A Long Haul into Ulsan
I doubt there is a creepier compound noun in English than “sponge bath” so I’ll henceforth refer to my first action on reaching Ulsan at 10:00 today as “doing the dance of the wet bandana”. This was a matter of some urgency as I was suffering what male thru-hikers blushingly describe as (to use another euphemism) “chafing issues”. One of the hazards encountered in the extreme sport of long-distance walking…
Anyway, post-bandana dance I feel pretty good. I’m in Ulsan Grand Park, hiding beneath a pergola while stealth-charging my electronics in the toilets, a fortuitous development since it means I can postpone a hotel I haven’t earned yet and walk on at about 4:00 when the heat wears off (32C down in Busan today). That gives me time to stealth-launder, stealth-nap and stealth-shave as well. I’ve stabbed two toe blisters and will soon be road-worthy again.
I walked till 11:00 pm last night after leaving the serial killer’s beach shack. I felt strong, practically invincible in the cool evening breeze and darkness. I finally realised the fantasy of what the trip would be like for a couple of hours of splendid walking along Rt 31 when it followed some dramatic cliffs including the easternmost point in the country, the Byron Bay of Korea. Tourists by the thousand, an outdoor concert with an MC whose feverish barks could probably be heard in Busan. Once I’d passed all that and got upwind I was fine — except for another army base.
I stopped at crowded Jinha Beach and was eating something unspeakable at a Family Mart when three jackasses sat down close to me and proceeded to assault me with bad and blaring music from a mobile phone. Just as I got up to leave one asked if I spoke Korean, then in faltering English asked, “USA?” (always the first assumption).
“Walking man?” he continued. Yes, I said. “Married?” No, I said, I’m free. He pointed at himself. “Single.” Yes, I said, I could see that. “How old?” 48, I said. “41,” he responded, and I wish I had sufficient Korean to tell him the odds weren’t good for him changing his status now, so he might as well find himself a good hobby.
I got away and found the beach — just aim at the fireworks and pumping “good-time” music. Dumped the pack and most of my gear and jumped in the ocean, rolling around in the breaking waves in the dark and revelling in the apparently shark-free (till proven otherwise) waters.
Hit the road and burned shoe leather as it took me inland. A sign told me Ulsan was 30km — 18 miles. I could have knocked them off that night but I ran out of verge and kept having to step into the ditch whenever there was an oncoming car. Tiresome. Finally lay down on some dusty ground in a marshy wasteland, and with the frogs droning and the delicious breeze I could almost believe in a place called Heaven.
This morning sucked, mostly. Ulsan is the seventh-biggest city in Korea and is the industrial heartland. In 440 pages, my guidebook mentions it exactly zero times. And most of my morning had me walking between endless ranks of factories and plants and chimneys, eerily deserted but pumping out a modernist symphony of drones, bangs, whooshes and beeps. It was good to get here and hear cicadas again.
Now if they’d just SHUT THE HELL UP.
Time for a cold-water shave. Till next time!
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote