Tuesday, May 12, 2020

a summary of the crazy walk

I started my crazy, 60-kilometer walk a tiny bit after 9 p.m. this past Saturday, May 9. The first few hours of the walk were quite pleasant: I was between rain showers, and the air, scrubbed clean by the passing weather systems, was clear and cool and pure. I had my new size 13 New Balance walking-hiking shoes on, so my feet—which had had a week to rest after the abortive attempt to do the whole Incheon-to-Yangpyeong walk during my 4/29-5/5 break—were feeling pretty good. The 25 kilometers to Hanam City went by fairly quickly, at least in my mind. I decided I would stop and take a nap after crossing the Paldang Bridge, which is just past Hanam and a few kilometers before the Paldang Dam. Stopping under a bridge, I popped some ibuprofen and settled back onto a bench for a 45-minute siesta, between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., right when the sky would go from dark to dawn.

When I finished the walk to Yangpyeong alongside my buddy JW and his son Jiahn, it was exactly 3 in the afternoon, just like last year when I did the same 60K trek. You might be wondering, then, why it took me an extra 90 minutes to walk the same distance. Part of the reason is that I actually arrived at Yangsu Station, where I met JW and son, two hours earlier than our meeting time. In other words, I could have arrived in Yangpyeong at 1 p.m. instead of at 3 had I not stopped to wait for my friends. I tried napping while I waited at Yangsu Station, but I ended up dozing for only a few minutes. There was a GS25 convenience store across the way; before I napped, I grabbed a juice and a Snickers bar (my usual walking fare), both of which I munched and slurped contentedly.

Ultimately, my initial post-walk assessment of my feet was wrong: I did end up with blisters—on both feet. I took my pain pills the whole time, so at the very end, when I stopped trekking and sat down to lunch with JW and his boy, I was still able to get up again and walk my friends to Yangpyeong Station, then walk back to the part of town with the riverside motels, and book myself a room. Once in my room, I painfully pulled off my socks and saw a bunch of new blisters. You'll see some pics of the damage at the end of this photo essay. I'd say "steel yourselves," but the images aren't gruesome by any stretch.

Look at the stats below. The first set of stats is for Saturday night; the second set is for all of Sunday. This may have been the longest stretch I've done, step-count-wise, ever:

So if you total up the steps from the above stats, you get 90,693 steps. I don't think I've ever done 90K steps, so this is a new record. Unfortunately, the pedometer won't recognize it as such because it resets itself every midnight, artificially dividing my single session of walking into two back-to-back sessions. The program obviously isn't savvy enough to recognize that those numbers both apply to the same walk. Alas. In terms of minutes walked, the total (not shown above) is 168 + 708 = 876, or 14.6 hours. I think, overall, if we don't include the delay of waiting for my buddy and his son, and if we exclude my long, 45-minute nap and other, shorter breaks, I'd say that I went faster, this time around, than I had last time. We can thank my new shoes for that. They weren't perfect protection against foot pain, but they were good enough to help get my fat ass across 60 kilometers of Korean soil.

I didn't end up taking many photos. The misty rain lasted longer into Sunday morning than originally forecast, and besides, JW was shutterbugging away the whole time. Here's a pic of JW taking a pic with his (much nicer) phone. Note how cloudy the day was:

Jiahn is a lot like me: he hates being in photos:

Here are the out-of-focus flower buds that prompted JW to text me his own photo of them (see my previous post for the better-quality pic):

Jiahn looks at some complexly petaled flowers:

Up close:

JW saw this first: a cat on a not-tin roof:

Toward the very end of our walk, JW informed me that this Catholic church—which I've passed by several times—is actually quite famous. It's called 천주교 양근성지 (Cheonju-gyo Yanggeun Seongji), which I'm not quite sure how to translate.* JW is Catholic, so I suppose this church had some special meaning for him. He asked us to pause for five minutes so he could walk the grounds and take all the brick-y holiness in.

For folks who don't read hangeul, the metal cross below, which looks vaguely like a Celtic cross, might look pretty nifty, but all it is is a kind of map pointing you to various sites and facilities: the four-syllable text at the very top says "holy-ground information,"** so this is obviously the title. Below it, with a northward-pointing arrow, is text saying "cathedral." Directly below that is a five-syllable text saying "martyr's square." The westward-pointing text merely says "parking lot," and the eastward-pointing text says "restroom." So those are the holy words written on the mysterious cross.

Wish I could tell you more about this pair, but I can't:

I've repeatedly mentioned Koreans' love of and obsession with abstract sculptures. Perhaps the flames below represent the "tongues of flame" associated with the Pentecost event described in the Acts of the Apostles:

The statue's plinth has the word "martyr," but this sure looks like the Blessed Virgin, so I don't know what this is about. Maybe a Marian tribute to certain martyrs?

Later on, while we were eating lunch, I showed the following pic to JW and asked him what he thought was going on. I said that it sure looked like two Jesuses on that cross, facing away from each other. At first he said, "No, that's just a mirror." But when I zoomed the picture back so he could take the whole thing in, JW saw there was no mirror there, so he grudgingly accepted my "two Jesuses" theory. If that really is two Jesuses hanging off one cross, then I have to say that that's the strangest crucifix I've ever seen. A historian of classical antiquity might say the image evokes something Janus-like, and since some theologians argue that Jesus' death upon the cross created ripples both forwards and backwards in history, maybe that's what this Janus-like effect is supposed to evoke. I don't know. I'm just spitballing, here. But now, I have a good reason to go back to this church and talk with the on-site staff about What It All Means. Enjoy the strangeness for yourself:

This next sculpture has more of a "Stations of the Cross" feel to it. (Is it Jesus, or Simon of Cyrene?) There was, in fact, a line of small sculptures evoking fourteen Stations of the Cross only a few yards away from this sculpture. I kicked myself for not photographing those sculptures, but I'll be back this way again someday, and I'll take my pictures then.

The final part of our walk didn't go as I'd wanted it to. Normally, my final approach takes me along the riverside. It's very pleasant. Alas, all of that had been blocked off with barriers because of construction (some pics of that are coming up). We had no choice but to leave the river, turn into the downtown area, and walk the last kilometer or so along city streets. It was easy to find the street that led to my favorite Chinese restaurant, so getting lost wasn't an issue. We did worry, however, that the COVID-19 crisis might force the resto to close. Jiahn, who was starving by that time, was particularly concerned that the eatery would be closed when we got there. Luckily, it wasn't. We walked in; one of the Chinese ladies staffing the place remembered my face, and we were seated at a huge, round, family-sized table. We ordered a variety of Korean-style Chinese dishes: jjajang-myeon (noodles in black-bean sauce), tangsuyuk (sweet-and-sour pork), chapssal tangsuyuk (the same pork, but breaded in a crunchy batter made with glutinous rice), gun-mandu (deep-fried pork dumplings), and jjambbong (salty, spicy seafood-noodle soup). I had played up the restaurant to my friends; Jiahn loved every bite he ate, but JW didn't like the jjambbong, which he said had a strange aftertaste. JW did, however, love the rest of the food, and we were all impressed by the crunchiness of the chapssal tangsuyuk (the one made with glutinous-rice batter). I told JW that I'd had a not-so-positive experience with that dish years before: it had been a gooey, improperly fried mess. This, however, was magnificent, and it retained its crunchiness despite being drenched in a light, sweet sauce.

Here's a father-and-son pic, with Jiahn once again hiding his face:

Below: some of our food. At the very top: JW's jjambbong, which he didn't like because of its strange aftertaste. In the middle: regular tangsuyuk. At the bottom, in the foreground: my as-yet-uneaten bowl of jjajang-myeon.

