Tuesday, November 10, 2015
I’m on the train to Jochiwon to start my pilgrimage. Riding the trains is one of my favorite parts of Korea. I’m sitting on the floor in the snack car comforted by the strangers taking naps around me. I used to make this trip back and forth every week for a year. I reminisce about that regular journey. I always enjoyed the quiet time to journal and stare out the window.
I stare out the window and look at the country side. It’s fall and the leaves are bright, fiery colors. I’m excited for this trip that I didn’t think was going to even happen. I thought I’d have to push it back to the Spring due to the cold. But decided at the last minute, why wait? Why not practice a little austerity and pack a good jacket to keep me warm. If I can hike in the cold, I can bike in the cold. So here I am.
When I arrive in Jochiwon I realize this is the last time I’ll be “coming home.” After I officially ride off on my bike, I will have officially moved out mentally as well. From now on I’ll be coming back as a visitor rather than a resident.
As I walk down the street I can’t help but admire all the fall trees and think about how beautiful this place is. In my head I whisper good bye to everything. Good bye train station. Good bye steps that I used to walk up everyday to and from the bus stop. Good buy Ook-il apartments. Good bye Paris Baguette where I had my first Korean lessons. Good bye Ediya, Angel-in-us, Twosome Place where I had many chats over coffee.
I arrive at my apartment and retrieve my bike which I’ve kept stored in the stair well. The first thing I check for is the map I think I’ve left in the bike bag. It’s not there. I guess I hadn’t looked hard enough for it in my apartment. I’ve already committed to not using data on this trip and was planning to rely on the paper map.
After the initial shock of finding it gone, I realize this is even more apt for a pilgrimage. No map at all. Just follow the roads and trust that they will lead me home. I know from experience that there are plenty of maps and signs along the trails. I just need to remember one of the most important rules of biking: Always follow the signs.
I stop by the bike shop to buy a bike pump. The one I had gotten for cheap didn’t actually work. I tell the bike shop guy about my trip and he gives me his phone number in case I get into any trouble on the trail and need some help. He’s always helped me care for my bike, pumping up flat tires and installing new accessories. He even taught me correct bike posture when I bought my first real bike from him earlier in the Spring. I’m grateful for my gentle bike guide.
He wishes me well and poses for a picture before I depart. Good bye bike guy.
I ride over to Obongsan one last time to fill up my water bottle in the communal well. Just below the mountain you can stock up on Spring water.
I remember the first time I ever tasted the water. Some friends and I were roasting pumpkin seeds and making persimmon cookies in my apartment. A had brought the water. We were all commenting on how delicious it was.
“Where did you buy this water?” I asked.
“I didn’t. I got it from Obongsan,” A replied. “I head there ever Sunday to fill up my free water.”
And that’s how I was introduced to the best water in town. It’s a secret all the locals know about. On any given day, if you arrive at the well you can watch ajummas and ajushis filling up multiple empty bottles with delicious water which they have lugged over in the basket on their bike or in the back of their truck. When I return to America, filling up on spring water will be one of the things I miss most.
I fill up my water bottles and ride off. Good bye Obongsan.
I sit on the curb in front of the apartment that has been my home for the last 3 years. I eat my banana and picture all the bike memories that have played out on this street. Circling M in an assassination attempt during assassins, riding to school in the early mornings with B, attempting to teach A to ride a bike, that time S stored his bike in my lobby, starting out on our first and second bike trips in the fall.
The movie of memories playing out in front of me comes to an end. I finish my banana, pack up and ride off. Good bye home.