I didn't sleep well the Sunday/Monday night before I got up for yesterday's massive megawalk. I had to get up and hit the restroom once or twice; my brother David tried calling me via Skype when I was just falling asleep (he's supposed to know better than to Skype me when my phone is on LTE and not WiFi, but I think he just doesn't care); I was probably also anxious about the following day's long haul. I tried going to sleep early, around 9PM, but first David woke me around 10 or 11,* then I woke up again around 2:30AM, then I woke up a third time around 4:30AM and stayed awake thereafter. Striking camp continued to be a slow-as-molasses process; I wasn't on the trail until 6:20AM.
During the night, I had an annoying sort of equipment failure: my tube of Ben Gay burst open inside my toiletry case, coating everything inside with white goo. I actually like the smell of Ben Gay, which reminds me of fresh-mint Lifesavers, but this was just too overpowering. When I awoke at 2:30AM, I blindly fumbled about for my wet wipes and did what I could to wipe off the besmirched items in the case and to swab out the case itself. Alas, you can do only so much with limited cleaning supplies, and the minty odor stayed with me for the rest of my time at Mirpia Campground. The bursting-open of the tube was my fault, I guess: I had been using the toiletry case as a pillow by mummy-wrapping it with my thick sweatpants. This had worked on my other camping nights with no ill effects, so I suppose I trusted the items inside the case not to do anything untoward. Ben Gay apparently begged to differ, excitedly vomiting its contents everywhere.
As was true for most of yesterday, once I got moving, I lumbered along at a steady clip, sometimes even reaching 2.9 miles per hour (nearly 5 kph). The walk contained plenty of long, long stretches, and there were, at times, disappointingly few resting platforms (shwimteo) for me to sit on. There was one detour away from the river that was maybe six or seven miles long; it was during this detour that I suddenly got the urge to shit. That's every hiker's nightmare when hiking through civilization: without easy access to a public rest facility, you have to figure out how you're doing to do your business out in the open. In my case, the bike path was atop a long berm or embankment that sloped down on both sides; on one side was the river, and on the other was farmland. There was no way I was going to risk taking a dump while facing the farms, so I knew that, if I did decide to set off my nukes in the wild, I'd do it facing the river, downhill far enough to be hidden from curious bikers.
But the village I passed through during my detour had plenty of construction going on in it, so I reasoned that I could avoid the whole poop-in-the-wild issue by finding a port-a-john and using that. I found one, all right, but just as I was coming up to it, my colon loudly begging for sweet release, an older dude at the construction site ambled over and went into the john. Ain't that the way, I thought. So I waited, hovering twenty-five yards away from the john to give the man his privacy. Eventually he left, and it was my turn. The john was a filthy squat toilet, and I'm sad to say that I merely added to the squalor thanks to my poor targeting system. Let us speak no more of the sin I committed and then walked away from.
The walk continued. I passed a few mountainside hwaet-jip (sashimi restaurants), stopping at one to ask for water and/or a drink. I asked the restaurant girls how much it was for a bottled soda; they said a thousand won per bottle, so I got a Pepsi and a Chilsung Cider. I asked how much it was for the water, and the girls mysteriously said, "We're not selling that separately," leaving the matter at that. I took this to mean they weren't selling the water (which was being stored in plastic carafes inside a see-thru fridge), nor were they willing to give me any water for free. This seemed odd, but I decided not to push the matter, reasoning that I'd find more water sources as I hiked along.
A couple hours later, I passed through a town that had some motels, and I seriously considered calling it a day and just resting for a single night, thus splitting up the long leg into two shorter legs (something that Charles suggested I do in a comment, I believe). Ultimately, I decided to push on. While I was there, in the midst of civilization, I passed a concessions truck selling bottled water among other things. I saw that the lady had crates and crates of small, 500-milliliter bottles of water; I asked whether she had any large, two-liter bottles, and she whipped out a big, dusty one for me. "It warm, though," she noted, but I told her that warm water was fine. I topped off my water tank, no longer worried about my water situation.
Not long after that, disaster struck: I felt and heard a wet burst, and all my tank's water splatted to the ground in an instant. I was furious because, without seeing the problem, I assumed that the tank had simply ripped open and become unusable. I walked on a bit until I found a shwimteo, then took off my pack to assess the damage. It seemed that there had been no rip: instead, what had happened was that the tank's top plastic clip had allowed the bag-like tank to slide sideways. Once unclipped, the bag had flopped backward and down like a person in a faint, sloshing the water out of the top but leaving the backpack miraculously dry. The damage didn't look irreparable, and with a little trial and error, I figured out how to reinsert the bag into the clip and slide everything home again for a perfect seal. This didn't solve the fundamental problem of why the malfunction had occurred in the first place (I chalk it up to a design flaw), but the tank was once again capable of carrying water. I left the rest area and walked on, visualizing the appearance of another water source, but not stressing too much about the situation: after mentally doing the numbers, I concluded that I'd easily survive my final 15 km without water, if that became necessary. The day was hot, but not overly so, so I wasn't losing much water from sweat. I had also only recently swigged two sodas and a third of that truck lady's bottle of water, so the disaster had happened while I was well hydrated. There was really nothing to worry about.
