05 Mungyeong-Gyeongcheondae (55km)

Today was to be more relaxed with an excursion to Korea’s famous “Rail Bike” attraction and a visit to an abandoned station with rail cars that had been converted to a motel!

One of the rail bike stations was in this same town we had stayed in last night, so we didn’t try it here. Instead we cycled onward to look for another rail bike further south.

We still explored the rail bike station as it was beautiful. Ethan loved the old station and the grounds.

This old station at Mungyeong was beautifully restored and very picturesque.

Ethan was so thankful I brought him to places like this.

We biked onward, enjoying the ever beautiful scenery including wooden cycling paths that extended over the river.

Mountains flanked our wake as we rolled by.

At this bridge we met a group of cyclists doing a bike tour with a young Korean guide. They were suitably impressed that young Ethan was going all the way to Busan without a local guide!

We enjoyed riding with them for a bit, then we continued while they stopped for a commentary.

The fields turned a golden colour which I think was the appearance of ripening barley.

Old train tracks followed us along. Ethan’s excitement grew in anticipation of the Rail Bike and all he could say was, “Train Train…”

We reached the stamping booth and a family of cats greeted us. They were starving so we fed them some bread snacks and thought of how Talia would have loved to see them.

Unfortunately the train hotel had not been in use for a long time, and worse was the fact that the rail bikes were not operating from this station either! Ethan was very disappointed and so was I, but I explained we could back track 2.5km as a previous station may be running the rail bikes.

It was so worthwhile to go back! I was so thankful we found a Rail Bike station in operation. Then I was worried after looking for it for so long that the rail bikes would be boring but they were truly excellent!

Tunnels were decorated with LED lights much to Ethan’s glee!

The best part was that these large 4 seater vehicles are electric and you have your own brakes. So it’s really like driving your own train! This was the closest Ethan has come to driving his own train and it is quite reasonably priced too!

We headed off after enjoying a coffee and a waffle. The memories of the Rail Bike warmed our hearts!

Soon we successfully reached the next certification booth and stamped our passports.

A Korean gentleman inquired about Ethan’s adventures and gave his thumbs up after seeing Ethan’s Seoul-Busan sign. It’s wonderfully encouraging meeting fellow cyclists along the way who love to see a young pre-teen enjoying his long distance ride!

We camped in Gyeongcheondae, which is one of the most picturesque parts of the entire Han River. Near the main entrance we used a large platform for the tent and it had incredible free facilities! There was an ultra modern bathroom for our use – with HOT water and hot air to dry your backside which Ethan loved!

Dinner was mac & cheese and sausages which Ethan declared, “This was the meal I have been waiting for!” But it wasn’t enough for hungry cyclists so I also fried up some Spam which we ate with rice! It was a delicious camping meal!

Warm in our tents, Ethan wrote me a “Caring Daddy Award”. I am very happy with my achievement to receive this coveted award!

ISTDY CARING AWARD 👍daddy has shown care to me , especially when I got cold last night . He really cares about be 24/7, even now, he is looking for my lost warm pants. I really love ❤ him and a believe he deserves it.

That night we listened to P2P and talked about our faith. Ethan understood about not just having Jesus as a friend but putting him in first place in his life as his Lord. I told him part of growing from a child to man is making his own personal commitment to follow Jesus not just because Mum and Dad say he must come to church. He wanted to do this and be sure so he made a personal commitment to following Jesus as his Lord that night!

I knew Ethan’s faith and understanding was growing so I took out from my bag a special surprise. Ethan’s eyes grew wide in anticipation. This was to be his first Holy Communion! I explained again, especially how from now on he would be in the main worship service with us and he would participate in Holy Communion.

I blessed the bread and cup, gave thanks and we ate and drank together. To say this was a special time after traveling across the country on bikes, talking about life and faith, and camping outdoors is an understatement. I am supremely thankful to Jesus for this magnificent milestone and precious time with my son!

04 Binaeseom-Mungyeong (81km)

 

Last night was cold! Ethan slept soundly through the night but I could feel the heat sleeping away from my body as our sleeping pads have no insulation and only he had my reflective bivvy. In the middle of the night I put on all of my clothes including 2 base layers and one cycling jersey. Finally, I was warm enough to sleep the rest of the night!

We managed to set off at 8.10am which was good considering I had to pack all the gear and the tent in the morning.

It was very cold at 7 deg C when we rode out. No wonder I was cold last night! We decided to leave quickly and search for breakfast along the way.

The terrain changed quickly but we couldn’t see far into the mist.

Still the riverside was beautiful and we enjoyed some picture spots. With the area getting rural, and my son’s tummy rumbling I decided that we should make a small detour off the bike path to get some food.

