Friday, April 17, 2009

Episode 44: In Which DFM Walks A Third Of The Way Across The City, In The Wrong Direction!

With my mountain half-marathon only one week away I thought I would get in one last training session by hiking.  I haven't been doing any running to speak of, but I've been doing a lot of hiking, since mountain half-marathons are more about hiking than running anyways, I've found.

A couple of weeks ago I blazed up Baegundae, but then I got sick afterwards.  Today was my first time hiking since then and I wanted something a bit easier so I went for a nearby mountain, Dobongsan, which is about 100 meters smaller, but still the second highest mountain I will have hiked here.

It was a beautiful day.  When I stepped off the train I found this beautiful blue building, with a blue greenhouse type structure in front of it, and if you look off to the left you'll see a blue bus driving past.  I should have taken the picture earlier and then the bus would have been in front and the whole picture would have been blue.

All the way up to the start of the trails were dozens of shops all selling hiking gear/paraphernalia.  The North Face shop decided to get some extra attention by putting this giant statue out in front, but I still wonder how it can be good for business to be right beside three other shop owners all selling the same thing.  I guess there are thousands of hikers walking down this street every week, so the law of averages says that eventually one of them will stop and buy something, but I still don't understand how so many identical businesses can survive in the same area.

I tried to run up the mountain like I did two weeks ago, but I was so stunned by the scenery that I kept stopping to take pictures.

I'm rather partial to rocks and paths, so these are the things of which I took the most pictures.

Eventually, after a couple hours of running and then stopping to take pictures, I finally reached the summit of Jaunbong ("Ja-oon" is the name, and bong means peak).  The view from the top was fantastic in all directions.

Of course you can't have an unscalable peak in Korea without some Koreans trying to scale it in order to have a picnic on the top (click the last picture to enlarge it and see).

On the way back I took my usual wrong turn and found myself in a valley between two peaks.  By the time I realized I was going the wrong way it was too late and I couldn't make it back up since the footing was so bad and the slope was too steep.  Everywhere in the picture that you see leaves is a minefield of disaster.  One spot might be solid, but the next step can drop you a foot without warning and smash your ankle or shin against a hidden rock.  Stuck between a rock and a hard place (literally, sometimes) I had no choice but to keep playing a painful game of Korean  roulette, as I tried to guess at the nature of the footing below each step the rest of the way down.

At the top of the picture you can see a giant pile of boulders.  I decided to lower my self into the area in the middle of the picture, without the leaves, for some more solid and less sporadic footing.  Unfortunately I stepped on some leaves and slid right off the boulder.  The landing was a smattering of small, sharp boulders with dark shadows between them that hid large holes.  Luckily I kept my wits about me and landed one footed on the sharp edge of one of the boulders.  Had I missed I would have suffered a severely sprained ankle... or worse.

Eventually I came across a sign that said "do not enter."  Well, I think that's what it said, it was in Korean but there was a picture of a "safety bear" with its hands up so I feel confident making that conclusion.  It was nice of the park rangers to keep hikers on the trail, but they could have used one at the top end of the valley because when I came across the sign I was on the wrong side.

I jumped across a creek and finally found my way back on a packed trail.  I had no idea where I was, but I soon ran into a group of Korean men on their way home.  Korean hikers are notoriously friendly and they were so impressed with my Korean (we've already established that I can barely speak it) that they invited me along with them to have dinner.  Actually my Korean has improved a fair bit and although I can't speak much of it, I can understand basic questions about myself and could tell them where I was from and when I had come to Korea, and for how long I was staying and where I was staying, etc when they asked.  It was a high pressure situation since very few of them spoke any English and they kept asking me more and more about myself, but I managed to pass and they knew the phrase "very good," and kept using that in reference to my Korean.

We stopped in at a Korean-Chinese restaurant and had some jajangmyeon, which is a bowl of spaghetti in black-bean sauce with some unkown beans and vegetables thrown in for good measure.

On the way to dinner, and afterwards everyone took turns teaching me the name of a new tree.  I can only remember a couple of them, but at least I now know what a "tree" and "teacher" are in Korean, which helps me catch up to my students.

It was actually quite  a lucky break to come across this group of hikers.  I had lost my bearings on my trip down the valley and when I came out I had no idea where I was.  It turned out that I had crossed the entire Bukhansan National Park and was on the other side.  When I had started my hike I was in North East Seoul, in Dobong-gu, but when I finished I was in Eunpyeong-gu, four administrative districts over!

The hikers helped me find the hidden bus stop and rode the bus back with me to the subway station.  There was a white girl on our train, and my new friends all thought it was necessary to point out to me that she was a foreigner like me (as if I couldn't tell).

I had started my trip at 1 PM, but I didn't get back to Itaewon station until 8 PM.  I was pretty exhausted and I wanted to refresh myself, so I took a trip over to the nearby sauna.  

I still don't believe in the sulphur water claim, but the process of going from hot to cold water repeatedly sure did make me feel a lot better.  On the way home I felt no fatigue from the hike whatsoever.  In fact I was even more refreshed than I thought I would be.  There really is something to this sauna phenomenon and I wish we had it in Canada.

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