I marched on for some time before I came upon a dirt soccer field surrounded by a green fence. The facilities on the side of the field caught my eye: there was a watering station there, and I wondered whether it was working. There was only one way to find out, so I altered course, headed across the field, and marched right up to the watering station, which was essentially a long metal, rectangular box with a trough on top and a series of sideways-pointing faucets so that sweaty soccer players could drink from the faucets as they would at a regular water fountain. I twisted a faucet knob, and mirabile dictu, water gushed out. Now for the real test: I filled my water tank, held it up by the clip to see whether the clip was holding, then figured out a way to prevent the same malfunction from occurring. To this end, I stuffed the water tank inside my backpack (up to that point, it had been riding outside the pack), rearranging items inside the pack to make room for the new arrival. I snaked the drinking tube up and over the pack, as I had before, then re-stuffed some loose items around the tank to keep it from moving anywhere. With the tank now snugly supported from the bottom and sides, there would be no question of the clip's slipping off. In theory, or so I reasoned, that ought to solve the problem. Triumphant, I tromped up the stairs into a nearby restroom, which is where I saw that biblical-sounding quote whose photo I posted last night.
The tank performed perfectly for the rest of the day.
That was the last mishap to plague me. After that, it was simply a matter of chugging along, cranking out the remaining miles. I didn't slow down until I was under five kilometers away from my goal. I had seen Yangsan City poking teasingly through the river valley from a distance, so I knew I didn't have far to go. One sign for the certification center said the center was 2 km away when I knew this wasn't true, but aside from that lying sign, every other indicator was true and trustworthy.
One thing I noted as I went along was the shortening distance to the end of my walk. At irregular intervals, blue milestones (you've seen plenty of my pictures of them) indicated that the Nakdong River estuary was 67 km away... then 55 km... then 35 km... Where I am now, the estuary is only 28 km (17 miles) away. Easy walk.
I'm sad to say that this latest certification center marks the end of the dams. I'd begun to respect and appreciate those large, imposing structures that stretched across the river, regulating its flow. I had especially begun to appreciate the dams' admin buildings, which usually had convenience stores and restrooms in them so that a tired traveler could use the facilities like a civilized person, then buy some refreshment to re-boost his blood-sugar levels. The dams had their own special, quiet beauty, each one being architecturally unique. One regret I have is that I never took the opportunity to climb up some dams' towers to their observation decks. Maybe next time.
With my Moleskine stamped at the cert center, I turned and walked into town, using Naver's real-time nav to guide me to a hotel. I had several to choose from, all with strange, Konglishy names like "Idea Motel" (when you see the building, it's actually "Le Idea" that's written on the side... but why not go full French and write "L'idée"?) or "Motel Kan (칸)." The place I'm in is called Bliss Hotel (not "motel"), and it's quite nice for W45,000 a night—maybe the best place I've stayed in this entire walk. It even smells like a decent American hotel. After paying for two nights (thanks to Charles, I now use the expression "이틀 밤" to describe a two-night stay, and there have been no miscommunications ever since), I tiredly went back out and looked for a place to grab food. I had passed several hwaet-jip on the way into downtown, but my mind was again fixated on chicken. I eventually found a "Mexican" chicken place up the street from my hotel; the lady running the joint spoke to me slowly and loudly, as if I were retarded, but she was otherwise very nice and very helpful. I asked her where I might find a convenience store; she offered some guesses, but a group of ladies sitting in the restaurant corrected her, saying things like, "No, no—that place is gone now!" It was eventually concluded that I'd have to go right to the town's center to look for a store. I thanked all the ladies, one of whom shyly bade me, "Have a good time!" in awkward English, then I limped back out onto the street, bag of chicken in hand.
After fruitlessly searching in one direction for the legendary convenience store, I had what the Brits call "a brain wave" (we Yanks say "brainstorm") and realized that convenience stores tend to cluster around train stations. There was a train station in town, Mulgeum Station (물금역), so I lurched my way over to it to see what I could see. My inner timer was telling me that the fried chicken was cooling into something much less palatable, but this couldn't be helped: whenever I'm in a town, I always stop at a convenience store to pick up things like carby snacks, drinks, and bottled water to fill my tank. Sure enough, a store with a huge "24" banner appeared across the street from the train station, so I limped on over, bought an armful of supplies, then limped back to my hotel to enjoy my now-cooled dinner... which proved not to be anywhere near as good as the Nae Nae Chicken I'd had while staying in Namji-eup. No more chicken for me this trip.
I was exhausted, but I couldn't get to sleep right away, probably because I'd drunk some Cokes. As someone nearing 50, I'm a lot more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than I used to be. Back in college, I could sleep through any caffeine blast, but not anymore. I uploaded my pictures, did some desultory YouTube-watching, then eventually settled into bed around 2AM. My body now runs on a different circadian rhythm, though, so I was up at 6:30AM, and have been up ever since. I don't know how long this new sleep schedule is going to last: once I get back into the rhythm of my previous life in Seoul, I'll doubtless go back to sleeping at 4AM and waking up around 10 or 11AM. Sigh...
