Saturday, July 8, 2023

Family time in Ulaanbaatar

One of the nice things about this time of year is that Facebook reminds me of a period that was a turning point in my adult life.  10 years and a couple of days ago, I was riding into Paris at the end of Le Cycle Tour de France, and a few days after that, I was introducing Sarah to my parents (and vice versa), at Wellington airport.  "French, Kissing and the USA", posted in January 2014, was the first of many posts on this blog documenting our family cycling activities.  

It took us a long while to organise my first trip to Mongolia, but timing of the 10th Mongolia Bike Challenge in 2019 worked out well, and the long overdue mission was made, with my parents as company.  

We came back to NZ knowing full well (and with me declaring at the end of the write up) that we'd need to make that trip more regularly.  Of course, COVID-19 had other ideas, and so 2020 and 2021 were impossibilities.  The draw got that much greater in March 2022, when our only niece on Sarah's side, Tsomoo, had her first child, Urin.  In August we booked return flights to Seoul Incheon for June 2023, a long way out, but giving Mongolia a chance to get through its winter freeze, the airline industry a bit of time to settle back into moving people (and their luggage) around without mishap, and us plenty of time to look forward to the trip.  In January, we finally pinned down the balance of our time away from NZ, and booked a separate return ticket from Korea, where we'd squeeze in a cycle tour on the way back home.  

As much as I dislike the "gravel bike" terminology (much preferring "fat tyred road bike", though finding it harder and harder to use, given the growing ubiquity of the former), Mongolia is a destination that really suits the format.  Virtually the entire country is public land, and there are beaten trails criss-crossing the place, most of which would be hard going on a road bike, but with enough pavement to make a mountain-bike frustrating.

Travel with a bike seems to be all about compromise though, and we optimised for the Korean leg of the journey.  Besides, we were going to Mongolia to see people, rather than ride.  We had every intention of using the bikes, but the vastness of the country quickly became apparent when we looked at the possibility of connecting up some of the key locations in Sarah's upbringing - her home town of Darkhan, her grandfather's birthplace Khuvsgul, and the capital city, Ulaanbataar (or UB, as everyone seems to call it).  The necessary 1000-plus-kilometres in the Mongolian wild seemed like a bad use of our time.  Instead, we planned make do with short rides around UB, all the better if friends or family would be on hand before, during or after.  

We had a daytime flight from Seoul to UB, and flew into Chinggis Khan International Airport for the first time, just shy of its second anniversary of opening.  Views on approach were uniquely Mongolian, and once we did get out on the bike, it was amazing to see the extend to which outback "roads" were mapped and an official part of the network.  

Ride 1:  to Chinggis Khan Statue Complex

The (skinnyish) road tyre format was a little constraining, but simultaneously helpful in cutting down the options.  I felt like I had unfinished business at the Chinggis Khan Statue Complex - about 50km east of the city, we'd visited it with Ma and Pa, but there was something I'd opted out of then, and since regretted.  

We'd had a day and a half to settle in, and it was mid-week, so were slotting rides in and around my (remote) work, and usual routines for the non-riders around us.  Weather conditions on our second morning screamed "come get it", and while we were a touch short on fitness, 100km at holiday pace seemed manageable.  

It seemed to take no time at all to adjust to the unique flow of the UB traffic, but we did need to be more conscious of the road surface - holes and other hazards were common, and had a habit of appearing out of nowhere.  

We left the city fairly promptly, and crossed the Tuul River which runs between UB and the Bogd Khan Uul Biosphere Reserve, which, according to Wikipedia, claims to be the oldest national park in the world, with usage restrictions dating back to the 13th century.  

For the first half of the ride, we were on a separated cycle path alongside the major route east.  The eclectic mix of buildings was intriguing, from gers (Mongolian word for yurt), to very modern buildings that wouldn't have looked out of place in an expensive NZ suburb (albeit with vastly superior insulation!), to older buildings that looked very harsh to my eye and which probably resemble eastern European apartment blocks.  These were in pockets, with grassy areas in between, and all under a dramatic and vast blue sky.  

Looking back towards UB about a half hour into the ride

We slowly climbed, reaching a high point of just over 1500m above sea level, before taking the necessary off-ramp.  Here marked the end of the cycle path (if you don't count the occasional, short, unbuilt sections), and the time for a pick-me-up.  Convenience stores were common, and obvious, and these I could navigate on my own.  "Cafes" and small restaurants were easy to pick out, but I doubt I'd  have been able to make do without Sarah.  We weren't quite ready for khuushuur (fried dumplings), so made do with some simple snacks.  

It had been nice to be on the cycle path, and being on a fairly major route took a little bit of getting used to.  The traffic was awesome though, and my stress levels slowly subsided.  While I hadn't reread my earlier blog, I did notice I was mentally prepared for the mind-bending distance distortions - what road features we could make out did seem to creep up much more quickly than expected.  It wasn't lost on me that in part, this was because of a stunning tail wind.  Progress wouldn't be so easy on the way home.  

I'd slightly misremembered the approach to the statue, so it was a nice surprise to see it all of a sudden, in all its majesty.  

Once in the complex, we found a few very welcome tourist traps - I'd been hoping to pass them on the road, and was disappointed by their absence.  We passed on archery, but felt compelled to pose with a magnificent golden eagle.

Quickly getting into the swing of things, we followed that up with a short camel ride, Sarah nattering away incessantly, often explaining the unusual package that we are (especially with the bikes thrown into the mix)!

When it was time to head into the building I strolled straight past the ticket booth, assuming that we would only have to pay for rooftop access.  That caused the staff quite some alarm, though I was oblivious to the commotion, and it was quickly smoothed out with a Sarah-plus-credit-card combo!

We did go up top, but the thing I most wanted to do was play dress-ups.  Last time, I'd declined to do so, writing off as silly, but subsequently realised I'd forgone a somewhat unique opportunity.  I chose "king" over "hero", and we got a few lovely photos together before starting to overheat in the heavy garb!

After having a solid crack at enough lunch for about four people, we started the ride back to UB.  As predicted, the wind was going to make it a real slog.  

We swung by an interesting collection of roadside stalls, which seemed to consist of a "shop front" with living quarters behind.  Returning to the road, I made a real mess of things, and lost my front wheel in some loose gravel.  I was barely moving forward, so only had to deal with the rapid movement downwards.  Fortunately, my bike coped with the sharp hit, and I had plenty of fresh water on hand to rinse out a few divots in my skin.  

Once back on the main highway, we had both the cycle path a 250 metre drop to help counter the nasty headwind.  It was a real slog though, and necessitated a coffee stop about 20km from home.  We made a good choice, and the barista in turn made a very good coffee.  

We took a slightly different route into UB, and soon found ourselves weaving between though some very jammed traffic.  Shortly before we discovered the cause of it all, we had to dodge an entrepreneurial local who was walking the queue with a tray of cold drinks!  

Perhaps he was paying commission to the small handful of drivers at the root of the problem.  It did appear that significantly many cars had made a simultaneous play for the same patch of side road, and by virtue of the cars behind them, were unable to untangle themselves.  We couldn't see damage to any car, but there just wasn't quite enough empty space, and probably more to the point, no conductor to take charge.   It was a remarkable sight, and all but guaranteed us a stress free ride back to our hotel!

Stats114km ridden, plus 500m on a camel.  Altitude-adjusted to 900m by the end, if my GPS was to be believed.  

Ride 2:  from Hustai National Park outing

The next day, we headed out to Hustai National Park with one of Sarah's closest friends, university class mate Tungaa, her husband Tsogi, and their two youngest children, Baysaa and Misheel.  

Baysaa was well into English lessons at school, and could clearly understand all of my cheeky comments to him.  While he steadfastly refused to reply, he wasn't quite so able to surpress his amusement!  For her part, Misheel looks a lot like Khulie did in photos of her at that age - a very precious part of her life that I missed out on.  I enjoyed being around so much cuteness, even though it made me a little envious.  

We rode short distance from our hotel to their apartment, but once there, put our bikes on the back of their SUV.  We'd originally planned to ride to our overnight destination, but the combination of headwind and wanting to spend time in their company, meant that we were both very happy in the car. 

Hustai is famous for being one of the few places in the world that you can see Tahki.  Despite having a perfectly good name already, these wild horses were renamed Przewalski's Horse upon discovery in the 19th century by a similarly named white guy.  Their natural habitat is the Gobi Desert, but Hustai is one of the key areas in the conservation efforts to save these animals from extinction, thanks to significant support by the Dutch government (of all people).

After dropping off luggage and bikes at our overnight ger camp on the boundary of the park, having lunch, and getting directions, we set off in search of the Tahki.  Said directions were given in Mongolian, and as the drive went on, including a few false turns, it seemed inconceivable that we'd find anything in this huge and apparently empty space!

How wrong I was, and we soon got to enjoy a collection of 7th century "man stones" which commemorated the death of an affluent, powerful, or otherwise influential man of those times.  

That done, our search for the Tahki began in earnest.  We drove up and over a ridge, and after one observation point with nothing to observe, things went from the sublime to the ridiculous, and we got to enjoy half a dozen small troops, marvelling at one, before moving on and seeing a larger or closer group almost immediately after.  The kids enjoyed watching me fly the drone, but my lack of practice and the wind meant I didn't enjoy it at all!

Horses duly admired, we headed back to base.  We'd been very lucky, and were booked into the last two available gers.  It turned out Sarah and I were in the VIP ger - our sole and unusual ensuite had been retrofitted for the 2006 visit of Dutch royalty!

In the morning, we checked out a nearby Bankhar trainer - preparing huge Mongolian wolfhounds to keep an eye on livestock with minimal human intervention - and then spent a bit of time exploring a local sand dune.  Tungaa introduced me to Mongolian rhubarb, which, chewed and spat out, has a range of medicinal properties.  

We drove just over half way back to UB, before finally taking the bikes off the car near an area used for the massive national Naadam festival.  The wind was in full effect, but we began the ride elevated, and this helped take the edge of the wind at critical junctures.  

Permanent carpark for the once-a-year festival area

We were circling around the northwestern corner of UB, and soon crossed the main road to Darkhan, on which we spent a blissful minute or so - our first time with block tailwind.  We then continued north-east for a while, before turning a hard right (under the watchful eye of Tsogi and family).  Now with the wind permanently at our backs we began slowly climbing.  Up ahead, we could see the last part of the climb - a gravel wall.  Time would tell if it was as bad as it looked!

The road passes through the low saddle mid-shot (wooded to the right, and clear below)

Tsogi had warned us the saddle was unsealed, and this seemed to be common, and is necessitated by the winter months.  (I guess the sealed roads do not cope well with the extreme cold.)  

Misheel - a captive audience

I wasn't so worried about the climb, though it turned out to be a pretty stern challenge.  I overcame the issue of the dust by pretending I was in NZ, and hugging the left "gutter".  Sarah didn't click that this was a great way of getting out of the dust cloud each and every passing vehicle would generate, and instead stayed on the right side of the road (in both senses) and downwind of everyone.  The road was also steep and managing traction was tricky, with some parts lumpier and looser than others.  

Fortunately, the descent was shorter, less steep, and less rough, so better in every respect.  We were soon off the brakes and enjoying a sealed blat into an outer suburb of UB.  Before too long, we arrived at Tungaa and Tsogi's dacha, and not long after that, were back in the vehicle and taking a spectacular  short-cut to another university friend's place in next valley.  

There, we had a lovely meal together, during which Baysaa treated us to a tune or two on his horse-headed fiddle.  I was fascinated that in his mind at least, speaking English to me and playing a musical instrument for everyone were not equivalently performative.  

Not far from the dacha

Stats:  many more kilometres on the bike rack than on the road, but 57 kilometres ridden.

Ride 3:  Ariuna's to Terelj

The next morning, we saddled up once more, and set off towards Terelj, not far from the Chinggis Khan statue.  We were headed for Tumen Khaan Tourist Camp, where we would overnight with Sarah's sister, Saruul, and Tsegi and Khulan, who we'd first met in Wellington when Tsegi was a master's student at VUW (and Khulan a five-year-old, now a teenager).  They were driving out with Tsoomoo, her partner Tsemee and wee Urin, who on account of not having any experience of overnight outings with Urin, would return to UB at the end of the day.  

While we did have bikepacking bags for the next leg of the journey, we'd packed overnight clothes into a backpack, mostly so we could each have a pair of walking shoes.  Kilometres 30 to 53 overlapped with our route out to the statue, the vast majority of which was cycle path.  To get there from Ariunaa's we had nice suburban arterial routes, plus a few big roads nearer the centre of UB.  

Once on the cycle path, we knew we were ahead of the vehicle, so there was a sense of anticipation that at some point they would relieve us (i.e. me) of our backpack.  It was a bit of a stuttery ride to that point, in part due to their uncertain arrival, but also with various half-hearted and somewhat unsuccessful attempts to top up caffeine and/or food levels.  

We met them just before we turned off the cycle path, and agreed to regroup not far up the road for a picnic.  Despite the imminent food, I realised I was a little desperate, and forced Sarah to stop for a quick pick-me-up.  15 minutes later we were joining the others for some fantastic chicken sandwiches, which I enjoyed in part because we'd temporarily claimed a vacant spot of land for ourselves, as one does in Mongolia.  

After lunch, Sarah and I set off, and quickly dispatched a short climb.  While I waited for Sarah at the top, I noticed an eagle sitting on a pole and went up to investigate. 

In short order, Sarah had commissioned on my behalf a heavy leather glove.  Once that was on, a four-year-old golden eagle soon promptly joined it, and as instructed, I gently flapped my arm to ensure the eagle would do the same.  

Not your average mid-ride activity

Feeling elated, we descended, first on gravel, to cross the Tuul River again.  We took an old bridge with a wooden deck, and from it admired the beautiful clear water, and the various groups on hand who'd chosen the spot to spend their Saturday afternoon.    

Beyond the bridge, we began passing tourist resorts with increasing frequency.  The road swung around to the north, and we rode into a relatively narrow valley lined with dramatic rock outcrops.  There was a lot going on, with horse and camel rides on offer, ger camps abound, and herds of cows and yaks among other things.  We even passed a compound with (at a guess) life sized dinosaur sculptures, which Sarah told me (our) Khulan had really enjoyed when she'd visited at the age of 10.

We had yet another unsealed saddle to deal to, before descending to the town of Terelj. 

There, the (mostly) sealed road came to an end, and we spent 5km or picking our way along a dirt road corridor, which was mostly a perfectly pleasant ride (and way more pleasant than SH2 through the Wairarapa would have been on the same set up, i.e. smooth)!

We arrived at the Tumen Khaan Tourist Camp to find the others waiting.  Tumen was the given name of Sarah and Saruul's dad, and became their surname (as "daughters of Tumen").  We arrived a little frustrated by the dirt road, and feeling like we'd quite happily have shortened the ride by 15km or so.  However, as the hours ticked over, the charm of the place really grew on us.    

Tumen Khaan Tourist Camp, Terelj

After dinner, we farewelled Tsomoo and family, and then retired to our gers.  Soon, a staff member knocked on the door and asked if we wanted our fire lit.  While it wasn't that chilly to start with, it was incredible how the "summer stove" quickly heated up low-ceilinged and well-insulated space. Tried and true design, no doubt.

The nicest experience of all was drifting off to sleep to the sounds of Mongolians singing and otherwise enjoying an evening away from the city.  I was probably the only non-Mongolian in the camp that night, and it wasn't lost on me that probably every other place we'd passed would have offered a more curated, and less genuine, experience.  Name aside, the choice of the place made wonderful sense all of a sudden.

Stats90km ridden, very many wow moments, and a few that crept up on me.  

Ride 4:  home again

My addiction for "new roads", and general aversion to out-and-back rides was at the the forefront of my mind in the morning.  Google maps showed no distinction between the major paved road to Terelj and the dirt road that would have avoided the need to back-track.  I really wished the Opens were in their usual "go-anywhere" state, and promised myself that next time they would be.

Aside from inappropriate tyres, we had another good reason to go back the way we'd come, and that was to do a side-trip to see the Turtle Rock, and a Buddhist monastery tucked up the valley behind it.  Absent those, I'd have really been torn, and would rather have been regretting something I did, than something I didn't (at least for as long as we had puncture repair capabilities)!

After breakfast, we wished Saruul, Tsegi and Khulan good luck for their mission back to UB (they had to walk to Terelj, and then catch a couple of buses), and then set off ourselves.  Almost immediately, there was a massive yak to sneak past - definitely the biggest I'd seen, and very close to the road.  

Before leaving Terelj, we stopped at a minimart for water, and enjoyed a few peculiar sights.  

It took about 40 minutes to get back over the first saddle and to reach the turnoff to Turtle Rock.  I was committed to getting the drone out again, and managed to get a photo of us posing in front of the rock before deciding to do a videoed orbit of the thing.  At the risk of retraumatising myself by writing about it, all went well until the massive rock was between the drone and its controller.  There, the radio signal struggled a bit, and I intermittently lost control.  There was nothing around but the huge rock, and it seemed unlikely but not impossible that I might crash the drone into it while trying to regain control.  Panic ensued, though a bit of flailing around later, I'd managed to find the thing in the sky, and bring it safely home.  

My GPS showed the road looping in the upper valley, and continuing a run of bad choices, picked the left fork.  Past the apparent point of no return, that subjected us to picking our way over a low ridge using indistinct tracks, which while physically demanding, and a touch stressful on the bike front, was a lot of fun once it was over.  We emerged right at the carpark for the monastery, and locked our bikes just inside the main gate.

There was a loop path to walk, adorned with signs with Buddha Quotes.  I read each, and very mindful of the early stages of a very unpleasant downsizing process being underway at work (approximately 15% of the workforce needing to be made redundant in order to respond to a shortfall in revenue relative to growing costs), I was particularly taken by one, which may or may not have been first uttered with the academic community in mind.      

"If wise beings discontinue their great deeds, this empty world will look much uglier"

The approach to the monastery itself consisted of a brutally steep set of steps, I guess to minimise unwanted interruptions.  We went up, and sat quietly inside for a while.  There were no official proceedings underway, but many of the visitors undertook similar rituals which I enjoyed surreptitiously watching.

The ride back to UB almost took a turn for the worse, when we made a poor restaurant choice.  Despite being fairly quiet, the wait for food was interminable, and became a bit outrageous.  It was very hot outside and we'd had a stressful morning what with the drone incident and hike-a-bike, so we were relatively happy to sit quietly, playing on the internet and waiting to be fed.  After an hour though, a fellow a couple of tables down took offense on our behalf, and spoke his mind to one of the staff.  His physique was not unlike that of the Incredible Hulk, and aggressively spoken Mongolian added to his menace.  Sarah could of course understand everything that was being said, but I was only able to absorb the volume and tone, and became fairly convinced there was about to be a fight.  Fortunately, the chap was content with pointing out that the kitchen staff were a disgrace to the Mongolian Tourism industry, and we got our tasty enough lunch soon after!!!

The final highlights of the ride came as we rode alongside the Tuul before cutting across and into the city.  One was a massive peloton of motorcyclists - at least a couple of hundred of them - many flying Mongolian flags which looked spectacular in the sunshine.  

The other was a section of roadside stalls to service the needs of those chilling out beside (or in) the river.  The water was as clean here as it had been out in the countryside, and the folk enjoying it were soon to notice it was almost dinner time.  To that end, there were dozens of BBQs being fired up, ready and waiting to serve.

I'm not so keen on meaty delicacies at the best of times, and particularly not in a part of the world where pretty much everything soft is consumed.  So, we passed on the various temptations and made a beeline for the hotel.  

Stats:  85km ridden, 44 degrees maximum temperature (30 average)

* * *

In many ways, the ride we didn't have back to UB was a perfect place to end, as it left me craving a bit more, and in particular, the dirt roads that cover the place like an endless spider's web (with no "spiders" to watch out for other than the lack of shops, and no dead ends).  

The next trip back might not the be with that in mind though.  The gravitational pull on Sarah by her homeland is stronger than ever, especially with Urin's arrival into the family.  Khulan hasn't been back for over a decade, and Kaitlyn hasn't been at all.  Both of those things need to be remedied, and without a pushbike to be seen!  If we can get our diaries to mesh, that might be next year.  

Sarah's family and friends were wonderful hosts, and the time we spent in and around UB was wonderful in and of itself, but also a great antidote from stressful goings on at work, and an opportunity to clock up a solid 350km week before doubling that soon after on the roads of South Korea.  On about every dimension, it was a much needed break.  (And the dirt roads will keep.)

PS:  anyone whose whistle this has whet, hit us up.  Sarah's sister sidelines as a tourist guide, when she's not exploring the world herself and offering translation services.  

Sunday, July 2, 2023

One week tour in the Top of the South (Korea)

While I do enjoy the fleeting glimpses Facebook's algorithm gives me into the lives of my friends (past/present, actual/figurative), the social media platform I'm most active on is Strava, both in terms of sharing an important dimension of my own life, as well as keeping an eye on what folk are up to.  

Case in point, way back in June 2019, local rider (and lovely guy) Mark Hussey had a work trip to Seoul, and shared a few rides he'd done on what appeared to be top-shelf cycling infrastructure.  Jump forward a few years, and the top line detail remained - South Korea was high on my list of potential riding destinations.  

As pandemic restrictions began to ease, we knew it was high time for Sarah to get back to Mongolia to see sister, niece and new great nephew.  Seoul is one of the very few southern gateways into Mongolia, and by virtue of Mark's work conference, had additional endearing qualities.  Booking flights through Seoul was one of the simpler decisions we've made.  Our plan would see us away from NZ for almost three weeks, and we'd given ourselves more than enough time to slot in a cycle tour in Korea.  

Logistical preparations can be a mixed bag, though plenty of experience helps.  

Our Open U.P. bikes in road mode got the nod, and given the anticipated temperatures, we planned to travel lighter than usual.  Sarah would have a small handlebar bag, and one of Revelate's smallest seat bags for her toiletries, so many of which seem nice-to-haves that I've developed an aversion to hauling them myself!   On the other hand, I have no qualms packing two sets of warm-weather evening wear into the largest of our Revelate bags.  Most tools, tubes and some emergency food go into my half-frame-bag, a bit more into a top tube bag, and in case I'm motivated and brave enough to fly the drone, it packs well into a handlebar bag.  The bags are such great quality, I feel a little sorry for Bryce from Cyclewerks that we don't have to replace things more often. 

Ready to roll

Today's route-planning tools are amazing, with my current preference being Strava, what with its easy phone interface and (95% of the time) seamless automated uploads to my Garmin GPS.  What seems to be more of a movable feast is getting a basemap organised, with being my current go-to.  

I barely need to refer to my gear list these days, and besides that, I MUST. UPDATE. IT.  In any case, it gets a quick skim before closing up the bag zips for the last time.  

Arrival into Seoul from Mongolia went relatively smoothly, in part thanks to a dry run on the NZ-Mongolia leg, where we'd enjoyed a two night stopover.  The train from Incheon airport into the city was relatively easy to negotiate with two bike bags and a suitcase, as was the short walk from Seoul Station to Aroha Guesthouse.  That's possibly the last time I choose lodgings solely by its name, and after one night with barely enough vacant floor space to open our door, we relocated to Niagara Hotel, a stone's throw from the Han River.

Our 8th floor room overlooked a tributary of the Han River, which itself cleaves the Seoul metropolitan area, and the large but relatively minor waterway was action-packed in and out.  From my temporary "office", we could see from time to time a massive school of large fish in the murky water, as well as a  seemingly endless stream of cyclists on an adjacent cycle path.  A shake-down ride was a good idea anyway, but it did become impossible to resist getting amongst it.  

It is always nice to set out for a first ride with absolutely no agenda, knowing any route would be a novelty.  It took a minute or two to get from the hotel down to the river.  Maintenance prevented us from going right, so we turned left and for the next couple of hours simply followed our front wheels.  

It was almost like riding in a parallel universe where cars didn't exist.  The river-side paths were basically a completely separate transport network, catering for cyclists of all types, e-scooter riders, runners and walkers.  The cyclists were diverse, spanning suit-clad office workers commuting using a bike-share system, to wannabe pros in $1500 worth of kit, riding $15000 bikes.  It was glorious.   

We initially headed upstream on the Han River, enjoying a dedicated south-bound lane, and being occasionally confronted with traffic calming measures, off-ramps to who-knows-where, and even roundabouts.  

After a touch under 10km, we took a ramp up to a road bridge and crossed to the other side of the Han River.  On the far side we took an elevator down to pick up the cycle path on the true right of the river.  These elevators seemed to be the primary mechanism for getting the little guys (like ourselves) up to bridge level, with rideable paths being not always available.    

We turned downstream, and ultimately rode for almost 20km before crossing the Han again, and making our way back to the hotel.  

Sarah was on point for dinner, and soon discovered that all "hangover soup" is not created equal.  In Mongolia, it is made with water, flour and salt - flour lumps essentially becoming mini-dumplings.  The Korean version, or in particular, this evening's version, was abundant with sliced intestine, and a large block of baked blood (which didn't get eaten).  Caveat emptor!

Not often that a Mongolian balks at a meaty dish!

Despite the dinner challenges, we hit the sack looking forward to the week ahead - perhaps not optimally fueled, but otherwise ready!

Stats:  42km ridden.  

Day 1 - Seoul to Yeoju

After a fairly leisurely breakfast and pack-up, we loaded up the hotel's office with our two bike bags and suitcase, and then high-tailed it out of there before they changed their minds about storing our stuff for a week.  As with the previous afternoon, we were almost instantly "off-road" and that remained the case for almost the entire ride.  

As might be expected for mid-morning on a Saturday, the paths were busy, and before long we began to recognise some of Seoul's recreational norms.  Shaded areas were an obvious design feature, achieved either through purpose built shelters, or via things which had another primary use, i.e. a bridge or elevated roadway.  It was common to see cyclists taking a break where there was shade, but there would usually also be gym equipment there being put to good use.  

Saturday morning on the Han River network

Along with hundreds of others exercising informally, we passed a beach-like area on Yeouido Island, as well as a large running event winding down.  

Man-made beach

The previous day's 40km hadn't exposed us to every surprise the river path had to offer - a four-lane stretch was a new treat.  Our progress was fairly slow - despite a good pace when moving, there were endless distractions, including drink stops and other curiosities.  I had kept my eye out for a "certification center" - the Koreans have a Bike Passport system, and invite accumulation of stamps from booths which ultimately yield medals and other knick-knacks.  We hadn't sought out passports, and finding our first booth didn't make me wish we had.  

Keep right unless passing?

Down in the river corridor, it was easy to miss what was going on directly above us, we could see the dwindling size of buildings on the far side of the river.  Bridges across the Han were another sign that  we were leaving the city behind.  Despite that, the concentration of recreational cyclists on the path wasn't dramatically different, and for hours we were still obviously within range of Seoul's out-and-back riding community.

About 45km into the ride, we crossed the Han, and after a few more kilometres started to see a bit more variation in the style of the path, which to this point had been almost entirely like a road along the river.  We began to spend more time on what seemed like an old railway line, and occasionally was guaranteed to have been such.  All direction signage was in Korean, and besides, I wasn't really sure where we were going.  Rightly or wrongly, I was tending to follow arrows accompanied by a flower-like logo, which themselves tended to point in the direction the bike most wanted to go in.  

Sarah almost certainly in the wrong lane!

Convenience stores kept us fueled, and in the mid-afternoon, we rode out of range of Seoul for good.  As fatigue levels started to creep up, we experienced a few minor frustrations, including taking a bad turn as we attempted to pass through a town, and being seemingly in the middle of nowhere when we were ready to stop. saturation wasn't great, and we also became aware that seeing "HOTEL" written in big, bold and thereby obvious letters on the side of a building was rare.  Enter Google Maps, which while totally disfunctional as a route planner ("Directions" do not work), at least identified hotels on the map, from which you could get a vague sense of how far away they were.    

95km would have been an adequate ride, and we ended up going in at least one circle at around that point, crossing the river a couple of times trying to find a hotel, giving up and getting back on to the path, eventually clocking off 20km later.

Big empty infrastructure

Travelling as a pair is always great from a bike-security point of view, as while one investigates food or lodgings or some-such, the other can ensure the bikes stay put.  

I drew the short straw to investigate the hotel we'd found.  At reception, the language barrier was relatively easily overcome.  The context does so much of the leg-work, and a variation on "one room two people", payment, key receipt and query about what to do with the bikes, enabled mostly by correct anticipation of the next step, but also supported by sign language, tended to work out just fine.  

After washing up, we didn't have to walk far to find a very popular BBQ place, and a short wait on the footpath later, we were mimicking the locals in cooking and comsuming a couple of slabs of beef, as well as all-you-can eat side dishes.  Tongs and a pair of scissors substituted nicely for the sorts of utensils we might use at home, and contributed to both a great meal, and an enjoyable cultural experience.  

Stats:  113km ridden, temperature predominantly in the 30s, and probably no more than a few kilometres ridden on-road.  

Day 2 - Yeoju to Jecheon

The next morning we rolled out before eating, and had to hunt a wee bit for even a convenience store to raid.  Hotel rooms tended to come with a couple of sticks of instant coffee (plus milk powder and likely a bit of sugar), but this only took the edge off the morning for so long.  We'd noticed that "COFFEE" was probably the English word we'd most commonly see, even if what was available didn't quite match the quality of what we're used to at home!  On the downside, these joints typically had very little food available, despite a range of hot and cold beverages on offer.  The town had a Sunday-morning-sleep-in vibe to it, and reminded me of the Wellington of my youth.  Eventually we found a 7-Eleven tucked away, and made do with some individually packaged bready things, and some canned coffee, as well as water to fill our bottles.  

The river path was easy to find once we'd had a bite to eat, and we were soon on our way.  

Almost immediately I took a wrong turn.  We crossed the river, and soon after that ran out of cycle path, forcing us onto the road.  That got messy quickly, as a road heading in the right direction turned out to be a motorway.  After a bit of guess work, we'd soon picked up the river trail again (without having to retrace our "steps").  

Riding was easy, and there was no shortage of things of interest happening along the river.  What the wee foray off the path had hammered home though, was that while the path was giving us a relatively stress-free ride, we were missing out on seeing how Koreans live, a spot of recreation aside.  As the hours ticked over, we became increasingly ready to go off-piste.  

Two of three powered parachutes out for a morning blat

We stuck to the path some time after that conclusion had been drawn.  Before we'd left Seoul, I'd formulated a loose plan, based around one of the more English-laden maps I'd managed to find of the cycle path network.  By all accounts, the most popular route was the "Cross-Country Route" from Seoul to Busan.  We were headed for the east coast, and it looked like riding the Namhangang path to its end point at the Chungju Dam would take us part of the way there (though now I see the many stylised maps available differ hugely on exactly how far - the one we had probably doubles the length of the last dog-leg bit of our trail).  

This wasn't the map I had, though in hindsight I wish it had been...

In any case, we did peel off the Busan route somewhere in and around Chungju, which was adjacent to a beautiful stretch of river.  It would have been a shame to miss it, but on the other hand, had we, it later became clear we'd have cut out a lot of distance had we cut eastwards sooner.  

Railroad, looking glorious

Because of the "not-to-scale" issues of the map I was being influenced by, it was surprising, and therefore slightly confusing, to reach the dam so soon after turning off, but the dam itself was incontrivertible, even though we piked on the final kilometre or so to admire it from close up.  

Over a coffee, I explored a few route options through to a hotel we'd pre-booked in Jecheon.  There was a super-tempting road above the hydro lake, which by its shape, was virtually guaranteed to be carless and as scenic as you'd ever want.  But, as tends to follow, it was longer and hillier, and my instinct was that we had neither the legs nor the inclination for too many extras.  

As it turned out, the more conservative route was perfectly lovely, and it was indeed nice to be getting a bit more of a look at Korean society.  When we swapped notes at the end of the day, Sarah and I found we'd both noticed the complete absence of farmed animals - we saw no sheep, cows or pigs.  On the other hand, any land that wasn't covered in bush or buildings tended to be growing something.  Rice paddies, which tended to come with beautiful herons, were common.

The previous night we'd ended up with our bikes in our room.  I'd acted as if it would be as simple again, but having paid for a room, we were asked to leave our bikes outside under the watchful eye of CCTV cameras (but visible to the road).  We had only a tiny lock, and so I signaled we'd have to find an alternative hotel.  Fortunately, that triggered a call to the manager, who was more pragmatic than his underling felt able to be, and we were offered to put them in the ground floor corridor.  That seemed like a sufficient step-up in security, and we were soon focusing on the next problem - finding somewhere to eat.

We were in a decent sized city, but not quite in the right part of it, and as we struck out on foot, we found that most restaurants were not open.  An exception early in the walk had been a pizza joint, and eventually we ended up back there - Sarah not entirely delighted to be having western food (when in Rome, and all that...).  On the other hand, absent trying again on our bikes, it wasn't clear we had any choice, and my hangriness was rapidly overwhelming me.  Fortunately, the meal was delicious, and any frustrations were soon behind us.  

Stats:  118km ridden, about 45km on road, which made for a nice change.  Temperature again in the mid-30s.

Day 3 - Jecheon to Gangneung

The hotel had a coffee machine and toaster in the lobby, which we made good use of before suiting up and rolling out.  We'd soon ridden further than we'd walked the previous evening, and it seemed inconceivable that the plethora of eateries would all have been closed.  We did stop, but at a chemist.  Sarah had a pretty sore throat, and was issued three day courses of antivirals of some sort - one to treat the throat, and the other her sinuses.    

It took a short while before we'd ridden out the other side of the city, and I was surprised to see how instantly apartment blocks were replaced by market gardens.  People were growing vegetables on the literal edge of the city.

I'd mapped out a route towards the coast, and while somewhat randomly chosen ("this connection looks good on the map...") it was almost immediately intriguing and feature-filled.  We found ourselves in mining country, riding alongside and under a covered conveyor belt that reminded me of a similar setup we'd ridden past in New Caledonia.  

The road was really fascinating, ducking and diving in surprising ways.  While we were enjoying that, Sarah's Di2 battery demanded a charge.  We stopped to hook up our conveniently stowed power bank, and I took the opportunity to interrogate the next stretch of riding.  An immediate deviation seemed like it would eliminate a small but not insignificant climb, and we set off with that plan in mind.  

Our first nice surprise was a lovely cafe, which was a blessed relief for me.  Then, out of nowhere, the road went crazy for about 30 seconds - narrow and then a super steep descent with a couple of tight bends before turning back into a regular road along a river.  It was so out of character, that it wasn't outlandish to wonder if you'd simply imagined it.  

Gutted I didn't have my camera out still 10 seconds later, though I'd probably have struggled to control my bike even if I'd managed to take photos of a spectacular piece of road.  

We didn't attempt to translate signage that soon followed, but it is likely it would have said "road subject to flooding" or some such.  In any case, the road got strangely narrow and at times underbuilt, and that too was glorious.  I presume flooding was sufficiently regular that the smaller the road, the cheaper it was to repair.  

We passed some guys diving in the river (wetsuits seemed a bit out of place), and minutes later the road got back to normal again.  About 200m short of the intersection with the road we'd baled on, we found locals filling up water bottles at a spring.  We rejoined the route about 16km of riding from when we'd left it, perhaps as much as doubling the distance ridden but at the expense of a small climb.  On the other hand, it was a star-studded 16km, and felt like a nice substitute, albeit one that by virtue of its points of interest, had chewed up over an hour!

At work, my body tends to demand an early lunch, and while I tend to cope better on the bike, by 1pm I was starting to get a bit cranky, and willing to scrape the bottom of the barrel if need be.  Cycle-path-adjacent stores were clearly not representative of road-adjacent ones, but we'd noticed these generally had ready-to-eat instant noodles (common also in Mongolia).  Again, through a combination of mimicry and letting the proprietor take the lead, we were soon tucking into some food.  The language barrier did tend to mean we ended up with incredibly spicy instant noodles, but hot soup (in two senses) was better than an empty stomach...!  

I was finding the ride really stimulating, but it also had its challenges, which proved to include heat, food, hills and distance.  These tended to hit Sarah harder than they hit me, and she was also dealing with the lurgy that she'd almost surely pinched off me.  From time to time road conditions enabled me to give her a helping hand, gently pushing her uphill with one hand on her lower back.      

The ride profile suggests that the Korean peninsula has over the millennia been given a hefty shunt up and out of the Pacific Ocean. As we rode East, we climbed from about 200m above sea-level, to a peak of over 800m within coo-ee of the coast.  Interesting, but hard progress.  

The road network was similarly fascinating, but also a nuisance.  It seemed like there were three levels of road headed in the same direction (motorway, highway, and local road).  Every now again, there'd be no local road and we'd end up on the four lane highway, which was itself a dual carriageway and didn't always feel like the right place for a bike.  Luckily the traffic was light, and the drivers also tended to give us a wide berth.  In our attempts to stay off the highway, we ended up back-tracking a couple of times when what seemed to be the local through-road turned out to lead to a motorway on (or off)-ramp

Nonetheless, we eventually got to the summit.  It was an eerie place to ride, as it was engulfed in cloud, which all but hid from sight massive wind turbines.  It was also, to an extent, the effective end of the ride.  Even absent the cloud, I doubt we'd have seen the ocean, but to compensate was a very enjoyable bit of road - we lost almost all of our altitude in the next 10km and barely needed to turn a pedal.  Sarah praised the road design highly - engineers had designed width in really useful places, almost surely not to give cyclists a breather from the more torrid stretches, but it served that nice purpose.  

At Gangneung, we'd pre-booked a room.  There was no great drama with bike storage, although we struggled to find somewhere to have dinner.  I had a wee bit of energy left after we'd eaten, so struck out on foot to a laundromat, just managing to convince the proprietor to let me do a quick wash before locking up and heading home (had I demanded a dryer, or a long wash cycle, I think he'd have turned me away).  

Stats:  145km ridden, 1500m climbed, and some very cool stretches of road, major and minor.  

Day 4 - Gangneung to Songjiho Beach

We ate at the hotel restaurant in the morning - it was on the top floor, but despite this, I was surprised we still hadn't nabbed a view of the ocean.  A bit of riding put paid to that though, and beyond the first  15 minutes or so, for our fourth day we were seemingly never more than a stone's throw from the Pacific.  


We quickly picked up the Gangwon section of the East Coast Cycle path, and eased into a pattern of off-road separated cycle path between fishing villages (or towns), with sections of on-road riding through the villages themselves.  Beaches and harbours and man-made islands gave us plenty to look at out our starboard-side.  There were humans too - surfers mostly, but also people doing anything but sunbathing.

The stretch reminded me a lot of our ride into Valparaiso at the end of 2019.  As might be expected, there was plenty of seafood on offer, but the presentation had a tacky touristy vibe to it, and from what we could make out, the pricing was such that you wondered if they actually wanted to sell it this way - namely, super expensive.  We made do with window shopping.

Crabs waiting to be put out of their misery

Squid, hung out to dry

As we tracked north, we started to get hints of the war-state that the Korean peninsula is in (formally, there's an armistice agreement signed only by North Korea and the UN).  At one point a large military transport helicopter flew overhead, and we began passing compounds behind razor wire, none the wiser from what exactly was within.  What looked like apartment blocks from a distance, were probably barracks once we saw exactly where they were situated.  From the cycle way at least, the war state was very discreet.

We saw one instance of a road feature described by one commentator as "South Korea's worst kept military secret", namely a massive and otherwise useless block of concrete perched above the road.  In the meantime holding up what I guess might be some tongue-in-cheek propaganda (on the northern side only, of course), but whose primary purpose is to be brought down onto the road to hamper invasion by the hostile northern neighbour.  

Features of the route weren't all chilling, and there was plenty of artistic flair on display.  Being from a part of the world where cycle paths tend to create absurd levels of drama, it is nice to see local authorities jazzing them up in a way that signals they're not being installed wholly reluctantly.  

My tendency to keep moving means we pass things without being able to fully discern what might be going on.  The day threw up more than one unanswered question, many of the WTF variety.  

Drizzle had started and coats were on by the time I subjected us to a bit of hike-a-bike.  I have a strong "push-on" reflex, in part because the crazy sections tend to be very short-lived, motivated in part by curiosity, and in part because I really don't like turning around.  In any case, while navigating steps, cobbles, more steps and then sand, my rear tube slowly but surely went flat, adding insult to injury.  

I perhaps foolishly tried to repair the tube rather than simply replace it, and I think lost track of exactly where the hole was, put the patch in the wrong place, and within minutes had to stop to install a new tube.  

To offset the weather and the messing around,  we were both excited about our destination.  An expensive hotel was well positioned, and we'd splashed out on a room.  Upon arriving at the somewhat pretentiously named "Renebleu by Walkerhill", it quickly became clear that people usually do not arrive on bicycles...  As a result, they weren't quite sure how to handle us and our steeds, but we got there in the end!  

We had a great view from our window, and the rooftop blacony was even better, up the coast and out over the ocean.  One of the room's more unusual features (which we had seen in others) was abseiling equipment.  It may well have only been there to please the fire marshalls, but it wasn't a stretch to assume it was to temporarily evade invaders.  

We each had a tasty pasta dish at the hotel restaurant, but were disappointed there was no dessert menu.  After raiding the nearby convenience store for ice-creams on sticks, we retired to our room, and watched a trashy movie on Netflix, familiar enough with the layout to access it (sans Korean subtitles) despite everything being in Korean script.  

Stats:  92km ridden

Day 5 - Songjiho Beach to Hongcheon

We woke to similarly wet conditions, which were then factored into our game plan.  Before leaving Seoul, we had done a half-day tour to the DMZ, but despite that, I was still interested in going up to the road's terminus at the Goseong Unification Observation Tower.  Arriving there wet and with poor visibility meant that we were unlikely to enjoy the sights on offer (the views north, and the museum among others), so we made the call to cut out about 60km of riding, and instead turn inland at Goseong itself.

File photo: Korean DMZ and two very large flagpoles

While still on the coastal cycle path, we passed a tribute which made clear the artificiality and resistance to the barrier across the peninsula.  

We soon noticed another variation of road corridor defense, and it was a good motivator to move on.  Reluctantly, we also passed the Square Root Gallery (Coffee and Bakery), at a time when we were both wet, and still full to the gunnels of hotel buffet.  As someone who regularly does square roots in my day job, I was disappointed, but not so much that I was willing to stop.  

When we turned inland, it heralded the beginning of the climbing, and we were glad to discover that not every road to the coast plummeted like the one we'd taken into Gangneung.  Instead, the climb was gradual, indeed often imperceptible, unless you stopped pedalling altogether.  The occasional military vehicle would pass us on the road, but really compound razor wire was the most in-your-face aspect of the defences.  

Empty bunkers?

Future PITA

We reached our elevation highpoint at the 35km mark (about 600m above sea level), and we knew we'd got lucky with the route.  From there we began riding down-valley, and while the road was big, again the traffic was both light and well behaved.  There were plenty of points of interest to keep the brain engaged.  

Unusual to see a wind farm damn near on a valley floor

More road defenses

Just before 3pm we passed through the major town of Inje.  We contemplated finding a hotel there, but it seemed a bit too early to stop, and we pressed on.  There, and from time to time otherwise, the main road would go through a tunnel so we were "forced" onto a local road remnant, and got to enjoy the longer, quieter original route. 


The merits of waving goodbye to Inje were later questioned, and it was a long, messy push through to Hongcheon.  About 20km out from our final stop we made a concerted attempt to locate a guesthouse, but balked given the communication barrier - both our ability to interpret written road-side signage, and speak to the potential host.  

We rode on to a hotel further down the valley, only to find it was closed.  Our next attempt warmly welcomed us, provided we were happy with an underground room.  The juxtaposition of sleeping the previous night with abseiling equipment and a great view was not lost on us.  We were invited to take our bikes into our room, and couldn't resist making use of the hand-held shower and bathroom floor sump for four showers rather than just two.

Dinner worked out OK in the end.  What we initially ordered turned out to be a local variation on steak tartare.  Fortunately, they were willing to take those back, and set us up for a spot of BBQ, albeit without the vege buffet that we'd lucked out on a few nights earlier.  All in all, it felt like a day where cooked food and shelter of any sort was a win!  

Stats:  125km ridden, coats on all day, and perhaps an hour too much.

Day 6 - Hongcheon to the outskirts of Seoul

Despite the cycle paths wearing a bit thin early in the trip, the Bukhangang Cycle path, starting just north of us in Chuncheun, seemed like an ideal opportunity for stress-free riding into Seoul.  Between our hotel and Chuncheun was a confusing network of roads, again varying from off-limits motorway to what would prove to be stunning local rides.  In between lay the highways which were always a touch confusing to be on. (Must we be here?  Are we allowed to be here?  Can this be right?)

40km didn't seem like too many, so we made do with a light convenience store breaky, and then set off.  We navigated on the fly from time to time, when what we saw on the ground seemed like a better option than what I (or the Strava route building algorithms) had planned.  


We were well and truly ready for coffee when we rolled into the outskirts of Chuncheun.  We stopped at a bakery, and ended up eating a bready thing not unlike a donut.  The "jam" was red bean paste, and the "cream" resembled slices of camembert cheese (absent the rind).  That turned out not to be cheese, but  slices of butter (perhaps more correctly described as blocks...) which were OK to eat initially, but soon became overbearing.  By the time we left there was probably about 3-4 tablespoons of butter accumulated onto a napkin...!  

Stunning urban cycle path was an immediate antidote, which at some point (without fanfare) morphed into the national cycle way.  

Adjacent to an exhibition area, we saw preparations for a military parade.  There were a couple of attack helicopters, as well as tanks and even missile launchers.  Not things I expect the NZ Army has, let alone displays.  

Soon after, going with the flow took us to a path alongside a massive man-made lake.  Despite now having close to 700km on the clock, we were still seeing novel sights, one being a gondola station sending people far across the lake and up into the hills.   

Despite the path being... um... pretty obvious, I lost Sarah for a few minutes.  We'd both installed e-SIM cards and were consequently able to clean things up without too much bother, nor risking hefty voice over data charges.  

At the bottom end of the lake, we crossed a dam and, after a bit of confusion, deviated from the main cycle path, which is presumably a loop around the entire lake.  

From there we began following a river which eventually feeds into the Han just upstream of Seoul.  We had this section of path pretty much to ourselves.  At times we could see various tourist attractions across the river (folk in jiggers on some old railway line included).  

One nifty section was riding through grass which was at times two metres tall and was gently swaying in the breeze.  I was on point, so Sarah might well have been oblivious to the large dragonflies I'd disturb every twenty metres or so.  There was a huge railway station above us, with the railway line at each end disappearing into tunnels.  It seemed like a very odd place to have a station, as other than some buildings on the far side of the river, there was no visible population base. 

At about the 90km mark, we deviated from the main route, and I was surprised to find ourselves on an old railway bench, replete with frequent tunnels and other nifty features.  

e.g. tunnel

e.g. a nifty feature

We'd started the day open to riding all the way back into Seoul, but by mid afternoon it was clear that we'd not be back at Niagara Hotel.   We used to scope out some hotel possibilities much closer to us, but didn't book anything.  That invited a bit of messing around exploring earlier opportunities.  We were in an urban area, if not yet in greater-Seoul, and we were teased by buildings apparently containing everything but lodgings.

Before riding further became unsufferable, we reached a hotel we hadn't booked online.  There were rooms available, but the overnight bike storage on offer was the parking garage which all but had public access.  It turned out there was another hotel just nextdoor, and they were able to offer a storage area adjacent to reception, which we accepted with delight.

There were plenty of dinner options nearby, though maybe too many and we struggled with the choice.  On the way back to the hotel, we saw a fellow walking a small dog in a dog-pushchair.  It seemed like this was a thing here in Korea, with various different off-the-shelf haulage methods, including dog-ready handbags.  I suppose it is one way to stop the little buggers shitting on the footpath.  

Job almost done, we slept without any qualms about the short ride ahead of us in the morning.

Stats:  120km ridden

Day 7 - closing the loop

The beginning of the final ride was a bit of a shambles, courtesy of yours truly, and the various poor choices necessitated corrections.  After fits and starts, we reached a major river, which no surprise, had a stunning cycle path along it.  The route I'd planned had us crossing the river, but with no obvious way to get up to the bridge we'd need to use, we decided to follow our noses instead.  I'd kind of been looking forward to riding through the centre of Seoul, but scooting around the edge on this amazing path seemed like a fair compromise.  

Roses and horses are two things I know Sarah loves to stop for.  Her mother's name was Roza

The path enabled us to enjoy many of the recreational patterns we'd observed, including discovering how active people are well into their old age, typically using public exercise equipment to keep themselves in good nick.  While delighted by how our own two almost-50-year-old bodies had coped with the demands of the ride, I did find myself deludedly fantasising about keeping myself limber in my old age, knowing full well that before keeping must come becoming...

Whilst it was a bit of a downer to return to trodden paths, it was also a boon, as we were able to easily navigate back to the hotel.  

Sarah crossing the fishy river for the last time

There, we were too early to check in, so to productively kill some time, I packed both bikes.  That done, we were still to early to check in, but benefitted from some Americans hitting the counter a little more presumptuously than we had.  The clerk, who it turned out had spent 10 years living in New Zealand, sheepishly knew he could then hardly turn us away, said our room was now available without us having to ask.  We decided another short delay was worthwhile, and showered and changed before heading out for lunch at what had become our favourite spot.

Dumpling guy extraordinaire!

Bellies full, we figured we had enough time to go into Seoul, and while our attempt to get into an art gallery failed, we did stop by a little boutique bike store which had the blingest collection of bikes and components for sale than I think I've ever seen in a single store. 

$100k bike rack?

The bike store was followed by dinner, and then a trip to a laundromat within easy walking distance of our hotel.  There's something very special about getting home from a trip with almost no laundry to do, and that brought to a nice conclusion our penultimate day in Seoul.  

A late evening flight the next day allowed a spot more non-cycle-touristing, and plenty of experience using the subway system ought to have made for easy airport logistics.  As it was, I managed to inadvertently avoid any waiting at the airport by initially catching our first train in the wrong direction, so while embarrassing, it wasn't entirely a good idea.  

Stats:  40km ridden, no bike kit worn by your truly.

* * *

South Korea is a very convenient southern gateway to Mongolia, but more than that, it is a mecca of off-road cycle paths, and associated necessities.  The country has a few awkwardnesses, not least that Google Maps does not function fully, and an at times challenging language barrier.  That could have been usefully mitigated had we done a bit more food prep, using local restaurants to better acquaint ourselves with the typical options, but otherwise doing things on the fly wokred sufficiently well.

Our bikes were great choices, namely fat-tyred-road-bikes (aka "gravel bikes") but in road trim.  We ran GP5000 racing tyres, and while I had a couple of additional rear tyre punctures to add to the one I mentioned (and probably have to replace the tyre), they otherwise made for a great cycling experience.

June was a good time of year to visit.  Warm but not too hot, nor yet overly rainy (NB: monsoon season started soon after we left), and not oppressively humid.  

You could do worse than the route we ended up with.  It was a nice mix of dedicated cycle paths, and roads, both of which were enjoyable in different ways.  I'd have gone stir crazy entirely on the former, and might have come home feeling like we'd ridden amazing cycle paths anywhere in the world.  The road gave us access to what felt more uniquely Korean, but it would have been a shame to entirely forgo spending time on what really is incredible cycling infrastructure.  The balance was about right, I think.

Including the shake-down ride we rode a notch under 800km in six full and two half days.  I'd quietly hoped to get a bit closer to the border, but perhaps that's ill-advised - it is possible you wouldn't actually see much of the DMZ without being a nuisance.  South Korea is a destination I'd definitely go back to - I'd read cycling blogs about trips taking in off-shore islands in the west and south, and I'm sure that's but just one dimension we completely missed out on.  There's plenty yet to sample, in any case.  

If I were ever to win a competition that enabled me to specify a feature upgrade to Strava, I'd be ready with one - namely, the ability to filter out people's indoor training from my feed.  I hate wading through Zwift rides, and they can crowd out a "real" ride somewhere motivational.  Perhaps absent Mark Hussey's trip to Korea, we'd still have planned a stopover here, and still done this most enjoyable cycle tour.  But, I think there's also a fair chance that we'd have not.  So, thanks Mark, and thanks to Strava for hosting a social network that enables us to inspire one another.  

If I'm not mistaken, my first actual post on this blog was about 14 years ago, and I'm really glad I've stuck with this strangely old-fashioned medium.  Documenting these trips is significantly more effort than chucking some GPS data and a few photos up on Strava, but it is a habit that brings me pleasure and satisfaction in the moment, and which guarantees a nice reference article for the future - whether to cheer myself up, or to help me plan the next ride. I hope also, that like Mark, I inspire or otherwise inform a visit to Korea in someone else's future.

To my most photogenic riding buddy, wife, and and incredibly capable companion, thanks for these memories.  I feel very lucky to be able to have these experiences with you.  This was a wonderful and much-needed break from real life.