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Old 08-08-2013, 07:43 AM   #1
docjsh OP
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Joel in Seoul: Day trips out of the city

So, I've been living the expat lifestyle in Seoul, South Korea for the past 11 years working at a few different universities in the city over that period. About 6 years ago, I became tired of dealing with the crowds in the subways and bought myself a cheap, used Chinese scooter. It died relatively quickly, so I decided to upgrade to a Korean scooter. That scooter tided me over until I was able to get home to Colorado and take the Basic MSF course. Once I got back to Seoul, I found a cheap 1994 Honda CB400 that I rode for a year before switching to a VStrom. The VStrom was a lot of fun on the twisty mountain roads outside the city, but since 99% of my riding is commuting to and from work, I wanted something lighter and more fuel efficient (gas is about $7 per gallon here), so this spring I sold the Vee and found myself a DR650.

Along with the new bike, I am also a new father, so I don't get many opportunities to get out of the city on my own, but I finally got the chance today.

As you can see from the picture, Seoul is a huge city with people living on top of each other. The smallest estimates are 10 million people live in Seoul, but if you include satellite cities it is closer to 20 million. So, it's great to get out of the city once in a while, but you have to plan it well because weekends can see a third of the city leaving all at the same time, which defeats the purpose of getting out of the city when everyone else where you want to go. But if you plan it well (riding on a Thursday), just outside the city you will find roads like this:

What's great about riding in Korea is that you really don't have to worry about the police. There are tons of speed cameras all over the country, but nearly half of them don't work and the ones that do work only take photos of the front of the vehicle which makes it impossible to ticket a motorcycle. So, even though the average speed limit is 60 KMH, I will average closer to 80 or 100 KMH.

That makes the twisty mountain roads, which are easily found within an hour or so of the city, lots of fun.

My plan for today was to get out of Seoul fast and head about 100 miles east of the city, most of the way across the peninsula to Odaesan National Park. The roads getting there were mainly 4-lane divided highway and some 2-lane roads up through the mountains.

Once I got to Odaesan, I was expecting to be able to do a bit of off road riding, since the map indicated a gravel or unimproved road. I paid the 3,000 won entrance fee and entered the park. I had never been to the park before so I didn't know what to expect. There were lots of Buddhist monks around and there appeared to be temple complexes every few kilometers (sorry, not many photos, I was pressing my time just getting the few I took).

The tarmac turned into dirt which provided a bit of fun.

I was looking forward to about 15 miles of this when all of a sudden I reached the main temple complex and discovered the road blocked which was not shown on the map.

I was told that it is now only open to hikers, so I turned around and completed a 25-30 mile detour around the park to another area of off road that I had briefly scouted a couple of weeks ago.

However, with detours you sometimes see some interesting sites.

The 60th anniversary of the Armistace that ended the Korean War was celebrated about a week ago. When riding around the South, you'll come across memorials typically out in the middle of nowhere where an important battle took place. Most don't have equipment from the war displayed but this one did.

So, after a brief stop for a snack

(Cabbage being grown for Korea's national dish or side dish: Kimchi)

I made my way to Bangtaesan Recreational Forest where I had briefly ridden a couple of weeks ago. I approached it from the south, which will become important later in the story.

The entrance is a little difficult to find because there are no signs...just cross a bridge and head down the road:

Where it turns into gravel and then loose rocks.

The first time I explored this route, I only went into the forest about 4 miles because despite the map I have, signs kept saying that it was more than 100 km. to the other side. This didn't seem likely, but since I only had half a tank that time, I decided against going any further. This time I was prepared with a full tank. So, while the map showed that it was probably only about 12-15 miles, I could go 100 miles or more on reserve if necessary.

The road turns steeper as it moves up the mountains with a few switchbacks and as it gets steeper the trail becomes more loose and rocky.

