Liberation on the Goat Killer Trail!
Made it! In fact I made it yesterday and slept in my own bed last night, but was too beaten up, down and all around to type anything. This is coming to you from my favourite coffee shop back in Jangyu, the So Pung, post-2nd latte and kiwi smoothie. It’s good to be back.
So, how did I get it done so fast? By quitting, about which I could write a how-to guide. Not quitting the Busan-to-Sokcho trek, the original concept, but the perhaps suicidal Soerak-San mountain-climb climax I invented in some deranged ecstasy of road love.
Here’s what happened.
I moved on from that Family Mart in increasing agony, the hornets’ nest in each shoe buzzing more furiously with each step. It got dark, the road less hospitable. A light rain, mounting doubts. Did I really want to climb mountains when I could barely walk on the horizontal? Wouldn’t my first encounter with those mythic peaks be permanently tainted? Was I really THAT much of a masochist?
A bus stop. A bench. I collapsed and considered. Could I really settle down here, inches from the road, again? Yes, I’d decided. I was going to Sokcho in the morning while I could still move.
Another awful night — you know the details by now. Around 4:00am I gave it up, somehow climbed the barrier separating the lanes, and shuffled down a side-road to the coast in the hour before dawn. It was beautiful and I was at peace — but oh, so slow. The road was puddled, the sky bubbling with insolent cloud. I sang my saddest songs not out of self-pity but to suit the stillness and because my journey was ending.
The coast. Surf lashed at barbed-wire beaches; five soldiers on patrol spaced themselves out and began fanning out along the shore. Inland, the rugged cliffs and outcrops of Seorak-San. So close. So far.
I crossed the most unspoiled river I’ve seen in Korea, wide and deep, just before it emptied into the East Sea. Passed with agonizing slowness up the coast through washed-out resorts and faded seaside playgrounds.
Abandoned hotels of epic ugliness, weeds colonising the front steps. Public toilets that will haunt me till my deathbed. If you were asked to find the world’s ugliest building, surely your first stop would be the beach. Based on what I’ve seen of Japan and Korea, a beach in one of those places would be just about a sure thing.
Then I reached it: the “SOKCHO” sign. I’d intended to walk all the way to the bus station; screw that. Limped into a tourist information place, said, “Please call me a cab,” forcing a smile.
The Busan bus left from a terminal on the far side of Sokcho. I would have been on all fours, baying like a mad dog. Paid my $40 (!) and asked when it left. “10:30.” Looked at my watch: it was 10:30.
And that was my tour of Sokcho. I spent perhaps half an hour in the city I’d spent 12 long days getting to!
The journey to Busan took six and a half hours, including two rest stops, one of them at the rest area of Mang Yang at which I’d written a blog post days earlier.
I slept in spells, removed my three pairs of socks, bagged them to avoid gassing the bus, and spied with strange pangs of regret and affection humble locations with which I’ll feel a lifelong bond.
“There’s the big crab…that shrine in the middle of the paddies…the billboard with the lovely figure skater Yuna Kim stretching one million-dollar leg to an impossible degree…the stretch with the spiders…the beach I walked on…the overpass where I was lining up the motorcycle-riding farmer in my viewfinder just as the old woman with the baby on her back walked into frame…”
It was a gratifyingly lengthy journey, and my walking between trains and buses was almost laughably impaired. I finally approached my local Lotteria in my camp Crocs (you know what I mean), leaning onto a trekking pole for support. Just as I got there I felt a lake form in one shoe as a huge blister on my sole burst, like a scene from ‘The Dam Busters’. I got home just in the nick of time.
And that’s what I did on my vacation.
Today I realised that my finish date, August 15, was Korean Liberation Day, or Gwangbokjeol. The day of defeat of the Japanese in 1945. This felt GOOD.
So there you have it. I want to sincerely thank my regular readers for sticking with me through this saga; your comments and encouragement were a great reward at the end of a long day.
In particular let me thank Carl, Robert and fellow bloggers the Solitary Walker, Rachael at Focused Moments, Greg at Hiking Fiasco, Dominic at …made out of words and Alice Longaker for their indefatigable support! Thanks to Greg also for the idea of naming this “trail”; masochists, start your engines for the GKT!
And finally let me stress that this walk was FUN despite the hardships and the pain of the last two days. I really bonded with Korea to an amazing degree, came to terms with certain aspects and might even have the odd revelation to make soon.
Each day was tough but I happen to believe that most rewarding experiences involve a portion of hardship. Only the last two days were insufferable, and 10 good days out of 12 ain’t so bad at all.
I’ll have final thoughts and a selection of “real” photos over the coming fortnight as I edit my 640 shots. Thanks for reading.
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote