Busan or Bust: Day 3 ~ ‘make’ day

In which I conquer Ihwaryang pass and escape a rainstorm in the nick of time

Day 3 ~ 수안보 to 상주시 (Suanbo to Sangju) 80km

4Rivers guide here.

Day 3

Day 3

The story so far

I started today’s ride with a photo before we set off from the lacklustre Motel Gloria in Suanbo, convinced from other blogs I’d read that today, hill climb day, could be the ‘break’ day for my legs and my suffering bike. Instead, it has definitely been the ‘make’ day, in which I have discovered that I was, in fact, born to bike, and should immediately quit any other line of work and spend the rest of my life on epic cycle trails around the globe.

It was evident from the first moment that the stop in Suanbo had been a great choice yesterday, rather than the other option which was to stop in Chungju after a 60km ride. As well as the fact that Suanbo is a lovely little quiet town in the hills, the route from the moment you leave Suanbo is uphill. Taking a right at the top of the town, I cheerily climbed up, up the shaded road, before crossing into a valley of rice fields which precede the first climb of the day. The morning was cool, but with a hint of the humidity which promises scorching temperatures on the way. Nevertheless, after another great night’s sleep I was ready and feeling good.

The first climb was well shaded by trees and quite gentle, but I was still immensely disappointed when I discovered I was still a number of kilometres from the notorious Ihwaryang pass. A further small town and a loo break where some lovely women brought us out a coffee later, we hit the road up to the pass, and there was no mistaking it. On the bike trail, there are regular markers every 1/2 km or less that tell you how far you have left of the 5km climb. In fact, if you’re prepared for it in advance, it’s gruelling, but exhilarating. I was thankful once again that I’d stayed in Suanbo and set off early so I was approaching it fresh. A time check at the bottom at 9:30; a very quick photo stop on the way up, and with persistence and a lot of hearty singing I crested the peak at 10:05 in one of those moments of spiritual gratitude that brings an ecstatic tear to the eye and a loud whoop of joy. If I hadn’t been grasping my handlebars for dear life, I might even have punched a fist into the air. Yes, it brings out the Top Gun fan in even the most staid of people.

Ihwaryang

Ihwaryang

With the promise of ice cream at the top of the pass from reading Kimchi and Cornbread‘s experiences, there was no way I was going to miss out. So I took some selfies to Kakao to friends, bagged the most delicious ice cream of my life (nothing special, it’s just that it’s not often I’ve really earned an ice cream like this), reapplied some sun cream, and set off on the best ten minutes of pure downhill brilliance I’ve ever experienced.

The next hour or so wound through some of the most beautiful, peaceful countryside in all Korea, I suspect. The mountains all around, more cranes grazing in rice paddies, the lazy, winding river, tiny villages. The bridges of the main roads; arteries of modern Korea, are ever-present, but not imposing, and only serve to highlight the miracle that has been wrought in creating a fully comprehensive, well-marked and relatively well-used cycle route through the whole country. I’ve been consistently impressed by this for the whole of the journey so far.

Shortly after a Stamp Stop at Mungyeong Station it was midday and time for lunch and a break from the midday sun. I stumbled across a fantastic sundae-guk (bits of pig you don’t want to think about, but which taste delicious and are full of fantastic vitamins and minerals) restaurant. The wonderful proprietor even gave us a bottle of iced water for the road.

The afternoon’s riding was flat, but hot and with no shelter from the elements. It passed through a lovely wetland valley and the hills receded into the distance. Having conquered the main climbs of the journey, I felt invincible and didn’t want the journey to end. By 3pm I was near the city of Sangju and had to choose: travel a further 20km to Nakdong and hope it was big enough for hotels, or head away from the trail by a few kilometres and hole up for the night in Sangju? I chose the latter, although it was a tough decision, but it was soon proved prescient by providence, which sent a massive rainstorm literally five minutes after I checked in to the very welcoming Hyatti Motel.

A wonderful shower killed time while the rain killed humidity, and I spent the evening wandering the streets of this most cycle-friendly of Korean cities. It reminded me a little of Kyoto, with well marked cycle lanes on the pavements and bike racks everywhere. There are definitely lessons here that could be learned by the city governors of Seoul.

Lessons from the Road

1~ The mountain giveth, and the mountain taketh away. A direct proof of Newton’s laws of entropy, a cyclist knows that although it might take a long time to crawl to the top of the hill, you’re going to get down again in a fraction of that time on the other side, so just enjoy the ride.

2~ The all-seeing sun still hordes its surprises. Yes, despite the lessons of the past two days of cycle-specific sun cream application, there is still fine-tuning to be made. The wierd elbow patch was covered, the ears were covered, and the backs of the hands were double covered, but I still came in a little pink around the edges. For tomorrow, I’m planning in extra sun cream application stops in the mid-afternoon, and perhaps carrying a sweat mopping cloth.

3~ Some shit you just can’t predict. Like when a trail which has been flat for nearly three hours suddenly takes a tangent upwards at about 50 degrees. If you felt like you could do another 20km with ease at 3pm, be prepared to rethink by 3:20.

***

Ride report: Left Suanbo 08:15, arrived Ihwaryang pass 10:05. c. 19km, 35 mins climbing last 5km. Gentle and steady going.

Left Ihwaryang pass 10:37, arrived Mungyeong Certification station 11:45. c. 22km, 10 mins downhill then all flat, by the river, and mostly very picturesque and sheltered from the sun. Stopped for a great lunch, wish I could remember where, but about 15 minutes after the Mungyeong station Certification centre there was a fantastic 순대국 place, possibly in 호계면. The very welcoming owner even gave us a bottle of iced water each, ‘service.’

Set off again at 13:15 and rode solidly to the next certification centre at Sangju sangpun bridge by 15:00. c. 30km. The route is all entirely flat through the wetlands. Tough going as it’s totally exposed, and in the afternoon sun that’s no joke.

Rode from there into Sangju city for the night as the next option in Nakdong, a further 20km. Sangju is a further 10km, and there’s a ridiculous climb from the trail on to the road. Be prepared to get off and push for 5 minutes, then join the main roads into the city. There’s a small pension and a motel on the way in, but it’s a cool place to venture in to and spend the night, with lots of motels along Sambaek-ro if you follow signs for City Hall. Stay on the main road if you’re tired, the bike trail takes the scenic route along the river.

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