Jul 30, 2013

K-Fail: The Bicycle Incident-- Part 1

It's been a while since I had a genuine K-Fail. However, this one is pretty fail-esque. This story is from my weekend on Jeju Island, about 3 weeks ago.

Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny, much to our dismay, since Seoul had been rainy for two weeks straight. Still, the forecast promised a rainy afternoon in Jeju.

My fellow weekend warrior, N, and I decided to take advantage of the sunshine and rent bikes from our hostel to see the area with. We were feeling ambitious. and decided we wanted to eschew public transit in favor of something healthier and more green. When we broached the hostel manager with our request, he seemed taken aback. He asked us if we were sure we wanted to rent bikes today. We assumed his reluctance was due to the Korean tendency to avoid the sun (pale skin being valued as beautiful). We scoffed off his surprise and responded with emphatic affirmatives.

In retrospect, this should have been an ominous warning.

We loaded up and hopped on, riding through the streets in the glorious sunshine. At 10am it was already about 80 degrees with about 70% humidity, but we didn't feel it as we cruised along towards our first destination-- a waterfall that appeared practically next door on the map.

We reached it with few problems, other than noticing that our map was not entirely honest about streets or distances. We parked our bikes, walked to the falls, and spent several pleasant minutes taking Lewis-and-Clark style pictures.


The sun was climbing higher in the sky, and we noticed it was getting quite warm. There was no sign of the promised cloud cover or rain, and we only had a small tube of sunblock between us.

Still, we decided to soldier on. Our next destination was a segment of the famous Olle trail. It's a walking trail that winds its way around the circumference of the island. My "trusty" guidebook said that it was also good for biking. The next entrance point was close by, so we set off to find it.

However, we soon realized that our map left out some key information about the roads-- specifically elevation. Yes, the trail entrance was close by, but to reach it, we had to climb a steep, hairpin-riddled road from our point at the bottom of the waterfall to a high ridge overlooking the sea. We resigned ourselves to the climb, knowing we would be rewarded with a glorious, smooth trail ride along that ridge.

It took us about 20 minutes to reach the top. Some points were so steep we had to get off our bikes and walk. As soon as we stopped riding, the heat and humidity would make itself known. We were quickly drenched from head to toe and could feel the backs of our necks starting to redden from the sun.

 We could sense that the trail was close, yet it was nowhere to be seen. We wandered amilessly on our bikes through small dirt roads for another solid 20 minutes before caving and asking for help from a cafe employee. He pointed us down the road and said we were close.

Around the next bend, we finally came upon the trailhead. Eureka! Our problems were over! We knew now that we could enjoy a pleasant, shady ride with a stunning view of the cliffs and sea.

Or so we thought.

We noticed that the trailhead started with a staircase. Odd, since the guidebook clearly stated that this was a good place for biking. We concluded that the bike entrance was somewhere nearby. But we didn't see anything, so we decided to just cart our bikes down the stairs. We were eager to get on the trail and out of increasingly brutal sun.

For a while, all seemed well. We stopped at a scenic overlook to take pictures not far from the trailhead. Even though we were now in the shade (and by the sea), we had no escape from the soupy humidity. We had to compose our pictures to hide our repulsive sweatiness with strategically placed shade.

As it would turn out, this was our one moment of reprieve. My "trusty" guidebook turned out to be quite misleading. The segment of the Olle trail we were on was not, as it were, made for bikes at all. We were constantly either walking our bikes up hills too steep and rocky to ride, or carrying them down the stairs on the other side. Not only did this mean we weren't getting the cooling benefits of riding our bikes, we were actually getting hotter and sweatier through the effort. After what seemed like forever (but was really probably only an hour or so), we came to a cafe whose driveway lead to the nearest road. Exhausted and frustrated, N and I decided to treat ourselves to smoothies while we cooled down and figured out our next move.

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