Category Archives: The Bike Files

Bike Pilgrimage Day 1: Good bye home

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Bike Pilgrimage Day 1: Riding In The Dark

Tuesday, November  10, 2015

It’s a good thing I’m unplanning what time I do things this month, other wise I’d be really stressed out. I’m officially starting my bike trip after sunset. I guess that’s just what I do now- start trips in the dark.

Last year, when we did our October bike trip, due to a mishap reading signs, we ended up leaving our starting point at sunset. The upside was I got an awesome photo out of it.

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Bike trail at sunset | Daegu, South Korea | 2014

This year I don’t misread any signs; I just take a long time to get ready. I’m learning that I take a long time to do things and I’m learning to be ok with that.

Now that I’m finally rolling along in the dark on the trail toward Cheongju, the first thing I notice is the silence. It surrounds me on all sides, rushing past my ears, covering me in a blanket of solitude.

I have a strong light and I’ve been on this trail in the dark before, so I’m not too afraid. I’ve learned that as long as I have a good light, the dark doesn’t impede my biking. Sometimes riding in the dark even has it’s advantages.


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The crew | Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi | 2011

The first extended bike trip I ever took was in Mississippi. Since we got off to a late start in the morning, we were really rushing at the end of the day, trying to beat the dark to our campsite. As dusk approached we came upon a grove of trees that was lit up with little white dots, as if Christmas lights had been strung up.

In fact, my first thought when I saw the lights was “I wonder who strung up those Christmas lights in the middle of nowhere.” But then my second thought was, “We’re in the middle of nowhere. Those can’t be Christmas lights. Besides, it’s May.”

As we got closer we realized the tiny lights were coming from a swarm of fireflies dancing in the little forest.  I was simply in awe. I’d never seen anything like it, nor have I ever seen anything like it since. Sometimes riding in the dark has its advantages.


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#TheBikeFiles Essentials: Super Strong Bike Light

Anyway, both of last year’s bike trips on the Incheon-Busan trail involved lots of night time riding, so I am expecting it on this trip as well.

I ride a few hours before my knee starts to bug me. The most important thing on this trip is to not injure my knee like I did last year, so I decide this is a signal to stop and set up camp. I pull into a bike parking lot along the right side of the trail, and set up my tent.

I know the hardest part of this trip will be the cold, and the hardest part of the cold will be sleeping in it. This first night feels the coldest. I attribute it to the fact that I’ve set my tent up over cement, so the thin aluminum lined picnic mat doesn’t stop the cold from seeping up from the ground. I vow to find a wooden pagoda for my next campsite. The wood has got to be better insulation from the cold than this cement.

I spend several hours praying to be kept warm enough to fall asleep. I practice the mindful meditation I’ve been learning and focus on the feeling of cold in my toes, labeling it “sensation sensation sensation,” trying not to attach aversion to it, just observing it.

It seems to help, but it is still cold.  Although I am uncomfortable, I know I won’t freeze. And somehow I eventually drift off to sleep.

Move In Day- Take 5

DSC_0465_w8 days, 7 nights, and 300 kilometers later- I’m finally back in Seoul and officially moved out of Jochiwon.

The last step of the move was getting my bike and riding it to Seoul. It took a few days longer than I expected, but I expected it to. Not knowing how long it would take was all in the #unplanning.

I may have forgotten to mention that I expected it to take longer than I planned to my aunts, because they were all worrying when I came back 3 days later than I originally told them. In retrospect, I should have mentioned that important detail before I went, or called to tell them I wouldn’t be back on Saturday as planned. But I’m fine, so it all worked out.

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It was a good pilgrimage and I have plenty of back dated updates, photos,  and half thoughts to post over the next few weeks.

It’s nice to be home.

The pilgrim is different.

The pilgrim resolves that the one who returns will not be the same person as the one who set out.

-Andrew Schelling

Jumping In Blind

I’m finally starting the bike pilgrimage tomorrow! And I’m jumping in blind.

I won’t have data/wireless this month, so I won’t be able to check my location on naver maps or look up places to stay in the towns I come along. But I’m ok with that.

I’ve got a map of the bike trail and the trail is really well marked, so as long as I follow the signs and take things slow I’ll be fine. Plus this fits into the #Unplanning Project even better. I think pilgrimages are meant to be unplanned journeys anyway.

Since I won’t have wi-fi, I won’t be posting this week, but I’ll be sure to document my half thoughts along the way and share them when I get back.

When I realized this trip was happening, I remembered the song I wrote about a year ago now. I wrote it just before the first bike trip, because I remember singing it out loud along the way. It’ll be the soundtrack for this trip, too. It’s called Blind.

When we’re traveling down this lonely road
it can seem that we are blind
The road before us twists and turns
we’ve got to trust our feet to find-

Find our way
Down the right road
Find our way
Find our way down the right road

I’m trusting my feet to find my way
to my new home~
to my soul.
Because that’s my destination~ Seoul.
My soul.

But it’s not really about the destination.
It’s about the journey to get there.

Here’s to the journey!
Let’s 가자!
#unplanning

Pilgrimage

“A pilgrim is a wanderer with a purpose.” ~Peace Pilgrim

Today is the first day of my life long pilgrimage.

Yesterday was my last day of work as a teacher. It was sad to say goodbye to all my students, and coworkers, and school, and city– but thrilling to embark on this new journey.

This morning I woke up and felt a little bit lighter than usual. It’s not just another 2 day weekend.

The next 365 days is one long weekend.

That is a freeing feeling.

I can get up whenever I want. I can sleep whenever I want. I can do whatever I want. I don’t have to feel pressured to enjoy my free time in 2 day increments before going back to the daily grind.

The Unplanning Project Starts next week, coinciding with quitting Facebook, moving to Seoul, and the beginning of the bike trip without a destination.

I’ve had a longing to walk The Camino in Spain some day. Last year, when I took my bike trip from Daegu to Busan, I realized that the bike trail is similar to The Camino  in many ways. I’m excited to spend some time pilgrimaging along the bike trail in September.

I might not be able to get to Spain for a while or ever, but I can start my own pilgrimage where I am right now.

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