Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Walk Thoughts #4: route, food, and other considerations

1. Route

One of the big riddles I need to solve, now that I'll have the time to do so, is where exactly the Han River portion of the Four Rivers bike path hits the next segment that leads southward, out of Seoul and heading toward Busan. I have a new map app that might be helpful in that regard: unlike Google Maps and Naver Map, this app clearly shows major bike paths in red. It ought to be a simple matter of zooming in on the Han River, finding the bike path on the river's southern bank, then locating wherever the split happens.

The problem is that, if I read the other maps I have correctly, the path doesn't actually break away inside Seoul: the Han River segment of the path continues eastward, leaving Seoul before splitting off and going south. If that's true, then I'm probably going to hit a rest area while going east, before my path turns directly south. If at all possible, I want to learn the exact name and location of every rest area on my route.

Tons of expat bikers have done this path, so it can't be that hard to figure the route out. Bikers who have made YouTube videos have shown, time and again, that the great path from Seoul to Busan, no matter which segment we're talking about, is clearly marked "Four Rivers Bike Path" in Korean. I suspect that a simple reconnoiter will answer many of my questions about what the path's signage looks like, and if I am indeed getting a few days off this week (Wednesday is the March 1 holiday in Korea; I've put in for Thursday and Friday off as well, given that the boss told me I should take "a few days" off after having finished this monster project), I may go take a few long walks to see what I can see.

One video by an Aussie chick gave me pause because it seemed to show that the path gets hilly, at points, even before it hits the mountains down south. That's something I hadn't considered, but I should have, given that Korea is 70-80 percent mountainous. I was fooled by how most of the expat-biker videos seem to show mostly flat terrain.* What I'd really love to get is a contour map. That would solve a bunch of problems. My kingdom for a map store...

2. Food

A major guiding principle, as I prep for this walk, is Don't buy overseas whatever you can find in Korea. (More on this in the next section.) Buying American simply to buy American is no way to shop; if Korea has a perfectly decent, functional equivalent for whatever I want here, then it makes more sense just to buy it here.** Seoul has almost everything, and my research into camping/hiking/climbing/outdoors stores shows that there are plenty of places to buy what I need. That ought to include freeze-dried food. I've established previously that I won't need more than ten or eleven days' food for a 21- to 23-day hike. Eating every other day will be just fine: less food weight to carry, less pollution to pack out, less cost to worry about. While I'd love just to order 10 days' worth of Mountain House freeze-dried goods, I've seen Korean MREs on eBay that might be similar in both weight and nutritional/caloric value. If that's the case, if decent freeze-dried food is available locally, then there's really no need for me to purchase food outside Korea. This is something I'll be researching over the next few days.

Some commenters to one of my earlier Walk Thoughts had suggested just eating in town now and again. It's not a bad idea, but as I hope I've made clear, I'm not going to go far out of my way to find a restaurant whose location I don't know. I don't plan to waste any time with random wandering; even going 30 minutes out of my way is a burden, especially since I'm walking everywhere. If I walk through a town with shops and restos on the main drag, then fine—I'll stop, make purchases, and/or eat a meal there. Otherwise, I'll either fast if its a fasting day, or eat whatever I've packed, as that's the simplest, most efficient option.

3. Other Considerations

Let's talk about tech for a second. There are a few gadgets I'm wanting for this trip, and as mentioned above, if I can find them in Korea—even if they retail for more than they do in the States—I'd rather buy them here than have them shipped via Amazon or some other service. First is a kitchen scale, so I can begin weighing my food and counting calories accurately. This shouldn't be too hard to find here, and it'll undoubtedly cost twice as much as its American cousin. Second is a precise hanging scale, so I can measure the weight of my packed backpack. Third is a rolling map pen, so I can measure distance on paper. Fourth is a portable, outdoor-usable phone-battery charger. Joerg Sprave had recommended one on his YouTube channel, but I strongly suspect that such a doohickey is available here in Korea, proud land of exploding cell phones. There's other tech, like the Grayl (mentioned previously), that I'm going to order from the States simply because I don't trust a Korean product to keep me alive, pretty much for the same reason I'm leery of Korean health care.

I have yet to draw up a list of every single thing I'll need to be packing and/or wearing for the walk, so that's another to-do for the next few days. (By the way: it's later in the day, now, and my boss okayed my being off on Thursday and Friday with a terse, "You deserve it.")