We ate our meal, heaved ourselves up, and walked quietly to Yangpyeong Station, a dual-purpose facility that houses both a train station and a subway station. JW had parked his car at Yangsu Station, 20 kilometers away, so he and Jiahn knew they would be taking the train to Yangsu to pick up their car and then drive to Seoul. They offered to drive me home, too, but I demurred and said I'd crash in a motel and enjoy a nice view of the river. We got to the station and said our goodbyes, all of us having had a fun adventure. JW congratulated his son on walking a record 20 kilometers—all without complaining. I had noticed that, too: Jiahn used to be a whiner whenever he came along on our walks, but he's a tween, now, so he's starting to grow up and act more like a young man than like a helpless little baby. Good for him.***

Across the street from my chosen lodging, the VIP Motel, I saw a bunch of flowers:

Here's a closeup of one flower:

And here's a closeup of another:

Here's one shot of the construction going on along the riverside path that I used to walk whenever I was in the area. There's some huge renovation going on, and I hope the end result is of high quality and lasts a long time:

And here's a westward-looking view of the construction, back the way we came:

I had expended nearly 7,000 calories on this walk, so I shamelessly bought myself a bagful of drinks and snacks—probably a couple thousand calories' worth, but certainly not enough to recover even half of the calories I had burned. I schlepped into the motel, admired the riverside view, stripped the socks off my feet, and got my first look at the damage I had done to myself by walking 60 kilometers. Below is my left foot. The blister close to the pinky toe is easy enough to see, but do you also see the tiny blister, barely visible because it's half cut-off in the picture, on the side of the ball of my foot? Look closely:

For the record, the ball of my left foot also hurt like hell. I gobbled more painkillers; they helped, but only a little. Below is a pic of my right foot. You can see a faded-looking blood blister, a bunch of dead skin on the ball of that foot, and the nail-clippered remains of an attempt, several days ago, to hack off some of the thick callus on the side of my big toe:

I was falling asleep even as I tried to blog some of those other posts on Sunday. I kept awake long enough to hand-wash my clothes, take a much-needed shower, drink my drinks and eat my snacks, and watch some YouTube. The bed, which was too soft, kept me from having a perfect rest, but I slept fairly well overall, and I woke up more-or-less refreshed on Monday morning—much earlier than I had planned to. Since I had showered the night before, I did little more than brush my teeth and re-wet my hair to make it more manageable before gathering my stuff in a 7-Eleven shopping bag, stuffing my pockets with my essentials (wallet, keys, bandanna, etc.), putting on my surgical mask, slipping on my faithful shoes, grabbing my trekking pole, doing a pre-departure check of the motel room, and then stepping out into downtown Yangpyeong. I hobbled over to Yangpyeong Station; a subway came by soon enough, and I slumped into an empty seat, nodding off several times during the ride to Oksu Station, where I had to transfer to Line 3, the orange line, in order to go the rest of the way to my place. I managed to be awake the moment I reached Oksu; I barely made the orange-line train, and I had to stand for the rest of the ride to my apartment. I got to my place early enough to take an hour-long nap, then drag myself out of bed to go to work. Ah, Monday.

And that's the tale, more or less, of my crazy walk this past weekend. For my ego's sake, I'm glad I finished what was, in total, a 120-some-kilometer trek from Incheon to Yangpyeong. True, there was a week-long interlude that would never have happened had I been engaged in a more ambitious distance-walking project, but that interlude allowed my feet to heal a bit, and the wearing of my new pair of New Balances was just what the doctor ordered. I know that I'm about to wear out the goat's foot of my second trekking pole; I'm going to have to shop around for new feet for both of my poles—either that, or I'm going to have to swap those poles out with better ones, preferably with twist-locks and not the snap-locks that I hate. It was good to walk those final 20 kilometers with my best Korean buddy and his son, who now has something he can brag about when he goes back to school (he hasn't been to school in months, but he's been taking e-classes). I don't know how many more of these walks I'll be doing, given that summer is upon us, and I prefer to hike at night during the summer. If this turns out to be the last hike before the weather gets all hot and surly, at least I'll have ended this phase of 2020 hiking on a very good note.

*Cheonju-gyo means "Catholicism" (literally, "heavenly-Lord-ism"). Seongji means "holy ground" or "Holy Land." I'm not sure what the characters are in the term Yanggeun, and that's the sticking point. If this is the yang from "yin and yang," then it might signify the sun (which is taeyang in Korean—the Great Yang). It could also be that the geun means "root," in which case the term yanggeun signifies something like "the root of the sun," whatever that means. The Sino-Korean rendering of "Japan" is il-bon, i.e., "sun-base" or "sun-origin" (日本), possibly also "sun-root." For Japan, the idea of a "sun-origin" is that the horizon is that point at which the sun "originates" every day, which is why "Japan" is often lyrically translated as "land of the rising sun."

