Hills, mountains and views

Posted by on 24, Sep 2016 in 2016 - South Korea, Asia, South Korea, Tilly the Tandem

Hills, mountains and views

​Chungju to Andong 4 days 232km 1164m climb (691km total)

Now I’ve mentioned our dislike of hills on facebook – at length –  so after leaving Chungju refuelled we headed south and onto the Saejae Cross country route.  It’s only a 100km but it’s across the highest mountains on the route, though the Swiss may challenge the word ‘mountain’ but when you’re cycling a fully loaded tandem (tent, sleeping bag(!), hair straighteners etc) 540m certainly feels like a mountain.  

First we took a short cycle to the spa town of Suanbo and stayed in a spa hotel complete with large jacuzzi bathroom.  The town had the feel of a frontier town, last stop before the wilderness, so we fed up on yet more pizza and enjoyed the foot spa in the square before heading off up the pass the next morning.  

There are two climbs out of Suanbo, the first goes to about 320m before dropping you back into a valley and losing much of your height gain before the second climb begins.  The valley could be out of Austria or Germany, cultivated fields and a small town with church spires visible make it hard to believe you’re not in Europe.

The second climb has rest stops every 1km or so and we stopped at every other one.  It’s not that long a climb and goes from about 4% to 10% continually with no level breathers but it was a cool cloudy morning and we breezed up it, slowly.  

It’s a great feeling when you’re at the top and we were tempted to set up the tent for the night for the great views but as it was only lunch time went for the brake warming descent. With far too many bends to let it rip Linda was moderately happy with our slow descent, I, needless to say, was disappointed we couldn’t break our top speed record of 53kph added to which whenever you weigh a quarter of a tonne and you hit the flat at 53 you can roll for miles and miles!

Once out of the mountains we cruised to the end of the Saejae and wondered what all the fuss was about with hills, something we’d regret thinking later.

The Saejae done we joined the Namhangang river which goes down to the south coast and Busan,  but first we had to head back up it for 70km to get to the start of the route at Angdong.  This is a lovely stretch of the river and combined with the Saejae is some of the nicest cycling we’ve done here’s so far. It’s mostly flat, mostly into the wind which ever way your turn and mostly beautiful too!

We managed to camp again at what we think was a campsite, but as we were the only people there apart from the frogs in the men’s toilets (actual frogs) and the hornets nests in both we couldn’t tell.  But people don’t seem to mind if you camp along the route especially the nearby restaurant where we bought a couple of beers from who’s kitchen made an abattoir seem short of dead animals.

We had a lovely peaceful night and set off the next morning, well 11am anyway, for Andong. The ride ends in two hills, the first is a bit of a steep one and we ended up stopping for a few breathers in the ascent but the second was the mother of all nasty hills.  It wound it’s way around the hill, teasing you into thinking it would finish just round the bend, but instead increased its gradient at every turn, eventually reaching a back breaking 17%, which we could hardly push Tilly up for more than 10m at a time without a rest.  Seriously nasty and we were relieved to see the professionals also pushing their bikes up too.

The roll down was again slow, requiring brakes and stopping for a  t junction at the bottom was just the type of reward you need for sweating your guts out to get to the top! 

But the rest of the cycle to Andong was lovely and we approached the city along a riverside park and over two purpose built weirs fitted with cycle paths and hand rails that fold away when they open the dam.

The city itself is much like all Korean cities we’ve seen so far. Dozens of skyscraper flats, huge roads, great cycle tracks and lovely recreation facilities.   The parks by the rivers go on for miles and have benches, pagodas, exercise machines, sports pitches and plenty of loos.  It’s really excellent, and I’d imagine if you live in the Tower blocks it’s a welcome provision.  The city centres often have a pedestrianised area and feature some great coffee shops and clothes and phone shops that wouldn’t be out of place anywhere in the west.  You really don’t feel far away from home here, especially when you walk past Starbucks and Pizza Hut, which is thankfully not often.  Out side  the main centre there are loads of restaurants that seem to almost be someone’s front room.  Our experiences as veggies has been poor here, but we did manage to get to a vege restaurant and have a very nice Korean meal without having to worry about a fish head turning up in our soup.  Believe it or not, the restaurant is part of a chain, Loving Hut and has one in Norwich where we live which we’ve never tried. I think chain is a bit of push really as it felt like we were in someone’s house and everything was cooked to order and made by hand.

Andong is the start of the cycle route south and so it was here we collected our first stamp in our passport for the Andong River route. This time not at the top of the dam which was a long way above us, but at the bottom.  We were welcomed with a free ice coffee for some reason and admired the lake sitting at the bottom of the dam whilst we drank it.  The lake has a beautiful boardwalk through woods on the far side and a gorgeous wooden bridge with central pagoda to reach it.  At night it is magical and we sat for ages in the pagoda watching the stars and people go by. We’ve loved Angdong but tomorrow we head back down stream toward Gumi, which oddly enough is not home of the sweet Gumi bears but home of the Korean Silicone tech industry.  We’re trying not to think of those hills we have to go up again…

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