Yesterday I did my first hike of the year in Korea, a fun climb up a boulder field that spills down one of Bulmo-San’s numerous ridges. It was sunny and unseasonably warm; the frozen arteries of the Daecheongcheon, the poor blighted stream that trickles through Jangyu on its concrete-bound journey to liberation, were melting into the previous day’s bounty of rain. Just before the stream leaves the mountains, in one last desperate gasp of river-ness, the Jangyu Cascades churned with more power than I’ve seen in my year here. It was a good hike.
But I can’t really get excited about another year of walking here; no way will I come close to the 115 walks I managed in 2012. I’m saving for a return to the U.S. in the Summer and a very big 2014, so I’ll be stuck here in Jangyu with the Daecheongcheon for most of it, inching ever closer to freedom.
But it’s not all bad — in fact it’s very, very good. And you get to enjoy a well-earned break from the endless Koreana with several posts about my time in New York. Let’s start with the Wedding of the Century, shall we?
I got to JFK sleepless and shattered after 14 hours of fun aboard Doom Air via Shanghai, where I was shanghaied to the tune of about $80 by an enterprising cab driver. Let’s hear it for Chinese capitalism! An attractive woman approached. Kate, my designated limo driver, declined my handshake and suggested a hug. This was service! (Chinese drivers seldom hug). She steered me to her car, confessed to being less than convinced of her potential to find the way Upstate, and turned on the GPS.
Six hours later I’d seen much more of New York than anticipated. We were, well, lost, but we didn’t really care, except for the wedding rehearsal we were due to attend. The (female) GPS, with its endless announcements that it was calmly RECALCULATING, had long ago been switched off. New York State is almost 50% larger than South Korea! I would have been in a North Korean gulag if I’d been driving the same distance north from Busan.
Somewhere around Albany, the capital, as a fat moon hovered above the river, I realised I quite liked this woman. She was funny, vivacious and inquisitive, and we talked non-stop. I was almost disappointed when we reached the isolated lakeside cluster of snowbound cabins where the wedding would take place the next night. Happy to be alive, but still disappointed.
The rehearsal was over; Kate would be an unrehearsed bridesmaid, but I feel it’s possible to be too prepared. Inside the cavernous interior of the main building, we quickly found the groom, Dude, his beard a good half-metre longer than when I’d last seen him. We embraced warmly, and I was led into a lounge area where Trouble, the bride, was singing to an appreciative or possibly drunk audience of friends and family. The song ceased and I was hugged with crippling force, two, three ribs splintering.
I was half-bewildered, half jet-lagged, half-dead, half-smitten, half-awake and wholly overjoyed.* There was Fidget, there was Frog, good mates from PCT 2010. I’ve never been more welcomed, and when a beer (I believe it was a stout) was offered, a year-plus of sobriety quickly crumbled.
There followed a long, late evening of greetings, meetings and trail stories. More beer, more stories. Kate passed out on a nearby bunk, possibly from boredom, as our trail tales meandered towards the pre-dawn. I slept, sort of, in a huge, empty bunk room, and when I woke I was delighted to find Kate in the big room where I could narrate the PCT slideshow Dude & Trouble had made.
I drove around the lake with Frog and his partner, Renee, in their rented van:
In the afternoon, Granite & Terrapin arrived from Seattle — the gang was complete. We commenced drinking; I’d forgotten how much fun it was. More guests arrived. Chatting to Terrapin that evening, I remember confiding that “I have a bit of a crush on Dude’s sister.”
“That’s great, Goat. It’s fun to flirt.”
Fun? FUN?! It was agony!
At last, the ceremony. It was very sweet, and the vibe was very, very good. There, I just summed it up with fewer syllables than your average haiku. Social reportage is not my forte, admittedly. Anyway, it was a short but beautiful ceremony, and there was food, not to mention kegs of Ubu Ale, waiting in the big room.
It was cold outside but we all paused to light up the night with heart-shaped sparklers:
The band was great, the food excellent. We sat grouped at tables named after great American trails. For Frog, Renee, Fidget, Granite & Terrapin and I, it was the PCT, naturally; Kate was miles away at the Wonderland Trail – was I (gulp) imagining her glances across that ocean of pine?
Never, ever agree to arm-wrestle Trouble. Hiker gals possess both prodigious appetites and fearsome strength, and hiker Dudes are grateful:
Doug presented the PCT-ers with our incredible commemorative mugs. The Fellowship of the Green Mug was complete. Note the, er, casual dress code observed by, well, some of us. Hikers put the casual in smart casual:
After much dancing, the band wound up with a cracking cover of the Allman Brothers’ Ramblin’ Man. Trouble resumed singing. She seemed quite chirpy for some reason. That’s Dude & Kate & Ed’s and Kristen’s dad Ed in the white shirt:
And here’s Dude and his really rather nice sister:
The party raged late, and then it was time to climb a mountain…
* Maths (math in American) is the only subject I failed at high school.
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote