Ride: Mungyeong, South Korea to Gumi, South Korea
Terrain: Most of the ride will be pretty flat with the odd bump or three, but nothing you can’t handle. There aren’t any weird twists and turns and the path is clearly marked and straightforward. But when it comes to us, nothing is as easy as it seems.
We woke up bright and early to get on the road as soon as possible, for today was going to be a near 100 kilometre ride. Super-organised Jess insisted on packing our bags the night before, which made getting on the road this morning a breeze. After a breakfast of CU’s finest, we were rolling for 9:20 AM (which might not seem early for some of you, but it’s an achievement for us). It was already hot and the temperature would only rise as the day went on.
We locked down the first 20km in under an hour and felt absolutely pumped. At this rate, we would be home and hosed in 5 hours, which was 3-4 hours less than our usual going rate with such long distances. There was still some fighter jet action in the sky triggering Neil’s paranoia (keep in mind that this was just before Trump’s first meeting with Kim Jong-Un and extreme silliness couldn’t be ruled out), but for the most part, it was a beautiful day. Yellow flowers lined the path for miles on end, and we saw many an old person indulging in some light calisthenics, warming the cockles of our black hearts.
Taking advantage of a stamp break to have a quick breather, we were a couple clicks further down the road when we were waved down by a Korean cyclist coming the other way. He was an older gentleman on a mountain bike, who very excitedly told us that there were some horrible climbs ahead, and it was better to cross the bridge and ride on the other side of the river. Trying to understand his rapid speech gave Jess another headache, but we were able to discern that the road before us on our side was “really steep and slippery, and if my bike was having trouble, then your tandem definitely will as well.”
To be honest, we weren’t too sure how much of what he was saying was true, as these so-called hills weren’t showing up on the terrain in our maps. To make matters worse, Jess was having flashbacks to her own childhood filled with Korean elders telling her what to do, even if they themselves had no idea what they were talking about, and this made her exceptionally unwilling to listen to what he was saying. But the man didn’t seem to want to take no for an answer, and kept insisting that we follow him back to the bridge. He even went so far as to refuse to leave until we went with him. What could we do?
This meant another half an hour and 10km on our ride, which we could have done without in this heat. We’ll never know what the road ahead on our original route might have looked like. But upon closer inspection in Naver, it does appear that we dodged what could have been one nasty climb on that side. In fact, thanks to various bridge crossings, we were able to pick our way down the river and avoid the worst of the hills. There were a couple of really nasty thigh-burners regardless, but they never lasted for long and we just got off and pushed when it got too much.
Before we knew it, 55km were under our belt and we were ready for lunch. We had planned to cook some noodles at a beautiful pagoda 50 metres away from the second stamp of the day, but it turned out to be an actual shrine and we weren’t allowed to do anything but sit in it and pray.
But all was not lost, for a few metres later we came across a tiny strip mall-esque row of restaurants off the main road. Jess’s parents once took us to a Korean-Chinese restaurant in the US, which Neil found amusingly cosmopolitan, and he hoped to try this wondrous culinary culture clash again in Korea. Lo, here was one restaurant serving such dishes, run by an unassuming old couple, which as you’ve gathered by now is your guarantee of a good feed. For 14,000 won, we ate our fill of udon and jjajjangmyun (Korean black bean noodles), and Jess managed to place our order in a mixture of English, Korean and accidental German. Winning.
Then back on the bike for 1:30 PM to finish off the last 40 kilometres. 20 of those breezed on by without incident, and we were at the final stamp stop (4 total on this route!) for the day.
By this point, it was well over 30 degrees, and we had done 70+ kilometres with very few breaks in between. Having gone through this scenario before and knowing our bodies well enough, we opted for a longer sit-down here (it helped that there were actual facilities instead of just a stamp booth). Before too long, another Korean cyclist stopped by and said hello. After realising that Jess was Korean but didn’t speak Korean (“If I had a won for every time…”), he then asked questions about our relationship, age (?), and whether Neil was American. The usual drill.
Another hour had us on the outskirts of Gumi, and like other cities before it, it was a total pain in the arse to get into town. We still had some trekking to do before we were finally done.