Having been to Korea twice before, I had heard about the extensive cycle trail network the Govt built a number of years ago. As the Christchurch winter got bleaker so did the desire get stronger to revisit and ride the 4 Rivers trail from Seoul to Busan.
A bit of research quickly provided links to other blogs of western cyclists – but finding an operator to rent bikes from was eventually found. Good friends Wendy and daughter Leonie quickly joined us and it seemed that in no time we were heading to Hong Kong and onto Seoul. Getting from the airport into our hotel was a breeze and the benefits of a hotel close to the cycle path was clearly evident.
Eventually our bikes arrived followed by a bit of a mission to rig them so we could attach pannier bags. Ours was a self guided / non supported trip, so quickly I learned what it was to be on the client side of the equation. All our gear needed to fit into the two panniers – and Wendy & Leonie were much better at that than we were.
Some 4 hours later we did depart. Having no accommodation booked seemed like a good idea – just stop when we wanted, select what looked nice and enjoy the flexibility this model provided. The only issue was that we generally couldn’t read Korean and had no idea of exactly what was a town, a city or a village.
By the end of day 1, we were at 87kms down the trail – to be fair we did start at about the 35kms mark. With an encroaching dusk we found the signs we deciphered as Motel / Hotel and that was the end of the riding that day. Dinner was awesome – and the beer so nice. Its amazing how better these things taste when you have worked out!
Late May in Korea is the start of summer and the temperatures were always mid 20’s to low 30’s. We quickly decided that starting early and stopping mid afternoon was the ideal. We never seemed to get the early finish – but soon established a routine of being on the trail by between 6.30 and 7.00am and I found this first 2 hour period one of the best for cycling. We would find a breakfast spot on the trail and enjoyed the coffee and loved the chilled time. Lunch at times was later than expected but over the trip we enjoyed a diverse array of options – from restaurants to motels and bed & breakfasts.
The 4 Rivers trail is a total of 630 kms – plus a bit for backtracking when we took the wrong turn. It effectively links the watersheds of rivers that eventually roll into Busan. Some time prior, the Government had committed to a MAJOR river control project to prevent flooding. That resulted in flood banks on the riverside – which in turn created a completely flat surface that only needed to be graded off and then sealed. Yes – the whole 640 kms were sealed , and probably about 4m wide. This creates a stunning ride surface with the kms slipping past with little effort!
Not all things are perfect and I confess there were a few uphills – and they tended to be short and sharp. Fine except they were usually at the end of the day and it was hot and the bikes were loaded, making them a bit difficult to push. However this was few and far between, so overall our story is that the trail is mainly flat!!
To make things easier for herself, Shelley had booked an E-Bike, and she started with a flash Giant E-Bike with road tyres. Sadly after 1.5 days the E part of E-bike started to fail and soon Shelley had a bike – a heavy bike at that – that provided no assistance other than her leg muscles. Its hard to provide the sort of support you need for a very disappointed partner at the end of the day when you are tired as well. Thankfully we have been married for enough years to know how to make the dialogue work for us both!
Eventually we pedalled into Busan, sad that it was over and amazed at the 8 days we had ridden. The trail was amazing, with a mixture of dedicated trail, quiet roads, converted rail trails and tunnels. The infrastructure involved in creating these trails would make any NZ ratepayer envious. Major dedicated cycle bridges and beautiful architecture with imaginative design and flair. Back in Seoul we again looked with amazement at how the city incorporated major commuting cycleways and networks that were attracting serious numbers – especially over weekends.
NZ has lots to learn about trails and as an Outfitter, so did I have lessons to learn about what it is to be a client! Be assured I do understand your worries and we will take that learning into our processes.