bicycle through the center of this megalopolis was mind blowing for two people who live north of Quesnel on the Fraser. We made it just fine thanks to the incredibly well-organized 4 Rivers Cycling Trail. Unveiled in 2012, the trail system takes its name from Korea’s four major rivers. Directional signs are carefully posted along the routes, and a blue line on the solid surface lets one know you’re on the right track.
As we turned south from Seoul, we were rewarded with beautiful river valley scenery. In spite of feeling remote at times, the trail was never very far away from large cities along the rivers and the freeways that service them. Like other trails (including some of those in Canada), our route would be both dedicated trail and occasionally one that was shared with automobiles. We were always safe from traffic though, as lanes were typically separated for protection.
Our accommodation was either motels (called “Love Motels” here because of their dedicated purpose) or the tent loaned to us by our friends Sung jong and Jihuyn in Seoul. Motels and hotels were relatively easy to find, and locating campsites could vary. We would often find free camping spots at community parks or little rest areas located along the trail. If we wanted a hot shower, we would look for “Auto Camping,” and it would include a spot to camp, bathroom and shower facilities, stainless steel dishwashing stations, electrical service to charge devices and LOTS of Good Neighbours to meet!
To navigate and to locate accommodations, campgrounds, stores and bakeries, we used a map app on our smartphone. Called “Naver,” it was indispensable. You can count on it 99 per cent of the time, and its detail is staggering. We installed one of those phone holder thingies on my bike, and it was incredible to have the map so close at hand. The other app is Google Translate. It was very helpful, and many people here are used to seeing it, being such a tech-savvy country. Our phone had a simple Korean 4G SIM card with shareable unlimited data for $70/month. Oh, and 5G was available.
After arriving at the southern city of Busan, we decided to take a bus to the start of our next route heading north. Bikes and all, we bused to Pohang on the East Coast. The coastline borders The Sea of Japan, but in Korea, it is preferred to call it the East Sea. This trail was quite different from the paths in the river valleys. It hugged the water’s edge and climbed up and down a multitude of hills. We convinced ourselves it was good training … Finally, after 1,000 kilometers of riding over 24 days, we arrived in the northeastern city of Sokcho. It would be a good place to take the bus back to Seoul to prepare for our journey to Bangkok, Thailand. That massive city is the starting point of our next adventure to meet our Good Neighbours on the other side of the Pacific!
Time is a funny thing. We remembered wondering just before we flew to Seoul what this country would be like. At times, the whole experience has been mystifying. It is very “North Americanized,” but it’s also vastly different from our home in so many ways. Examples? The population’s housing is going UP not OUT. High rises are the method of increasing housing here. And? … This country appears to be very uni-cultural in contrast to Canada’s focus on multiculturalism. A long-standing cultural history is still the pillar of the country, but it exists in parallel with robust capitalism, along with a new-age culture that includes “K-Pop” and vast applications of technology — everywhere.
Economically, it has been said that many Asian countries have been working hard over the last few decades to lift themselves out of poverty. The Republic of Korea is clearly doing this. With its pro-development, pro-growth, “let’s go” attitude, things appear to be booming here. And all since the 1950s. Incredible.
We’d like to thank the Quesnel Cariboo Observer for encouraging us share our stories with you. If you’d like to see more photos and read some daily stories, please visit our blog at crazyguyonabike.com/doc/quesnelbikers2019. Till next time!
— Chris and Heather Hartridge
Quesnel residents Chris and Heather Hartridge are spending five and a half months cycle touring around South Korea and Southeast Asia on their Good Neighbour Tour. The Quesnel Bikers, as they are known, will be sharing their journey with the community by sending periodic articles and photos to the Observer.