After running the gauntlet of steep narrow elevators, and heavily laden wide-set bikes, we were kindly greeted onto the ferry by the chief steward, a well dressed and effeminate man, who I happily mistook for the captain. That mis-labelling was the happiest of accidents, and we were very quickly upgraded from cattle class to the roomiest suite.
As we left port, I sat on the top deck at dusk, reflecting on the previous ferry we had taken, across the Caspian Sea into Kazakhstan. In our journey across the greatest central Asian landmass this was the first time we had touched the sea. At that moment we were embarking on the real core of the journey, the greatest unknowns, the highest peaks, and the most massive plains. I felt a veteran compared to my previous self on that kazakh ferry, there was a greater degree of wonder and giggling excitement, now replaced by a settle c’est la vie. It wasn’t that interest had dimiished in life, but more by moving slowly across sch great distances allowed the veteran tour cyclist to recognise the commonalities of global life. With a greater sample size links and likenesses are easier to determine. The unique nature of all things is never lost, just the similarities become more apparent.
In my head at Lotus the journey to beijing would be ou last great push, and from then on Beijing, Korea and Japan would be a long form of victory lap. After the 6 day time trial sown highways and across industrial ports, I had reviewed that victory lap judgement to start in Korea. The closer I come to finishing the journey, the less the ending or the completion matters, the width of experience and what can be retained of that is what the completion of the trip once was to me. Greatest lesson and reminder to live in your time, not in your achievements.
As all ferries have been so far, the journey flew by too fast. This is golden time where you aren’t cycling, and there is no possibility of doing so, and where the temptation of internet is absent from your attention. I will try and create similar situations on a regular basis in normal life, where work or labour simply isn’t possible and digital distraction is removed.
The rain threatening in drizzle as we stood outside the ferry terminal.
Longer journey to Seoul than antipated, the distance mainly felt because of the rain, heaviest rain of journey so far, rivers down the highway slopes of incheon, rain to the degree where disomfort is pushed through, even danger is disregarded, as the absurd and sheer wetness becomes only comical. a jovial and specialist bike shop gavef free hivis jackets after joining in with a hearty laugh at our predicament / choice. After having handed out the business card with the asian swastika on, and quitening teh room somewhat.
But when we reached the fabled korean cycle paths, any consideration of ran was washed away by the staggering achievement of public utilty that is the korean cycle network.
Beginning of our love affair with Korean cycle paths. To a cyclist with experience of Mongolian dust paths, of marathon waterless Uzbek desert stints, or Kyrgz tunnels, korea was not luxury but simply alien.
Korean cycle luxuries, include
Fridges stocked with mineral water
Toilet stops every 20 km
debussy and classical music twinkling from enroute speakers
Cycle friendly cafes an convenience stores punctuating regularly
bicycle flat cats eyes
Bicycle bridges, elevated wooden platforms built sweeping along the river itself, views and ease of cycling.
Camping zones with free public ammenities
self fix bike stations with some basic tools
Prime minister who had done nought else good but consnsus agreement on 4 rivers. Although relatively small number of Koreans who know about their world lead in this, and even fewer who seek to 'complete' their country by bike.
Most importantly the pokemon gotta catch em all nature of the stamps punctuating the route, here groups of grown men wold sprint to get the collection in their passports.
Time in Seoul Cheongbok harvest festival disrupted and disjoined the affair, the most remarkable features were the extensive palace gardens in a wondrous grove setting, where the royal family had to amuse themselves and did so with consumate and reliable elegance. Hanbok wearing tourists in the burning sun, free entry for a double price costume sweatbox.
Reversal and renovation in 1990s vs any Japanese changes to the Imperial palace quarter, as made during occupation. nder the guise of exhibitions and other 'temporary changes' the Japanese had sought to demolish and devalue the strongest symbols of Korean royal and natonal identity. Since the 1990s (research), this process had been actively reversed and rebuilding was exentsive along historical records.
During the festival we saw massive pro-USA ralies and flagwaving in a central square and central station. Bizarre for someone of my age to see the USA held in such high popular regard, rather than it mentioned wit the usual despairing undertones.
Food and pickling, avenues and walls of giant clay jars enroute, master picklers makes for most different or apart cuisine observed yet. temple food was pinnacle of this reserve of preserve. So many flavours experienced in a single meal that I had never even been able to conceive of, and are so original it is hard to remember them now.
In visiting a city temple, chinese lanterns lit in vast arrays creating glowing walls, paper prayer hanging illuminated in flickering strands, the monks chanting at night surrounded by skyscrapers flashing modernity to ancient creed, mainly middle aged women, devout and with rare time in a city life. Robs story of one huffy puffy argue with him and her other neighbour missing the point somewhat
Seoul reflections with it's flashing lights and cheongbok holiday sales, it's highpower all access value suction commercial machine, value extraction and consumer spin. With streetwear, snail sauce face creams, the outward preservation of youth as always the most powerful money magnet. In all it made Asli and I yearn for more rurality, and for an environment where rule of cosumerism is not quite so strangling. Like getting in an icebath after a sauna, this concentrated shot of urban consumerism felt all the more extreme after long hours in limitless natural environments.