As I said before, I've only been riding for 6 years or so, and I am very inexperienced when it comes to offroad with plenty to learn. I find it difficult to stand while riding because I am 6'4" tall and I haven't gotten the bike adjusted to my liking. I purchased the Seat Concepts tall seat, but I haven't raised the bars or gotten taller bars yet. I think that may be my next addition, maybe followed by lowered pegs if necessary.

What that means for my riding style is that I sit most of the time and stand when I feel it is absolutely necessary. Not exactly textbook, but it works for me, and I've managed to keep the bike upright so far...although there were a couple of close calls today.

I made my way to the spot I turned around last time

You might be able to just make out the distances above the windscreen on the bike...I'll just say that they are misleading, and I still can't figure out what was 107 km away.

I continued down the trail into unknown territory. It was mainly down hill from this point following along a creek down into a valley. As might be expected, the trail began to cross over the creek a regular intervals.

Sometimes there were concrete bridges

Sometimes the bridges were gone.

Most of the crossings were relatively shallow

But the further down the trail I got the tricker and wider the crossings got.

That was the last photo I took on this trail as things started to happen pretty rapidly.

A little ways past this crossing, I came to another crossing. It was much narrower, but quite a bit steeper on the entrance and exit, as well as with deeper water. I made it down one bank and through the water to the opposite side and started up the other bank when my rear wheel slide sideways and stopped my momentum. Being tall must have some advantages because I managed to get my feet down and kept the bike upright. However, I couldn't go forward and I had a rather large rock behind the rear tire, which made it difficult to move backwards. The angle of the bike also made it difficult to get off without most likely dumping the bike. I managed to rock the bike back and forth while turning the front getting the bike into a position where I could power up the bank of the creek. While I was proud that I got myself out of the situation, I was beginning to get a bit worried about my lack of experience as the trail was starting to get worse.

About a mile on, I came to another crossing. The mistake that I made this time was that I didn't get off the bike to really assess the line I should take. I just eye-balled it and went to it. The first surprise was that it was quite a bit deeper than it looked from the side. Water started coming up to the bottom of the engine when it looked like it might have only been 6 inches deep. My second mistake was that I choose a line over some larger rocks that were sticking a bit out of the water. Anyway, I soon found myself with my front tire between two rather large rocks and the back not getting any traction to push me forward. After struggling for a few minutes on the bike, rocking back and forth like I had before, I turned the bike off and got off. After looking at the situation, I figured I only had two solutions. Leave the bike and walk for help...which could have been 100 km away according to the signs, or lift the bike out of the situation. As I said, I'm 6'4" and I'm about 240 lbs., but it's a flabby 240. However, I rocked the bike backwards enough so that the bike was resting on the engine guard on one of the rocks and I was then able to lift the front end to get it stablized on another rock. I then got back on the bike, restarted, and was able to rock it back and forth until the rear got traction and I was able to get out of the middle of the creek.

At that point I took a break to clear my head of my own stupidity, cool off from wrangling the bike (it was 35C in Seoul and nearly 30C in the mountains where I was), and just catch my breath. I also thanked god that I didn't still have the Vee as I would have been walking out because there is no way I could have pulled the same manuevers with it or lifted it like I did with the DR.

After a few minutes, I continued on my way. Not too much further down the trail, I started to come across people and then a makeshift barrier across the trail. This is where I learned that this whole segment of the ride had been illegal. The gentleman manning the barrier was from the Korean Forest Service, and he let me know that I wasn't supposed to be riding on this trail. My Korean isn't great, but I was able to convey that I was not aware of this, that there was no barrier on the other end of the trail, and then I began profusely apologizing as he had a pad in his hand for writing tickets. The ticket might not have been much, but some fines can be outrageous (speeding may only cost 40,000 won/about $35, while driving without a Korean license is 3,000,000 won/$2500 and confiscation of your bike). I thanked him as he let me through the barrier, and I continued down the trail for a few more miles when I came to a more official and solid barrier. I again explained the situation and apologized and they sent me on my way. I imagine that the main thought and the topic of conversation later in the day was "stupid foreigner."

