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Liberation on the Goat Killer Trail!

sokcho sign

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.

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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

16 Comments Post a comment
  1. Carl #

    Glad you came out alive! and looking forward to seeing some of those trail photos.

    August 16, 2012
    • Cheers, Carl. Alive and limping, an old story. The photos are looking great! Maybe tomorrow I’ll start with the first batch.

      August 17, 2012
  2. Congrats! I did look for your blog yesterday, curious whether and how you’d mention the Liberation Day. What a way to finish your journey. I spent a month in Soerak San as a kid. Even though that was a long time ago, I vividly remember how beautiful it was. You might want to go back and check it out in the future when you forget all the agonies you’ve been through this trip. Cheers! Looking forward to seeing more photos.

    August 16, 2012
    • Thanks a lot, I’m delighted to have a few Korean readers! A month in Soerak-San sounds amazing. And I just found out about Chuseok – five days! – so it will be either Soerak-San or Jiri-San for me.

      August 17, 2012
  3. Thanks for the mention and there was no problem with the support. I did most of it from my couch, whilst you were slaving away on the pavement! I loved the ‘blog on the go’ approach. That’s certainly something for me to think about in the future.

    The ‘odd revelation’? I’ll be interested to see what they are! You certainly pushed your limits and it’s good to see you made it back in relatively one piece. There’s always the wonder if the blogging suddenly stops for a few weeks whether you’ve dropped dead?! I might put my blog in my will, as death shouldn’t hold back a blog!

    I’m looking forward to the pics as well of the inaugural GKT…

    August 16, 2012
    • Thanks, Greg, I think tomorrow I’ll have the pictures form Day 1 up, and every couple of days after that the story in pictures will be (re-) told!

      Yes, I keep meaning to do something about what should happen to the blog if “something happened” on a trip. Be awful for it to just suddenly stop with nobody knowing what had happened.

      My revelations? All will be…revealed…

      August 17, 2012
  4. Well, you should have pricked that blister earlier, Goat…

    To be honest, this “blog on the go” series was one of the most enjoyable bouts of blogging I’ve ever read.The immediacy of it was quite thrilling.

    I agree about a little bit (though in your case a lot) of hardship, or should we say “challenge”. And whether it’s pounding tarmac past chemical plants and architectural eyesores or climbing sublime peaks in Switzerland, it’s all walking and, as I say in my own blog’s sidebar: “The most soulful places are almost always reached only on foot.” And even if the places aren’t soulful at first glance, it can be the chance encounters with people en route that jazz the day.

    Congratulations on a tremendous hike. You were not walking alone!

    Now, to even more important matters: what are you going to do about getting the girl..?

    August 17, 2012
    • Your sidebar knows the truth, SW! A lot of wisdom can be found in sidebars — and back-alley bars as well, for that matter.

      Yes, it’s all walking, the good and the bad, the majestic and the mundane. All valid fragments of this complicated world. Although most of this journey fell short of “majestic” or “sublime”, there were many places of quiet beauty and moments of satisfaction and wonder. Even ridiculously ugly things, as I’ve comented before, have me laughing out loud — and I LOVE photographing ugliness as well as beauty, so the camera got a good workout.

      The girl? I’ll keep you updated, nudge-nudge, wink-wink…

      August 17, 2012
  5. Alice #

    You had the courage to stop–that is brave indeed. I am glad you did, I want to read more of your adventures.

    August 17, 2012
    • Thanks, Alice. It’s hard for me to stop unless forced to, sometimes. Crossing that finishing line at Sokcho was my first goal, and for once I did the sensible thing! Despite some frustrations and two days of pain, I rate this trip as one of my big successes as I had to do it all myself, and it literally started with me looking at a map and thinking, “I wonder…”

      August 17, 2012
      • Alice #

        I’m looking forward to your books!

        August 18, 2012
      • So am I! ;)

        August 19, 2012
  6. rivron #

    Glad to see you made it home in one piece. The foot situation sounded nasty.

    Thanks for the plug! I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve it. I’ve spent most of my time off lying in until 11, blogging, with a cafetiere on my bedside table, letting you do all the hard work. :)

    August 17, 2012
    • Awww, nah, I really appreciated knowing a few people were following, sharing the fun!

      Your lifestyle of late sounds awesome – I aim to emulate you this weekend before school starts again!

      August 17, 2012
  7. Franko Paddo #

    August 16 and no mention of Elvis! 35 Years ago he died. Surely Elvis featured somewhere on the Korean radar.

    August 31, 2012
    • Shame on me. Unfortunately the only media event that had any effect on me during the walk was the magnificently long-limbed Korean women’s volleyballers winning their Olympic contest. I suspect Elvis has not had the cultural impact in Korea that he enjoyed in Japan (for example). And something dramatic in the turbulent world of K-pop may well have taken precedence on that day.

      August 31, 2012

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