Day 32 – no camping and an escape from kindness

Like I said before – I planned to camp but wasn’t expecting language barriers, cultural differences and unexpected kindness yet.

Once I put up my tent, a security guard came out, my way, said something and I walked towards him, telling him I don’t speak Korean when he turned away to talk to a guy in a pick-up. Slowly I unpacked when he came back: No. No camping. But I could fill up my water bottles. The pick-up-guy was still there. Coming towards me. Talking to me. Touching my tent. Trying to help me to put it down. I felt uncomfortable. I am female. I am on my own. In the middle of no-where. I take my tent pole out of his hand before he breaks it. I wonder why he wears a cap. Is he trying to shield his face from the CCTV? Why is he sticking around? He points towards his car, says “house”, “no camping” and holds up both hands, all fingers “10”.

10.000 Won for a ride? 10k to his house?! I try to get him to go away, finish packing while he is close – closer than Koreans normally get and watching more than most Koreans do. Did I mention that I felt uncomfortable? Praying to God to get me out of this situation I packed. I wondered where to go. The last houses I passed a while ago, it was 10pm now and there wasn’t even anyone around at dusk. Go into the mountains? There is no-where I could run and no-one I could call. I opt to keep going. He stays, then follows. Shoot. Uncomfortable. Trying not to panic, praying. He stops. Points at one of the open huts that is there in a small park and says camping. Uhm… as if I could get a glimpse of sleep there when he is pointing it out to me. Being a sitting duck in my tent. He points to his car and repeats the “House” and “10”, while I say “bye-bye” and “no”, shaking my head, backing off.

Finally he leaves. I wait. It’s easy for him to just wait somewhere along the way for me. There are not so many options for me to go. Filled with adrenaline I keep going. I am pissed and annoyed. There is no other place to camp but I aim for a restaurant I find on maps.me – unfortunately I don’t find it in real life. So I keep going.

After 10k, I get to a village with two hotels. I walk into the one further down the road – guess who opened the door?! Yeah – the guy from before. It’s about 35 usd to stay in a depressing, kinda clean room with air-con. I get my bike and go to the other hotel. It’s less clean, without air-con, costs 30 usd, similar depressing features and is not run by a man who stressed me out before.

—-

It took until the next morning, during breakfast, to get a different view on things than feeling t uncomfortable. Last night I was scared off the man. Because I am a woman and I have been brought up, to feel vulnerable, threatened and “have to take care so I stay safe” – because I am a woman.

Korean people tend to be extremely helpful – they would go out of their way to help you. And this was the hotel owner and the security guard trying to help me. Second, it’s not very ‘Korean’ to say directly no to someone and leave them in a tight spot (at least in my experience. Correct me if you think it’s wrong!). So it would be easier to tell someone “Why don’t you stay in a hotel? There is a hotel owner in a pick-up. He can take you, your bike and your stuff to a hotel. It’s a short ride, you can have a shower and a good rest! There is even air-con, that will be much nicer than sleeping in the tent after a long-day of cycling” than “There is no camping here, go away and find another place to stay.”

Therefore, the most likely explanation I can come up with, is the following: The guard saw me pitching my tent. Or maybe even before, when I was hanging around, trying to be obvious about staying. The hotel owner did not show up by chance. The security guard called him to help me (and maybe help the hotel owner to get a paying customer). He knew the next hotel is further away so if the man came, it would be easy and safe for me to get there during the night. As this would be too dangerous or straining for me (as a woman? as a cyclist who had already done his share of cycling for the day?) or I just wouldn’t get lost that way? Who knows…

When I started cycling the hotel owner tried to show me the camping spot (see the “going out of their way to help someone”) so I wouldn’t miss it and get lost in the mountains or have to cycle fast in the night.

Since the guard and the hotel owner spoke a few words of English, we couldn’t discuss all this in detail. And I felt threatened and pushed into a corner by their try to help me.

Day 32 – no museum but a couple of hikes

I opted for last nights camping spot for two reasons – the Weagwan War Museum opposite to the park and the drinking-water that was available in the park.

The second one was a success. I could drink, wash and fill up my bottles. The first one was closed as it was Monday. So after a short conversation with a French cyclist on a tight schedule – there was nothing to do but cycling, cycling and cycling. I felt bored. Neither letting my thoughts unwind nor listening to music or audio books was taking it away. Headwind was preventing me from just going fast so I happily opted for a hike when I came past a trail. Packed my laptop, a book and some water into my backpack and headed for it. It was an enjoyable hike and I enjoyed the difference in movement, sat on a swing along the way and let my thoughts wander. And then I kept cycling until I came up to the next trail.

