Posts Tagged ‘Biking’

Unrequited Benevolence

I have a bike.

I hate that bike.

I walked out of school Monday afternoon to find that my rear tire was flat on my mountain bike. This has become a common theme,  but I was genuinely surprised. Just a few days before, I had replaced both the tire and tube. With places to be and people to see, I headed off on-foot, eventually catching a bus home.

Tuesday morning In a rare weakness, I took the 3 mile taxi ride to work. It was humid and drizzly and I was running extra late. After school, not being committed to any other means of transit, I was obliged to walk my inutile velocipede (dysfunctional bike) home.

The route is characterized by a large hill where the tiers of my school occupy a bit of its southern slope. My apartment is nestled two valleys northwest. The bike ride goes fairly fast, 20 minutes if the stars are aligned (traffic lights rather) or considerably longer (especially if I am late for my Monday morning staff meeting(Murphy’s Law)).  Despite my intimate familiarity with the route, I found the walk to be quite daunting.

Onward and upward. Through vexing mist and husky humidity.

A third of the way up, and my bike came to a dead halt. The faulty tube had come out of the fresh tire and wound itself around the sprocket hub, derailleur and brakes. I cursed my luck as I unwound the greasy, mud-slicked mess.

Halfway up and all I could think was that I wanted to lock myself somewhere cold enough that my weeping pores would never again leak saline tears. I was so preoccupied with my sweaty misfortunes that I hardly noticed the passing-by umbrella toting student. I stopped yet again to bend down and rectify the irksome tube. Upon standing, I found the young doe eyed high school student silently staring at me. In an outstretched arm she held her umbrella towards me. I respectfully declined trying to explain the I was drenched in 85% perspiration and perhaps only 15% precipitation. Unswayed and likely confused she offered to walk me to the next bus stop. As we walked, we chatted a bit, and I learned she went to the all girls school on top of the hill. She was dismayed to learn that I needed to get all the way to Munsu-dong (the area in which my apartment is). As we neared the bus stop she again offered her umbrella. I didn’t have the heart to explain that I really didn’t have a spare hand to hold an umbrella. I declined as respectfully as I could. Nevertheless she seemed quite disheartened as she turned to continue back down the hill.

15 minutes later, I had crested the hilltop was was heading down. Now in addition to my own self pity, I had the guilt of turning down the students generosity. It dawned on me just how benevolent the girl really was being. The simple smell of rain and umbrellas are out. Snow also induces umbrella use. Shoot, even too much sun and Koreans are using their umbrellas.  For the girl to be without hers for the remainder of her 20 minute walk home, would have been a sacrifice indeed.

Yesterday morning, despite a freshly rolling mountain bike, I opted to take my other-less-problematic bike to school. It was the homestretch. I was cruising down the southern slope toward school. In roughly the place where I met the charitable high school student the day prior, I hit a pothole the size of Shanghai. Knowing the back tire was done for, I immediately stopped, got off and walked the remaining 20 minutes to school effectively landing myself in the exact same predicament as the day prior.

Karma for not accepting another generosity or a sign that public transit exists for a reason?

Today I took neither of my freshly patched bikes to school nor did I take a bus. Waking up 6 minutes after my class was supposed to begin, I again undertook the shameful taxi ride to school.

Heres looking toward a less eventful weekend and brighter (hopefully less humid) week ahead.

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“Weather Changes Moods”

I would like to say that I enjoy all seasons equally. I know that is not true though. While winter has its comforting white blanket and brisk recreation opportunities there comes a time I am ready to move on. Summer by contrast; with its heat and glamorous beach gatherings, grows equally as tiring. It’s those underdog-in-between seasons that really do it for me. While autumn takes the cake in my eyes, with its crisp freshness and bountiful harvest atmosphere, I also hold a great appreciation for sping. It is the season that I was born in to after-all.

With the sun out in full force and temperatures in the mid 40’s; this past weekend was the first of what felt like spring. After a slow start to my Saturday, I hopped on my bike with sights set on Hoamsan, one of the many local mountains. It was not long before my path was diverted with roads previously undiscovered. I came across the local T.V. broadcasting station, perched on a hill. Jesus with his arms outstretched, presiding over the busy roundabout, and a quiet winding road cheerfully playing Stevie Wonders “Sir Duke” from every lamppost. Soon I found myself peddling northwest instead of my northeastern destination, drawn by a particularly long tree lined street.

Immediately I felt the change in pace. With the busy main shop-lined road behind me, it was nothing but sleepy residential ahead. It was an older neighborhood with the houses being built maybe in the70’s or 80’s. Most had the traditional sukiwa tile roofs with concrete or brick walls. A small garden adorned the front yards with one or two fruiting trees hanging over the metal gates. The neighborhood is built into a valley and I was soon funneled to the apex. When the roads turned to steep narrow farming paths, (as they tend to do around here) then I found a concrete culvert to lower my bike into for safe keeping. I immediately headed up the hiking trails I knew to be there without ever having known where “there” was in the first place. All the farming terraces I passed were alive with local farmers removing the organic sleep of winter. Traditional Korean music lofted from a small radio but was continually interrupted by the peppy shouts from one farm plot to the next.

The palpable energy of spring floated lightly through the air.

At each fork of the trail, I opted for the path with the greatest incline. Soon a large sign loomed into view. It noted that I was coming upon an ancient fortress site built during the Baekje Period (18BC- 660AD). This all sounded familiar and it wasn’t until I was at the peak that I realized that there was an even taller summit of the same mountain. Both hold ancient fortresses, but this second one was vaster as well as more scenic, with rolling grassy hills sprouting wind swept red pines and a 270 degree view of the surrounding city. I had visited the other peak on Christmas Day. Much like this time, I hadn’t expected an ancient fortress to be waiting for me at the top. After a walkabout of the perimeter, I could not find it in me to leave. So, I chose a comfortable looking mound of grass, and pulled out my kindle.

Right around the time I started to doze off, I decided it was probably about time that I moved on to my original destination. I descended on a slightly alternate route, picking my way around burial mounds and soon found my bike resting just as I had left it.

It was not long before I was in the shadows of Hoamsan. While circumnavigating the mountain via bicycle, I glanced a gaggle of Koreans off in the distance opposite the mountain. They appeared to be taking “selfies” while standing on what appeared to be a dam. Intrigued, I crossed the road and easily found a boardwalk leading toward the group. I soon had a vantage point where I could see they were in fact on a dike with a beautiful lake pent-up behind. A hiking trail surrounded the lake with fingers reaching off to neighboring hills. I followed one such trail that skirted a stream. By the time I arrived at the source of the stream, (a series of dams) the air was cooling and I knew that it was time to find dinner.

I settled on a quick and filling cheesy pork cutlet. A young Korean man by the name of James and his girlfriend were seated next to me. James was quite keen on practicing his English. After exchanging numbers and finishing our meals, I made to go. Before I knew what happened, he had paid for my meal. I graciously parted ways (vowing the next dinner was on me) and headed to my final destination of the day – the local jimjibang!

Time and time again I have voiced my love for jimjibangs, although this may be the first time I do so in writing. Jimjibangs are gender-segregated public bathhouses here in Korea. They vary in size but are all furnished with showers, hot tubs, various saunas and massage tables. I have been saying for well over a year and a half now that my short-term life goal is to visit as many jimjibangs as possible. I can say without reservation that they are my single favorite thing about life here in Korea. Two hours of rinse, wash, and repeat later and I was off to bed.

On Sunday I finally made it to the previous days destination. Highlights of Hoamsan include: Reading my kindle on a mountaintop park bench with the distant sound of live traditional music floating up from the distant sports complex. The view from the summit and the genial old man stationed in the shack. Kicking up a pheasant (my third in Yeosu) as well as a deer (also my third in Yeosu but this one I didn’t actually see).

Although I wish I could have gotten one or even two more hikes under my belt, I would deem the weekend a success. I made good use of the fresh new weather and saw a multitude of new sites in my city of Yeosu. I must report though: despite the promising weather of the weekend, yesterday got back down to freezing and the low tonight is below 30. It isn’t just Wisconsin that has fickle seasons. One can never be too hasty in putting away the winter gear…