It was only 4 PM when we arrived in Mungyeong, and we felt like we were on top of the world. It had been a ride of contrasts, from the tough grind up the hill in the morning, to the neverending descent in the afternoon. Finishing our day a couple of hours earlier than normal made us feel invincible. Spirits were high as we sailed into town.
Today was the day. The dreaded climb up the mountain. The biggest climb we’d encounter between Seoul and Busan.
Obviously, Jess had hyped this up in her head to be as tall as Mount Everest, so she was nervous and shaky as we ate the free breakfast of toast and cereal that the Suanbo Saipan Hot Springs Hotel offered. Neil, annoyingly unflappable as ever, just shrugged and shuffled off to pinch another loaf. Perhaps he had just seen the clock on the wall that gave relevant advice for the day ahead.
We slept in until a luxurious 10:30 AM because we knew today would be a short ride. Jess set the alarm for 8 AM mostly out of habit, but we kept snoozing it, and the light was streaming through the curtains by the time we finally roused ourselves. It was a rare treat.
Our day on the bike was over, but our evening off the bike was just beginning.
It was 6 PM and the town was lit up like a disco roller derby at Christmas. Everywhere we looked, buildings were screaming their wares and offerings with flashing neon signs and bright lights, and our first impressions of Chungju were that of a Las Vegas strip with its fair share of travelling businessmen. Seedy but (mostly) harmless.
The sun was dangerously low when we rolled into Yeoju.
Adding 20 additional kilometres to our ride (in tandem terms, about 1.5-2 more hours) really didn’t help to keep our spirits high, and by the time we reached civilisation, we were so annoyed and tired that we did the bare minimum to find accommodation. That meant stopping in front of the closest motel that looked open, which in this town at this time, meant that there wasn’t many.
What a long day.
We set off from Seoul bright and early at 9 AM today, after enjoying a breakfast of toast, fried egg, and tea by Mr. Kim at the Haemil Guesthouse. The kitchen is small but cosy and functional, and we shared it with a few other people who looked completely bewildered at the sight of two loonies in lycra.
Seoul is the capital city of South Korea, and the 4th largest metropolitan economy in the world. Larger than London and Paris, the wider Seoul area houses roughly half of the country’s population. Like the country as a whole, it has developed into an economic powerhouse at breakneck speed in the time since the Korean War.
What’s the last thing you want to do the day before embarking on a 14 hour long-distance flight?
Spend 5 hours deconstructing everything on your balcony and roof terrace for the builders who will be renovating them during your vacation.
With a whole month to do whatever we like, in a country with great public transport, there are any number of ways we can tackle this one. On our previous tours, facilities were much more limited, so we weren't quite used to the freedom that this one gave us.
Bike tours are like children: the more you have, the less you worry about them. Or something like that.
Northern Ireland was recently named Lonely Planet's #1 Region for 2018, and the folks at Discover Northern Ireland decided to make a video of this beautiful country in tribute. They put out a call for submissions for people's favourites experiences. of which they received thousands, and our clip of a band playing live tunes at Blakes of the Hollow in Enniskillen made the final cut!
Well, hot damn. It's been a while since we posted on here. With good reason - at the successful conclusion of our Northern Ireland tour back in September 2016, we rashly committed ourselves to getting married, so we've been quite busy making that happen. Happily, we made it to the aisle in one piece, give or take, and in August 2017, we were joined in holy matrimony by the best Fake Priest, supported by the Hand of the Bride and the Second Best Man (long story).
We left Northern Ireland in the wee hours on Sunday, September 25.
Today was our last day.
By the time the sun came down, we would have done a loop of the whole country and ended up back where we started in Belfast. As is usually the case, we were too busy thinking about what still lay ahead to reminisce. No time for nostalgia just yet.
Today's short ride and fair weather got us to Portaferry with enough time left in the day to visit the Exploris Aquarium. Whilst that might sound like some sort of 80s disco rave with cheesy pop and bad cocaine, it's actually home to almost 75% of all marine species found in Northern Ireland, living in careful facsimiles of their natural habitat.
Continuing our trend of easy last rides, today was no exception. We woke up to a calm sea and the sun shining its rays into our window. The storm had finally passed and it looked like today's journey would be smooth sailing. Or so we hoped.
They say that it never rains, but it pours. In Northern Ireland, this isn't quite true: it always rains. In Newcastle, however, it pours.
Another easy day awaited us when we woke up in the morning. It was 40-odd kilometres again from here until Newcastle, so we got up a bit later, ate a bit later, and set off a bit later than usual. These final stages are more laid back, so we've settled into a relaxed rhythm which allows us to languish longer over our bacon and beans, reading the morning papers aloud to each other like a pair of wrinklies.