At a CU convenience store we bought some coffee and instant noodles. The warm soupy noodles really perks Ethan up. I pulled out leftovers from the huge lunch 2 days ago, pleased with my Daiso plastic boxes that I had carefully chosen in Singapore – eating bowls, food storage, nesting and heat safe! I heated my breakfast in the microwave but can also reheat it in a pot of water at campsite.

Cheered and fueled by that really good breakfast, it sealed the fact that CU was a favorite chain store so far! We biked onward knowing that today was a big day.

Ethan enjoyed more of his sour cream and onion “tacos”. That’s what these Korean snacks are called!

Soon it warmed up enough for Ethan to take off his fleece jacket.

I am quite pleased with his bike fit and how much he loves riding his bike! Sourcing for these 155mm cranks and changing stem lengths really helps junior riders. My saddlebag now fits his bike and he is carrying all his own clothes. If he was “credit card touring” and staying in motels without camping, he would be carrying all his own gear already!

We made it to the next checkpoint and stamped our passports!

The mountains and rivers accompanied us along the way. By now we were riding a mixture of low traffic roads and cycle paths.

Ethan said he likes riding in the city but even more so in the countryside!

We really enjoyed the autumn colours up close. Ethan can now ride for hours, with me guiding him to take short breaks and eat. He doesn’t need playgrounds anymore, though he still likes them once in a while!

We entered agricultural land with green and golden produce blanketing the ground. “Apples!” yelled Ethan!

By the side of the road, a lovely apple orchard displayed its wares. Wanting to glean a sample, we noticed that quite a few were hanging over the fence into public land. I figured this was okay, and Ethan gleefully plucked his first apple, fresh from a tree!

The cycle path made a very rare crossing of a 6 lane highway, but it had traffic lights and was very safe.

We had an absolutely superb lunch of pork belly and a truckload of side dishes. After cycling we can usually finish 2 adult sized portions. We sat on the floor on low tables, and Ethan felt so relaxed and full that after lunch he crawled to my side, lay down with his head on my lap and almost fell asleep! Bliss!

We rode onward, aiming for the next town where Naver told me that another hot spring bath awaited us.

The road climbed steadily, and when I checked my elevation maps I realized that this was Saejae Pass, the big climb of the ride. Oops…it wouldn’t be my first choice to put this in the second half of a long mileage day and with sunset approaching. This was my mistake but no turning back now!

There were nice rest stops up the hill and I shouted affirmation to Ethan much of the way up.

This elevation chart shows the 81km we did today so it’s quite a tough 81km! Elevation gain 832m and loss 734m. There were two big hills, and Ethan had to walk up some 10% grades on the first one but the second big hill he made it up!

By the time we made it to the top it was cold and dark. We had a quick rest then headed down the long descent with our lights on. It actually quite dark, but my Cycliq camera makes it look like dusk.

After that super fun descent we entered our hot springs “onsen” at around 7pm and relaxed together. I asked Ethan whether that ascent was the hardest physical thing he’s ever done. He thought for a while and said “Yes!” It certainly was a hard day of riding. What a tough young man! Good job son, I am proud of you!

After our warm bath (which we can’t show you pictures of) we found a pork bone soup! It wasn’t herbal like bak kut teh. it was huge and very delicious! This time we only ordered a single serving as we weren’t super hungry.

That night we found a cheap motel and did more of P2P. We are doing it very slowly, splitting up each session over two days and it’s very good that way. That night we talked a lot about peer pressure and used the play-do that I had been carrying around. Ethan learned that he would soon be pressured to do things he may think is wrong and he needs to decide now what he will do when the time comes. We had an excellent conversation!

03 Yangpyeong-Binaeseom (78km)

We finally managed to begin cycling at 8am, after I roused Ethan out of bed at 7.30am and gave him mini muffins and drinking yoghurt. The Korean snacks are good stuff!

It was very cold and misty as we left. No, that’s not a stamp booth. It really is a telephone booth and it was just outside our hotel!

A short boardwalk (but cycling allowed) led to a landscaped area called “health city”.

I suppose it was to encourage residents to be active and healthy. Many were out in the 7 deg C morning air!

We were definitely getting into rural areas, something which Ethan and I enjoy.

I spotted an amazing spider who perhaps had just finished his own breakfast.

We hit some fast and smooth sections. Again, this is not a road but a dedicated cycle path! Hooray for Korea’s cross country cycling infrastructure.

The autumn colours started showing, and we were rewarded with golden hues that surrounded us.

The foliage gave way to a amazing river views. It’s so nice to see Ethan enjoying the nature and the outdoors. I’m happy to be able to guide him to use his iPhone to record, write and share these experiences, not just play games!

Ethan got in a good groove, passing the kilometers, enjoying the scenery and looking forward to the next certification booth!

We found and stamped each of our passports!

This certification booth is at another weir, one of many that regulate Korea’s rivers. The Seoul-Busan cycle route did not cross it, but we went in search of a food stop.

Coffee and “holy bread”. Well that’s what I heard the Korean lady say and it was the only food I could get her to offer. It was good and kept us going.

We also charged all our devices as we expected to camp tonight, and Ethan enjoyed this old phone. “Look it is a real phone Daddy!”

Ethan was enjoying the ride thoroughly. You can see he is confident with his bike, but still playful with it! I wonder how his riding style will change in a few short years and whether as an older teenager he would still be interested in long rides with his Dad. I sure hope so.

A short break and a friendly guard took our photo. Everyone is very encouraging to see Ethan ride from Seoul to Busan!

At the same stop, a pair of dogs were being carried by their owner – a young Korean lady!

We ride along the river bank of a small town.

Ethan told me the blue line marks the cycle path we were following. I never noticed! He then said he was getting hungry for lunch so I started looking for real food.

We sure found real food at this place, and a lot of it! In Singapore we only see this many side dishes served at Korean BBQ places but this clearly wasn’t a BBQ restaurant. I said “two people,” and the lady asked me if I wanted “something something.” Of course I didn’t understand but I have learned to just nod and say “yes please” as many restaurants seem to serve “omakase” for whichever number of pax you have.

I think we ended up with the deluxe set cos it was so much. Delicious though, and not wanting to waste, I packed a lot of it away to cook up for dinner at our hopeful camp site.

After lunch we made our way through the town to find the bike path again. Ethan loves the Korean traffic crossing buttons as they have a satisfying mechanical click and whenever you press it, it acknowledges with a voice recording no matter how times you press it!

We passed a camp site that was buzzing with people. Hundreds of families were spotting huge tents, many were 2-3 bedroom tents with porch areas. Kids had brought their bikes and were zipping around.

After the park we gleefully stamped our next point in the passport.

Another lovely bridge led to an interesting way to get down…

The sign said 20% incline! You were not allowed to ride your bikes and small barriers were erected to force a dismount. I carried my trailer over and carefully stepped downward. Ethan also managed very well, carrying and handling his own bike.

Before the next town there were some short but steep includes of 8% which Ethan needed to stop a couple of times. We arrived in good time as I was looking for a camping spot and the map said something about a hot spring.

I was very excited to find a public bath! This was not a jimjilbang where you stay over night but was just like a Japanese onsen. We had a quick bite at the neighbouring cafe, and went in for $10/pax. Ahhh…the “onsen” was fabulous. We enjoyed ourselves for hours!

Warm and cozy afterwards we rested in the relaxation area. I had bundled Ethan in lots of clothes and we cycled just 200m to our already selected camping area. He did not want a motel even though our last one was so good! I had planned on camping anyway so it was good.

We found a nice spot in a city park and made up our cosy tent. This is actually my first time camping in a non-designated spot, but I had read up and knew that Korean culture was very accepting of such “free camping”.

Ethan had many layers on and and loved pulling the woolly cap over his eyes. It was too late for P2P so we will do that another day.

In addition to the 5 deg C sleeping bag, I had also brought my heat reflective bivvy bag and gave that to him. He slept almost immediately, entirely through the night! Good night son – this was yours and my first night “free camping”.

02 Seoul-Yangpyeong (65km)

Another late morning! We woke only at 8.30am and sauntered down to find breakfast.

A tiny cafe served us coffee, matcha latte, and a ham and cheese bagel which we shared then we were off!

We crossed many interesting bridges that moved us across the many waterways in Seoul.

The cycling infrastructure is excellent and it is really used by the people. I am especially impressed with the bridge crossings as huge pathways are dedications to pedestrians and cyclists to make the crossings as you can see in Ethan’s video.

It was a Saturday morning and there were many families and kids using the paths in the heart of Seoul. Other parts were quiet. It was a great mix!

The bike and pedestrian sharing etiquette is much better here than in Singapore. People stay on the correct paths and when someone does stray, no one seems too perturbed.

We made it to the the first certification point of the day. You have to check Naver Maps carefully to be sure you are on the right side of the river!

We enjoyed the crisp air at short break at each stamp booth, though we were still stamping on paper scraps as we didn’t have the actual cycle passport yet.

