Today was horrifyingly bad, but at the same time, it was the day on which I felt most alive. The worst day of the walk, but also the most exciting. I'll explain, but first, some stats:
Distance: about 24 km
Time: 385 minutes
Calories Burned: 5,033
Calories Consumed: 2,049 (deficit = 2,984)
Imagine all the factors that can make a long walk suck coming together in a perfect storm of shittiness. That was today. The problem was partly the nature of the walk itself, but it was also partly because I made a series of fateful decisions that turned the day from merely bad to absolutely terrifying.
Despite its problems, though, the day had some good points. Instead of walking 32 kilometers, I walked only 24, for one thing. And those fateful decisions mentioned above resulted in my feeling more alive than I've felt in a long time.
The day started out, well, late. I left the pension at 5 a.m., half an hour after I had hoped to leave. It had obviously started raining the previous night; the ground was wet, and the air was obnoxiously humid. I was prepped for rain, with my jacket knotted around my waist and ready to throw on at a moment's notice. There were some hills along the way, but nothing too severe. Traffic-dodging started as early as 5:30 and continued through the morning.
The rain started up as I walked, which meant I could concentrate on walking instead of constantly taking photos (today's complement of images numbers only 99). I did come across a Buddhist temple with a ton of sculptures, though, so I made a special effort to photograph all the statues before the rain intensified.
Checking Naver while it's raining is always a pain in the ass, and having raindrops on a haptic screen can make the screen react strangely, so I would check Naver whenever I found cover. At one point, Naver decided to be a dick: it sent me looking for a footpath that doesn't actually exist. I reached a point, while being misled by Naver, where I was confronted by two angry village dogs, and I decided to stop following Naver's walking advice. I switched over to "bike" mode and began following the alternate path laid out for me.
The cycling path turned out to be 3 km longer than the walking path: 35K instead of 32K. So on a day already ruled by Murphy's Law, I resigned myself to walking an extra three kilometers after having already started the day late. Chances of reaching my lodging in a timely manner were dimming.
Somewhere after the 12K mark, I looked at Naver again and noticed an obvious shortcut that Naver wasn't highlighting, and this is when I made the fateful decision to follow my gut and take the shortcut, which would save me a trip around a whole mountain and shave untold kilometers off the day's walk. I instinctively realized that the shortcut would probably mean lots of hills, but I had become confident in my ability to handle hills, so this didn't concern me. With that, I started toward the shortcut.
The path I'd chosen paid off immediately, as it took me past a major Gyeongju tourist attraction: the offshore grave of King Munmu, whose tomb rests in a craggy rock formation a few hundred meters away from shore. I took a selfie of me pulling a sad face with King Munmu's grave in the background, and that turned out to be the last photo I would take on today's walk. Had I died today, that sad face would have been my last photo ever. Sobering thought.
My shortcut path curved lazily around to the right... and that's when I started seeing signs about a tunnel. A few things clicked into place inside my head when I saw the signs. Among them, this is why Naver directed me around the mountain. And: why didn't I think of a tunnel instead of hills? It all suddenly made sense: Naver had directed me on a "long cut" around that mountain because the tunnel wasn't safe to ride or walk through.
So now, I had to decide whether to stay committed to the shortcut and do the tunnel or waste even more kilometers backtracking and following Naver's prescribed path. Stubbornness took over, and I elected to forge ahead with my shortcut. Bad decision.
The tunnel was impressively large, and my immediate concern was whether it was walkable. Some tunnels have actual sidewalks, with railings and lighting, to allow pedestrians to traverse their length. This tunnel merely had a narrow road shoulder and a precarious-looking raised ledge. I saw this and decided to chance the tunnel, anyway. My initial bad decision had now been compounded by two further bad decisions.
The ledge was maybe 90 centimeters wide. I stupidly thought it would run the full length of the tunnel, but it didn't. The ledge also had no steps to allow a person to get on it easily (it was a little over a meter off the ground), and weak as I am, I had to struggle to make it onto the raised area. Already at this point, my knees and hands were covered in dirt and traffic soot.
The tunnel's wall was curved inward, forcing me to lean awkwardly as I walked. The ledge was so narrow that my right arm kept rubbing against the tunnel's wall, covering my jacket's sleeve in dirt. The tunnel was also loud as hell thanks to both the relentless traffic and the jet-like air movers mounted on the tunnel's ceiling. And then, after a couple hundred meters, the ledge I was on suddenly disappeared.
Every few hundred meters, the tunnel had gaps like this. Some gaps were to allow vehicles to pull off for emergency stops. Some gaps were there because of various in-tunnel doors (some for emergency exits, some for other purposes). The ledge reappeared on the other side of the gap, but given how difficult it had been for me climb onto the ledge the first time, I had to ask myself whether I was in good enough shape to mount the ledge again every time it disappeared and reappeared. Another problem was that the ledge was blocked, periodically, by flashing warning lights that jutted out redly into my path, forcing me to crawl under them. More and more, being on the ledge to stay away from traffic was looking less and less worthwhile.
