For those of you who have read the book ‘Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams, the title is self explanatory. For those who have not read this series of books, ‘Forty Two’ is the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything. In our case, the answer to a little challenge: how to cross Korea from west to east, avoiding all major highways.
In Korea, motorcycles are not permitted to travel on expressways, the main direct highway system between cities. Travel must be done on secondary roads and we discovered that highway 42 starts close to the Incheon airport where Streak and Storm arrived and runs across the country to our port of embarkation for Vladivostok at Donghae on the east coast. A good starting point.
We will need to overcome a number of challenges in this journey, the first being that the only two roads connecting Incheon and the mainland are expressways, but luckily there is a small ferry service which will give us access to the mainland. Our second will be to cross the Seoul Capital Area which has a population of some 24 million people. Still we are always up for a challenge so off we go. We start with broad avenues and no traffic, excellent. Someone here in Incheon built all the road infrastructure around the airport way ahead of any population development. Easy riding.
We are blessed with sunny weather, which will allow us to bed in our brand new, and very slippery Heidenau K60 Scout tyres that need 200 km / 120 miles to be run in to both settle the tyres on the rims and scuff the tyres to remove any chemicals used in the manufacturing process.
We track the ferry down and find ourselves waiting with one car and about 20 foot passengers. I cannot say I am looking forward to riding the new tyres on a metal deck but off we go, slowly. The ferry’s deck is fine, but appears to be well spotted with bird droppings? The source of the droppings becomes apparent as hundreds of seagulls start to circle the ferry in a clockwise direction, Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ comes to mind as the ferry slowly backs out, but no people throw food to the seagulls as they pass the deck. Our car driver spends the journey in a losing battle to keep seagull droppings off his car. We suffer one pannier strike, for luck I assume.
We depart the little ferry, up the ramp and through a giant amusement park that would dwarf Sydney’s similarly located Luna Park. A couple of minutes later we are in the thick of it, riding in Seoul proper has begun.
I have found that Korea is a visual assault on the senses, Hangul (한국말) as the language is called seems to adorn buildings, street signs and vehicles, sensory overload when one is also trying to ride and follow the GPS. Highway 42 starts almost immediately after we leave the ferry, interesting how this one road links our ferry disembarkation and embarkation points. We quickly realise that the easy riding days back around the airport are over as we try to adapt to the Korean driving style. In addition to the no expressway rules for motorcycles, we had read that we must always stay in the right hand lane, not overtake and only pull out to turn left 30 metres from the junction! We understand these rules apply to all slow moving vehicles, trucks, buses etc, but as usual this information comes from websites that rank highly but may be dated. How does one determine what is relevant?
What we have learned about the Korean driving style is as follows:
– Fast acceleration and heavy breaking are the norm, scary in the rearview mirror when you are slowing for red traffic lights
– Red traffic lights are sometimes treated as advisories only, especially when turning right, use your own judgement
– Changing lanes is indicated when the bonnet/hood of the car next to you starts to get closer, but does not illicit horn honking or road rage
– Highway speed limits of 60 kph are always exceeded by at least 20 kph except where there are speed cameras
– Busses will pull out in front of you, especially to turn left.
– Motorcycles do overtake and travel in the centre or left lanes.
– We have yet to discern the signs for hairpin bends!
There will be a video, but as usual the best bits are missing as I am busy riding, not thinking of filming at that time.
Anne has planned a route today of a couple of hundred kilometres to a forested area south east of Seoul, we would have to see how the GPS will cope having turned off the main roads option to avoid expressways. This plan quickly evaporates as we make slow progress through the crowded streets. Our aim now is to get out of Seoul then see where we are before making a decision on the day’s destination.
Anne has written up a list of 43 forbidden expressways and 8 different road numbers to get to the first temple which she is carrying in her water pack for quick reference. The problem is that some backroutes directly lead onto forbidden ones so you have to be very careful. We don’t want the police closing the expressway to chase after us as we have read!!
Traffic lights seem to dominate the landscape, at every intersection it seems equal time is allowed for all permutations of crossing, I am surprised we are not bombarded with street vendors given the captive nature of the traffic, coffee anyone while you wait? An hour after leaving the ferry, we have progressed about 8 miles or 12 kilometres, the Greater Seoul Area is endless. We are lucky to find that although we have no idea what the signs say, number 42 is displayed at each major intersection so we at least know we are heading in the right direction. The occasion miss leads to an interesting combination of back streets via the GPS to recover our momentum.