Cycling paths in mega cities like Seoul have huge structures all around them. It was very different to the Perth riding we did 2 years ago.

We took one elevator down a bridge and saw this cute car at the bottom. It was used by the waterway maintenance staff! So nice!

Slowly we left left the city centre and more green surrounded us.

Still the bridge crossings were marvelous, and these experiences would continue for the rest of the trip.

Going up and down these purpose built bridges is fun!

We were heading to a town that had an abandoned railway station. I didn’t know what to expect but even this busy intersection had such a superb bike crossing. There were many cyclists continually going up and down.

Finally we reached Neungnae stamp booth and the railway station. Not only did we get our stamp, we managed to get our passports but we forgot to take photos of the stamp booth! The cycle passports are really cool. I knew Ethan would love this but they look so good even I was having fun stamping at the checkpoints!

The old station was great but the entire town area was fantastic. The old railway line has been turned into the cycle path and tons of cyclists were zipping up and down.

What you see above is not a road but a cycle highway used by cyclists, pedestrians, and the occasional PMD. No cars at all!

Train paraphernalia abounded so here was a town with trains and cycling – just perfect for us!

Could you guess that someone loved it?

It’s really hard to order food without speaking Korean! But we managed to get pancakes and noodles and the pancake was superb!

Off we sped, passing through a series of tunnels. On the left were the new KTX bullet train tracks.

We were cycling on the old railway line that was converted to the cycling highway. Going through the old train tunnels that had been livened up with LED lights was super cool!

Ethan noticed my right trailer tire had gone flat! The Burley Travoy uses such an unusual tiny wheel that I didn’t have any inner tube spares, and needed to patch it instead. I stopped to try but the leak seemed simultaneously huge yet I couldn’t find it. I was stumped, but at least my trailer can still be pulled even with a flat tire so I continued riding it to the motel we were aiming for.

The recommended motel was better than expected. I knew it has floor to ceiling glass windows but didn’t know it had such a view of the river and grasslands. It was so nice, I let Ethan rest while I cycled off to buy dinner and bring it back.

I picked up some food from the convenience store and we did a little cooking at our coffee table. More things went wrong as my stove adaptor was leaking, but I managed to diagnose a loose seal and it was fixed with my mini-toolset. What a day for mechanical problems! Phew!

We enjoyed a simple meal that was super fun and hard-earned! After supper, I finally managed to figure out why I couldn’t fix my flat tire. Turns out, my pump was leaking so that’s why I couldn’t detect the small hole in the tire! Trouble-shoot the pump, then find the tiny hole in the tube, patch and glue, and it was ready to go…

After a long hot bath in the giant tub, Dad washed clothes then Ethan I listened to P2P. Ethan was a very good listener and we had s great time with the remainder of Session 1. For the puzzle time, instead of a jigsaw, I brought mini building blocks from Daiso. I built the fire truck using provided instructions while Ethan tried the police car without any instructions or pictures!

In the end I told him why…going through adolescence without a manual for life is really hard. The Bible is our manual and if we don’t have it, or don’t use it, then our life gets hard and it turns out in some other way that God didn’t originally intend!

Ethan fell asleep tired and very happy. It was 11pm and we are not managing to sleep early enough and starting late in the day. He seems to have plenty of energy though so perhaps we can do 75km tomorrow and maybe camp out near Chungju.

01 Incheon-Seoul (10+46km)

We slept like logs, rising only at 9.00am for a gloriously late start to the day. I was glad for the extra rest that would help mend Ethan’s cough and my sleep deprivation. Having risen at midnight to finish assembling the bikes and pack our gear, we were ready to roll in short order.

I bundled Ethan up extra warm for his first 10 deg C morning. He was a toasty rider!

His handlebar bag displays his goals for this trip – a lovely reminder for the days ahead. This would prove to be a great conversation starter in the days to come, especially given our limited (zero) Korean.

Before we could start we had to first find the official start point at Incheon which was 10km away. I missed a turn so the last part was a little confusing but we made it eventually!

A lovely cafe in a spanking new building marked the start so we shared a coffee before beginning the ride.

At the start we wanted to get the cycle passports and collect stamps along the way but the passports were sold out! How disappointing!

We had to settle for ordinary slips of paper for the first few stamps. Each certification booth looks like a red English phone booth, and you stamp these along the way. Hopefully at the next certification centre we can buy a passport and get the stamps transferred.

We are ready roll – 0km of 633km! So exciting!

Scores of pop-up bike shops dotted the bike path and many Koreans were out cycling during the day on a Friday. Some of the shops had bike work-stands and tools, with many operating out of a van and old men chatting around them!

