The years that we spend on this earth can be measured by the rotations we spin around the sun. And, when we are moving at a faster pace, the weeks seem to fly by with the wind. Other days, when we are completely immersed in the moment, time and space cease in their existence. I’m not sure where the past month has gone since our arrival in Korea, but they have been a blur of stillness for reflection, new beginnings with past memories, and learning through adventure. One of the reasons I love to travel is that so much of what I experience is new and unknown. The mundane routine that I become intrenched in breaks free into a world void of expectations and the journey becomes the ultimate destination.
I could not imagine a better way to check out a new location than pedaling two tires around the hundreds of miles of bike paths that are interwoven through Korea like a tight knitted quilt. And, with no desire to navigate auto traffic in the highways clogged with motorists, biking has become our preferred mode of transport. After Jim, the lone mechanic at Jim’s Bike Shop, taught us how to put our bikes together, we were eager to explore. Ashlee, myself, Jim, and Mindi went on a Sunday morning breakfast ride down to Jukejeon.
It was the first day without rain in over 45 days and we were excited to make the most of the opportunity. We left our neighborhood in Boekjeong and tried to head down the Chang Gogcheon, but, the path was closed due to flooding. Jim and Mindi knew an alternative route that took us along the road before dropping down alongside the Tancheon. Instantly, we could see the massive extent the torrential rains had on the waterways is large debris was hanging 15 feet high in the trees alongside the river. On the 10 mile ride up the river to the neighborhood in Jukejeong, parts of the concrete had been riddled to pieces and all of the railings on the foot bridges were ripped from the pavement. Still, nature was resistant as Egrets and Herons fished the transformed water and giant Carp boiled to the surface sucking down food.
By the time we reached Jukejeong, we were all ready to eat, but unfortunately the restaurants were not ready to open. Even the majority of the coffee shops in Seoul do not open their doors until 9 or 10 in the morning which makes an easy excuse for getting a late start on the day. We circled the blocks a couple of times as we pretended to patiently wait. The meal was well worth it and we were fired up for the spin back down the river.
Even though Ashlee had done an incredible job of picking out our bikes and selecting the perfect saddlebags for Korea (waterproof), we needed to get a few items to deck out our rides. Jim had built a relationship with a family owned bike shop in Jeongia-dong. Ming, who was as well versed in English as he is in bikes, had everything we needed. Because we were now heading down the Tancheon, we made good time back to our Dong. We made the decision to push to the area of Wirye to grab a cold beverage. Since it was before 1pm, nothing was open and so we headed back to the neighborhood. We posted up outside a C-U (a glorified 7-11 with seating) until the newfound sun became unbearable. I could not imagine a better way to spend the day!
The bike paths are so easily accessible and such a fun way to get around that we wanted to incorporate a ride into a date. After school one night, we found ourselves exhausted and thought about canceling our plans by staying in for the night. We talked ourselves into going out, trusting that once we got the wheels spinning we would feel better. The bike path going down the Tancheon at 5pm buzzed like rush hour as folks on electric bikes, cruisers, and racing bikes melded with joggers and walkers in some orchestrated version of organized chaos. The rush that we used to feel flying down trails on our Mt. Bikes back home has since been replaced by trying to avoid becoming a tangled mess of metal and flesh on the cylcyeway. Our friend told us of a great Indian Restaurant that was about a 45 min ride in the district of Gangnam (like the song, Gangnam Style). We followed the Tancheon until it dumped into the Hangan River, which is an enormous waterway that breaks through Seoul. Climbing up a ramp, leading away from the Han, we left the comforts of the river and were dumped into the harsh awakening of the bustling city. We entered into 8 lanes of traffic and as soon as we saw a bike pedaling along on the sidewalk, we followed suite. Later, we learned that no one bikes on the streets around Seoul and no one cares if bikes are slowly pedaling on the walkways…people just figure out how to co-exist.
The Indian restaurant was stashed into a little alleyway buried in the towering buildings of Gangnam. I brought a change of shirt as I knew the 96% humidity would take a toll and I wanted to put in my best effort to not look my worse. The food reminded us of our time we in spent in Delhi while visiting my good friend John and I enjoyed the fruits of microbrewery imperialism with our Naan and Tikki Masala.
If we weren’t hooked after two rides around Seoul, this past Saturday solidified our desire to spend as much time on our bikes as possible. We connected with Jim and Mindi again and decided to make a day of touring the city. We traveled back down to the Hangan River and then followed that until we reached Olympic Park. Home to the Summer Olympics in 1988, the plaza still stood as a tribute to a time when Nations put their differences aside and competed in the Games as a symbol of global unity which celebrated our commonalities more than our differences. Ironically, the eternal flame that was lit over 32 years had been extinguished due to the torrential rains. We circled around the beautifully manicured Mogchonho and Seokchon Lakes before landing at a lunch spot at the bottom of Lotte Tower (5th tallest building in the world). After gorging ourselves, the relaxing time that we had pedaling around became a distant memory as thunderclouds loomed in the distance. Jim and Mindi, who had ditched their touring bikes for spin bikes and spandex, set a hard pace to try to stay ahead of the storm.
The lightning was striking behind us and seemed to energize our fire to keep the wheels spinning. The last few blocks before our apartment were met with a fierce downpour and we were grateful to be inside as the thunder started to shake the windows. A typhoon is predicted to hit South Korea later this week, so we definitely feel like we snuck one in before the storm!