Nonetheless I did 90k on the bike – if there’s nothing else to distract you what else could you do? – until I (planed to) camped. First time I camped close to a K-Water-office but out of water, no tap to find but a Convenience-store showing on maps.me before I hit the hills full of some more climbs it felt like the best option. I stuck around for a while, trying to see someone – there were still some cars and CCTV – and being obvious of my plans to stay. Taking off my shoes, brushing my teeth, reading a bit and some more searching for water or no-camping-signs – all this kind of stuff – before putting up my tent.

Day 30 – rewarding start, meeting even more people and climbing!

Some days are really hard to put into one blog post and this one is one of them as too many things happened that all should be mentioned – and I won’t even find a point where I mentioned I practiced Chinese for 30 minutes.

I break hard, smile broadly at what I see to my right and laugh back at Tom who passes me right then. I was reluctant to say good-bye earlier but I would have abandoned everyone at this point anyway. But let’s start from the beginning.

I stumble out of my tent as it’s finally getting too hot. For once, I appreciated the rising temperatures this morning as I had my coldest night ever. I ended up wearing all the clothes I had with me including my raincoat and towel but still lying awake freezing, closing the ventilation-openings off my tent. So, I haven’t had one of my best nights, hoping the small store on the other side would be open for my caffeine-morning-fix. Instead of an open store I find another cyclist with panniers. And another one. And another one. They ran into each other the day before and camped along the first climb.

I am very excited as most other cyclists I met weren’t camping. Actually the Korean way seems to just carry a very small bag with them and stay in hotels along the route. We roll down the hill at different speeds and as we pair up again, a man in a car stops next to us, handing us a bag of cooked corn on a cub which we will enjoy later.

PANCAKES!

Exploring a market I see my first Korean pancakes! Standing in line to buy one each with the Canadian cyclist another stall owner insists on paying for us. Filled with melted brown-sugar, fried in a lot of fat, it tastes like cyclists-heaven.

After a self-cooked-lunch we set off at different speeds and said our good-byes. All three of them were looking forward to being on their own again, but I feel a bit reluctant to say goodbye. I have days like that, where I really enjoy the loneliness of bike touring, the time with me, my thoughts and my surroundings, not having to be in social situations and they have had their experience of camping together last night.
Tom packed his stuff while we were talking, set off together but I eventually sped off so he could be on his own.

And here we go, back to the start: I break hard, smile broadly at what I see to my right and laugh back at Tom who passes me right then. I was reluctant to say good-bye earlier but I would have abandoned everyone at this point anyway.

Right next to the cycling path: a climbing gym where I end up bouldering, climbing and befriending an English teacher from Suanjo – And of course I am subject to the curiosity of almost everyone around – before camping right in front, freshly showered.

Ashley and I – talking too much to pose for the photo

Climbing until way past my sleeping time!
Night sky – view from my tent

Day 29 – spoiling myself, meeting people and enjoying like the best sunset ever

Lazy days can be so rewarding! Before leaving Suanbo I realized where I was – in a city with Hot Springs! I wasn’t going to leave them without trying them out, was I? So after breakfast I walked over and the tourist information recommended a Spa to me. I dare say I was a bit nervous about it as I didn’t know what to expect and how to do things around there.

The nervousness gives way to surprise when I see two foreigners – actually a couple from Germany – as I walk in. We get along and will share lunch afterwards. As we part – they are hitchhiking – I start feeling a bit lonely as I am circling back to the main square to sort out what I do next as I run into my third foreigner this day.

Ross is on his first big bike tour and we end up talking for three hours… unfortunately he is going the other way in Korea. Coming from Japan he is cycling towards Seoul where he has a flight to Taiwan – and again I feel a bit lonely as we part but this feeling subsides quickly as I get into my cycling mode again. It’s five p.m. already and it’s actually the perfect time to tackle what’s ahead.

It is a shorter climb and a 5-k-climb which is durable during the colder hours of the afternoon. My timing is just perfect as I reach the top of the climb – and tonight’s camping spot – at sunset.

Perfect timing!

Day 28 – Idyllic laundry

I am starting to leave the crowded area – there are still quite a few cyclists around but it doesn’t feel crowded anymore and we actually acknowledge each other by shortly lowering our head when we are about to pass each other or have short conversations when we stop at a rest area.
The sun is fierce and I am not able to put on the sunscreen as my face is just sweating too badly. There is no way I can get it into my skin so I end up buying a scarf that’s covering my face up to my eyes and the part of my hair that showed under my helmet. With other words – the only details that’s distinguishing my now from a Korean cyclist are my cycling shorts. Up to my knees I am totally covered. On my head I wear my helmet, a hat, my glasses and said scarf. On my upper body, I wear my cycling shirt, long-sleeves and cycling gloves. On my legs, my cycling shorts and a skirt.