**Since the name of the church contains the phrase "holy ground," you could argue that I should capitalize the English: "Holy Ground information."

***Jiahn and I had a chance to talk a lot while we walked. His English still needs help, but it's quite good because he and his family spent four years living in India, where Jiahn attended an international school and was awash in English-speaking (and Hindi-speaking) culture. Jiahn told me all his classes here in Korea have been boring: nothing but lecture, with no opportunity for discussion or for questions. The teachers, according to him, do little more than transmit the information from the textbooks. There's no exploration of the many dimensions of any given issue; it's all just memorize, memorize, memorize. I've heard versions of this lament before, and readers of this blog know that I've discussed the problems with the Korean educational system many times. Jiahn's mom once told me that she was worried: in India, while Jiahn was in the international school, he'd been exposed to a true culture of discussion, curiosity, exploration, and inquiry. All of that is gone here in Korea, and Jiahn's mom fears that her boy is going to lose the spirit of that type of education now that he's back in the stultifying Korean system. Jiahn and I talked about science a bit; to get him more interested in science and scientific thinking, I ran him verbally through the classic "collapse a can with cold water" experiment (go to YouTube and type "collapse can experiment" in the search window; you'll find plenty of videos showing various versions of the experiment), which highlights concepts like temperature and air pressure. Jiahn had fun trying to predict what would happen to the can once I explained the scenario (a sealed can filled with boiling-hot water gets doused with cold water—what happens?). I could see he was having fun with the problem, and maybe he was realizing that science can be interesting. Jiahn, however, presented me with a bleak picture: a school system designed purely to convey information and prep kids for tests, with no stress on fun, inquisitiveness, student-centered activity, or even higher-order cognition à la Bloom's Taxonomy. So I told him the harsh truth: "You're gonna have to figure out a way to make these things interesting on your own." Independent study is hard work, but that may be the only solution to the problem of stultification. I suggested YouTube as a good starting place, and I told Jiahn I'd try to get him a Curiosity Box for Christmas. I don't know whether Jiahn will go the science route; he said he's more interested in things like business and marketing these days. While I'm a bit disappointed that he's changed this much (he used to be fascinated by robotics), he's getting ready to follow his own path in life. I just hope he makes the right choices for him.


John Mac said...

Well done! I always enjoy taking these "crazy" hikes with you. Vicariously of course. I've got to say that I can't even imagine doing 90,000 steps in a single hike, that's truly amazing. I recall when you inspired me to break the 50,000 step barrier. I was proud of the accomplishment but figured it was a once in a lifetime endeavor. No way I'll ever even come close to 90,000. So, what's next for you--breaking the 100,000 step barrier?

Loved the photos and commentary as well. Damn, I do miss hiking in Korea!

Charles said...

Re: Yanggeun--when in doubt, assume it's a place name. And that is indeed the case here. As for what it actually means, that would be "willow root" (楊根), but as it's a place name that's not really important. So the whole should be rendered Yanggeun Catholic Holy Site.

And those statues are indeed depictions of martyrs, Koreans who were killed for their faith during one of the four waves of persecution that took place from the late 18th century to the late 19th century (official persecution of Catholicism ended in 1880--four years before the first Protestant missionaries arrived). It is not uncommon to see the influence of Western iconography in images of these martyrs--thus the Mary-like statue.

Kevin Kim said...


What if we went the British route and rendered "Yanggeun" as the tweedy-sounding "Willowroot"?

Willowroot Catholic Holy Site.

Anyway, thanks for the translation help. I would've paddled around in eternal circles without it.

Charles said...

That does indeed have a more poetic ring to it. I like it.

Kevin Kim said...


No plans to top the 100K-step mark. Boy, that would destroy my feet. I wonder where I'd end up if I did do 100K steps, though... probably a few miles past Yangpyeong and moving toward Yeoju. Assuming I started the walk at my apartment.