Busan or Bust: Day 5 ~ ‘will I make it out of this alive’ day

In which I discover trick hills and trick trail signs and am aided by a longed-for tailwind

Day 5 ~ 대구 to 남지 (Daegu to Namji) around 100km

4Rivers guide here.

The story so far

It was great to be back on the road after our day off in Daegu. Prepared for the worst, but hoping for the best, I strapped on newly purchased ankle supports, lowered the bike seat a little further, and hit the road.

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The bike path around Daegu is very well used and maintained and I made fantastic speed, putting the first 30km of the day under my belt before 10am with a great tailwind to push me along. The day’s rest was clearly paying dividends and, although Namji, my target for the night, was over 100km away – by far the longest ride I’ve undertaken so far – I was in buoyant mood. This lasted until about 10:15am, when the route turned away from the riverbank into the nearby town and I promptly got lost.

There ensued a stressful hour in which my bag came loose on the bumpy, ill-maintained bike lane and needed to be untied and retied. All signs of the trail disappeared and I resorted to trusty Google Maps to try to route myself back to the Nakdong river and in the process found myself cycling through an industrial town beside fleets of articulated lorries and trucks that seemed to have been loaded up with piles of dirt for the express purpose of coating frustrated cyclists with grit.

I took some small comfort from comparing the 4대강 route with my detour and realising that I had probably taken a short cut by cutting through the tiny, barren town of Guji on my way back to the route. By the time I finally found the trail again I was pleasantly surprised to note I was about halfway to the next Stamp Stop and things seemed level again. The element of pleasant surprise lasted for all of about ten minutes.

Rounding a corner of the river with a bridge a few kilometres ahead in view I felt like things were about to pick up for the day, when I came across three trail signs at the same point. One pointed left, to a small road disappearing over a small hill. One pointed straight ahead, nominally along the river. One pointed right, although I couldn’t see anything to the right other than river. I was totally stumped. There was a small amount of Korean under the signs, but too much for me to decipher, so I continued straight along the river. Mistake.

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A few hundred metres on, the path rose between two towering, gurning statues. It was now around midday and I could hear the tapping and chanting that betokens a Buddhist temple at prayer. The path appeared to be a direct route to heaven as it rose pretty much vertically. My battered ankles were not going to survive a mounted attempt, so it was time to get off and push. For almost 200 metres. And it didn’t stop there. Over a kilometre later of riding, then rounding another vertical corner and jumping off to push, I reached the top of the hill at the bend of the river and began the long cruise down, pausing only to let the wheel rims cool down from the brakes when sparks began to fly. The cruise thankfully saw me almost all the way in to the next Stamp Stop at Hapcheong changnyeong dam, and a welcome lunch.

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Across the dam to the other side of the river for the afternoon, and things did not get any easier. There was a lot of easy, flat cycle track through valleys and the morning’s tailwind continued to support me, but there were also some very unexpected short, sharp shocks. Including one hill which is such a 1200 metre beast of agony that people carve their initials and dates into the concrete at the top! Added to the torture is that this is on a small road shared with regular traffic. It’s very light traffic, but it’s one more layer of people witnessing your pain and laughing from their air-conditioned havens. “At least when I finish this I’ll have earned my dinner!” I cursed and mentally shook my victorious fist at them, not dwelling on the addendum, “Or I’ll have sweated to death.”

Crossing one final time to the northern bank of the river as the afternoon wore on and my energy levels wore down, there was one last obstacle to surmount: the trail led into a small, friendly looking village and took a sharp, vertical right over another bloody hill. Ten minutes later and near the peak, we peered out to see what had to be our destination, Namji, on the other side. It was a welcome view and perked up my flagging spirits. The descent through more rice fields and farmland was thrilling and beautiful, and the final ride into town alongside the impressive, rocky banks of the Nakdong was soothing to the soul, bathed in golden afternoon sun. I’d made it through the longest day of riding, and the end was finally in sight, and achievable.

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Lessons from the road

1 ~ Your body and your bike will break down. There’s nothing you can do other than accept this, live with it, and deal with it when it happens. There’s only so much you can carry in the way of bike tools and spares, and depend on the fact that, as per Sod’s Law, it’s the other stuff that will give.

2 ~ If you don’t know much Korean, you will get lost. As per above and below, today’s lessons were things you can prepare for to an extent, but not predict. At one point near Musil temple there were three signs, all trail signs. One pointed left, one pointed right, the third pointed straight ahead. What’s a girl to do? Well, in this case DON’T GO STRAIGHT AHEAD! I don’t know about the other options, but they have to be better, trust me.

3 ~ The hills, the hills!!!!! Do your research. Then do some more research. Then, when you think you’ve researched everything, there will be another flaming hill climb! Just remember Day 3 Lesson 1 – what you give to the mountain, you’ll get back in the end. After all, whichever way you’re cycling, you’ll end up at sea level.

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Ride report: Left Daegu 8:15 and was at the trail at 08:45 and crossing the dam. It’s 25.5km to the next stamp stop, Dalseong dam, and all very flat, easy riding. Lots of loos along the way. I was there shortly before 10am.

The next stamp stop is Hapcheong changnyeom dam, a further 35km. The trail goes off the river and into Dalseong briefly, but I lost the trail and ended up on an hour’s very non-scenic detour through Dalseong and Guji before hitting the trail again, although this detour did cut off a lengthy curve in the river and so may be worth plotting in – it depends whether your priority is speed or scenery. Arrived at the dam just before 12:30pm and stopped for an hour for lunch. There’s a CU and some nice shelter. There’s also an outdoor gym if you want any more of a workout!

From there, Namji is around 7km short of the next certification centre, so just under a further 50km. There are some flat, some small hills, one 1200 metre long climb at around 10% gradient and, once you’ve crossed back to the north bank, another sharp and winding long climb which descends directly into Namji. A lot of the riding is on small roads rather than dedicated cycle trail, but there’s minimal traffic. I left Hapcheong Changnyeong at 13:20 and arrived in Namji at 16:00.

If you want to spend the night, there’s a long strip of motels at the back of the town. I also spotted sports massage, but didn’t investigate.

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