By this time it was 3 pm, and I had promised to be home by 5 to help my wife get the baby fed, bathed and bedded, but I was still 100 miles from the city and there were roads like this between me and Seoul traffic.

Unfortunately, I had one more mishap on my ride home. My SOL DS helmet decided to let go on me. One of the screws hold the left side of the visor and face shield came undone and popped out. It was a little surprising to have the helmet forced up towards the bridge of my nose, blocking my view of the 4-lane highway I was on as I was going 70 mph. I managed to slow the bike and pull my helmet back down before pulling over at a well placed gas station. I ended up taking off the visor and face shield and road the 50 miles or so home the rest of the way with them stuck in my tail bag. Luckily, I had eye protection.

So, after an eventful day, I am exhausted and ready for bed. I hope to post more of my rides, but it looks like I'm going to have to try and find some different trails for any future offroading as I don't want to push my luck with the trail I took today.

Joel in Seoul

docjsh screwed with this post 08-22-2013 at 05:36 AM Reason: Title Change
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Old 08-08-2013, 08:10 AM   #2
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Sweet ride and photos.I always enjoy Korea ride reports since I spent 2 years over there in the 80's stationed on the DMZ in a light Infantry unit.
I did not get to ride while there but I swear I must have walked every inch of that country...a couple times !!! LOL.
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Old 08-08-2013, 07:51 PM   #3
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I really enjoyed this! Thanks! I was in the 2d Infantry Division in 1991 and always thought Korea would be great for DS riding. Hated the traffic around the big cities.
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Old 08-08-2013, 10:40 PM   #4
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Hey Gas Guy and Kojak,

If neither of you have been back since the 80's or early 90's you would probably not recognize the country. So much has changed in the decade or so that I've been here.

It is really difficult to find dirt roads anymore where I'm sure they were abundant when you were here. Also, just the city of Seoul has changed a lot in a decade. I'm guessing that you visited Itaewon at least once during your tour...Nashville Pub or Hooker Hill ring any bells? Anyway, that is the neighborhood that I have lived in for quite awhile. About 6 years or so ago, westerners started opening bars and restaurants in the area upping the quality of food and fun. However, it also began to make it the hot place for young Koreans to explore on the weekends when before, it was a place that any "good" Korean would flee as soon as the sun began to go down.

Now, the area is completely gentrified, rents are going up and many of the western establishments are closing because Koreans don't want the same thing as the traditional clientele wanted.

Anyway, I hope you get the opportunity to visit Korea again.

Joel In Seoul
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Old 08-10-2013, 12:07 PM   #5
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It was nice to see parts of Korea. I have friends living there now that want me to come and visit. Looks like a nice place.
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Old 08-10-2013, 12:36 PM   #6
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Been there, not going back. I put 12K miles on my Transalp there riding with the American Steel guys and the Youngsan MC. I went from one end to the other on both coasts (do they still do the Perimeter Run?). Anyway, great place to visit but I hated living there (same as Hawaii)! There was lawlessness in our riding and yes we sometimes road on the Toll Highways, nothing like charging through a Korean Tollbooth and playing dumb with an official. AH, the younger years (1994)!!!!
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Old 08-12-2013, 11:12 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by buzzardair View Post
It was nice to see parts of Korea. I have friends living there now that want me to come and visit. Looks like a nice place.
South Korea is a nice place once you're outside Seoul, but it can be a difficult place to travel. The infrastructure is just not set up for travel by people who don't speak at least some basic English. However, if you're interested in hiking and temples, there are some great places to visit near Seoul. Hope you're able to get over and see the country at some point.
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Old 08-12-2013, 11:23 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by toy4fun View Post
Been there, not going back. I put 12K miles on my Transalp there riding with the American Steel guys and the Youngsan MC. I went from one end to the other on both coasts (do they still do the Perimeter Run?). Anyway, great place to visit but I hated living there (same as Hawaii)! There was lawlessness in our riding and yes we sometimes road on the Toll Highways, nothing like charging through a Korean Tollbooth and playing dumb with an official. AH, the younger years (1994)!!!!
Like I said before, the roads are motorcycle heaven once outside the cities. There is still a lawlessness for motorcycles; lots of lane splitting and riding on shoulders. Neither is technically legal, but very few traffic laws are enforced in this country. Playing dumb still works for us "waygooks" but not as well as it used to.
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Old 08-15-2013, 06:09 AM   #9
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Really enjoyed the write-up and the photos. I'd love to visit Seoul and see the countryside. My mother is from S. Korea so I've had a fascination with that country but just haven't found the right time to visit with her. It would be even better to do the trip by motorcycle. One of these days. Hope you post more about your adventures in SK.
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Old 08-15-2013, 07:34 PM   #10
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I was stationed there from 85 to 87 and again from 90 to 92. Never got to ride (or drive) but watching the locals buzz thru traffic on their little 125s and smaller gave me goosebumps!

I look forward to reading your posts and seeing the pictures.

02 Heritage Softail Classic * 98 Honda CR250 * 91 RM125 * 83 OSSA 303 Trials * 76.5 OSSA GPII * 80 KAWASAKI KE175 * 01 XR100 * 74 XR75 * 71 Trail 70
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Old 08-17-2013, 03:20 PM   #11
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Bravo! I love Korea and enjoyed your report. Amen on being pressed for time. I did a ton of great mountain biking out there.
Cela est comment nous roulons.
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Old 08-18-2013, 04:21 AM   #12
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Thanks Gaston Gagne, GP MX Fan, and Blixa, I'm glad you liked the report and photos. It's interesting to see how many inmates have served here or have other connections to Korea.

And Blixa, don't wait too long to visit. There are always reasons to put off big trips, but when you're old and gray (or shiny on top like me) you won't be remembering all the great times you had at work. The warm memories that you'll have will be of loves, friends, and adventures.

In other news:

My wife has the day off this coming Thursday and plans to take the baby with her, so I get to go for another day trip before the fall semester starts.

There's a few other places on the map within easy reach of Seoul that may provide a bit of off-road, so I plan to explore a bit more. Hopefully those roads won't be restricted. Should be fun either way, and I'll try to post another report.
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Old 08-22-2013, 06:46 AM   #13
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Another day trip

So, I was able to get out of the city on another Thursday (still a week and a half away from the fall semester starting), with my wife not having any jobs today and me really needing a day away from my baby daughter. I've been playing house-husband for the past few weeks and earlier this week my wife was sick with food poisoning for a few days. Needless to say, I was exhausted after chasing my 9-month old around the house for three days straight with little help from my wife.

Luckily, my wife recognized the signs and told me to go for a ride. I pretended for a while that I might go or I might not go, but I already had an area that I really wanted to explore planned out, so I was definitely going.

I got up this morning and all I really wanted to do was get out the door and on my bike. However, Daddy duty called, so while I was up early, I didn't get out the door until 9am, which means traffic around the city was already bad. While taking a highway would have had me out of the city in 15 minutes or so, bikes aren't allowed, so it took my 35-40 minutes instead. However, once out of the city there are highways that bikes are allowed on, but the speed limit is only 80 kph, so there can be slower cars that need to be maneuvered around.

No traffic today though.

My last ride was eventful and lots of fun, but I couldn't go back to that same recreational forest after being warned off of it by the forest service guys. However, closer to Seoul was another recreational forest (Garisan) which according to my road atlas had the possibility of some interesting roads. It is located 80 miles east-northeast of the Seoul (just off the 44 highway).

I got to the entry point to the forest at about 11, so 2 hours from my doorstep with the first 12 miles taking 45 minutes and the rest an hour and 15. This is what I found at the beginning of the road I was looking for.

