CYCLING TOUR KOREA 2016
SANJU CITY TO SEOUL
24TH APRIL 2016 – 1ST MAY 2016
EAT, SLEEP AND RIDE
It all began with an idea 2 years ago. I can still remember the CEO’s statement “In 2016 I want the staff to cycle from Seoul to Busan!”. I can still see and remember the expression “This is madness” on my colleagues faces.
We were not athletes with chisel muscles on our calfs and thighs like Chris Froome. We were your average Nasi Lemak and Tea Tarik consuming Malaysians and we came in various sizes and shapes, age and fitness level. Only a few were cyclist and most of us didn’t even own a bicycle.
Nevertheless a total of 22 of us from the sections of the Selangor Halal Hub, Selangor Bio Bay and Pulau Indah Industrial Park of Central Spectrum (M) Sdn Bhd took the challenge and with the sports club helping to raise fund through holding several events, we were on our way.
We have decided to go on the route from Sanju City to Seoul. A route that will take us to the cycling path of the mountainous range of Saeja to the river plains of Hangang covering a distance of almost 400 km. The plan was to cycle daily for 5 days with overnight stops. The target of daily average of 80km per day for 5 days seems to be a daunting task for us newbies in the world of cycling.
After assessing time constrain and physical strength we began to train for the cycling tour in early 2015. As they say it is the preparation leading to the event that will be one of the best parts.
We began exercising by going to the gym (God bless, we have our own gym in the office), we hired aerobic instructors to get our fitness level up, and began to take intake of healthy foods instead of the usual Nasi Lemak, Roti Canai and Tea Tarik.
For those not having bicycles, the search was on to purchase their own bicycles. We could have rented the bicycles in Korea but most preferred to have their own bike as they will be familiar with their equipment. In total 2 nos of road bikes, 6 foldies, 2 touring and 12 mountain bikes will be the weapon of choice. A Motley Crew indeed.
To get 22 people to the desired fitness level was not an easy task. Stars we given to staff who exercise and the ones with the most stars were given rewards every quarter of the year as incentives. We knew we had to be physically and mentally prepared for the trip.
Our first group ride was done on the motorcycle lane of the Guthrie Corridor Highway. This is a favourite spot to cycle for cyclist although you have to share it with motorcyclist.
The first ride was only about 20km and we could see how far we had to go to achieve the level of fitness needed. Most of us were huffing and puffing to the extent of pushing the bicycle to complete the route.
Moral was down and we were thinking of how we were going to complete the 400km ride where to finish only 20km for us was an awesome task in itself.
With motivation and guidance from our CEO who himself is an avid cyclist, we began to train more and got better and stronger with each passing ride. We went to climb Genting Sempah – Bentong to stimulate the rides we would be facing in the mountainous Sajae range, and without realising it, was beginng to enjoy the ride and the comradeship that came along with it.
THE TOUR BEGINS
We arrive in Incheon Airport at 7am local time. All 22 of us with 22 bikes in tow. Our tour agent Charlie who will be handling the logistic was waiting for us on arrival. Charlie was this big size Korean who has a Malaysian wife from Taiping. He was the most talkative agent you have ever met, irritating sometimes. Little that we knew that our fondness for Charlie could grow within the coming few days
A few bikes was slightly damage from the flight journey due to handling and luckily needed only minor tuning. So it was a day spent on repairing and setting up the bikes for the journey the next day.
Sang Punggyo to Ihwaryeong Rest Area :
With an average temperature of 8°C to a high of 17°C, the cycling route of the Saeja range provided a scenic route of mountain range and rivers. We were pedalling down the valley with impressive summits all around us and glittering water of fast flowing streams with the cool wind, blowing in our faces. The cycling pace was very relaxing at 17km/hour and came with lots of stops for coffee and the mandatory photo sessions. This would be a norm for the whole duration of the trip.
We followed the bicycle path but every time we reached a junction, the signage would only be in Korean. We did not hire any bike tours guide so it was left to us to navigate. Getting lost and finding our own way would be an added excitement for the trip. Most of us took time to enjoy in the scenery and take photos hence there were lots of pit stop. Well we were on a holiday!, but the ever helpful Charlie was always on hand to guide us through, his words of ‘what’?. How did you get there?.. ’oh my God !!.. and ‘I will come to you’ was already a familiar trademark from him.
Highlight of the day must have been where a group of senior citizen were playing musical instruments beside the rest area. We stop to rest and enjoy the traditional music played by them.
With all the pitstops and looking for directions, we arrive at our destination at 5 pm, a total of 8 hours. We had Korean food for dinner with the ever ‘noisy’ Charlie explaining on every details of the food. We were tried and hit the sack early to prepare for the next ride.
Ihwaryeong – Chungju Tangeumdae :
We were told by Charlie that this route would be the toughest of the entire route as it involve two big climbs. True to his words it was a tough climb with steep slopes all the way to the top.
With the training we had done all us manage to cycle up the slopes and started arriving one by one to the top. The view from the top was a fitting reward for all the hard work done in conquering the hill. We had conquer the Saejae Range!.
Coming down the top was totally different experience all together. While it was a blast going downhill, guest of strong winds greeted us, and the taught of getting blown of the bike and tumbling down the hills was a real threat. So we started descending with a lot more caution, and all descend safety.
Getting lost and trying to understand directional signage in Korea was getting to be quite normal now. Finally we reach the town and manage to find the hotel again with Charlie’s help. We finish at 6 pm this time.
Chungju Tangeumdae – Gangcheon :
We had taught that the toughest route was over, but the 3rd day of cycling will be the most challenging for all of us.
Charlie had lead us to the cycle path, and after cycling about 7km we decided to check our bearings. The standard question was to ask the local with Finger Pointing to the direction and asking ‘Seoul’?. They would nod and we would be on our way. This time we had ask an elder lady and she shouted in Korean. From the sign language she was telling us we were going the wrong way and heading towards Busan and not Seoul!.
We had to backtrack and go back to the starting point where there was a T-Junction. We just stop and stare at the junction not knowing where to go. Alas, there was a lone Korean Cyclist and we stopped him and asked for directions. He was kind enough to guide us to the right bicycle path.
The cycle path followed both elevated sections and the riverbanks, with pleasant view of the quiet rural surroundings, contrasting sharply with the majestic mountains we had been surrounded 2 days earlier. We met Charlie future down the path where he apologize for the wrong direction. You could see from his eye that Charlie was a person dedicated to his job and he would go all out to ensure all our safety. Whenever we did not reach a destination at a certain time, he could be frantically calling to see if we were ok and we were all getting use to his ‘talkative’ manner, enjoying it in fact.
We stop for lunch and the weather took a turn for the worst. It has been cloudy the whole morning and it began to rain. We had another 30km to go. We had no choice but to brave the rain. We came prepared with rain coats and windbreakers. But the chilling wind was something else. Most of us were shivering on the bikes. We had mechanical failures and a rider down but not seriously injured. One rider was closed to Hyperthermia and we had to make a bonfire to warm him up. Despite all that we were all still in high spirits. We were all confident that we can get through all this. Here we were 22 Malaysian cycling in the rain and cold winds of Korea. We finally manage to reach our destination at 7 pm in the evening soaking wet..!
High fives was all over and shouts of ‘that was a good ride’, a trademark statement from our CEO that becomes our phrase for every ride completed. It indeed has installed positive values and thinking in all of us.
Gangcheon – Paldang Bridge :
The bike path along the Han River brings you up to the waterways. This route also took us to timeless Agricultural landscape and striking feat of engineering consisting of bridges and dams sitting side by side. The highlight of this path must be the tunnels which was once used as a railway track now converted into a cycling path.
There were four tunnels with the longest being at least 400m. The tunnels were equipped with light sensors and would light up as your cycle onwards. An enjoyable experience indeed. There would also be a sudden drop in temperature as you entered the tunnel.
We pass by several trains stations along the way and we made out last stop at Paldang Station thinking our Hotel was nearby. Then Charlie came and said the Hotel was at the next station!!. So we saddle up and road again for another 5km and reached our destination well into the darkness.
Paldang – Ara West Lock:
This would be our last leg of the journey. Despites all that had happen in the last 4 days everyone was still in high spirits, eager to complete what we had set out to do. This path will lead us into Seoul. The City Skyline can be seen greeting us as we cycle towards it. Along the riverbanks parks, restaurants and recreational activities were being carried out.
Cycling towards Seoul the crowd grew and had a vibrant and carnival atmosphere in it as if riding from the country side into instant urbanisation!!. As we were on the end of journey the ride was the most relaxing and we made lots of stops to enjoy snacks and coffee to bask in the pleasant warmth of the river bank.
After 5 days of nonstop cycling we had completed almost 400km of cycling. The farthest anyone of us had ever done. We had developed excellent camaraderie among ourselves, test our mental and physical strength to limits and now believe that with proper preparation and the right attitude we can overcome any obstacles.