Friday, September 05, 2014


You read that right: 26,096 steps tonight. A new record. That's a September average of 15,582 steps per day. I've crossed the asymptote. But will I stay in the over-15,000 range? At a guess, probably not. My daily average has been all over the place this month.

This was a very educational walk, I must say, and I'm happy to report that my hip bothered me not at all. Allow me to describe tonight's little adventure.

I started strong—stronger than I thought I would, given that I'd eaten a "linner," i.e., a late lunch or early dinner. Normally, when I hike a few hours after eating, I get the raging urge to poop. Tonight, that didn't happen, and I credit Tom's gift of Metamucil for keeping me regular. All hail psyllium fiber! In any event, I tromped with confidence onto Dongguk's campus, marched over to Trailhead 8, lumbered over to the ascending bus route, and walked faster than everyone except the hardcore bikers and runners, all the way to Namsan's summit.

Once at the summit, I drank from a water fountain to refuel, went back down to the bus parking lot that sits just below the summit (thereby forcing tourists to walk about a hundred meters up a very steep, asphalt-covered hill), and followed the descending bus route downhill.

I was very curious as to where this route led because, to be honest, I'd forgotten. I used to walk up Namsan fairly routinely from about 2006 to 2007 (I slacked off and re-fattened up during the 2007-08 academic year), and during that time I'd discovered plenty of routes to the top, but most of those paths had faded from memory during the intervening years.

One thing I immediately noticed was that the descending bus route was significantly steeper than the ascending route. I began to quail: I had planned to walk back up this same route, then down my regular route to go home, but the descending bus route was looking to be a bitch to walk back up. I no longer wanted to make the ascent, so I told myself that, if this route ended up anywhere close to the National Theater (which is where the ascending bus route begins), I would simply walk straight home. Then I hit the bottom of the route and realized where I was, which wasn't anywhere near the National Theater.

I found myself standing close to Namsan Public Library. In front of me was Soweollo, one of the streets that glides over the lower part of Namsan. Were I to cross Soweollo and go down a set of stairs, I'd be in Huam-dong, which is one district away from Cheongpa-dong—the district where my old university, Sookmyung Women's University, is located.

So I had a choice: I could go back up the steep bus route I had just descended, or I could take the stairs, which is what I used to do when I was teaching at Sookmyung. Quailing once again at the thought of hiking up that long, steep road, I decided that the stairs would be the lesser of two evils, and I resolved to go up them without stopping.

Somehow, I managed to do just that, which is a testament to how much my physical condition has improved since I began hiking up Namsan. Back in mid-August, when I had just come to Seoul and my brother Sean was here with his friend Jeff, I wasn't able to ascend the Namsan stairs without stopping. I probably had to stop six or seven times before we finally made the top. That was nearly a month ago. Over the past two or three weeks, I've been hitting Namsan almost religiously, and it's now obvious that the hiking has been good in terms of both strength and cardio. The sweat and effort are finally paying off, not just physiologically, but also in terms of belt notches. That is, in fact, one of my missions this weekend: to get more holes punched in my belts, and to buy new socks to replace my poor hole-y ones.

The route up the stairs was, I knew, much quicker than the bus route, but what I lost in distance I gained in steepness. I went very slowly up the stairs, but at no point did I actually stop, which is something I can be proud of. There was a huge line near the top of the stairs: people waiting to take the cable car back down the mountain. Wimps. Pussies. I arrived at Namsan's summit for the second time that night, went back down the hill to the bus parking lot, and bought myself some refreshment at the CU convenience store that has taken the place of the small row of souvenir stalls and restaurants that used to sit on that patch of real estate. I once ate a plate tangsuyuk there for W10,000. It wasn't bad. Man... that was years ago.

Properly refreshed, I walked the rest of the way down, stopping at a takoyaki stall to eat some octopus balls (bet you didn't know they had balls, eh? when you think about it, an octopus looks pretty much like a flying scrotum). By the time I reached my yeogwan and stripped off my sweat-soaked clothing, I saw on my pedometer that I had walked 26,096 steps, and had done it all before midnight (the pedometer resets to zero at midnight).

Again, I'm not sure how often I'll be repeating this double-summiting feat, but I have to say that it felt damn good. It was a great ending to a day that had had its annoyances (I'll be writing about those momentarily), and it proved that, even when I'm tired after summiting Namsan once, I can summit the mountain again by taking the stairs route without stopping.


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