Tuesday, February 12, 2019

thoughts on the Seoul-Yangpyeong walk

[I began this piece Monday night, around 10:30 p.m.]

I'm currently uploading my nearly 190 photos into Google Drive so I can keep the storage space free on my aging cell phone. While I wait, I may as well scratch out some thoughts about this most recent walk.

I'll begin by noting a loss of 5 kg. That sounds astonishing until you realize that a good portion of that—at least 60%, I'd say—is just water weight, easily regained. Still, I had one coworker tell me my face looked visibly thinner when I arrived in the office Monday morning, limping and with a faceful of beard stubble.

Next, I'll say that I'd wanted to do a long wintertime walk to gain some experience and see whether it could indeed be done. I can now say that I'm fine with walking in below-freezing temperatures; on Sunday morning, as I began Day 2 of the walk, it was 14℉ out (-10℃), but because I had layered up so thoroughly, the only real cold I felt was in my fingertips every time I took out my camera to take a picture of something. I had doubled up my pants by wearing sweatpants beneath my regular hiking pants; above the waist, I had on a tee shirt, followed by a warm zip-up vest given to me by my ex-boss, then my blue windbreaker (very good for trapping warm air), followed by my coat's inner lining, and finally, the winter coat itself (which is actually rather thin without the lining)—a gift from my buddy Mike. I keep hoping he'll write something about the recent SOTU and the current embarrassing crash-and-burn of my home state, but there've been no updates at his blog for months. I know he's busy and stressed, but it's sad to watch his blog slowly die and decay.

Swinging my trekking pole from a gloved hand proved a bit awkward at first, but I got used to the motion and quickly established a rhythm. Speaking of rhythm: my step rate hovered around 100, being 101.7 steps per minute (spm) on Day 1 and 98.9 spm on Day 2. The second day of walking lasted about 9 hours and 10 minutes, rest period included. If we subtract rest from the mix, I walked about 8 hours and 45 minutes: my several sit-downs weren't very long; I sat just long enough to drink some bottled water and munch on a couple fistfuls of trail mix.

Speaking of water: as predicted, I didn't need much water at all. I survived on a single liter of water the first day, and 1.5 liters the second. Part of the reason why I didn't take so much water was that I didn't want to weigh my day pack down: I'm a big, burly guy who's about to turn 50, and whose back is starting to ache when it carries even a tiny bit of weight on it for hours at a time. Compression of the vertebrae is a big issue with me these days. It's one of the reasons why I prize the hip-belt assembly on my large Gregory pack. I had originally planned to use the Gregory—in fact, I took the Gregory out with me during my abortive attempt at hiking during the Lunar New Year weekend. In the end, though, I knew I wouldn't need an 85-liter pack for a two-day stroll, so I stuck with the small day pack.

There was very little in my day pack aside from a single plastic bottle of trail mix, two or three 500-mil bottles of water, a toiletry bag, a few random supplies, and some extra clothing to change into for work on Monday morning. I doubt the entire thing weighed even 2 kg. It still hurt my back over the course of a day's trekking, but I think the cure for back pain, in my case, is simply radical weight loss. Gravity is the enemy when you're big. Small people have a distinct advantage because we all labor under the same 1 g of force.

Walking east was quite a trip down memory lane. This path, which took me through Hanam City and out to Yangpyeong City, recapitulated the first two days of my big walk in 2017. While I did do some things slightly differently, I walked, for the most part, past all sorts of familiar sights that triggered a host of pleasant memories. The weather was beautiful on Saturday; Sunday proved nicer than expected: instead of the forecast gray skies, the heavens were cloudy but bright until the afternoon, when everything turned gloomy.

One thing that added to the gloom on the second day was my sad encounter with an old man and a dog. I had seen two old guys in front of me toward the end of my walk; I initially thought they might have known each other, but one old guy sat down with his tiny dog and took a rest at a given shwim-teo while the other guy continued onward with his dog cradled in his arms. At first, I found the cradling cute, but I finally caught up to this second guy, and when I did, he started telling me about the dog he was carrying. I'm not sure whether it was his own dog; I think it wasn't. But the dog had apparently gotten into a nasty fight, and the old man showed me its horrible wounds—one on the side, and one on the abdomen, just below the ribcage. The dog's side was matted with bloody fur, and the dog itself was way too quiet and docile. I watched as it trembled periodically, regularly, looking almost as if it were responding to electric shocks at even intervals. Shock was, in fact, the word that floated into my brain: the dog was in shock, and quite possibly dying. It gave me a quiet look as I leaned in closer to inspect it; I didn't tempt fate by trying to reach out and pet the animal.

There was little that I could do for the man. Given where we were on the path, there was nowhere to break off and hit the main road to catch a cab and go to an animal hospital. The man had no choice but to walk on, and given the dog's delicate condition, the man wasn't walking very fast. Not knowing what else to say, I wished him good luck and strode onward. That encounter made me rethink the path I was on: before I had met the man, I had seen the path as a vehicle for presenting me with a series of interesting and cheerful sights—the fading-away of Seoul and the reinsertion of Mother Nature into my field of view, and by extension, my consciousness. Now, because of that man, I saw the path as a place of torment and frustration—a claustrophobic labyrinth from which there was no escape while the old man raced against time to help that poor, stricken animal. If I'd had cash on me, I'd have offered to pay for a cab, but again, the problem was that we had no way of leaving the path and cutting across ground to the main road. It was frustrating to hear the traffic just a couple hundred meters away.

I thought about that man and that dog as I finished the second leg of my journey. Even as those two fell back into the distance, I thought about the dog's bloody wounds and the way it had trembled in shock, trusting itself to the ministrations of a man who was unable to move any faster, but who had chosen to care for the little being. I wished them well as I pushed ahead; I still do wish them well.

The second day's walk was fully 10 km longer than the first day's. I remember hitting the 10-km mark on the second day and thinking that I now had all of the previous day's distance to travel. As much as I love walking, that was a mite discouraging. I rested much more frequently on the second day, stretching my compressed spine and lifting my increasingly achy feet off the ground to allow them to scream a bit. I checked Naver Map frequently—too frequently—to watch the number of remaining kilometers tick downward. In some cases, I would check after having walked barely a single kilometer, and I had to force myself to cram my phone back into my chest pocket and leave it there until a reasonable amount of time had passed.

That chest pocket was important on Day 2, as that's where I stored all my battery-related gear: my spare phone battery, my portable power supply, and my charger cables and USB adapter. Having learned my lesson after the fiasco of Day 1, I kept my power supply warm at all times, never risking the exposure of my cell phone for too long when taking photos or checking my GPS map. There was a trade-off, though: my chest pocket collected humidity. I had foreseen that difficulty, though, and had brought along a Ziploc bag to keep most of the equipment moisture-free. (I couldn't bag the cell phone because I was using it to take pictures.)

Most of the pictures I snapped will likely bore you; they're little more than long stretches of the trail. I did see some quirky sights, but many of the images I took are repeats of the pictures taken in 2017. The only thing interesting about the new set of pictures is that you can compare them to the ones from the spring, two years ago, to see differences in the vegetation (and the steadfastness of the evergreens in winter). I didn't waste my cell phone's storage capacity by taking pics of the eight or nine tunnels I walked through, but at one point, I did notice some ice formations caused by leakage inside the tunnels, and I snapped a few shots of that.

When I got to my motel in Yangpyeong, the River House, I schlepped painfully around the block and found a fried-chicken place called Hoya Chicken. Being a Georgetown grad and therefore a Hoya, I couldn't resist the urge to visit the place—my namesake! I saw they had dak-gangjeong (chicken poppers), so I ordered a modest-sized bucket of those, then limped back to my room. The poppers proved mediocre; I should've gone for the actual "Hoya Chicken" listed on the menu: it looked to be roasted, spatchcocked whole chicken (tong-dak). I might have enjoyed that more.

My room set me back W45,000. At first, I thought I was being reamed by the nice lady behind the front-desk window: in 2017, I had paid only W35,000. But I had seen on the front desk's pricing chart that a room facing the river was W45,000, so I had to wonder whether the room I'd been given was, in fact, a river-view room. It was, so I didn't feel cheated. This is, in fact, one of the reasons I like this motel: its prime location.

After dinner, I set to inspecting my feet, and I discovered to my delight that I had no blisters to speak of. Everything was achy (and stinking), but that was minor compared to the horror I had imagined. I think part of the reason why I'd managed to avoid blisters, this time, was that I hadn't been carrying an 18-kilo pack on my back like in 2017.

My normal ritual, during a long hike, is to eat, shower, and do laundry. I didn't have to do that on Sunday afternoon, though, because I knew I'd be going back to Seoul the following day. So I saved my shower for Monday morning, stuffed my dirty laundry into my backpack, and spent the evening sleepily watching YouTube videos on my phone via the motel's shaky Wi-Fi connection while my feet moaned softly after a long, long day's trek. Nine hours of walking is no damn joke, especially when you're as heavy as I am.

All in all, I'm glad I did the walk, but I really wonder whether I could have done this as a four-day thing: the Hanam-Yangpyeong leg of the trek, being 35 kilometers, would be a bitch to do twice in a row if I were to do this as a four-day, Seoul-to-Seoul hike. I'm not sure when I'll next have a chance to do a four-day walk, and to be honest, I'm not sure I want to tempt the trail gods by doing more than 100,000 steps over two days. That might land me a blister, however light my backpack. That said, this walk was educational, and I have no regrets.


The Maximum Leader said...

I feel shame...

John Mac said...

Good report, I'll look forward to the photos.

Re: future walks...maybe it's time to change it up. Didn't you mention doing something on the east coast as a possibility?

I've been averaging around 24,000 steps a day here, BUT that's broken up over the course of a day. Continuous walking like you are doing is a whole other animal. Perhaps it is more correct to say that you are a hiker while I'm a walker. Anyway, it's a notable accomplishment. Congrats!

Kevin Kim said...

24K is an impressive average. I'm pretty flabby and am currently getting by on only about 11K per day. That's an average that takes into account peaks of nearly 30K steps and troughs of barely 200 steps because I'm too lazy to move around (usually on weekends). I could easily boost my average by setting up a more disciplined routine... in fact, I probably should do that, per your sterling example.

As for the change of pace: yeah, I'm thinking about doing the coastal walk, assuming I can get that amount of time off this year. That might not actually be possible, though, partly because this is also supposed to be the year I pay off my last remaining major debt. Walking across Korea and staying at motels can get expensive, which is something to consider when on a tight budget. If I have to choose between a month-long walk and paying my debt off this year, I'd rather choose debt payment and stick to shorter, less ambitious walks. The coast may have to wait.

Kevin Kim said...


Alas! Your blog used to be one of my go-to reads, but for several years now, it's been barely clinging to life, and since I can't put it on my RSS feed (which means I can't see automatic updates), I check it only rarely and randomly these days. If writing is a drag, then maybe shoot the poor thing and have done. I know you've got many burdens on your shoulders these days, so something's got to give. In that spirit, maybe it's time to send this old hoss off to the glue factory. She ran well in her heyday; there's always that.

Charles said...

Oof. That's sad to hear about the dog. Otherwise, congrats on mission accomplished!

Kevin Kim said...

Thanks, Charles. I hope the dog survived, but I think most Korean vets are closed on Sundays.