DMZ ginseng museum commercial factory prison
E bike spur moment purchase enabled an adventure, tipping point, in a small way alike to me starting the journey, as a purchase locked her into traversing the country. The rain washed us down the river, trying to get some distance on Rob before he caught us at our usual race pace.
Asli somewhat panicking in the dark and wet, unsure of the battery life of her bike, we couldn't find the desired pension, but in asking for directions, we were taken in by a lady and her daughter and son in law, whose skin proved the advert for Korean cosmetics. We had a true mother's love-cooked supper, and we were given the guestroom but as we later found it may have really been a host room. After dinner, we were told we could go to bed or we could join in with some family Karaoke, it ran the range of emotion as singing quality and ambition was even greater in its variety. The disco ball, and HQ mics proved the permanence and importance of this post dinner fixture, later talking to wooj, I heard that with dinner guest this was par for the course in almost any korean household, even with important quasi-business dinners. I wonder how much more harmonious many UK families would operate if the same pastime was adopted. The crucifixes and easter touches were forcible symbols of the lady's devout nature who made it to church in the morning, Theresa was as a good a christian as to be fond anywhere.
Comparison with Hungary, Asli was a different cyclist, the abiilty to take her and her bike to a cafe and restaurant and recharge both simultaneously changed everything. She disproved my Hungarian hypothess as to the imposibility of 'sexy cycling'.
For much of the ride and certainly on any incline she was the pace setter, and I would follow panting. Whenever people saw us on hills, they would gaze wide-eyed at Asli, effortlessly and glamorously spinning up a steep hill one hand on the handlebars, the other flicking her hair or waving. Only some would look down for the battery expectedly. As I passed the next moment and they saw the ktchen sink on my bicycyle, I occasionally recieved applause and wow's, or at other times pedestrians would burst out laughing in silent understanding of the classical nature of Asli's and my relationship.
Throughout the trip climbs have provided many of the most emotional moments cycling. It is a combination of physiological and psychological effects, your body is being driven into a more extreme operation where all senses are raised, and secondly you use formulations in your mind to attach great emotional significance to keep pushing and surmunt the difficulty. On a low level that culd be the nature of the trip to your life andway o living, or on a highest level you think about your loved ones and how cyclingonwards brings you closer to them. Asli has clearly been at the center of these mental constructions, and yet now she was here in front of me, nonchallantly pedalling up these steep river valleys. By cycling on I was now very directly getting closer to her, and the added weight of her baggage only served to increase the physical effects.
This electric bike had opened up a raft of possibilities, Asli in evolution too however. When I met her in Japan she had more luggage than when I had moved house for the first time, and now she was contained in an admittedy weight backpack. She was becoming comfortable with setting out into an evening and not knowing where her bed would be. And when the guesthouse prices weighed too heavy one evening, she led us in squatting on an unattended out of season glamping site. She was no longer shrieking at all insects, despite the size and plurality of the Korean offering. On the last day she cycled with me enduring typhoon rain, smiling and shivering in her white leopard print mac. Slowly but surely she was adopting the habits of and evolving into a real cyle tourist of sorts.
Rob(ishko) was for the most part an admirable and gentlemnly third wheel, staying patient with me as always, and extending that patience and perhaps some extra courtesy to Asli. I think he relaxed and revelled in the dreamy pace of cycling, podcasting his brain onto a higher plane of Joe Rogan and other conspiracy theories. Occasionally, I would feel squeezed and pressed between two gears operating at different speeds, having to act like a bicycle chain made of elastic stretching and pulling my insides tight in order to keep the mechanism moving without too many judders and squeels. But these occassions were rarer than the occassions where I was the neccessary butt of the joke, being the point of connection for both parties, but I was more than content to play this role if it mantained harmony.
In Busan, we were at the mercy of typhoon Ling-ling (research), she had threatened and trumpeted her arrival for several days. The hangover we had cultivated the night before was an extreme and rare an event as the typhoon itself, it was also paired perfectly, as there was litle more to do than hug and huddle up in the airbnb. When we did ventre out for food and and supplied, there were no other pedestrians along the beachfront, just a mad pair running into the churning sea. Walking the street, one had to watch and brace for crossing the road, the streets formed wind tunnels for the gale to build up speed and pressure along. In wet and slimy flip flops, a determined and concentrated march was required for every crossing of the street. Holding each other we hoped the combined mass, would be enough to weigh us down. After all these miles across the world, the only other comparable conditions were in Ireland on the Dingle Peninsula where it all began.
The aquaplane high speed ferry we had booked only allowed folding bicycyles, with 15 minutes till departure we persuaded them our partially dismantled bikes could fit in this categorary, a supercharged two person gun run then ensued, hoiking three bicycles and al panniers and equipment through security, customs and boarding, in a frantic dash for our ticket to Japan. For some bizarre reasnno trollies were permitted. This frantic and early morning transition didn't allow for much consideration or contemplation for reaching the final country in this long year of self-powered travel. But that is the way with this trip and life beyond, the landmark moments that you build up with great significance ahead in your mind are rarely the most truly impactful times. It is usually un-conceived moments, that would prove unexceptional any other time, where the slow drip of meaning rises to drench you in existential reality.