In a different time, our journey to Trailheads often consisted of a long stretch of mountain highway that gave way to a rutted out dusty road before ending in a half-filled parking lot. These days, we have found the convenience of traveling the intricate subway system of Seoul to lead us to the next adventure. Part of this is a desire to live in a city without a car and the other is to become more connected to the way of life in Korea. When you first look at the map of the different lines in Seoul, dizziness sets in and if you happen to be color-blind, you are in a deep world of hurt. Unless, you decide to use the app which makes it all a little easier, but where’s the fun in that! Since we are new to the Country, we do not yet have our Alien Registration Card (ARC), which allows us to have a Korean cell phone plan or a Korean driver’s license. Without the data to use apps of convenience or a way to rent a car, I have been thrilled to put my Geography Degree to practice by utilizing maps:)
Details: From Bokjeong Station we took the red line #8 to Jamsil Station, then the green line #2 to Sinseol-dong where got on the dark blue #1 and rode to Dobong Station. Note this was the longer way and our way back was much quicker.
This isn’t to say that we have been flawless in navigating the subway lines and even though much of the signs our in English, the announcements are in Korean. During one of our longer rides up to Bukhansan National Park, we learned that when everyone else gets off the Subway, you should probably follow them. The announcement had apparently said something to the affect of, ‘this is the last stop and everyone must exit the train.’ We apparently had a sense of misguided loyalty to our car or an unreciprocated feeling of commitment as we froze. After finally making the decision to exit and with one arm out the door, the lights turned off and the door slammed shut. If we were back in the US, I would have worried that we were in some Hollywood horror flick where the Subway was powered by Artificial Intelligence and had developed a mind of it’s own or a gang of men with panty hose stretched across their faces and armed with butcher knives were bearing down on us. Instead, we looked at each other and said, ‘Good thing we are on CCTV (Closed Caption Television) and someone is watching us right now.’ Within two minutes the conductor appeared and manually unlocked the door for us to leave. We were assured that the next train we got on was headed to the National Park as the cars were filled with hikers.
We walked the 1km from the Subway station through Dobong-dong before entering the gates of the National Park. There was no entrance fee because, you know, why in the hell would you charge the people to use their public land?!? We marveled at the emphatic display that Korean families have for lunch as people brought stoves for cooking Ramen, beers which cooled in the water, and one group even brought a parrot in a cage (I’m 95% sure this was a pet and not part of the meal). By the time we stared hiking it was rather hot and I was already drenched in the humidity. We had discussed simply going on a short stroll up to a temple and then heading back to our dong for dinner. However, the fervor with which Koreans embrace hiking seemed to ignite our legs and we could not stop.
The gradual incline soon turned to a natural and sometimes man-made staircase that climbed fiercely uphill. My legs were definitely beginning to throb just as she chimed in, ‘Should we just go to the top of Jamsuham?’ My ego shot back, ‘Yup, that’s exactly what I was thinking.’ As my friend Nick (Instagram @mentalhealingadventures) reminds us, sometimes in life, you just have to put one foot in front of the other. Let me tell you, these were literally a ton of freaking steps! It didn’t help that Ajumma’s were filing past us at a rapid pace and I kept telling myself, ‘Well, yeah, if I have been climbing this mountain for 70 years it would be easy for me.’ We passed some absolutely gorgeous temples along the trail that were all closed due to COVID. Several times on the way up, we pulled over to dunk our heads and hats in the cool running water to try fight off the stifling heat. We began to get in a rhythm and kept peering over our shoulder as the view behind us became more expansive. The last section was a stairway built into a mountainside and finally a handrail leading to the top. For the first time since moving to Seoul, we could truly appreciate the sheer size of Seoul and the beauty of the mountains that surrounded the city.
From the Top of Jamsuham bawi
The steps down began to wear on my knees and every sore step was a present reminder that we had a day well spent. Our initial thought of simply going for a walk in the woods had grown into a mountain that towered over the city we now lived. Even though we had planned on making it back to our dong for dinner we decided to stay immersed in the moment. We soaked our tired feet in legs in the mountain creek as the thrones of hikers passed us with curious glances. Part of it might have been that we were the only White people hiking on that day in Bukhansan or it could have been that I made the point of smiling and waving to each of them as we were elated with the shared experience. We wound up stopping for a dinner of fish, kimchi, a Korean pancake and refreshing beer in a street side cafe before taking the Subway home. Our last glimpse of daylight was the sunset shattering the Han River with the silhouette of skyscrapers.
There ain’t no food like street food
Details: From Dobong Station we took the #7 dark green line to Konchuk Univ Station, then the #2 green line to the #8 red line back to Bokjeong Station.