Sunday, April 21, 2019

via dolorosa

Ladies and gents, this was an adventure. I'm thrilled to be done with it, and I'll probably never do anything like this again, but I'm proud that I managed to walk almost 60 kilometers in a single walking session. Admittedly, I took a few 5- and 10-minute breaks along the way, but that's what I'd do on a normal long-distance walk, anyway.

I'm not sure what my actual distance was. I arrived at the River House Motel and snapped that selfie, but I kept on walking to find lunch and grab drinks from a local convenience store. That definitely added some distance to the walk, maybe even pushing me beyond 59 kilometers. Anyway, I'll verify distances when I'm at my office desktop and can use the ruler function on Naver Map to get some idea of how many more meters to tack on.

My step count is pretty much what you saw in the earlier post, plus about 8900 steps to reflect the walking I did between 10:22 p.m. and midnight Friday night. 89 minutes comes out to about 8900 steps, assuming my normal rate of 100 steps per minute. That puts my total frustratingly close to 90,000 steps. It's also frustrating that my pedometer automatically resets to zero at midnight, but I don't think I'll ever walk 60 km from early morning to late night just to get an unbroken step count on the app.

The walk answered a few questions for me. A practical one was: will I end up with blisters? As it turned out, I didn't. This was part luck and part skill. I could feel some unpleasant friction happening inside my shoes, but I tried practicing a kind of "mindful walking" that meant looking where I stepped and placing my feet carefully on the ground in such a way as not to produce undue pressure or rubbing. This actually seemed to work, and there were times when I could do the thing without too much conscious thought. But the lack of blisters also had to be luck because that was literally tens of thousands of footfalls.

Another serious question I had was about pain levels. I had wondered whether the pain of doing twice my usual maximum distance would build up until it became intolerable, or whether the pain would build to a still-tolerable level and plateau there. As it turned out, fortunately, the latter was true. The pain never rose above the levels I've experienced while on previous walks.

Having said that, I hurt pretty much everywhere, including in places that didn't have much to do during the walk, like my arms. My left calf keeps wanting to charley-horse on me, but I won't let it. My left middle finger went into spasm Saturday evening, contorting itself weirdly but painlessly as I stared at it. Trying to move into a sitting position after lying in bed for a while is still a groan-inducing chore, but that may have more to do with age and lack of fitness than with the walk. I groan upon awakening pretty much every day, and every day, the first word out of my mouth is usually "Fuck." I hate doing things.

Yet another question was about recovery. Would I be in any condition to walk come Sunday, or would I be a mass of paralyzing aches and shooting pains? As it turns out, I'm more or less fine once I'm vertical. During my walks around town this afternoon and evening (I did over 10K steps), my soles were problem-free. I had expected them to recommence their screaming, but they took me everywhere I wanted to go with nary a complaint.

As for the pains I experienced during my walk: I think you can imagine what most walking-related pain might be: aching feet and ankles, aching hip joints, and in my case, an aching lumbar/sacral region (i.e., the small of my back), probably due to my gut. I had 2 liters of bottled water with me; I carried two of my four water bottles in the pockets of my cargo pants to minimize pressure on my shoulders from my day pack, which was too small to have a pressure-relieving hip-belt assembly. I also had two bottles of trail mix, although I regretted not carrying only one. I did snack on some trail mix during the walk, but my fear of needing to poop in the middle of nowhere kept me from eating too much.

The walk itself started off pleasantly. The night was initially cool but not cold. That lasted until about 1 a.m., when the temperature dropped about ten degrees Fahrenheit. I had anticipated this, so I broke out my jacket. The near-constant river wind, though, made hiking through the night rather uncomfortable. I hunkered into myself and simply endured; I often drop into a sort of This too shall pass mode when I'm in the midst of some temporary hardship.

Lighting was almost never a problem during the night. Seoul produces a ton of light pollution, and Friday night, an incredibly bright moon was out such that, even when I was away from most artificial lighting on my side of the river, I was still casting a remarkably sharp shadow on the ground because of the moon's intensity.

I passed the hours the way I usually do on such walks: by talking out loud to myself and hoping like hell that I wouldn't pass by some quietly squatting stranger who now thinks I'm a lunatic. I talk to myself in English, French, and Korean. In the case of the latter two languages, the self-talk is often just a way to get in some language practice. When I talk to myself in English, I sometimes imagine my best friends walking alongside me (although I know that, in reality, not one of them would be interested in accompanying me on one of these long walks). Or sometimes I imagine some chick I know and like. Or sometimes, it's just me and God.

As I joked to my buddy Tom last night on the phone, I did find myself, around 4:45 a.m., asking God to hurry up with the sunrise and the warmth. I was getting pretty cold, even with my jacket, and quite in spite of the effort of walking. Sunrise did eventually come, and that was sometime after I had crossed the Hanam City border and made it all the way to the Paldang Bridge. It felt weird not to stop in Hanam for the night; in fact, there was a little voice in my head (which returned repeatedly throughout the walk) that whispered I should pussy out now, just give up and call it a day because there's always next time. Somehow, I ignored that voice as I passed by Hanam without stopping.

Farm dogs barked at me as I skirted Hanam and got to the Paldang Bridge. I admired their sense of duty, but I wished they'd calm down. Crossing the bridge was a windy and cold experience, but the sky was lightening, which was a relief. I was pretty tired by that point, and after I crossed the Paldang Bridge and checked Naver Map, I saw I had another thirty kilometers to go. Still, the daybreak was somehow energizing, so I pushed on.

I realized that I was now basically recapitulating the previous two times I had walked to Yangpyeong from Hanam. In both previous cases, I had started my trek a bit after 5 a.m. This time, the difference was that I hadn't stopped to sleep. That's a trivial realization, but it felt significant as the implication sank in: I was now doing Day 2 of a two-day walk, but without having given my body a chance to rest and recuperate. The true test was now beginning.

I resolved to simply take everything in stride, if you'll forgive the walker's pun. I had a finite number of kilometers to cover, and I had a rough ETA: about 4 p.m. From that moment on, I knew I'd be measuring all time and distance against what I knew of my diminishing speed and that ETA.

I never shat along the trail, but diabetic that I am, I did have to piss. For the most part, I managed to take drink breaks at intervals that allowed me to reach rest facilities well before I'd feel ready to explode. I'm not sure how I managed that bit of timing, but the drink-and-piss choreography went almost perfectly. I had to void my bladder out in nature only once or twice.

As morning crept on, temps did become warmer. I eventually took my jacket off and put on my toshi to protect my forearms. The day was gorgeous, going from warm to hot, and it was a relief every time I passed through one of the ten or twelve tunnels along my path. I did end up with a sunburned face and hands, but hey: my forearms, which had been forewarned and protected, were unscathed.

The aches in my body built up. I had to bend over several times while walking, in an effort to decompress my sacral vertebrae. The temptation to quit also never left me; that voice would whisper things like, "You're passing a train station now. Why not just hop on and train the rest of the way to Yangpyeong? No one'll be the wiser." I'd like to report that I muttered "Get thee behind me!" to my inner Satan, but all I did was ignore the voice. I'll have to think about why I find it easier to ignore temptation while I'm walking than while I'm sitting in my office, staring at a bag of M&Ms, and contemplating opening it. Maybe it really is true that life simplifies itself when you walk.

When I got to the point where Naver was telling me I had under twenty kilometers to go, I found that encouraging, and I could finally admit to myself that this thing was doable. That, friends, was a good feeling. "20K and counting" proved to be an excellent psychological milestone. From that point until the end of the walk, every kilometer covered felt like its own victory. As morning bled into afternoon, I was startled to realize that I might actually arrive earlier than anticipated, despite having begun the walk 82 minutes later than scheduled.

I began mentally anticipating when I'd see such-and-such a landmark as the walk drew to a close, and once I walked past a particular church, I knew, without consulting my smartphone, that I had only a couple kilometers to go. I pushed myself to walk faster, risking blisters, after hours of dragging my feet.

The final stretch found me muttering in frustration about why the hell I had chosen a motel at the extreme edge of town. I had passed several motels along the way, and the Satan-voice silkily cooed that I could stop now if I wanted to. I ignored the voice one last time, marched up to the River House Motel, took my selfie at exactly 3 p.m., then tiredly went in search of lunch and drinks. (By the way: did I mention that I stank? You know it's bad when you can smell waves of body odor coming off your person.) Got lunch at Hoya Chicken again; the lady remembered me from last time. Bought a ton of drinks at the nearby convenience store, got my motel room, and took a load off my screaming feet.

As I wrote earlier, I doubt I'll ever do this again, although an athletic coworker of mine excitedly suggests that I make this a yearly thing. Right now, I think I'd rather spend nearly a month walking across Korea, with proper rest stops, than repeating what I just did. Walking nearly 60 km while burning about 6500 calories (two days' worth of food for me) in 16.6 hours is achievement enough.

There might be more thoughts later, but I need to wash some clothes, sleep the sleep of the victorious, then head to work in the morning.

Fucking work. God, I hate doing things.


John Mac said...

"My left middle finger went into spasm Saturday evening..." Dealing with inconsiderate people on the path resulted in overuse? You left that part out of your otherwise excellent report.

Seriously, this is quite the accomplishment and you should be rightfully proud. I think pushing yourself to the edge of endurance (and overcoming that voice in your head) is a kind of internal satisfaction that is hard to find in our modern society where most things come easy. Your success in this endeavor will likely also be a source of inspiration and confidence when you encounter whatever future challenges life holds in store.

I'm with you though, this one is in the books--no need for a repeat. While nothing compared to your walk, when I did my 50,000 steps last year I knew it was a one time event. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt kind of thing.

It's funny, I've been in the tropics for going on one year now and I've already forgotten what it is like walking in the cold. When you had mentioned it in one of your pre-walk posts I thought surely being out briskly moving will counteract the chill. Reading your report reminded me that it doesn't work that way at all. Now I need to figure out a way to beat the heat. Walking naked is probably not an option!

Anyway, great report. Congratulations again on a tremendous accomplishment. I stand in awe!

Charles said...

Well, I think you're a nut case, but I'm not going to lie and say that I don't understand the psychology behind the walk. It's the same psychology that compelled me to trek across the Scottish highlands in the rain with a full back on my back while my wife rode a bus to our next destination. It's the same psychology that whispers, "Yeah, this may not be the best of ideas, but can you do it?."

You can, and you did, so congrats.

Kevin Kim said...

Thank you both, gentlemen. It's a relief to be back.


Maybe follow your Teutonic buddies to Switzerland or some other alpine location and do some true cold-weather hiking. Heh.


The voices! There's no escaping those voices!