Bivouac of the Trolls
The road is deadly, bright and brash,
But I have welfare cheques to cash,
And miles to go before I crash,
And miles to go before I crash…
~ “The Hobo’s Lament” (with apologies to Robert Frost)
DAY 9. Well, first the bad news. A loyal and constant trail companion is dead. My iPhone just kicked the bucket, and a darkness descended as I foresaw the death of this little adventure. Not only have I come to rely on it to show me where I am and ways around the latest obstacle, but I was enjoying the escapism of email, news from friends — and of course my afternoon diversion of tapping up the day’s news on this blog.
And after all, is the un-blogged life worth living?
Hell, yes, it is! I’m enjoying myself much too much to let a setback like this send me skulking homewards on a bus. And for another thing, I have absolutely no idea how I would go about getting a bus home from here. I’m not even 100% sure where “here” is!
But let’s recap.
Was yesterday afternoon the best walking yet on this venture? I reckon so. I lit out of that rest area and pretty soon lucked upon Rt 917, which I guess is that fragment of “Old Rt 7″ I was told about. Under a dark sky, with a gentle and sporadic rain cooling my head while hot steam seeped up from the road, I ambled down this narrow, almost deserted coastal road, metres from the water.
On the left, a string of minbak, cheap guesthouses. On the right, rocky outcrops where gulls perched. Between me and the water: fences, barbed wire and crumbling cinder-block pillboxes and observation shacks. The barbed-wire coast I’d read about — not pretty, with all that rusting ironwork, but dramatic in the gloom.
A drunk old man on a bicycle passed and circled back, pumping his fist and shouting encouragement. Older folk clustered under village pavilions eating and drinking stared mutely as I passed. A cop car pulled in to check me out as I hurriedly put the camera away. The sandy beaches were left wide open but the rocky inlets were always fenced. I had a quick swim and reached the end of 917 as night fell.
I was sorry to be back on harrowing Rt 7. I’d bought two carrots the size of police batons — I needed some fibre — and chewed on one as I resumed the slog. It was awful. I thought I’d do another three miles before bed, but quickly tired of the highway tension and when I came to an exit ramp, bailed to try out a theory.
Every exit ramp curves round under the main highway; jammed in there between highway and underpass there’s usually a concrete ledge. And now as I spread out my bedroll, I saw the shortcomings. This one was too urban; I was barely out of Uljin. The traffic overhead was a tolerable distant thunder, but local traffic tore regularly underneath.
And then, the weirdest thing.
On the far side, a woman walked along with a bag. She reached a point opposite me, looked over her shoulder, and suddenly tore up the paved slope towards the counterpart of my own ledge. A fellow transient! We were spending our respective nights on neighbouring ledges, but as far as I know she thought she was alone.
It was a long Friday night: teenagers coming rowdily homeward; old men bellowing midnight bullshit; old ladies up early for their pre-dawn exercise, jabbering in discordant symphonies. I gave up at 4:30 and started packing. Left a carrot for the next tenant, rejoined the surface world and was doing well when…
I checked the phone (Oh, beloved friend!) and formulated an escape plan involving a briar-tangled embankment; emerged with bloody knees on 917 again and reached an almost-pretty fishing town called Jukbyeong. Arriving, I noticed the phone was dead — surely some juice remained?
At the Family Mart, attempts to charge it failed; the woman working there, who had a little English, did her best, and finally said, “I finish work in 10 minutes. You can come to my house and try there.”
I went with her to an unkempt old place near the port. Her old mother did not seem at all shocked to see a ragged white man walk in. A guy was spread out on the floor, snoring — “My younger brother — he’s on vacation.” Something pungent and unspeakably evil bubbled on the stove, and a nasty old mutt with a face that was half rat, half vampire bat, kept humping my leg with alacrity, my stench apparently awakening some primal urge.
My phone would not charge.
“I have a notebook (computer),” Young-Hee said. “You can send an email.”
“That’d be great.” I really couldn’t face the town “PC room”, which looked ripe for demolition. We went into her room. It was tiny, and wretchedly barren, with a faded picture of herself in an 80s hairstyle, a miserable single bed and tiny, faded family pictures on a dresser. A spinster’s room. I saw her whole future: taking care of her mother, living in the same house she’d grown up in with her two lazy brothers, the job at the convenience store…
Her computer wouldn’t work.
I felt very, very tired, the food smell was suffocating, and the horny cur was seconds from a brutal kick to the cranium. I thanked Young-Hee and her mother and walked an hour through rice paddies where fat spiders swayed in a tepid breeze and black-eyed susans sprawled in gawdy decadence in the verges.
The “PC room” here is a smoky, dingy hole; all the town geeks turned to stare at me over their Saturday games of carnage and doom. I’ll now rejoin the cleansing heat and light, restock at the bakery and resume my journey. It may turn out that my posts come less frequently now, but I’ll do my best. On the plus side, I won’t lose two hours each day charging my phone!
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote