Busan or Bust: Day 4 ~ ‘break’ day

In which I am plagued by a day-long headwind, dodgy ankles and knees and ridiculous humidity

Day 4 ~ Sang-ju to Daegu (outskirts) 110km

4Rivers Nakdong river trail guide here.

The story so far

I awoke and showered and quickly realised that the general pinkness of yesterday was not, as I had feared, sunburn, but a heat rash which, at this point at the end of the day, has not only worsened but spread from my pink and splotchy burning arms to my splotchy-and-starting-to-itch-ferociously legs. This was the first of numerous irritations which were to make Day 4 the Break day after the highs of yesterday.

Nevertheless, the morning got off to another upbeat start. It had rained more overnight and the air was fresh and cool, the ground drying. I was on the road again by 8:15. Thankfully, I hadn’t lost much ground through the big detour into the city as I was able to take a different route out to a point further along the trail. Being a geek, I insisted on backtracking 3km to Sangju weir to collect the next Stamp in my homemade bike passport, but Wonderboy gamely went along with it, and we were still making good time and feeling great.

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Lush landscapes

This great feeling lasted for at least the first couple of hours of the journey. There was a slight headwind against us as we turned south from the weir for the day, but the river and the wetlands were serene and beautiful, and the cloud cover meant the going was cool and fresh. There were the now-ubiquitous cranes in the rice fields, which I again tried in vain to photograph, without success – the buggers hear the brakes go on whenever I squeal to an eager halt to snap them and fly off just as I switch on the camera.

We were surrounded by other forms of wildlife on the deserted riverside tracks, too. A number of snakes lay squashed and dessicated on the path, and at one point something that looked like a cross between a raccoon and a small hyena or bear crossed into the path, saw us, and then scuttled back into the undergrowth at speed. There have been a few frightened pheasants, the odd partridgey-looking bird, and some kind of small kestrelley hawk which flew into the grass bank right in front of me on day 1. A bright yellow bird has crossed the path on more than one occasion, too. I’ve no idea what it is, but I’ll endeavour to find out and update.

The route itself was tough at the beginning, with a lot of small but steep rises on the rocky left bank (if you’re travelling towards Busan from Seoul) which started about 7km out from Sangju-bo. These tested my weary legs, but I was still in high spirits and awed by the natural beauty which abounds in this part of the journey.

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Shortly after 10am we reached Stamp Stop number 2 for the day; gorgeous Nakdong dam with it’s gate mechnisms housed in something based on traditional Korean architecture. Set against the rocks and trees at a serene bend in the river, this is probably one of my favourite stops so far. From this point on, the day went progressively downhill in every sense except for that which is helpful to cyclists – the geographical one.

Feeling great to have the first 20km or so under my belt before what a normal person on holiday might call breakfast time, and still enjoying the slight overcast haze as a contrast to the blazing sun of yesterday afternoon, I sang through my limited repertoire of jazz standards and musical numbers at the top of my lungs while riding through the deserted landscape. The cycle path was dead flat and all along the riverbank from Nakdong all the way to the next Stamp Stop at Gumi dam, and then into the city of Gumi (pronounced ‘Goo-mi’ to rhyme with ‘gloomy’ which, incidentally, was exactly the impression I took away) a further 20km down the road.

Aiming to hit Gumi for lunch with a nice 60km under my belt, I hadn’t counted on the extra exertion cycling against the breeze would take on already tired legs. Shortly before the turtle-shaped but otherwise utilitarian Gumi dam, the twinge I’ve had in my ankle since day 1 started to seriously play up. I lowered my seat a little more, as that had worked on day 2. It made little difference. By the time I got to Gumi-bo both ankles and one knee were starting to hurt and were difficult to exert pressure on. I took a stretch and a short rest and hit the road again at a much more relaxed pace, becoming painfully aware of the ground we had planned to cover for the day. The weather was also looking threatening by this point, and the fresh, overcast morning was turning into a smouldering and humid afternoon. The white haze thickened over the surrounding hills and started to look distinctly precipitous. I was sticky, icky, itchy and grumpy. The singing stopped.