Progress is made slowly: at the end of the day, we will have spent six and a half hours riding to cover only 77 miles / 120 kilometres, we really are the 2slowspeeds. After a number of hours in the saddle, we start to see trees. Seeking a hotel, we head for a forest resort, identified on my GPS and Anne’s Mapsme app. Sounds like a great location to rest after a busy day, unfortunately unlike Canada which has seen ski resorts become summer destinations, everything is closed. We are directed to the next town, Icheon where we find a grand looking hotel, well a grand looking Korean hotel, where the room is completely empty, bedding including mattresses are in a cupboard. It is nice however that each room here has a vestibule, no shoes allowed inside, just like home for us. We have also realised there is no 4th floor as the words for ‘four’ and ‘death’ sound similar in Korean, Chinese and Japanese. This manifests itself in tetraphobia, the fear of the number four. A word I did not know and a great addition to the scrabble board. A meal at a Japanese restaurant outside our hotel rounds off the day. Sleep follows quickly.
Where to find breakfast, well, one we can understand, we walk the rows of shops trying to make sense of the contents, then hey presto a place to buy WD40 one element missing from our arsenal of glues and gasket makers due to the high flammability of WD40 clashing with Dangerous Goods clearance for the flight from Vancouver to Seoul.
A 24 hour resturant offers bone soup for breakfast, we are not that ‘Local’ yet. Broth is tasty but he photos of the soup with bones in it and the pungent smell puts Anne off. Further searching leads to ‘Paris Baguette’, a Korean company that has now gone global with 3,500 branches provides ‘authentic French baking’. Croissants and coffee, we are saved. With our slow first day, we decide to travel directly but slowly towards Donghue on highway 42. We cannot afford to miss the weekly ferry as our Russian visa has a fixed starting date. Progress is sedate as we leave cities behind but the hilly and undulating nature of the terrain, plus the highways 60 kph speed limit our progress. We try to find a group of temples en-route, but the GPS and Mapsme lead us to a blocked entrance. As I have wondered before, what is the provenance of the data that supports our global maps? Traffic has thinned considerably and we are now scooting along at a fair clip, keeping up with local traffic. We have however been introduced on a regular basis to one of our lesser favoured surfaces: grooved concrete. This wet/icy anti skid road surface gives an unpleasant wobbly feeling and we have found it to be used here on downhill sections near traffic lights, tunnels, bends etc. We know the answer is to slow down and relax, but still not a pleasant surface.
Civilisation hugs the narrow valley floors with tree festooned hillsides looking down on us as we zig and zag eastwards. I never get the feeling we are out in the wilderness, on our route anyway. A short stop in Jeongsoenup and the purchase of a single bottle of Coca Cola introduces us to the shop owner who, while, we are sitting outside her shop brings us a green tea ice-cream each. While I eat mine, Anne cannot eat cream based products, she returns again with two local energy drinks as gifts. When we complement her on her plants outside her shop, she immediately runs into her shop, gets a parcel out of her fridge and hands it to Anne: two massive cucumbers. We cannot exchange words, but we understand she has two sons, both living away and sadly her husband has passed. Her actions speak for the generosity of people to strangers. We are lucky to have met her.
As the afternoon wears on we reach Imgyemyeon, a small town at the junction of highways 42 and 35. A towering hotel by local building standards beckons and we will stay two nights, this place has a nice feel to it. Dinner is a Tofu and mushroom dish and we learn our host makes the tofu from scratch, another memorable meal and we are now just 50 km from the coast.
A day packing and sorting and exploring Imgyemyeon, covered in a separate blog entry, followed. Saturday morning and we are off with our sorted load and extra fuel containers filled. It is interesting that at each gas/petrol station they will only fill to the automatic stop level, regardless the amount of pleading ‘Full, Full’. They just will not exceed that limit.
Some sharp twisties climbing and descending make for the most enjoyable ride to date. Much closer to the type of riding we favour. The highway 42 does actually finish at the port main gates, a real ferry to ferry road. We have ridden across Korea and now the adventure begins.
PS how to entertain small children at a wedding, now where are those permanent markers?