The idea was to cover 60 miles today, and 60 tomorrow, leaving just 20 or so on Monday on the final stretch to Busan. But it didn’t quite go to plan.
The morning is foggy but not too cold. I get going early, bypassing the city of Daegu, and I quickly cover the few miles needed to make it to the next checkpoint where I bump into two guys who i’d spoken to briefly the night before. They give me an energy bar and I ask them directions to a coffee shop, but then decide to keep going. My knee is still painful and I take another ibuprofen to try and ease into to the days riding.
The next checkpoint comes up quickly and I meet a couple from Seattle who’ve just made it there before me. We talk and realise that they’d cycled past me and Matt when we were setting up camp two nights before. I must have been travelling just a few miles behind them for the last few days. They are riding bikes they bought in the supermarket here which look surprisingly good with the addition of the Brooks saddles they brought with them. We share some snacks then I go to K-Mart to fill up on chocolate and coffee. I sit on the roof drinking it and look over the river and the dam, the morning mist has cleared now and I feel optimistic about making those extra 10 miles.
My first problem occurs an hour or two later, just as I begin the ascent of the steepest climb in a couple of days. My chain jumps off and I get off to try and put it back on, only now it’s not possible to freewheel at all – the chain sags and gets caught in the spokes, and the derailleur stretches out. I walk the bike back down the hill and have no option but to take everything off my bike to try and figure out the problem. I forget how light and nimble the bike is in this skeletal state and find it hard to handle now i’ve adjusted to the weight i’ve been carrying.
I google the problem and clean the chain and deraillerur cogs which are already filthy after just a weeks riding, but no change. Eventually I notice that the plastic guard behind the cassette is off center, and the chain is catching on this as the wheel turns. I decide to cut it off to see if it helps. It takes me about 10 minutes to hack through the plastic with the fold out blade of a multi-tool and I triumphantly rip it off. It seems to have worked. I carefully put everything back on the bike and tackle the hill. I have to get off and push for at least half of it, though with the heaviness of the bike this isn’t especially easier than riding. A lookout at the top is the reward. I lean my bike against a wall and take in the view as a car pulls up with four senior Korean guys and one starts urinating against the fence. I get back on my bike.
It’s hard to get into a rhythm in the afternoon, lots of short uphills and downhills and lots of gear changes, but the bike seem to be holding up at least. The route flattens out and becomes one of these long sections which seems to repeat on itself like the background of a cartoon. These stretches are probably the least interesting to ride, but give an opportunity to switch off a little and get the miles in.
I realise i’ve lost the route i’m following but it should knit back together later in the day so I keep going. I join the road after a guy stops me, points at my tires, then the track, and shakes his head. It’s a steep part of the trail ahead and with my bike i’m better off going around. Had it not been for the climb earlier in the day i’d have fancied my chances but I take his advice and bypass the mountain altogether. At the next checkpoint I bump into the couple from Seattle again, surprised to see them given my problems, but they’ve just come over the steep section, pushing most of the way, which allowed us to catch up.
We chat a little, and I carry on, thinking i’ve got a couple of hours riding left but I spot what I think is a decent camp spot, a large kind of bench with a roof in a quiet park and decide to stop early today at 40 miles.
I set up my tent and cook and all is well until the wind picks up. I tie the tent down in five separate places, including to my bike, but it’s not enough. It’s buckling from the sides and lifting up despite being weighted down with my panniers inside. Then it starts raining. I decide to abandon the spot and scramble to pack up my things, the wind blowing them everywhere. It’s almost six and getting dark. I cycle for a mile or two but the route becomes more exposed and I can’t see anywhere decent to stop. It’s raining and grey and looks and feels like Scotland. I cycle toward some houses, and say “Motel?” to an old guy outside, but he just waves and laughs. I start to panic slightly and regret not taking a guy up on his offer of a hotel when he pulled over as I cycled just an hour or so earlier.
I decide the park wasn’t so bad after all, if I can find a less exposed spot, and cycle quickly back. I consider under a bridge at first, then behind some toilets but neither is ideal. I follow a path at the edge of the park. It’s overgrown but I can feel the wind dying down and it might lead somewhere. Eventually it resolves in a small area with two benches sat on the edges of a square of hard ground. This will do. I rip out some weeds and shrubs and flatten those left behind. I have the tent up again in a few minutes and my things inside. I’m tired and came close to giving up. But I don’t know what giving up looks like here. Google showed some motels, all miles away. I speak no Korean. It’s almost dark.
With the panic of the last hour over I reorganise the stuff I’d shoved into my bags earlier, lock my bike to the bench and settle in for the night as I hear the first few raindrops hit the top of the tent.