When I camp tonight I will realize I got a slight sunburn in my face nonetheless…

The most idyllic place where I ever did laundry! Actually stayed for a couple of hours, enjoying the shade and drinking loads of water

Day 27 – Gumi to …

Cycling in Korea is different. Very different to what I experienced elsewhere. With the Four-River-Pathway everything is extremely well-organized and – since I am just outside Seoul – crowded. There are so many cyclists here, we don’t even acknowledge each other. Never before had I experienced situations bicycle touring when you not at least nod to each other. But – here are so many cyclists, it’s just not possible. There’s a convenience store at every corner and each of them is surrounded by a crowd of cyclists craving something iced.
At one turn-off is just a big box with frozen water-bottles, free to take. The bicycle path is in a great condition, and we don’t even have to worry about hills – where there’s a hill, there is a tunnel. For cyclists. ONLY for cyclists. They are awesome. Nice. Cold. Instead of slowly sweating your way up a mountain you just go through and cool down while doing it.

Day 26 – Visa Application Center for Real, an inspiring meeting and the start of cycling!

I was confused last night when I found out on google that I had to take a bus to the Visa Application Center as it actually looked as if it was walking distance from the hostel. But then… well, maybe I mixed it up or the jumping signal messed it up. Didn’t matter too much as I was now going by bus – cycling as little here as possible. And this distance was actually the reason why I was too late yesterday.
Food-hunting around the hostel I came across a sign reading “Chinese Visa Application Centre“ – in w-a-l-k-i-n-g d-i-s-t-a-n-c-e!

Ta-da . Never would have thought there would be two in one city! One is on a-maps and the other one on google-maps… All this switching around maps messed me up.

Anyway – leaving my bike and stuff at the hostel I quickly applied for the visa. And by quickly I really mean fast. Thirty minutes after entering, I was done – so I stuck around some more to do research about sight-seeing in Seoul and arrange a meeting with an author who’s been living off her writings in Asia for seven years.

To be honest, I didn’t feel like sight-seeing but… I’m in Seoul so I should go see a couple of things. But the heat was really dreading when I walked around this UNESCO cultural heritage site. The walk back to the hostel I enjoyed much more. I was more relaxed and didn’t feel obligded to do it for „being in this city“-reasons. Walking past small shops and stores, feeling some wind – and running into a climbing gym.
I got really exited about that – would I meet people here I could go climbing with?! But actually – it was pretty deserted and the guy working there didn’t get my hopes up on finding someone in this heat.

After meeting Sveanna at the river I had my latest start ever – and one of the best camp sites just outside Seoul.

Seoul at night
Sightseeing during the day. They both eat traditional dresses that can be rented at many places

Day 19 – Doing a lot between Fei (Linyi) and Lijiazhuangcun

Cycling on roads that are about two trucks wide. With trucks going both ways. Slow when it’s going up, fast when it’s going down again. One after another after another. And trucks overtaking each other. And cars overtaking the trucks. While it’s getting dark. Trying to look for a campsite.

This does not feel good… as in safe. It’s my first night camping ahead of me and – to be honest – I am dreading it that’s why I am still cycling. No chance to get to Jennie’s and Phil’s place, as it’s still more than 50km. So, I check the map for gas stations in the hope that they would let me stay.

The first one is right opposite a hotel – so I assume my chances are rather slim. I pedal on. 10k further on there is supposed to be another one so I aim for that while trying to spot a camp site. My chances are rather slim – I can only see my side of the road, have to concentrate on the trucks and it’s getting darker. I spot tiny patches but they feel too close to the road. All other places are used as farmland and I don’t really want to destroy crop for a nights sleep.

Finally, I arrive at the gas station. But they refuse. No way I can pitch my tent somewhere. Shoot. I aim for the river near by and end up setting my tent up in front off an empty house. I can’t really tell if it’s deserted or not and there is no where around to ask. Half way through a man comes around, rubs his bare belly while trying to talk to me.

And to be honest, I don’t attempt to talk to him. I am tired. I feel beat. I am going to spent a night in a mosquito ridden, hot tent. At least, as long as this is not his house and he is unhappy about me camping there. Then I would be facing more cycling. In the dark. With the trucks. Even though I already did 130k. To spent a night in a mosquito ridden, hot tent a few k further up the road – So I try to appear harmless and polite and therefore try to smile while I repeat “tingpudong”. Even if I tried, I don’t think I could have produced any sentence where the tones where important.

Eventually he goes away. I finish pitching the tent, get in and take a dozen mosquitos with me. After four hours off dozing off and waking up again I fall asleep for another four hours.

When I wake up, I look like an offering to the god of mosquitos.

The day of cycling was pretty flat, unexciting G- and S-road riding. Most times with a shoulder, only the turn off to the S341 the road gets smaller and looses it shoulder.

