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ImageOver Chuseok, the Korean Thanksgiving festival, my friend Louis and I cycled from Busan (the Yangsan end) to Seoul in a week.  For those with a sketchy idea of Korean geography, Busan is the country’s second largest city on the South coast and Seoul is located firmly in the north. The total distance between the two is about 500k.

We followed the route mapped by avid cyclist Jan Boonstra, found at  It was a beautiful journey.  We cycled through mountain ranges on forgotten B-roads lined with thick greenery; farmland that smelt of sweet, ripe grapes and manure and garlic; green and golden fields in the most open space I’ve seen in this peak-filled country, and cycle lanes built along wide, calm rivers.

I crashed on the first day.  It was as good a crash as it gets – dramatic looking with only minor resulting injuries to both me and my trusty steed. Louis freed my bike from the ditch it was wedged into while I donned a heat patch and ate some chocolate, and then we were back on the road.

We stayed mostly in motels. Known in Korea as ‘love motels’, they are intended more for clandestine couples than weary cyclists, but the ajumma reception ladies usually seemed pleased to show helmet clad foreigners to a room – though not as pleased as we were. The necessities of life felt once again truly important – I was always so grateful to find a bed to sleep in, a shower, water and food, especially as sometimes it was dark when we reached the only motel for miles around.

I was struck by the great difference between rural and city life. Cities in Korea are so loud and light and populated – the countryside is, well, just the opposite. One night we found ourselves lost in the most rural and least populated land we’d been in. Walking our bikes up a mountain in the dark the only lights we could see were from the occasional firefly.  On eventually reaching the top and viewing the twinkle of a street-lit town below I felt like a sailor sighting shore after many moons away at sea. Arriving finally in Seoul was like arriving from another planet, and required a major costume change for our day of eating and luxurious meandering before our respective journeys home.

My memory of the trip now is a continuous collection of fragments: the smell of tractor fuel; the barking of dogs as we cycled past small clusters of dilapidated farmhouses; curved tiled roofs and red chillies drying from wooden rafters.  The farmers, nearly all over 60, going about their daily tasks –  lots of chopping and picking for the harvest; villages with brightly painted walls and coffee drinking grandparents; suicidal grasshoppers, green road signs and apple trees. And then there were the downhill, sky-filled rides at dusk – the kind that make you glad to be alive with every breath.


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