Our second day on this epic 200 km long cycle ride down the Nakdong River almost began at the unholy hour of 0330 in the morning, when I heard the surreal combination of a call to prayer combined with a droning snore akin to that of an ogre. Our night in the temple wasn’t quite as peaceful as I’d imagined but thankfully I wasn’t awake for long.
We rose again at 0600. It was breakfast time, and the ladies who had seemed so sweet upon our arrival were barking at us to wake up and eat our pumpkin leaf soup and rice porridge. It was a hearty start to the day, a world away from the bowl of oatmeal, granola and orange juice which I dreamed of, but it was substantial fuel for the 100 km we were about to cover. Today we knew we had to make some progress if we were going to make it to Busan.
Although a little groggy, when we stepped out of the temple home and glanced around at our surroundings we felt lucky to have stumbled across this unknown little place of Changnyeong-gun (창녕군). Overlooking a particularly wide stretch of river, the temple was perched on a hill and in the blue-ish light of morning looked absolutely beautiful. Of course colourful lanterns were hung for Buddhas birthday and as we stretched our already aching muscle the low, sombre chant of Buddhist prayer rung out over the statues and pagodas.
The ride started with a steep climb, followed by a rapid downhill past a cattle farm and back on to the flats of the river. Our adrenaline was pumping and I rode ahead to find supplies for the day.
The store was well stocked and I bought out their stock of Kimbap, a delicious rice snack with is stuffed with a filling of your choice and wrapped in seaweed. This is certainly the second snack of champions in Korea, and fueled our efforts to reach the coast. One begins to cross the river more often as you near the ocean, which lifts the spirits, as each bridge is slightly longer, and reminds you that pedal by pedal you’re getting slightly closer to your finish line.
It’s around this point that you also start to veer off of the flats and up the steep hills. The worst we encountered was a mammoth 2 km climb up a 17% gradient, but it’s not too bad if you get off to push your bike every now and then. We reached the summit and flew down the other side, our momentum carrying us back across the river and onto it’s banks.
We stopped for a Kimbap picnic under the baking sun, which quelled our hunger for another hour. It didn’t last long though, with another long climb up a steep hill, but we soon found the nearest town, Namji-eup (남지읍), and within it a nice big plate of pork cutlets and rice.The meal marked a half way point for the journey, but that meant we still had a solid 100 kilometres to go.
This temple across the bridge and outside the town was the perfect little digestion break before beginning the journey once more. Just like so many other beautiful temples in Korea it was a complete surprise that isn’t written in any guidebook, making it all the more special.
Back on the river the cycle lanes relented and gave us nice long straights to make up some ground. The only downside with such riding is that your muscles tire with the monotony and, ironically, you long for the variety of a more strenuous hill to keep your mind alert. And of course those gorgeous, wind-in-your hair downhills.
Just when we thought we couldn’t take much more the sun began a beautiful descent. We pushed on and on, exhausted, me pulling Jade along every 200m while she looked longingly at every dilapidated building we passed, trying to make it to the next town we had spotted on our map, as the sun teased us in orange and pink. There is nothing quite like a sunset reflected in water is there?
That’s the incredible thing about such a long, physically demanding journey; whenever you feel your muscles start to burn, or your mind become numb with the long straight roads, something will happen to spur you on, to motivate you. Maybe it will be a random red poppy in the grass, 2 deers chasing each other in a field, an incredible sunset or an excruciating climb followed by a relieving soar down. And in the back of your mind there is always the pull of the finish line and the knowledge that if you do complete your journey you will undoubtedly be a bigger badass than before.