Let's talk training. I've begun walking again, but I'm starting slowly. I've isolated several exercises I hope to master, and have established what I think are realistic—and realistically modest—exercise goals for someone in my current state of health, with a focus on back, core, and leg strength. These exercises and goals are indeed listed on a Google Doc (you can see it here) that is inside a "Walk Project" folder dedicated to this undertaking. On that document, I've divided my project priorities into four major categories:

1. weight loss
2. training
3. packing prep
4. route reconnaissance

Each of the above major tasks can be broken down into distinct sub-tasks; I'm working on doing that as well. As for training, the topic at hand, you'll see the following exercise goals:

    Lunges → GOAL = 20 lunges per leg, forward lunge + 20/leg reverse lunge
    Pushups → GOAL = 20 pushups, standard
    Crunches → GOAL = 20 standard, 20 reverse, 20 left oblique, 20 right oblique
    Planking → GOAL = 1 min front, 1 min lft, 1 min rgt
    Pullups → GOAL = 30 doorknob pullups (slow)
    Squats → GOAL = 50 squats

    Creek Walk → GOAL = long walk + 35-lb. Pack + 33 staircases
    Bldg Stairs → GOAL = 4X up stairs, fully encumbered (35 lbs.)
    J-Rope → GOAL = 20 min

I was proud of myself for finding the Tapp Brothers channel on YouTube. These guys, who look like twin Ginger Jesuses, are parkour fanatics who put out training videos that are friendly even for beginners. I found them while searching for alternatives to pullups for those of us without gym memberships, and the Tapp Brothers had a video with no fewer than five alternatives to pullups, my favorite of which was the "doorknob" rowing exercise involving a towel and an open door (watch that vid here). I've added that to the repertoire.

You'll also see that I added "J-Rope," i.e., jump rope, to my exercise goals. The last time I used a jump rope was well before I sprouted my first pubic hair; it's been years. I've already tried roping inside my apartment, but that didn't go so well: I snagged and tugged out a ceiling light, which I somehow miraculously caught with a whipping ninja grab before it shattered on the floor. (The grab was awkward, though, and I ripped a thumbnail.) So practice, for me, means going outside or hitting my building's lower parking-garage levels. Right now, as I emailed to my buddy Charles, jumping rope is more of a shit show than actual exercise because I'm so uncoordinated, but I expect to have achieved some sort of minimal form and rhythm by next week. The guys at YouTube's Zen Dude Fitness (about whom I've written before) were my inspiration to take up the rope. The idea is that they're offering a more-or-less fun way to do intensive cardio so that I don't have to spend every day doing five-hour walks for relatively little cardio benefit. These days, everyone everywhere is saying intensity is more important than endurance, and that, in fact, intensity produces endurance. The Zen Dudes are particularly into HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts, so once I'm coordinated enough, I'm going to be doing some of their recommended circuits.

My doctor will be ecstatic. Diet-wise—and in combination with the weird planetary convergence of Ash Wednesday (not that I observe Lent religiously) and the Korean March First holiday, I'll be putting aside carbs, for the most part, and cutting calories down to below 2000 per day to effect some weight loss. Will this be enough to get me to my goal of 115 kilograms by May 1? Only time will tell.

There's a lot more to talk about, of course; I'll be adding Walk Thoughts over the next couple of months, and I imagine that, sometime in April, things will start to narrow down and become more focused. By mid-April, I'm hoping to see some actual fitness results, and I'll have—ideally—prepped pretty much everything for the walk so that, come May 5 or 6, I'll be able simply to walk out the door and start on the path to Busan.

*This might still be a true reflection of how most of the path will be. After all, the paths were designed to follow rivers, and in a mountainous country, the path next to a river is found in a river valley. Water always finds the easiest path, so perhaps most of my way will indeed be flat. (Yeah, yeah... this is where some smartass mentions waterfalls.)

**If the Korean item costs ten times as much (factoring in retail plus overseas shipping) and is a piece of shit to boot, then in that case, I'll happily buy American. As things stand, I'm going to buy American when it comes to my bivy sack, my hiking socks, and my hiking pants.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Walk Thoughts #3: route-mapping redux

My exploration of the Seoul-Busan bike route continues.

