4 Rivers Trail

South Korea | Seoul to Busan | Day 287

Having spent the previous nine months cycling the developing world of Asia; where dirt floors are common, border patrol doesn’t even own a computer, and ox-drawn carriages are still prevalent, landing in South Korea was like a time warp into the future. I am suddenly aware of my ratty tennis shoes and well-worn clothes amongst the sharply pressed suits and made up doll-like faces of Seoul. South Korea is a lot like their beautiful hangul written alphabet: bold, clean, simple and geometric. The streets of Seoul are pristine and spacious. You would never guess there are ten million people living in this city. The most advanced subway I have ever set foot in is almost silent, even during rush hour; everyone is plugged into his/her phone. Organized and clean, a new chapter in our Asia travels.


"I am suddenly aware of my ratty tennis shoes and well-worn clothes amongst the sharply pressed suits and made up doll-like faces of Seoul. "



Neon lights are blaring, busking college kids draw crowds with K-pop songs, a man hunched on the ground hollers out “이름이 뭐에요?” (Whats is your name!?) while dancing his calligraphy brush over long vertical paper. There is a political demonstration downtown for workers rights, next to a region celebration of different area’s and their delicacies. Giant skyscrapers hover over us and I’m feeling a sensory overload, I’m still acclimatizing to being in a modern city.  

“이름이 뭐에요!?” (Whats is your name!?)

Museums have become a priority when we are in big cities and are a great tool for better understanding the area we’re in. The Korean War Museum was beyond impressive and possibly the highest quality museum I have ever been in. I compare the photos on the walls to the stack of black and whites my grandfather showed me of his time during the war. His photos were much more friendly and included funny anecdotes about his Korean friends; both showed what a different place Korea was during the 50’s. 


  

   

George, our glorious warm showers host, has been teaching English at a prestigious college in Seoul for eight years. He has scored possibly the best work schedule imaginable with four months off a year, PAID. During his time off, George has cycled all over Asia. He tells us stories from Bangaladesh, India, and China over our first Korean BBQ experience. George is a minimalist and prefers to go low tech, he doesn’t even own a smartphone and travels using only pager maps, word of mouth, and whichever way the wind blows him. He gets us excited for our upcoming route through the Tian Shian mountains of China. Thanks again!

 

  

Eric met Johnny Thunder and Burgundy (aka John and Mara) while hiking the Appalachian trail in 2013. Four years later we’re drinking Soju outside a 7Eleven and wandering around the art district of Seoul. John and Mara have lived in Korea for five years, and will soon be tying the knot and moving to Chiang Mai, Thailand to continue teaching English. They were our Trail Angels providing us with excellent meals and booze as a proper introduction to Korea. 

 

  


An impressive 360 mile bicycle pathway stretches from Seoul to Busan. The 4 Rivers trail is one large groomed park cutting the country in half. The infrastructure is expansive and luxurious; bathrooms practically every five miles, rest stops with benches and bike racks, elaborate bridges, cycle-only tunnels, manicured parks, trail stamping stations, and convenience stores sometimes right on the trail. South Korea is serious about cycling, and during the weekend the locals are on the trail in full force.  



World Cycling was right when they said, “It is one of the easiest places to camp in the world.” As far as we know, you can camp anywhere you want. There wasn’t a worry in mind as we cruised the six days to Busan along this fully equipped, traffic free cycle path. We found a new schedule waking up early, taking more frequent afternoon breaks, and cycling until dark to set up on a nice patch of grass in a neat park. You never have to worry about theft, or being hassled by the locals. 

"The 4 Rivers trail is one large groomed park cutting the country in half. The infrastructure is expansive and luxurious"


A bowl with steam coming out stamped on the side of a building symbolizes a jjimjilbang. Large gender-separated communal bathhouses, and a cheap place to stay the night, if you so desire. They are everywhere and part of the daily life. At first we were a bit intimidated, not knowing quite how it all worked. 

First you pay the fee downstairs ($7) and receive pj’s and a “Korean sized” towel. Then you are directed to your gender’s floor, where you put your shoes in a shoe locker, swap the shoe locker key for your bigger locker key in the changing room. In the changing room strip down completely naked and head to the communal bathing room. First scrub your body throughly clean in the showers in preparation for the soaking baths. There are usually three different temperature pools, jacuzzis and a few sauna rooms where everyone is lounging around naked. After your finished soaking, put on your pjs and head to the coed lounge room. There’s a simple restaurant, rooms with crystals and other elements for traditional Korean medicinal purposes, a tv, and sometimes dark quiet rooms to sleep in. You get a thin mat and wooden block for your head. It is a surprisingly popular thing to do, the place was packed the entire night. It is a great trick for cyclists wanting a shower, relax your muscles, and a cheap place to crash. 



