I woke up at 1.30 to noises and torches outside my tent. I didn’t get out but from what I could gather the spot I had chosen to camp was where the local fisherman prepared themselves and in the middle of the night before going out early in the morning. The only way I could fall asleep was listening to #3 by Aphex Twin on repeat, about 30 times I calculated.
By the time that I awoke at 6, sunrise, they were gone and there were two small boats in the bay, close to the island I’d been looking at.
I was aiming to get back to the city that night, meaning at a guess 70 or so miles lay in front of me. This would test not only my strength and perseverance in cycling, but also my resistance to scenic photo or coffee breaks along the way.
I set out at 7 and made good time, covering around 45 miles before I stopped for my first long break at 1.30. The early morning was the best. It was already comfortably warm, the air was clear and fresh and the roads were quiet, only a few hikers out on the Olle trails – a series of walking paths around the coast of the island. The climbs came and went easily and I felt like either my fitness was improving or I’d fully adjusted to the weight I was carrying.
I passed a few small rocky islands not far from the shore. And more cherry blossom as the road headed Inland slightly. A few groups of cyclists heading in the opposite direction to me – I realised a few days ago that I was cycling the ‘wrong’ way around the island – meaning the cycle path was always on the opposite side of the road to where I was, though sometimes it was wide enough for me too.
I joined the main road again and it passed through a commercialised area. Big hotels and a KFC in development. Jeju seemed to have that pattern – quiet, undeveloped areas with the strangeness and charm you only find on islands, then areas like this which could exist just about anywhere.
I rejoined the coastal road eventually and took the steep but brief climb up to Dragon’s Head Shoreline which overlooked the section of coast is spent the last few hours and last night. At these tourist hot spots I began to appreciate the range of looks you receive as a cycle tourist, ranging from admiration to confused to pity and disbelief or amusement.
As the road levelled out again along the windswept west coast wind turbines sprouted out of the sea and shoreline. Despite the natural beauty of Jeju, cycling so close that you could hear the air being cut by the blades of these spindly beasts was just as spectacular as any natural view I’d had in the last few days.
I stopped at a cafe soon after and spoke with a guy from Canada via Hong Kong about the architecture of the cafe as he photographed it. Next to the cafe was a football pitch and playground and fields of cactuses surrounding the area, apparently a local speciality of some kind.
The afternoon was a bit of a blur as I became anxious to make up the distance and make it to the city before sunset. I passed beaches with Caribbean-turquoise water busy with families and climbed several hills with viewpoints over the sea. The island I’d camped in the rain on Wednesday night unrecognisable now, the sun was bright and strong and everything looked good in it.
It was satisfying seeing the miles mount up – over 60 by early afternoon. I hit the outskirts of Jeju city where things slowed down, the last ten or so back to the ferry port dragged as I struggled with the traffic and the tiredness in my legs and mind. I passed by the airport where planes flew low overhead on their approach. Jeju receives over 13 million visitors arriving by air per year, and a new plane arrived on the horizon every 3 minutes or so.
I made it to the port by 5.30, locked some of my panniers in the ferry terminal and headed up into the city to find somewhere to stay. It surprised me how much it felt just like Seoul of Busan only on a smaller scale.
I had mixed feelings as I made it back to the port where i’d started four days ago. I felt like I’d seen more of the island than many would have in that time, and I’d seen the different sides of it change as the weather did. There’s parts I would have liked to stay longer, one of the compromises of travelling this way is exchanging longer stops in a small number of places for a more overall view, stops need to be chosen a little more strategically to keep your energy up and not to lose momentum. You start to see how even a break for a minute or two every now and then begins to add up.
I wondered why I was rushing, it’s partly because the pot of money i’ve been travelling on is running low, and I’m conscious of time and its effect on that, but it’s also addictive chasing the next mile or making it round to next viewpoint and seeing how far you’ve come on the map. I could probably spend two weeks on the island, but a few days was enough at least for me to warm to it and probably come to miss it too.
My legs ached as I walked around the city at night. Though the nightlife seemed interesting, like a tiny slice of Seoul or Busan, I had to be up at 6.30 the following morning for my ferry and went back to my dorm road bed. I slept like a stone.