Our first playground stop reminded us of Australia where did many of such stops during our Perth ride when the kids were 2 years younger.

“Dad they don’t have these in Singapore playgrounds!” My son is becoming a young man, but he still loves playgrounds! Never lose the joy of playing, son!

We started getting hungry and ate lunch at a simple stop. Noodles and spicy rice cakes kept us going. The lady who ran the cafe was super nice to us!

We found our next phone booth and happily collected another stamp. I knew Ethan would love this cross-country treasure hunt and stamp activity!

The bike path opened up to some longer stretches. The city bike paths were beautiful and very popular.

We cycled along the riverside passing occasional glass elevators that rose to pedestrian and cycle bridges that spanned the highways. Ascending one skyward, we were treated to a great view of the city as we watched the cyclists far below.

We even spotted Yoido Full Gospel Church in the distance and I remembered visiting here when I came on my Beeson post-graduation study trip 6 years ago.

We thought we couldn’t find Yeouido stamp booth and had given up all hope, but then the signs appeared out of nowhere. We both yelled being super pleased to spot it towards the end of the day!

Searching for our first jimjilbang – Dragon Hill Spa – I burst out laughing when I saw how gaudy it was! But it was closed for renovations for the week, which means it should be newer and better when we are back in Seoul!

We trooped off to find another motel. Sky Motel looked promising but we were shooed away by a grumpy lady who felt that bikes did not befit her rooms. Next door Apple Motel welcomes us warmly for $60/night.

We strolled around until we spotted a dinner place that was packed and were glad that it was only a 5-10 min wait. I didn’t know what would come but it turns out that everyone gets the same main dish which is this huge stir sizzling pan of chicken, vegetables, potatoes and rice cakes!

The waiters guide you but you also have to stir it yourself! Ethan is happy eating almost anything except prawns and crabs, and he’s game to try most foods so it’s a joy to travel and explore with him.

I tried shoju, but only drank a third of the bottle when I discovered it was 20% alcohol! I gave the remainder to our neighbouring table. It was nice though!

After dinner we stopped at the convenience store to buy a gas canister for future camp cooking, and this superb green tea ice-cream to share!

After a hot shower we snuggled up in bed and listened to the first session of P2P (Passport to Purity) – really good audio and book material for a parent to do with their pre-teen son/daughter. Ethan liked the first session and we will do more tomorrow. P2P is usually done over a weekend retreat but we are doing it slower over this 2 week journey so the 5 sessions are stretched out and it’s even better this way! The journey and map metaphor that P2P uses is even more powerful when you do this on bike tour!

Good night son! Let’s set the alarm earlier for tomorrow morning. We have about 65km to Yangpyeong if we don’t get lost along the way. Fortunately we have a map and Daddy is your guide, and Jesus is your GPS!

A Surprising Start

I woke like a startled deer when my dear tapped me lightly, “It’s 5.25am!” Slow to finish deadlines, I had just 3.5 hours sleep and plenty of adrenaline to kiss the girls and pack the boy off to the airport.

Ethan had more sleep than me and he was excited and chirpy to be off on our grand adventure.

After our flight we figured out how to take the train to Geomam station and walked 10 min, rolling our bike boxes, to the apartment I booked on Agoda 2 months ago.

The sun had just set and it was dark by the time we arrived. Though “Binny’s Guesthouse” had excellent reviews I was a bit worried that he hadn’t been responding to my messages. So I was surprised, but not totally shocked, when the apartment was answered by a Korean family who said that the Guesthouse was no more and they were the new tenants.

I politely insisted on help, showing them my young 12 year old, and saying we were friendly cyclists. First they advised me that there were motels a short drive away, next he offered to drive me as my bike boxes were too big for a taxi. Gamsahabnida!

It was a huge relief to not have to explain to Renata that I made her son homeless before we began the trip. The motel room cost me just $50, came decorated in London wallpaper and had plenty of space to assemble my bikes.

With Google Translate the lady at the front desk also said I could leave a bag here until I returned on my final night. She then baulked at the sight of the two huge bike boxes but I assured here they would fold up small. The next morning they were packed up neatly and there was no problem! Koreans are very friendly and helpful!

In high spirits, Ethan and I walked to find dinner. We passed many interesting shops with unfamiliar looking food, showing you that the Korean food we have in Singapore is about a minuscule slice of this country’s gastronomic fare – similar to Japanese food in Singapore 20 years ago. We settled on something safe – a grilled chicken specialty restaurant that was doing roaring business and had a grand meal for $11/pax.

After completing bike assembly and packing the bikes I was tired! We had a thankful sleep, looking forward to finding the start point tomorrow.