We were driving down a Korean highway, breaking loose from the city and bound for adventure. Since we left early Friday morning the roads were relatively clear and our minds were open with anticipation. Then a small courier pickup truck, called a Bongo, passed us and pulled into our lane. There were large sheets of plexiglass-type material that were stacked in the bed and the change in pace jarred them free. Gradually, they began to lift off the truck and started sailing in slow motion through the air. I did not want to break too hard or swerve into another lane with fear another car might be approaching. The first couple of sheets fell short and we ran over them, but, then one landed perfectly on the windshield, like a predictable scene from Fast and Furious (just pick one as it happens in all five of the critically acclaimed films). With nothing to see but the blue plastic that obstructed the view, my mind darted through the possible scenarios of how this might end. Driving strictly from the side and rearview mirrors, I blindly drifted over to the side of the road and the sheet drifted off our car. The drivers of the Bongo had pulled over as well and were furiously running down the interstate to grab their liberated cargo. Other cars, that had also fallen victim to the manmade asteroid field, stopped on the shoulder. With everything happening in Korean, we followed alongside the other drivers and started taking the pictures of license plated the roads and CCTV cameras. Then, to our surprise, everyone simply got in their cars and drove off. Ashlee messaged our contact from the rental car company. I’m not actually sure if it was a legitimate rental company as the day before we met a young man in a parking lot and exchanged cash for a key. No documents were signed and he didn’t even ask to see our licenses. Regardless, he assured us the car had a camera that was recording and told us not to worry. I will have to say, it is not the way that we planned to start our first road trip in Korea, but, within 30 minutes from a sheet of plexiglass being glued to our windshield, we arrived at our first stop in Seoraksan National Park.
We were ready to leave the trauma of driving behind us and parked off Seorak-ro (44) to start our hike (http://ge0.me/g220Y_eCsU/Start_of_Hike_in_Seoraksan). Even though we were starting later than anticipated, we had hopes of getting to the top of Daecheonbong (1708m). As so many of the trails in Korea, the path was void of switchbacks and went straight up. On this mid-October weekend, the vibrant Fall colors we had seen on our drive to the Trailhead dissipated into exposed limbs cleaned of their dressing. Without foliage, our views of the peaks and ridges which encircled us were unobstructed. There were less staircases than other hikes and Korea and the trail was more rocky and rugged. We were moving much slower than normal as we traversed over boulders that were stacked on the ridge. After being in a cloudy haze that morning, the day began to clear offering the splendid site of Seoraksan. One of the high points on the ridge was Ggeutcheon (http://ge0.me/o220bN9Cpp/Ggeutcheong) and the warming sun beckoned us to stop for lunch. Knowing that we still had to drive to our place in Sokcho, we decided it would be a good place to turnaround. On the way back down, we were both plotting how we could backpack on this trail at another point in time.
We decided to take more of the scenic route to Sokcho as we followed the windy curves until we hit the coastline of where the Korean peninsula breaks off into the East Sea. We drove North along the waterline with the waves lapping up the beaches. Growing up in Oregon, I have always felt a connection to the Coast. I’m not a surfer, nor a deep-sea fisherman or a sailor, but I need to know that I’m close to a vastness so great it can’t be fully understood. Consequently, anytime I see the Ocean, my mind wonders into those greater depths and I’m reminded of the limitless possibilities that exist in our world. Just imagine being a ‘Flat Earther.’ All of the sudden your imagination simply stops, along with the sea, and everything falls in a flat line to nowhere. I mean, now that I think about it, dropping off into an abyss of sky sounds like a fantastic reason to get in a boat. Ah, of all the ways ones imagination can drift on a Flat Earth…
The road rolled along with the waves, until we reached Sockcho. Our friend had recommended A Burger Place (http://ge0.me/g2203B5Im7/A_Burger_Place) as a must stop. I’m not sure if the name was only partially translated into English or if it was a ‘Flat Earther’ who conjured up the creative designation. Regardless, they served up an amazing classic burger and fries that paired nicely with a Pabst Blue Ribbon.
The Air B and B that we rented was just outside one of the entrances to Seorakasan National Park. By the time we arrived, we were exhausted and looking forward to sleeping in a cozy bed. However, when the owner of the Motel showed us our room there was thing that was missing…a bed. Before the days of electricity, Korean houses were heated from a fire that was safely kept burning underneath the home. And, since heat rises, in residences, the floors are heated. So, it makes sense that people still living traditionally would sleep on the heated floor. And, why when booking a room, you should make sure there is a picture of a bed. A listing stating that it sleeps 4, might just mean there is two blankets and four pillows. I attempted to put a positive spin on the situation by saying that we were experiencing a different culture’s traditions. Ashlee was not buying what I was selling, but, had no problem crashing out. Mt. Seorakasan loomed over our room, casting a shadow in the night sky.
After a relaxing morning of drinking coffee on the balcony and having a grilled cheese for breakfast, we drove down to Hajodae Beach. For lunch we went to a local brewery called Single Fin Surfworks (http://ge0.me/0221CS7ggy/Single_Fin_Surfworks). The laid-back establishment produced my favorite IPA that I’ve tasted in Korea. They also have a canning machine on site which allows them to pour beer right from their taps for beer to go. On the shelf of empty bottles for collection, they had Ninkasi’s Total Domination from my hometown in Eugene, OR. The owner seemed impressed and I told myself that earned me some brewery cred which is the reason they gave us stickers. On our sun soaked stroll from Hajodae to Surfy Beach we had the stretch of sand to ourselves and meandered along picking up sea shells along the way. Surfy Beach was a fantastic attempt at replicating a resort in Mexico with thatched bungalows, a surf shop, and the only beer they served was Corona. I have to give them credit that they stuck with their marketing niche even in the midst of the novel Coronavirus.
We watched the sunset at Nakasan Beach (http://ge0.me/c220fakbWJ/Nakasan_Beach) which boasted a nice boardwalk with shops and cafes. One of the parts I love about the Coast as it encourages you to simply move at a slower pace. It’s something about feeling insignificant under such a massive presence that makes me realize there is no hurry to enjoy the life that is in front of you. For dinner that night, we went to an Italian Restaurant called Matsu (http://ge0.me/c2201LH6RH/Matsu). I absolutely loved this place as it was in full on Christmas décor, had a tree coming out of the middle of the room, and they served an amazing seafood pasta for a very reasonable price.
The following day, we wanted to make the most of our time and got an early start with the hopes of beating the crowds (Seoraksan boasts the most visitors of the 22 National Parks in Korea). One of the activities we have missed from home is being able to run on trails and we figured beginning with the sun rising would give us the most solitude. We ran the half mile on the paved path from our place to the park’s entrance and were immersed into a Fall wonderland. A freeing feeling came over us as our feet hit the dirt track and we climbed through the deciduous forest that lined the water of the Ssangcheon. The golden foliage of maple leaves the size of my face were sprinkled in with singed flora dropping from trees. Our route ascended up a ravine cut by a clear running stream and we soon had views of the river valley that spread through the mountains. After about 2.5miles from entering Seorasksan National Park we reached our turnaround at Biryong Waterfall (http://ge0.me/o2200KSZqd/Biryong_Waterfall). The water was at a minimal flow as the summer rains had ceased and any snow melt had been distributed to the lower elevation’s months ago. There was still the pacifying sound of water sliding off the granite cliff and plunging into the pool carved into a bowl from the cascading creek connecting us to natures creation. Leaving the tranquility of that spot was difficult and I tried to ease the yearning to stay by telling myself we could return to Seoraksan in the Spring.