Tuesday, December 23, 2014

and we're back! 36K, baby!

I just got back from a 36K-step walk. My pedometer says that's a little over 17 miles; I'll put the actual distance at closer to 20 miles—19-point-something, at the very least.

My walk was treacherous at some points because, taken as a whole, Seoul isn't really into the whole de-icing thing with its sidewalks and stairs. Safety Last (anjeon majimak, 안전 마지막) seems to be the local motto. Maybe Koreans don't care about the lack of de-icing because they generally have little problem walking, or even running, on ice. Koreans tend to be light, fleet, and as surefooted as dwarvish armored mountain goats.

While gingerly making my way up the now-dangerous stairway leading from my campus to the Namsan walking path, I halted when I came to an angled and iced-over patch of ground. Seeing my hesitation, an old man who was walking my way called out, "With the shoes you're wearing, you won't slip! Just walk like this!"—and he showed me something that looked like a truncated goosestep, raising his foot and jamming his heel into the ground for traction. "I'm heavy, so I slip easily," I told him as he passed me. He simply shrugged and nodded, and that was the end of our little exchange. I somehow made it over the stairs and the icy trail without incident, but I was jonesing for some snow cleats.

My walk took me up Namsan for a double-summiting. The bus roads were perfectly clear and walkable, but the walking paths themselves varied, frustratingly, in walkability: sometimes they were covered in rough-but-slick ice, and sometimes they were as clear as the roads were. I went more slowly than usual, being slightly out of condition after three weeks of avoiding the mountain. But I made it to the top just fine, then I went down the other side, did my usual U-turn at Namsan Public Library, and made it to the top again. I was a bit worried about how much I was sweating, so I actually stopped a couple times to allow the sweat to evaporate before I put my headgear back on.

I decided, at the bottom of the mountain, to follow the perimeter trail past where I normally turn to go back to Dongguk's campus. I had forgotten how long the perimeter trail was: in the end, it took me almost all the way back to the public library again. When the trail ended at Soweol Street, I turned left and kept walking around the mountain toward the library, and this is where I encountered yet more icy sidewalks. I broke right when I got close to Huam-dong and kept the Hilton Hotel to my left. Following the slope of the mountain, I eventually found myself at the periphery of Namdaemun Market, and right when I reached the periphery, I stumbled upon my little Mecca: a store selling snow cleats. I hadn't actively sought such a store out; in fact, I had planned to go cleat-shopping later in the week, sometime after Christmas. But when the universe preempts you and says, "Voilà! There ya' go, hoss—the very thing you were looking for," you don't say no to a random cosmic gift.

So I bought a simple set of cleats—Korean-made, as the store owner proudly told me—for a mere W8,000. I have no idea how well they're going to hold up under the strain of being on my feet: I'm a 260-pound guy, so these poor things might snap at any moment. But I'll give them a try and see how helpful they are when I'm on slippery surfaces.

From Namdaemun, I wasn't quite sure where to go until I saw a street sign pointing toward City Hall. I walk routinely by City Hall whenever I take the Eulji Street route, so I had my bearings as soon as I saw the sign. I walked past City Hall, past Gwanghamun, and back into Samcheong-dong. I walked to the end of that fairy-tale district, turned around, then ducked into a very, very expensive chocolate shop called Cocoa Bang (I think), where I bought four pieces of chocolate for an unmentionable price, along with a hot cup of some of the most delicious cocoa I've ever tasted. It was obvious that the shop was going for a high-end image, and based on the quality of everything I ate and drank while there, I'd say that the place was serious about its chocolate. That hot cocoa was damn good—artisanal good. The Belgian-style truffles were magnificent; my hat is off to the chocolatier, who obviously doesn't fuck around. Everything was way, way overpriced in that shop, but I was happy to sit in it for a short while, just letting my nose and fingertips warm back up.

My chocolate interlude over, I walked back to the Cheonggyae Stream and followed it to Bang-san Market. By that point, I had gone 34,000 steps, so I knew I was going to break 35 by the time I got back to my place. In the end, I passed through Joongbu Market and returned to my yeogwan, having racked up 36K steps. I'm planning to do the same thing tomorrow. If I hope to break November's record, I've got several almost-40K days ahead of me.



Charles said...

Mammoth walk, dude. Congrats.

How about 안전최후 for a new slogan?

As far as walking and not slipping goes, in my experience it's more about weight placement and the timing of weight transfer from one foot to another. When your foot comes down, your weight should be more or less right on top of it--a foot outstretched with the weight behind it is a sure-fire recipe for slipping. At least, this is what works for me.

The Läderach in the basement of the Finance Center (I think) is an excellent place for quality hot chocolate. I get the 70 or 80 percent dark cocoa when I go there (can't remember what the exact figure is, but it's high). If you're a dark chocolate lover, you have to try it.

Also: "dwarvish armored mountain goats" Ha!

Kevin Kim said...

For me, heavy as I am, there's no margin for error when I walk on icy surfaces. If my balance or timing is off by even a little bit, I go flying, and my hip bone or coccyx will pay the price for my lack of vision.

Charles said...

Well, be careful out there. I don't want you busting a hip or anything.

The Maximum Leader said...

Great walks! I know that I could probably choose to follow along on Google Maps or something... But someday you should post a map showing a typical walk with waypoints along the way. That would be fun for people who are not in Seoul and aren't familiar with some of these neighborhoods...

Kevin Kim said...


I'll do my best not to bust a hip, but I make no promises about whether I bust a rhyme.


Yeah, I was thinking that just the other day. There are plenty of GPS-based "plot your walk" apps out there these days; maybe I should get one, see how good it is, and start uploading my walk routes if the app turns out to be fairly accurate.