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