And thus did I survive the longest walk of this whole trip. It's morning, and my feet are still achy, hence the second night in this hotel. I've got one more day of hiking to go, then a night spent in Busan, then I return to the real world.
But as Robert Pirsig groused, what counts as "the real world"? That's one thing I've learned on this trip: there is so much more of Korea to see than just what I see routinely in my narrow, limited ambit. How are the gorgeous riverlands any less real or substantial than the self-important big cities? I can say this for sure: now that I know what's out there, I'll be back this way again. And again.
Some scattered thoughts to end this post:
1. Having now been almost all the way across South Korea via bike trail, I look back with appreciation at my neighborhood's creekside trail along the Yangjae-cheon. Why? Because nowhere else along the entire Four Rivers Project have I seen a bike trail with such a high "staircase density." Along the Yangjae trail, there are staircases roughly every 150 meters—great for the workouts I'd been doing. (In fact, for anyone looking to hike up mountains, I'd strongly, strongly recommend a dedicated regimen of stairs training. It builds all the right muscles and helps immensely with cardio.) That's one thing the beautiful trails connecting Seoul to Busan haven't featured: lots of staircases.
2. I've become an expert in not splashing around when showering in Korean bathrooms. I prefer a nice, dry bathroom floor, and quite frankly, I think it's disgusting when Koreans leave their floors all wet (not that I have much choice but to do the same thing in my apartment). But when I'm in a motel bathroom that has a bathtub and a shower on a hose attachment, I follow this procedure:
- Step into tub. Have bar soap, shampoo, and 2 towels at the ready: one to dry off and one to step on.
- Turn shower on, but very low and weak to prevent spraying.
- While standing, gently rinse calves, thighs, and crotch, but not feet. This allows you to sit down in the tub on a clean bum, without having to clean your bum while seated.
- Sit down.
- Gently wash arms, torso, and head with soap and shampoo. Keep shower head pressed close to body so as not to splash.
- Turn off shower. Stand. One towel is within easy reach; use it to dry off everything but soles.
- Step out of tub and onto second towel. Dry soles on that towel.
- You have now successfully showered without splashing. Congratulations.
3. One aspect of this trip that I've hated is the goddamn PA systems. Back when I was at the guest house/minbak from hell, I was in a small farming village, and at 6AM, the PA system came alive and some bastard started blaring out announcements. If I were a farmer with a rifle, I'd make short work of every loudspeaker in the area. The presence of these speakers—which I also heard while I was camping out in the middle of nowhere—is a bitter reminder that I'm not in America,** and that local and national authorities can intrude on my inner tranquility at will. I actively resent these PA systems, but I resent even more deeply the mentality that thinks such things are necessary.
4. On net versus gross calorie consumption: I had to look this up before I left for this trip because it was a burning question for me. It turns out that most pedometers, when they show a calories-burned figure, are showing a gross statistic. In other words, to get the net figure, i.e., the actual number of calories burned exclusively because of exercise, you need to subtract your BMR number (basal metabolic rate) from your gross statistic. Using the Zen Dude Fitness calculator, I saw that my BMR was around 2600 calories per day (which makes more sense than the 12-calories-per-pound figure of nearly 3600 calories). Divide 2600 calories by 1440 minutes per day, and you get a per-minute BMR figure of 1.8 calories burned per minute, just sitting there and breathing. To use yesterday's workout as an example, then: the pedometer said I burned a gross of 4690 calories over 650 minutes of exercise. To find the net figure, then, I multiply 650 by 1.8 to get the calories burned from my BMR: 1170 calories. Subtract that from 4690, and the net calorie burn purely from exercise is 3520, which I've rounded to 3500 calories burned. So that's how that works.
So! Rest today, hike tomorrow—finis. Two weekends from now, I'll be back out around the Sangju Sangpoong Bridge area to do that make-up walk. I need to research the transportation situation, though, as I don't think there are any local buses or trains that go to either my starting point or my stopping point. No matter... I'll figure something out.
*David's call wouldn't have awakened me had my phone not switched itself back to "sound" from "vibrate." My phone is a trickster that way, constantly sowing chaos in my life by quietly altering its own settings without my knowledge.
**Granted, the US isn't free of PA systems, either, but in the US, you don't normally encounter loudspeakers unless you're, say, at an amusement park or in a large department store. American cities, towns, and rural areas don't have municipal or regional PA systems that allow The Man to address you no matter where you are, disturbing your inner harmony. As an introvert, I also hate being found against my will. By the way, my apartment building in Seoul has a PA system installed in every apartment so that the building managers can make routine announcements, which they do with infuriating frequency. Most of the announcements are about underground parking or insecticide spraying—information that could easily be taped to the inside of an elevator or onto a stairwell's wall. Auditory disturbances are the worst because you can't just "look away," so to speak.