Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Gyeongsan-->Busan by bike!



Originally posted to: http://blog.biketoursdirect.com/

Traveling often seems to give us that Eat, Pray, Love feeling. Please pardon the cliché reference. But, you travelers out there, you know what I mean. You know, the moment when you realize you don’t care you gained ten pounds from eating too much pizza margherita in Napoli. Or when you finally figured out that enlightenment comes from the journey itself, not from sitting silently in an ashram in Delhi. Or that moment when you fall in love—with a person, or a place, or the journey itself.

I had many of these magical moments on my family’s recent 150-mile bicycle trek across Korea. This might not seem like a far distance. But here’s the kicker: we pulled our 2-year-old in a trailer (and sometimes in his baby seat on my bike) with us the entire way.
It was a self-supported, 4-night trip from our front door just outside of Daegu, South Korea, to the coastal city of Busan. Korea’s shiny new dedicated bike paths took us along the Nakdong River, as it sleepily gurgled through small towns and wildflower-ridden valleys. Occasionally, it wound its way beside a hidden Buddhist temple or away from the river and even once up and over a mountain (not an Eat, Pray, Love moment I tell you).

While we did the tour as self-guided and self-supported, it was not an easy task. Rental equipment was nil and very few people outside large cities in Korea speak any English at all. This made for some nearly impossible logistical planning, with nothing but a hope and a prayer to Buddha that we’d find food on a given day.

Luckily for us, we know enough Korean to get by. We borrowed all the gear we needed from our supportive friends (though many were eyeing us with an eyebrow raised…”you’re going to do what?”).

Luckily for you, BikeToursDirect offers some incredible tours of Korea that are guided, well organized, and run by friendly, helpful, English-speaking Korean guides. You can now experience the Land of the Morning Calm for yourself, without any of the hard work and headache of a self-supported tour. Be sure to check out all our Korea tours HERE. (Note: More tours are coming soon for the 2014 season!)

Here are the moments from our trip that truly made me see Korea in a new way, despite living here already for five years. The moments that made me smile, laugh, dance, wonder, and fall in love all over again.

  • Random sightings. Really, I’ll just post the photo here, below. I’m not sure words can describe. But, as we biked down the bike path in Daegu to get to the main Nakdong River path we’d follow to Busan, a Michael Jordan statue in a hidden garden caught my eye. Yes, that’s right. Michael Jordan, standing next to a butler. Oh, and a Native American.
My husband Whit says the following of this photo: "I hope this isn't the pinnacle of sites I'll see in my life, but it sure feels like it."
    Our campsite along the Nakdong River in Korea.
  • Running through water fountains. Taking a 2-year-old with you on any journey helps you to slow down and have fun. There is no racing to the next destination. Any time we stopped, it was pure joy for our son. Our first stop was in the middle of the city, an ugly concrete square. We were all eager to get out to the countryside. Our son, however, couldn’t have been happier to run through a dirty water fountain in the middle of the city, unaware of the traffic, the concrete, the litter, and the task at hand. 
  • Sleeping outside. I’m an outdoorswoman. Nothing sounds better to me than cycling all day with my kid in a seat behind me and then sleeping on the ground under the stars at night. Korea is full of big cities. But its countryside is even bigger—if you have the chance to explore it. Big skies, big stars, big rivers, and big dreams. This re-connection to nature and environment around me helped me see Korea in a way that most who visit Seoul would never see. Our trip coincided with the harvest full moon, which made our evenings magical. Tired at the end of each day, we laughed and shared stories beneath the glowing sky each night.
  • Free lunches. Our second day was a day of a great many ups and downs, physically and emotionally. We all pushed our bikes up a mountain that we didn’t even know was coming, after a full morning of steep climbs. One of the many ups of the day was when the bike path took a sudden turn away from the river and snaked up a mountain just beside a sleepy Buddhist temple. Sounds of chanting reverberated from the temple, as a monk stepped out and called us to come in for lunch. They treated us to a free meal of rice, kimchi, and vegetables (bibimbap). We were restored.

    Moshimsa Temple, along the Nakdong River bike path.


  • The kindness of strangers. This family in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere fed us snacks and alcohol when we rolled into town at dusk, totally spent from the day of mountains. They spoke no English. We spoke little Korean. But, they brought us in, called us a taxi, and stored our bikes for the night as we went and found a hotel in a larger town 10km away. The next morning, we went back and they were there waiting with fresh grapes, rice tea, and warm smiles and encouragement of our journey.



  • The kindness of strangers. Small town Korea.
  • Swimming in the river. We followed the same river for 150 miles. Every day, we stared at it, as we pedaled and checked off the miles. But it wasn’t until we took the time to stop, throw off our shoes, and really jump in did I feel like we were one with the river. We were now family.


  • Finn and I swimming in the Nakdong River as we got closer to Busan.
  • The enjoyment of a Coca-Cola. Our third day of 50+ miles and we were getting weary. This was my favorite day of cycling. Diverse scenery. Lots of wildlife. Beautiful rolling hills with easy ups and fast downs. And now we were on the same route as the train, so every 20-30 minutes we got to wave and holler at the train (my son’s favorite activity). But it was in the late afternoon when we pulled over along a narrow, winding road and found this back porch and had a glass bottle of Coca-Cola that we felt we’d reached heaven.
    Enjoy Coke. 

  • The feeling of magic. We left the path on the third evening at dusk, biking through a small tunnel under the railroad tracks to find a charming one-street town where we ate dinner. It was a magical experience. The perfect town at the perfect time with the perfect food (grilled, greasy, thick slabs of pork, known as “samgyeopsal”). After dinner, we headed back in the dark about one mile to a campsite along the river. The moon shined above us, and a train raced by in the dark. We hollered and waved again, able to see the passengers sitting stoically inside the train, on their way to somewhere else. We considered ourselves lucky to be here, in this moment, carrying our gear on our bikes. We had a strange feeling that small town wouldn’t even be there in the morning when we rode back by. It was that magical.


  • Samgyeopsal (grilled pork) (yummmmmmmmm)

  • Bowing to the bicycle.There is no better way to see a country than to pedal through it. I can’t say this enough. I’ve never seen Korea the way I saw it last week. Until you bike through its paths, bow to every other cyclist you pass on the path (you really will do this!), and see the people of the small villages, you haven’t seen Korea. It’s a beautiful country, with amazing food and friendly people. And like I bowed to the many cyclists, here’s one final bow to its beautiful work with the dedicated paths and it’s embracing of the bicycle.

  • The view from our first overnight spot, on Dalseong Dam along the Nakdong River Path in Korea.

Want to see more? Be sure to watch our video of the trip.

2 comments:

Sam said...

I loved this post about your bike trip to Busan! It seems like you found a lot of hidden treasures and really got to enjoy Korea. In spring I am hoping to do something similar. I was wondering if you could give me some specifics on the gear you used, the path you took, camping along the way, how many hours you spent biking each day, the difficulty/number of mountains (was it just that one surprise mountain? I read someone else did the trip and climbed 3), how do you prepare for it, and any other tips you might have for someone wanting to bike from Daegu to Busan. Before I came to Korea I biked a lot, everywhere in fact. Now, living in the city, I am too afraid to bike on the street but the paths are so amazing here and the views so different from anything I've ever seen that I would really like to try this trip myself.

Thanks for your original post!!

Whit and Lindsay said...

Hey Sam! Thanks for your comment!
We are really big fans of the 5 River Path. The path from Daegu to Busan is especially beautiful. Check out the maps in this blog http://kimchicornbread.blogspot.com/2014/07/koreas-bike-paths-maps.html
There you will find e-books on the KTO site. If you can read some Korean Naver Maps is useful to access with your smartphone, if you have one.
We used panniers and midrange(priced)hybrids. Some people carry day packs, some used cheaper bikes, but I'd suggest using a 21 speed. I've seen people ride and suffer on 7-speeds. It can be done, but for comforts sake 21-speeds are better. There are a few hills that more gear options would be helpful.
We camped and stayed in love motels along the way. There are plenty of places to stay all over. You might need to plan this route as you go through some sections where the nearest hotel is a little ways off the path. As for camping, almost anywhere is fair game. Koreans don't seem bothered with a tent set up in a random spot. We camped riverside and even on a soccer field one time and no one seemed to mind.
We did this section with kids and we only biked about 5 hours each day (with lots of breaks) and did about 50 kms each day. As most sections are flat you could go a lot faster. Without kids I did this section in 2 days and one of those days was pouring down rain.
You can be in average shape and do this, but being in a little better shape will make it more enjoyable. Ride a little on the river paths in Daegu and be ready for a trip in May when the weather is perfect! Let us know if you have any other questions. Good luck!