I didn't know what to expect from this area because while the road atlas showed that there were several threw routes to other major roads, my gps on my phone showed that all routes came to a dead end after 20 km or so.

However, when the road looks like this, it doesn't matter if it dead ends because then you get to ride it the other way later.

I continued into the forest just taking a leisurely ride and taking my time.

And as I was afraid of, I came to my first dead end.

You can see in the photo that the road continues down into the water but I'm not sure how far it goes. Looking at the atlas, I had run into Soyangho Lake which is really a reservoir. However, at the end of the line was also this sign.

I add a few details for orientation purposes.

The blue arrow at the bottom of the map is the direction and road that I came in on and the red circle is where I am at the time of this picture. Gray lines are roads for vehicles; blue lines are rivers/creeks; and the brown lines are hiking only trails. The yellow arrow shows the turn I should have made and where I would back track to see if that route would go through.

More later.

docjsh screwed with this post 08-22-2013 at 06:50 AM Reason: Grammar
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Old 08-22-2013, 07:24 PM   #14
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Finding another route

As you can see from the sign, there appears to be a ferry that comes to the dead end, but from the looks of the area, I don't think the ferry has stopped there in quite a while. So, instead of waiting around to see, I turned around and went to try the turn-off I had ridden by about 5 km down the road.

(As an aside, I apologize for the use of different units of measurement. My bike odometer is in miles as is one of the navigation apps on my phone. However, I fill my bike with gas in liters and I ride at 70 to 80 mph in an 80 kph zone. Being from the States, I still have a difficult time thinking in Celsius for temperature, and while I don't do a conversion to Fahrenheit any more, it's still difficult to understand the temperature difference between 28 degrees and 31 degrees. Both are just hot.)

So, I backtracked to the turn off and continued down the road where there was more of this.

And a few self pics of me.

In the close up, you might be able to see some of the curves in my sunglasses.

As I said before, it's great getting out of the city away from the constant crowds. South Korea is really two different societies. You have the 바리 바리 (Bali Bali) culture in the city which is rushing around and a me first attitude and a much more laid-back, agrarian culture all around the cities. Once outside the city, there are farms on any and all pieces of land that can support the growing of food and farming is in the blood of many Koreans. So many of my former students, mainly middle-aged men like myself, dream of early-retirement and then getting out of the city and farming their own piece of land. I don't know a one that has done it yet though. I guess we have our own dreams in North America and other places around the world of owning a cabin in the woods/mountains, or a piece of land of our own to farm, but life, work, and duty to our family keeps us from running off.

What is nice about getting rural in Korea though is that people seem to be much more friendly. If I wave or nod my head to people as I pass, I usually get a smile or a wave/nod in response once the confusion of seeing a foreigner out their way is processed.

The road continued on its twisty way:

And another dead end at another finger of the lake after taking a side road for a short distance.

Some of the farming that I was talking about butting right up to the hillside.

And right up to the road.

Looking back at where I had come from after climbing up into the hills a bit.

The road continued in a fun way. The road was just wide enough for one vehicle to pass. If two cars came together, I'm not sure what would happen because there were very few wide points for more than one vehicle to pass. I was playing leap-frog with a truck that kept passing me as I stopped to take photos. A few times I had to wait several kilometers before I could slip by.

A self portrait.

These mirrors took a bit of getting used to but they are really useful. I don't know if they're used in other places in the world, but after getting used to glancing at them quickly as you approach the corner, they are great because you can see what's coming. It would be interesting to see if there are any statistics to show whether they actually prevent accidents.
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Old 08-22-2013, 08:17 PM   #15
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Very interesting ride report. Glad you made it out of that tricky situation. Ive been in a couple too and it's only once you get yourself in a situation like that you realize, "ok this was stupid" lol

Looking forward to seeing more. Maybe find a riding buddy so you can be more comfortable in those out of the way places.

Oh yes was going to add that Ive seen those mirrors in few other countries, but for the life of me I can't think of any specifically at the moment!
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