Last night around midnight, while camping by the riverside and tucked inside my bivy, I was suddenly seized by the urge to shit. That's never a good sign. I fumbled around in the moonlight for my tissues and wet wipes, then spent precious minutes searching, like a finicky cat, for the best spot to drop my ass-bombs. Without going into glorious detail, I'll say that taking a shit at night, dans la nature, is not the most uplifting experience. The fact that I had lost my trowel, with which I had planned to dig catholes for just this sort of occasion, didn't improve my mood. I somehow managed to avoid splattering my pants the first, second, and third time I returned to the target range to release my evil payload. Yes: three times. God damn my irritable-bowel syndrome. Anyway, I view last night's awkward session as an omen or a harbinger for how today went.
Today was about as humbling as I thought it was going to be. All the negative factors that could have affected my walk up to now suddenly decided to come together for a massive frontal assault. It rained all day; it was cold; I had to contend with at least two mountains and several minor-but-steep hills. Whoever said "the Saejae trail is the most difficult part of the path" must have been smoking something. Today was essentially several days' worth of cardio workouts, but done in a cold rain. Fuck my life, as the kids say.
One positive occurrence was that the rain didn't hit until after I had done the first mountain: things didn't get wet until I was past the trail summit and walking downhill. While sitting at a shwimteo halfway up the first mountain, I met an ajeossi who was biking the same route I was walking. He had also walked the route in his younger days, so he already knew the trail, but the killer angle of the mountain's slope had forced him to dismount and walk uphill just like me. He told me what to expect, but he wasn't accurate in his description. For instance, he initially said that the slope we were on would continue for four kilometers; I knew that was bullshit based on my examination of Naver Map: the section we were on wouldn't be more than a single kilometer. The old man revised his estimate a few moments later, saying the uphill would be maybe two kilometers (still an exaggeration). He was, however, a bit more accurate about what to expect later: he said I'd hit another mountain path reminiscent of the super-steep ascent past Mu Shim Temple, "But it's a short one," the biker reassured me. He also said I'd eventually reach the town of Namji, where I am now, and that I'd find motels there. I asked whether Namji was before or beyond the dam that was my target for the day: Changnyeong Haman Dam (창녕함안보 자전거길 인증센터, if you're checking Naver Map). He said it was eight kilometers before the dam, which turned out to be pretty close: Naver tells me that my current motel, CF Motel in Namji-eup, is 8.8 km from the dam.
But the old guy's reassurance that the second uphill would be "short" turned out to be woefully inaccurate. It was nearly a full hour of hell, and I can't even count the number of times I had to stop on my way up that bastard. I think part of the problem with dispensing travel wisdom is that, if you're a biker talking to a walker, your notions of "short" and "long" and "just past the city" and "just before the dam" are much different from a walker's notions. The potential for miscommunication is great.
Because of the relentless rain, I became very worried about whether my cell phone—which I needed to consult for navigational purposes—would conk out on me. The phone remained tough; I kept it wrapped in a Ziploc bag through which the phone's screen was hard to see. I risked taking only three photos because I didn't want the phone to get too wet. At one point, I was hoping to reach another shwimteo so I could wipe the phone dry, but I was on a section of the bike path where no rest areas appeared for miles and miles.
This was a depressing and demoralizing walk—my worst day on the trail for sure. When the old guy mentioned motels, something clicked in my brain, and I decided on the spot not to camp, reasoning that (1) I had earned a rest at a motel, given the effort I had put in today, and (2) my reeking, disgusting clothing needed a thorough washing, and the rest of my equipment needed a thorough drying.
After two mountains, I became annoyed by any and every new hill I encountered. I'm not normally like this; I usually see hills as a pleasant challenge, but I suppose that attitude is easier to maintain when the weather is fine. For all my scorn about fair-weather, weekend-warrior bikers, I'm really no better than they are. (But in my defense, I defy anyone to tell me that walking in cold rain over long distances, while encumbered, is a pleasant experience.)
I made it to Namji, passing many farms, fields, and shanties along the way. Digression: I have to respect the makers of the Four Rivers Project bike trails, whose paths lead you past every type of region from the sparkling high-end neighborhoods to the poorest, most squalid corners of the country. In that sense, the bike trails are very democratic: you get a taste of everything, and you can see for yourself how it's all seamlessly connected—rich and poor, urban and rural, all part of one chain of existence. Anyway, I got to Namji, but somehow ended up walking west, away from downtown where the motels were. I consulted my phone, turned around, and walked my final 1.6 km to the motel district. I'm at the CF Motel; I think CF is a chain because I seem to recall staying at a CF when I was in the coastal city of Yeosu. I'll have photos of the motel for you tomorrow: I'm staying here for two nights, which pushes my arrival date in Busan back to Wednesday the 17th. This also alters the total number of days on the road from 25 to 26. Ah, well... it can't be helped. I had no real idea that today was going to take so much out of me.