The last five kilometres of the ride took me into the centre of a busy, industrial city. Riding across one, final bridge which spanned the divide between quiet riverside and a built-up industrial estate I reflected that it was about as exciting a lunch prospect as exerting all that effort and then ending up in Middlesbrough. Nevertheless, as the trail markers counted us down to 0, a lovely waterside coffee shop appeared, flanked, of course, by a convenience store and a bike rental shop. I was in no position to be fussy, and the coffee shop really was very nice. It also offered an opportunity to scrub up a bit in a nice bathroom rather than a trailside portacabin before reapplying more sun cream.

Feeling very much revived I set off again at 2pm, turned a corner following the trail signs under a bridge then over another, and promptly got lost. Following a main road into a residential area of tall apartment blocks in the vague direction of the river fixed the problem within a quarter of an hour, but it wasn’t the best start. The rest of the afternoon followed suit. The flat trail grew monotonous, as did the grey weather. My legs were functional, but barely. I rode on in a funk, mind firmly on Daegu and the 50km I still had to conquer.

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When I finally arrived at Gangcheong goryeong dam, the final stop of the day and the turning point from the trail into the city of Daegu, I could have cried with relief. There was a further ride into the city – although we’d elected to stay in the motel zone next to the industrial park as it was a) full of motels and b) closest to the trail, so it was a negligible distance. In fact, the fantastic, ‘Do Motel’ which we ended up in was so outrageously over-the-top even by regular love-hotel standards that, pooped out from riding and well ahead of schedule, we decided to pay for two nights and have a holiday from our holiday – a day off in Daegu! It was a good decision, and well deserved after a couple of tough days.

Lessons from the Road

1~ Riding slowly is better than not riding at all… If you’d told me at the beginning of the day that you’d ridden over 100km with dodgy joints, I would have laughed at you and called you an idiot. Turns out, the last laugh is on me. I made the distance, and with some well-calculated brief rest stops and making sure of a constant, but not pushy pace, I made it to the end of today’s route feeling worn, but ok.

2~ …but heed your body or pay the consequences. I had absolutely nothing left over in my legs from about 11:30am onwards. An emergency stop or a sharp turn where I had to put my foot down fast might have been Game Over for the day. Ignore your aches at your peril and make a back-up plan if trouble looms, however distant.

***

Ride report: Left Sangju city at 08:15 and took route 25 to 강창 bridge in order to double back to Sang-ju dam Stamp Stop which I missed yesterday as the turn in to the city was several kilometres earlier. Took a 3km detour to double back from the bridge. If you’re travelling straight through it’s 11km from our final Stamp Stop last night at Sanju sang pun bridge. The Sang-ju bo stop has a major certification centre with all mod-cons: loos, staffed booth, vending machines.

At 09:15, set off from Sang-ju bo in good form and with a slight headwind. The next stop, Nakdong dam, was a little over 16km. The route between these two stops has a lot of up and down. Only short distances, but wearing at between 7% and 13% gradient. Reached Nakdong dam at 10:05. The route here is great, although a lot is under construction or recently finished. There will probably be cafes and mini-marts here very soon, but at the moment facilities are sparse.

Set off from Nakdong at 10:25. The route from here for the whole of the rest of the day was mostly flat along the river, and also mostly exposed and, it has to be said, not that interesting for vast swathes. Reached Gumi dam, 19km, at 11:30. This is a tiny staffed certification centre. Didn’t spot toilets or air. Rode on to Gumi city for lunch, c. 20km further on. Reached ground zero in the city at 13:00 although going slow from wear and tear in the ankles and knees. Gumi’s a big city and a good stopping point if you need to plan in an overnight.

Set off again around 14:00. The trail goes through the city along the river, but gets a bit tricky where the countdown posts reach 0 and change to the Childok-bo signs. We took an accidental five minute detour through the city heading in the general direction of the river and picked the trail up again on the river bank.

The ride from Gumi dam to the next Stamp Stop at Childok dam is 35km according to Ko Water’s signage. From the city it’s c. 15km and it’s another flat, easy ride. Arrived by 15:00 and set off again fast. There is a good centre here with air for your tyres, loos and vending machines if you need them.

The last ride of the day was through wetlands with a very small bit of up and down beside the hills as you approach Daegu. Gangcheong goryeong dam is just on the outskirts of the city, a little over 35km from Childok dam. I made it at 16:50 at a very slow pace, you could easily make it in under 1.5 hours at a good pace. The trail goes right and over the dam, but Daegu is a good city for an overnight if you need it, in which case turn left and follow the main road up to Gangchang bridge and into the city. There is a bustling motels district within 5km.

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