For the same price as a flight to Japan, we flew to Seoul and hopped on a boat from Busan to Japan. South Korea was a terrific bonus. We are still on our two month break from dirt roads and mountains, so the Four Rivers trail was just what we needed. We had accidentally timed it out perfectly, the cherry blossoms were just peaking out from their buds in the north. Cycling a few days south they were exploding like shimmering fireworks. By Busan the leaves were beginning to sprout, flower pedals fell off the trees like snow. We experienced the entire ephemeral life cycle of the cherry blossom in our six days of cycling across South Korea.  

"We experienced the entire ephemeral life cycle of the cherry blossom in our six days of cycling across South Korea."


 

  

In 1983 Grujici Milosav left Serbia and cycled East. He has continued cycling ever since. He shows us an old photograph of him in the eighties cycling in China; young, thin, with a teal tank top and an overly packed bicycle. Milo has cycled Seoul to Busan (The 4 Rivers Trail) 22 times, which as far as he knows, is the record. We consult him about cycling in Japan, and his eyes light up. He pulls an worn out folded map of Japan out of his paniers; the entire shoreline of Japan is traced with roads he has cycled, each section with a different story. Even though he is nomadic, I think he considers Japan home.

  

 

Yusan is one of Olivia Oklahomies from high school. Since those younger years Yusan has become an impressive jiu jitsu teacher, opened his own jiu jitsu studio, curates an online jiu jitsu course, and co-runs an Room Escape in Busan with Ji Hye. It’s great to see old friends doing well and kicking ass. 

 

  


We are in a race against some impending rain, and the depressing headwinds are pushing against us. Even putting in 12 hour days, still feels like we’re getting nowhere. But we are going to make our six days to Busan goal, dammit, and I need a shower.  

On a hill facing the Nakdonggang River nestled between multicolored Korean paper lanterns sits a beautifully simple temple. The monk who lives there is outside, the clean shaven monk with white baggy pants asks us where we are from. We tell him we’re American, and with a furrowed brow he immediately launches into political talk, “Why Trump?!” This is unexpected monk conversation, but his other even more politically-minded monk friend arrives and soon there are miniature coffee cups in our hands. The first monk keeps running back and forth bringing us supplies and asking us questions, we’re loaded with 2L. of water, some apple juice, and the rest of his cold brew. Then he checks his watch and asks, “Are you hungry? Come to lunch with us!” Even though I was desperate for that shower, when a monk invites you to dine, you accept. 

"...when a monk invites you to dine, you accept."



If you keep your plans open, remain flexible, and always say YES, magical things can happen; a valuable lesson we have learned from our life on two wheels. We hop in his van and speed off while he tries to work his Google translate and shift at the same time. You get some pretty funny translations from google when trying to talk about metaphysical buddhist philosophy. The two monks alternate showing us pictures of their dogs, explaining their dedication to meditation, and showing us a video of the second monk speaking in front of 1.5 million people advocating for American presence in South Korea. They had traveled all over the world, and we all shared a love for Ladakh, a secret place in India I am feeling more and more lucky to have cycled through. After lunch they hand us each a small trinket off their keychains, one is a Korean and American flag, the other is a small wooden block with a prayer etched into the side. 

"If you keep your plans open, remain flexible, and always say YES, magical things can happen; a valuable lesson we have learned from our life on two wheels."

"Korean gift-giving is notoriously serious business."

Korean gift-giving is notoriously serious business. We were gifted a jean, Korean pancake, while hanging with John and Mara. Mara is gluten intolerant, but was willing to suffer potential illness as to not offend the pancake-giver, that’s when I knew how serious it is to always be accepting of gifts. We were gifted many items, mainly food, along the trail and given great encouragement and thumbs up from other cyclists on the trail. Our time in South Korea was brief, only ten days in total, but we had a blast and definitely glad we had a chance to discover a little bit of South Korea. 

See more pics on Instagram @ridingwild


  

 

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