Ride: Chungju, South Korea to Suanbo, South Korea
Terrain: When we were there in May 2018, the bike path leading out of Chungju was still being developed, so you’ll have to improvise a bit between actual roads and gravel paths (this is where Naver really comes in handy). But once you get into the countryside, you’ll see some of the lushest, greenest rice fields you could imagine. It’s a great opportunity to observe farmers working land their families have held for generations. There is a gradual climb into Suanbo proper that lasts about 5 kilometres, so gird your loins for the final push.
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.
After packing up the bike, we waddled over the same convenience store as last night, which turned out to be a supersized version complete with a separate eating area. Convenience stores in Asia, we find, tend to serve multiple purposes, and you can buy anything from a wee drink or snack to your weekly groceries. A few even moonlight as a pharmacy, which is worth bearing in mind if you ever get sick.
This particular one was a self-service restaurant. We picked up some sandwiches and juices for breakfast, and had a funny chat with the cashier who looked like he was a student:
“By any chance, are you a Korean person?” he asked (in Korean).
“Yes, I am”, Jess replied haltingly. “But I don’t speak Korean very well.”
“Oh, OK. Um…where do you come from?” the cashier asked shyly, switching to English.
He resumed ringing us up in silence.
“North or South?”
Jess smiled. “North America.”
“Cool. Thank you. Um…see ya!”
It was clear he had been taught in school that “See ya” is what all the cool kids say in colloquial English, and on this rare opportunity to use what he knew, he was going all out to show us what he can do. It’s sweet little micro-interactions like these which stay with you longest after the trip is done, because these fleeting moments are when we truly connect.
There is a Lotte Mart (a proper supermarket, not just a convenience store) at the junction of Route 82 and 19 before you get back on the bike path. We stopped there in the hopes of finding a gas canister for our camping stove, as one of the things we were looking forward to doing was stopping by the roadside to cook up some ramen for our lunch. We hadn’t had any luck finding one so far, which surprised us given that South Korea produces over 80% of the world’s camping gas canisters. But here we hit the jackpot AND also bought some lengths of rope for our hammock - all for 4,000 won. We’re pretty sure Neil’s overpowering whiteness rendered them unable to figure out the correct prices.
Finally sorted, we set off along the western side of the city, which has a dual bike/pedestrian path running along the entire length of the main highway. This part of the bike trail was still under construction and frankly a bit rough, but the city had laid signposts to get us back onto the main trail. Unfortunately, the sign for rejoining the Four Rivers Bike Path was so banjaxed that it was near impossible to tell your rights from your lefts and straights. We spent 20 minutes going around in circles, getting so confused at one point that we pulled into a golfing range parking lot and Neil had a temper tantrum because “the sign told us to go here. So the path must be here somehow. WHERE IS IT.”
All in all, it wasn’t the morning of champions we had hoped for. But eventually, we found our way through the gravel until 10 kilometres later, we turned off the main highway towards Suanbo. There, the road was still shared with cars, with a clearly marked bike lane on either side, but it might as well have been all ours because there was next to no traffic, bar the occasional very considerate truck. And that’s basically what the rest of the ride was like - quiet, still, short, and generally lovely.