On Saturday, I met my buddy Tom for a culinarily interesting lunch at Sushi-O in the Gangnam district of Seoul. After lunch, we walked over to a nearby tourism office that I'd discovered via Naver Map.* My aim was to ask the staffers inside about detailed maps that were specifically of the Four Rivers Project bike route.

When we stepped into the small, free-standing office, I saw there was only one staffer in attendance: a quiet young lady who didn't look quite ready to receive foreign visitors. I put her at ease by speaking to her in Korean, telling her about my desire to walk—not bike—the route, and asking her whether she had any detailed information about it: distance between rest stops, exact facilities at each rest stop, and so on. I saw signs on her desk indicating that tourism advice could be given in English, Japanese, or Chinese; when I playfully asked the staffer which language she could speak, she said "None of those; the people who speak them are out right now." A few minutes later, a second staffer—another young woman—came in, presumably from a lunch break, and began helping the first staffer with my request. In the end, neither staffer could find any on-site literature to hand over to me aside from one vague, undetailed map. Instead, they asked for my phone number so they could contact me later about whatever information they might find. They also suggested that I walk up the street to the huge Kyobo Bookstore to check out their maps/tourism section, and/or that I should check out the local public library for more extensive information on the route.

So Tom and I thanked the ladies and headed out, but before we left, I asked the second staffer what foreign languages she spoke. "Japanese," she said, to which I replied, "Honto daesu-nae!" (sort of like saying "Is that so!" in an amused tone of voice). She gave the obligatory giggle. After half a block of walking, Tom and I took a pit stop at a restroom that Tom knew about, and once I'd found blessed intestinal relief, we continued on uphill to Kyobo. The bookstore was as large and crowded as I remembered it from a decade previous. After consulting a store worker, we found the maps/tourism section, but I didn't have any luck until I asked an employee (the same one?) to help me search specifically for information on the Four Rivers Project bike trail. A computer search by the staffer brought up exactly one result: a Korean-language book on bike tourism in Korea, only one section of which was devoted to Four Rivers. I bought the book all the same. It's going to take a million years to sit down with a dictionary and decode all that Korean, word by word, but I think this might be worth it.

Tom, on a roll, then had the brilliant idea of going to a bike shop to talk with the proprietor. I congratulated Tom on his genius: most bike-shop owners are devoted bikers themselves, so of course they'd be likely know about the trail in question! I kicked myself for not having thought of this avenue of inquiry, but I gave Tom full credit for a great idea. Tom and I parted ways, and I headed back to my apartment, which is in a neighborhood with at least two bike shops. I stopped by my apartment for a bit, then went to the shop closer to my building and spoke for a while with the very friendly owner. Like the ladies at the tourism office, the shop owner had no literature to give me, but he did have a good bit of trail wisdom to impart.

I told him of my concerns about distances between rest stops, and I wondered about what sorts of facilities I'd find at each stop. The owner smiled and said that this wasn't like in America, with long, expansive distances between sites with civilization: you'd never have to walk far before finding something to aid you, and civilization was almost always close at hand. His feeling was that the distances between rest stops on the trail were perfectly manageable for a walker, although I did wonder whether "manageable" meant something different from a biker's perspective. He didn't have anything specific to say about facilities at each rest stop, but he was generally reassuring that I'd always find whatever I needed along the route.

Our conversation eventually turned to fatbikes,** which I documented here. I felt a bit guilty for monopolizing the gentleman's time, but he seemed to enjoy our exchange, and we parted with smiles on our faces.

I trudged several blocks to my office, and while there, I received a series of text messages from the ladies at the tourism office. They sent me URLs for the Four Rivers Project online, and for a Daum cafe/blog with information about the trail. Here are those URLs:

River Guide

Daum cafe/blog

At this point, I have plenty to study, but still no specific answers to my specific questions. I suspect that I'm going to have to buy a detailed map plus one of those pen-shaped rolling distance-measurers, then hand-figure this distance question myself. In fact, with so little specific information about this trail available to the public, I'm beginning to think that I could be providing a public service as I document each segment of the trail, taking stock of specific facilities, distances, and so forth.

Stayed tuned for more Walk Thoughts as I sort through this wealth of information, explore other informational avenues, and think of other things to write about.

*It's Google Maps—plural—but Naver Map—singular.

**In a recent comment, Brian Dean spelled "fatbike" as a single compound word instead in the two-word way I was using, and I'm adopting his spelling, which I've also seen plenty of times online. Seems apropos to use a single word to express a single concept.