DAY 4. Exiting cities on foot is usually a dreary and protracted trudge, but leaving Ulsan yesterday was rather pleasant, for more than the obvious reasons.
The road, Rt 31, was straight and not too jammed with cars, I was on the shady side and I quickly found myself on the northern outskirts. I’d stopped for a latte and a cheesecake that quickly succumbed to the heat, collapsing in a slimy puddle. But I needed the calories, so…
A nice solid range of green mountains cut in from the coast directly ahead. I was crossing the sorry trickle of a one-time river, and gazing at those mountains beneath the crisp blue sky, I was struck with a kind of affection for his strange little land.
Caffeine, perhaps — anyway I was MOVING. Not meaning to brag but I really am in great shape for my age. I’ve walked hard and fast for three days and feel no more discomfort than if I’d just gone to the letter box and back. My only handicaps are the heat and possible external factors. We’ll see.
But suddenly my heart sank. I thought I’d lucked onto this miraculous road, Rt 31, that would speed me safely to my destination, whatever that is. Then this sign announcing “MOTORWAY AHEAD” and pictures of bikes and farm vehicles with slashes through them — no proscribed walking but I’d met a motorway before in which walking was explicitly verboten. My heart sank and I clicked on Google Maps on my phone, feeling anxious.
Imagine my joy when the blue dot throbbed and a secondary road revealed itself just across this busy thoroughfare! There was a tunnel ahead which seemed to explain the change of zoning, but I was soon striding hard and sweet up this winding mountain road switching up and over that range. Cyclists swooped downhill; a mother cat and a kitten regarded me apprehensively from the edge of dense jungly woods.
I was well clear of Ulsan now. I stopped at a piped spring and watching a motorist start up a concrete path towards a mountain top called Maebongjae, I thought, “What the hell,” and started up as well. The gnats were the worst I’ve encountered in any country, great clouds of the brutes swarming in collective stupidity beyond my precious head-net. The poor fellow in front had only a cigarette and prayer. He was soon descending.
Got up there in time for a stupendous sunset and a vast spray of lights with a glowing ferris wheel poking skyward on the chemical-plant horizon. Ulsan. I set up my bed behind the inner wall of a stone monument, a beautiful cairn within two fortress-like concentric battlements. I was tired, and my bed was luxuriant, not even a bivy necessary in the warm, breezy night…
Then the torments began.
First, the moon was no friend last night. Waning gibbous and piercing, God’s searchlight probing through my bandana eyeshade. And then the night-hikers. Three, four times at all hours they came stomping past from who knew where before descending again. And the worst: a KID suddenly discovering me, alerting his father in great excitement, and the father shining a fucking TORCH BEAM on me and shouting questions like I’d just been caught urinating on the palace walls.
I sat up in fury, ripped off the bandana and said “Do you speak English?” That shut the bastard up. I believe he said sorry; thinking about it later, perhaps they thought they’d discovered a murder scene. But even exhausted I take a long time to get back to sleep. Night was long and I got up again at 4:30, packed as more hikers appeared and passed without comment, and was soon down on the road with my friends the gnats, who accompanied me all the way down the far side of the mountain…
Today has been frustrating but occasionally rewarding. The paddies in the valley beyond Searchlight Ridge were green and lush. The gnats farewelled me and sought out new victims.
I reached the coast again, found this infinity symbol-shaped bracelet…
..among the hats (7), reading glasses (4), shoes and sandals (20-30) and food-and-fireworks detritus (limitless) on one of a succession of scrappy beaches, and swam at one, a pebble beach, until a family-inn manageress chased me from the crude tarp shelters they erect all along the beachfronts.
It’s Monday; some of the tourist traffic has subsided. The beaches are dirty, the villages dreary and bleached dry, but the Koreans seem happy and do what they do best, eating and drinking wherever some shade can be erected. I rejoined Rt 31 unsure of the legality but a police car passed without incident and I think it’s safe again.
I stopped in here at another gravelly, dirty beach for groceries; stretched out on some cardboard beneath one of the white vinyl pergolas arrayed like fangs along the beach. Nobody hassled me while I napped, just the endless putrid throb of the pumped-out “beach music”. When I’m done here I’ll rejoin Rt 31 and on with the journey.
The journey never ends. No matter how much, sometimes, you might want it to!
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote