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Bike life in South Korea
Posted by Megan Owen on
South Korea is quite a small country. It's about 100,188.1 Km2, with three of its sides sea-facing. Slightly smaller than England, its only connection to the main continent is the country of North Korea. Due to the conflict of 1950-1953, the Northern borders are closed. Between the borders there lies a Demilitarized Zone, 2 km each side with hundreds of thousands of mines hidden underground. No one is allowed to pass through the borders - and that includes civilians as well. This means that, geographically, South Korea is isolated from the continent. But within this small country, there still are lots of places to ride out. 70% of Korea is covered with mountains, and with 27 rivers (including 4 major rivers) it makes it the perfect place for scenic rides. Major cities are usually surrounded by mountains. Even inside Seoul itself. Indeed, only 40km from the city’s downtown it is easy to find 700m peaks to climb.
The most favored destination for Korean cyclists is the Taebaek Mountains. They start from Mt. Baekdu (on the border of China and North Korea) reaching down to the Southern end of the peninsula to the City of Busan. Here lie 1000-1500m peaks with beautiful scenery, testing cyclists to their limits.
My story with Restrap starts from Seoul over to the eat coast of Korea, passing through the Taebaek Mountain Ridges.
I started cycling when I was a little boy. I was quite addicted to it and had always raced in parks, and playgrounds. I stopped cycling due to my studies for a long period and got back on the saddle when I was 26. I enjoyed cycling a lot, just as I did when I was little kid. But as the years passed I started cycling further and further, seeking scenic views and challenges. Instead of a competitive cyclist, I have become a touring cyclist. I've been back on the saddle for six years now and I have found not competition - but adventure.
From Seoul to the city of Sokcho on the east coast is about 230km.
The cycling environment in Seoul is quite fascinating. Following the “4 river bike path” which runs through the city, you can reach anywhere you wish to go.
Starting from the central Seoul area, passing Han River parks and to the suburban areas of Seoul, you’ll start to see the peaks over peaks throughout riversides.
This is Lake Paldang, only 40km from Central Seoul, but a real escape to nature.
After arriving at the first stop at Yongmoon County, it’s time to follow the highways. Route 6 allows you to go east and towards the east coast of Korea. As you get closer to the centre of the Taebaek Mountains, the gradients steadily increase. Luckily we were able to follow some cyclists also heading east for the east coasts, which saved quite a lot of energy over 200km of riding.
The altitude gradually increases 2-5% for about 120km. And you also have to ride along a busy road with plenty of traffic. Passing Hongcheon and Inje County, we now reached the Mt.Seorak National Park.
Reaching Mt.Seorak National Park, the scenery changes. Peaks reach high up into the sky, narrow, deep and sharp valleys pass to your side. And the major peak of the route is now to be faced - Mishi-Ryeong Pass.
Mishi-Ryeong Pass is one of the major passes connecting East-West of the Mt.Seorak region. The pass has been a major connection between Sokcho and Seoul since the olden days. In the modern world, a tunnel runs under the old pass but the beautiful scenery makes people to ride this route. When finishing the 7km climb at the top, you’ll be able to see the east coast of Korea together with overview sight of the city of Sokcho.
(old sign indicating the Old Mishi-Ryeong Pass route. 5.5km to top)
The climate of the Taebaek mountain ridges near the east coasts changes quite rapidly during late spring and summer times. Clouds gather, showers pour before blue sky rapidly appears again. And as the peaks are near or over 1000m, the temperature rapidly drops when sun sets.
Mishi-Ryeong Pass starts from a 5% gradient and increases to over 15% on the final stretch. After riding over 200km, the body starts to feel pain and sharp climbs do make you suffer! But, the goal of today’s ride is near.
As we were behind the planned time and clouds were quickly moving in, we had to move quickly to reach the city before dark. After 15km downhill to Sokcho city and about 15km in to the city, we finally arrived to our destination. The east coast. We'd planned to find a campsite, but my partner wanted a little comfort and a secure place to relax, so we found some accommodation.
(the east coast of Korea)
One of Korea’s favourite dishes in the coastal cities and counties is raw fish and on the east coast it's king crabs. After cycling 230km, it feels like you could eat anything, and everything you see. It's great to see the beaches and enjoy a well-deserved night view of the city.
We'd planned to start early but heavy rain showers held us back for 2 hours. Luckily this gave us the chance to fuel ourselves and enjoy some nice morning coffee break before we started pedalling.
(Taken from our accommodation. Heavy showers poured and delayed our departure. Mt. Seorak is visible behind the residence area.)
Our plan was to cycle 160 km with 3 climbs up to the north near the borders but we had to change our plans. Starting from sea level we started to head west. Heading toward Mishi-Ryeong Pass. The climb starts from the city, but the main route for the climb usually starts from 8 km west of central Sokcho.
The scenery is completely different from the scene of yesterday. Sharp Peaks and ridges constantly amaze you as you cycle by.
The ascent starts with a 5-8% climb. Early kilometers are quite easy to handle, but as this climb starts within 10km from the accommodation, your body might not be warmed up.
Soon, the road narrows and becomes more worn out. This means now you’re entering Mishi-ryeong Pass.
The route is the opposite side of yesterday’s climb. Within a 12km climb, you’ll be able to see various faces of Mt. Seorak.
(Mt. Seorak National Park, from Old Mishi-ryeong Pass way)
As you start to pedal out of the city you’ll be able to see the wooden forests of region, and then the peaks of “Ulsan Bawi (Ulsan Rocks)”. The rock itself is 280m tall with a width of 4km, and is recorded as the largest Stone Mountain (peak) in Asia. There is an old story (myth) about the rocks. When god (The one in Asian Myth, who created the world) created the world, he wanted to create the most beautiful mountain in Geumgang Region. So he told every rock and peak in Korea to come over and he'd choose which ones to keep. Ulsan-Bawi, the largest stone mountain of Ulsan Region (currently City of Ulsan) set off on his way to Mt. Geumgang. He walked 375km and still had 70kms to go but he was large and slow. Saddened to know that he wouldn't make it on time, the rock looked around and the beautiful scenery made him to stay there. That is the present-day Ulsan Bawi.
Having the rocks on your left you’ll feel the gradients steadily increase. Sharp peaks and valleys create some massive winds. Sometimes the wind is so strong that you won’t move an inch. Passing the curves and feeling the pains from your legs, you’ll start to see the east coasts on your right side. Feeling the breeze of spring and fresh air of nature, we continued to push and pull on our pedals.
Coming down to the west to Inje County, 8 kms from top of pass, we meet the first junction and head north to another pass, Jinbu-Ryeong Pass. Jinbu-Ryeong is the lowest pass (592m) in the Mt.Seorak region. Approaching from Inje county, it takes about 6km, 170m elevation gain with 2-5% gradients. You won’t feel as if you have climbed any hills but you’ll be at top of the pass. But what if coming up from the opposite side? This means you have 21km/Elevation gain 529m with 5-10% gradients. The scenery is also slightly different from Mishi-ryeong pass as the peaks are not as sharp as they were earlier in the ride but the environment and scenery surrounding the area is quite breathtaking.
After coming down the hill for 26kms, you reach the county of Goseong, the most northern county in South Korea. The county sits only 26km from the Northern borders. If you choose to go North, you’ll be able to reach the Northern borders but they are heavily guarded by Military.
Coming down and following the beach for several kilometers, we once again have made our way to in land for another lovely surprise: Wang-Gok Village is a place where old traditions still influence the community. The whole village community still lives in old tradition buildings, over 500 years old. Passing the village, there's a short gravel road passing the Songji-ho lake. It’s only 1.5km from the east coast beaches but the environment is quite different. Looking at the still waters of the lake, but hearing the sounds of the waves hitting the beaches is quite special and an extraordinary experience. Coming down to the south, following the roads and beaches and battling the traffic we finally arrived. We'd had several hours enjoying the view, and the climb and we needed to fuel up.
On the menu -Icy “Mak-Guksu” noodles. “Mak-Guksu” is one of Gangwon region’s local traditional noodles. This noodle is one of move favored summer dishes of Koreans. With the special ingredients, and Special soup with Ice, this will cool you down and gives you energy to pedal further.
After the meal, looking down at the scenery, pedaling slow towards the south for 30km, we arrived back to Sokcho. As our departure was delayed for 2 hours due to rain, we had to shorten our ride for 30km passing 1 climb deep in to north, but we know that there's always another day.
The sun was about to set when we finally arrived for our transport back to Seoul. The end of weekend adventure deep in to nature of Korea.
As a rider who enjoys the outdoors and going long distances and for tours and adventures, I found Restrap so useful for my activities outside. Adventure cycling/Bike packing is not very popular in Korea. In the past, it wasn't so easy to go out on multiday rides as we usually had a large back pack with essential items on our back and cycled hundred kilometers for adventure. But with Restrap, it was easy to carry the essential items and essential kits for camping.
My next adventures will be another long range adventure deep in to Korea’s Taebaek mountains. I'm also training for the Transatlantic way bike race 2018.