Of course, the problem now is that, by ending today's walk 8.8 km short of my goal, I have to walk an extra 8.8 km on Sunday. Today was my second dragon; Sunday now becomes a new dragon, and there's still one more dragon after that.
CF Motel's front-desk lady was very friendly. I briefly told her my story; she kindly handed me two extra bottles of water and told me where I could go to get a meal and do some convenience-store shopping, even walking with me out the door of the motel to point down the street to where I needed to go. I hit the convenience store to satisfy a long list of food-related cravings, but also to buy three liters of bottled water to store in my CamelBak ripoff. Obviously, when I'm camping, I rely on river water, but whenever bottled water is available, I buy it unquestioningly.
While I'd have dearly loved to just collapse in bed and sleep like the dead, I had to wash all my clothes, wash out my plastic bottles and my water tank, and dig everything out of my backpack to allow those items—and the backpack itself—to dry tonight and all day tomorrow. I also had to upload pics and write this post. Duty calls.
Some distance recalculations:
1. Today's walk went from 36.98 km to 28.18 km, at least according to Naver.
2. Sunday's walk now expands from 24.28 km to 33.23 km, unless I decide to stop early. But stopping early would be insane because the following day's walk is already slated to be 37.37 km (23.2 miles). On Sunday, I'm supposed to stop at a formal kaemping-jang, i.e., a campground where you pay to camp and then benefit from the campground's various facilities. You can look it up on Naver if you want: it's called Mireupia Auto Campground (미르피아 오토 캠핑장), and it's just off a bike path. It could be that the campground won't accept walkers: these places don't usually allow any "real" camping; what they do instead is assign you to a square of gravel where you can set up your tent. For "auto" camping, you're sometimes able to drive your vehicle right up to your assigned plot. The square of real estate might also have a raised wooden platform for your tent, just to abstract you even further from any real camping experience. It's a milquetoast-y way to camp, but since I've been motelling my way across most of the country, I'm in no position to wag a finger.
Everything else, distance-wise, ought to remain the same. The only difference, now, is that my schedule shifts by a day. Oh, and I now have to fight two dragons in a row: Sunday and Monday. Monday will see me in another motel for a scheduled two nights' rest that will be well deserved. Tuesday, then, will be a rest day, and Wednesday will be my final hike.
Alas, my buddy JW won't be greeting me at the estuary on the last day. He's got a client meeting. I think my boss will be there, and possibly a freelancing colleague of mine (if "freelancing colleague" isn't an oxymoron) with the auspicious name of Neil Armstrong. My walk constitutes about 1/735 of a one-way trip to the moon, if that trivia interests you.
Want to know my fantasy? While I'm planning to stay at the Toyoko #1 near Busan Station, what I'd rather do is go to a hotel that serves an American-style breakfast buffet, then stuff myself silly the following morning before checkout. If I don't get a chance to do that, I may visit one of the several pancake/breakfast houses in Itaewon once I'm back in Seoul.
Oh, before I sign off, I should report that my portable cell-phone charger has been working beautifully out in the wild. I used it to charge my phone to 100% twice in a row, and the charger still had plenty of juice left, so now I know that the guy who sold me the charger in Yongsan wasn't bullshitting me. It's a great little piece of equipment, and it's survived fluctuating weather conditions. (Of course, as with all batteries, it's probably not so good in very cold weather.)
And the piece of equipment I most regret not taking along with me: my bamboo back-scratcher. My back has an itchy rash, just between and below the shoulder blades where it's hard for a short-armed guy like me to reach, and I constantly want to scratch that part of my back while I'm walking along. Drives me crazy.
Today was Leg 18 out of 21 legs total. We're close to the end, folks. I will, of course, return to walk the part of the trail where I was whisked away to another guest house against my will. On that make-up day, I'll meet the puppy again—I hope—feed it some jerky to buy its loyalty, and end up with a friend for life. One less goddamn neighborhood dog to bark at me.
418 minutes walked
19.17 miles walked
3259 calories burned*
*The gross figure may be close to reality today: I walked up a lot of inclines, and I did so with a pack on my back.