So I decided to risk leaving the ledge so I could walk on the narrow shoulder at ground level, thus putting me dangerously close to traffic, only inches away. This proved to be utterly terrifying. I clutched my trekking pole to my chest with my left hand like a palsy victim, trying to make myself as small as possible from the point of view of the cars and trucks rushing up from behind me. Traffic roared in my ears. Trucks, in particular, were frightening as their noise built up before they blew by me, buffeting me in their wake.
Somehow, I kept my sanity through all this. It helps to be a bit fatalistic and to accept death from behind as a real possibility. I stayed hunched and soldiered onward. The tunnel seemed as if it had no end, and after a while, I began to wonder how many kilometers I was walking inside the mountain. I even reached a point were my wishful brain would create hallucinations as I imagined the proverbial Light at the End of the Tunnel.
The tunnel eventually started to curve leftward, which I irrationally took to be a hopeful sign that the end was near. I began thinking about charitable drivers stopping, at the risk of creating a traffic jam, to offer me a ride to the end of the tunnel. No such human mercy actually occurred, alas. I found myself marveling that the police hadn't already arrived to order me into their cruiser so I could be booked at a local station. All it would take to end this adventure was a single patrol car. But no police came, despite multiple signs warning us that everything was on CCTV camera.
It turned out that my irrational intuition wasn't so irrational: the far wall of the leftward curve began to lighten as the gray sunlight of a rainy day illuminated the tunnel's exit. Please don't let me die now, I prayed to God or Satan or Cthulhu. And I guess the gods answered because I made it out of the tunnel safe and sane, but emotionally spent. The whole experience had been a nightmare. And while one part of my brain declared the effort to follow this shortcut to have been worth it, the rest of my brain was gibbering, Never again, never again. And yet, bizarrely, the idea that I could have died in that tunnel was thrilling. I came out of the experience feeling tired, but also raw and alive.
I did end up shaving eight kilometers off my walk, making up for my having started the day late. And when I got close to the pension that was supposed to be my destination for the day, I spotted a motel, switched plans, and headed toward that, probably saving myself W50,000 in the process. (I'm at Hansol Motel for W40,000 a night.)
My hands, my knees, and my jacket were all covered in filth, but because I'd arrived at the motel a little after noon, I decided to hand-wash all my clothes, including my outerwear, since I knew I'd have a few extra hours to let everything dry.
Utterly drained by my experience, I ended up taking a long nap, which is why you're seeing this blog post at such a late hour again. The motel has WiFi (the old lady at the front didn't know what WiFi was when I asked her), so at least I can upload today's pics with no problem.
I'm happy this happened to me while I was alone. At one point, I imagined what it would have been like to have JW with me. JW is a fairly gung-ho, can-do, "Let's go!" type, do he'd have said yes when I proposed taking the shortcut. And then he'd have followed me unquestioningly into danger, and I'd have felt like a piece of shit for risking his life. At least this way, only I would have gotten killed.
But I survived, and the day sucked, and Weather.com says it's going to rain tomorrow, too, and again two days after that. Right now, the forecast for the final day of my walk looks clear, but most of the days up to then appear to be rainy. So don't expect many photos.
What's the moral of today's story, though? Is it "Always listen to Naver"? Because if so, Naver did try to send me on a path that doesn't exist. No, I think the lesson is more that, when Naver guides you around a mountain, it's probably because there's a tunnel that isn't safe for cyclists. Or walkers.
|Yangpo Port, where I was|
|on the right path|
|ship returning home (digital zoom)|
|This turned out to be a wrong turn thanks to Naver. I turned away from the angry dogs, depriving them of a meal.|
|saw a lot of gloves that I didn't photograph because of the rain, including a few pairs of gloves|
|wind turbines in the area|
|Sign for a temple.|
What's up with that letter "N"?
|temple, no one-column gate|
|Dae Ryun Sa|
|freshly killed kitteh... kinda sad|
|Ulsan ahead, 52 km|
|officially in Gyeongju|
|JW's wife is named Bo Hyun|
|dewy dragonfly carcass is strangely beautiful|
|a pair of gloves, cast away|
|dude on his ATV|
|another temple that doesn't look like a temple|
|incongruous jangseung among 16 Nahan|
|Nahan, one by one|
|explanation of the Nahan|
|not a Nahan; this is a Buddha statue|
|sign for the grave of King Munmu|
|a café takes advantage of King Munmu to market itself|
|blow this up to see the explanation|
|King Munmu's gravesite|
|a moment of sad silence for the king|