A city disappearing in smog
An AAA-tourist-attraction. The photo on amaps promised waterfalls so I am surprised to find a park at a river without waterfalls but with an impressive number of all kinds of statues.

Finding a place to sleep in Thailand

Do you know this game “Never have I ever…”? Thailand was the reason I had to drink on “stayed in a police station over night” I would have to get out my travel diary and count to find out, how many nights I spent there. Unfortunately I had most of my police related photos on the phone that got stolen and never did a backup on.

No worries. I never was in trouble. I was a guest. Thailand wants tourists to feel safe and the police is accommodating to that. There is actually a special tourist police around – even came past a sign once: “The tourist police – your first friend in Thailand” and a phone number. Once they even slowed down, rolled down their window and asked me and my companion if they could be on any help to us and if we wanted directions.

So for you as a foreigner feel comfy, rural police stations have a place to sit in front where you are protected from the rain. Most offer drinking water and some of them some snacks. Once I was even invited for dinner.

Some police stations would even offer wifi to visitors. And – to get back to the topic of this article which is sleeping – I was invited to spend the night and given an opportunity to shower. Sometimes I was camping near by or I would sleep on the floor next to the head of the police office and his wife.

 

No tent needed – my bike and I spent the night in the prayer hall

Another safe bet for a place to sleep are monasteries. I would walk up there during dusk and friendly-smilingly underlined with a lot of gestures tell a bit about me and my tour as well as my desire to pitch my tent somewhere.

Only once I was turned away but found another place to sleep with no hassle.

 

Met this dude when having an iced tea and got invited to camp in front of his house

I stayed with people I met as well. Even getting into the really special problem of being offered to stay by TWO families at the same night.

The down-side of this is that you don’t get to sleep in as monks, police officers and everyone else, gets up early in the morning and so do you as their guest. I didn’t mind as I appreciated cycling in the cooler wee hours of the morning.

Finding places to sleep never was as easy as in Thailand. Unless I wanted a hotel, they were hard to find. Especially the ones that didn’t have a bunch of girls sitting in front.

My first two nights wild camping

A post in the bicycle traveling women facebook group reminded me on my first night at the road side. On my fears and my loneliness and my non-existing-appetite despite having cycled all day.

I felt lonely. I don’t think I ever felt as alone as I felt that very first night wild camping. It wasn’t my Shanghai-to-Singapore tour yet, but the try-out. I had left my apartment in the center of Shanghai in the morning and cycled and ferried (is that a word? I took the ferry. I simply love ferries when touring. It’s like free kilometers) all day towards the wet-lands. My piece of forest was technically still Shanghai.

No-one seemed to life in sight of it. No-one saw me turning of the road. No-one was on the road anymore as it only let to the wetland park which was already closed.

I chose the spot wisely. It wasn’t too obvious from the (deserted) road, no houses in sight and it was already dusk when I set my camp up.

And still, I was so so scared. I hardly dared to turn on my headlamp. I even worried the screen of my phone might give me away.

What if someone sees me?
What if someone chases me away?
What if I get robbed?
Is that a dog? Somewhere in the wet lands? With me? Yes… someone is walking their dog. I hold still inside my tent. I better not breath. Please go away, dog. Go away. I try to do some magic thinking and of course, eventually, dog and owner leave the scene.
Should I lock up my bicycle? If I did, it’s harder to steal. If I didn’t it’s easier to get away. – I actually don’t remember my decision any more. It didn’t matter anyway as no-one came past what-so-ever.
What if, what if, what if…
How do I use the stove?
Did I stomp out all the leaves that caught fire?

Nuts and a cereal-bar proved as a sufficient dinner and I don’t remember falling asleep. But I must have and maybe even early. I had a book with me as well as a puzzle a student gave me. But I couldn’t use them as I was too scared of the light of my head lamp giving me away.
Eventually I must have fallen asleep. Sending messages to friends about my loneliness as well as my fear off all the above-mentioned and more simply wasn’t enough to keep me up very long after 80k or so of city cycling.

***

Later that month, on the first solo-night of my trip, I simply willed myself to sleep.

I was scared. But what was I to do? I was on my tour, it was getting dark, I did the k I had to do that day (seriously had to for visa reasons) and put up my tent at the side of the road.
So, I just did it. I didn’t have a choice. I was scared first. But then I decided to sleep anyway using pure will power to fall asleep, realizing that way I would at least be rested if anything would happen.

I trusted on my body to give me an Adrenalin rush if needed so I would be bright awake if anything DID happen. But nothing ever did. Apart from once, were people were offering me a room but that’s a totally different story and nothing to be scared off.

 

Park in the center of a Chinese City

Park in Beihai