Yesterday, a group of friends and I decided to go on a ride. Our fearless leader, Adrian, came up with our route. We would start by winding up the rocky coast of the Sea of Japan just north of Pohang, then head inland through the mountains and end in Juwangsan (주왕산) National Park in Cheongsong (청송) County–home of what are reported to be some of the best apples in Korea. It sounded like a great way to spend a Saturday!
We started a little late. Ideally, we would have left in the morning, but had to leave a little after 1 pm instead. Factoring in a two hour ride each way, time to explore the destination, and a little extra time for breaks along the way left us with the prospect of making the last bit of the journey after the sun had set.
The ride towards Cheongsong was stunning. We started by winding up the coast, which has long been one of my favorite routes. It’s got fun curves, quaint fishing villages, and an abundance of crisp sea air; all of which are things that make me smile. The coastal road gave me a chance to really acclimate to my new bike, a 2002 Daelim Daystar I picked up for a pittance. With the exception of my ill-advised but wonderful ride from Tsetserleg to Tariat in Mongolia, I’d only ridden automatic scooters. It’s an entirely different experience driving a motorcycle, even more so a cruiser like my Daystar. The mechanics of driving one are more complicated–especially for someone like myself who’s never really gotten the hang of driving stick–and the bike itself feels like a boat compared to the nimble, light scooters.
We joined up with Highway 7 heading north, weaving between a shifting tangle of cars and trucks as we headed towards the turnoff toward Okgye. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of junction, but we managed to catch it in time and abruptly found ourselves off the main thoroughfare and cruising down a peaceful country lane.
Shortly after leaving the 7, we found ourselves winding through the modest, craggy hills which are commonplace in the Korean countryside. The road followed a small river deeper into the mountains. The hillsides were painted with the colors of fall; we struggled to find a happy balance between gawking at our surroundings and not careening off the road.
The moment I remember most is coming around the bend and finding myself cruising down a steep, windy incline. To my right stretched a large valley, crowded on all sides by a herd of mountain peaks. The afternoon sun bathed the scene in a hazy glow. My friend Joe, riding just ahead of me, gestured towards the view and gave me a thumbs up. Great minds think alike.
When we finally arrived at the entrance to Juwangsan National Park, all of us were tired and happy to be off our bikes for a bit. Three of the group had to turn right around and head home, but the rest of us headed into the park to relax and take in some sights.
I’d mentioned before that Cheongsong County is famous for its apples. Being from Washington State, I’m very familiar with all things ‘apple-y’ and, to be totally honest, wasn’t expecting the apples of Cheongsong to be on a competitive level. I was totally, pleasantly, mistaken. As we walked along the paved path leading into the park, a flock of apple vendors hawked their produce to all passersby. I wanted a single apple, so I asked one of the vendors how much one would cost. She kept saying they were sold as a bag, which would cost about 10,000 won. When I succeeded in communicating my desire for a single apple she made my day by saying that magic word: “Service!”. I thanked her profusely and bit into a little chunk of awesome.
Without a doubt, that apple was one of the most crisp, juicy, and delicious apples I’ve ever had; believe me, I’ve had a lot of apples! I found myself wishing I’d decided to buy a bag of them after all.
Juwangsan had one last lovely surprise for us, in the form of Jusanji (주산지). Jusanji is a picturesque pond nestled in the hills close to the entrance of the park. In fact, it is so picturesque, it was used as the location for the achingly beautiful film ‘Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring’–a Korean film I had seen when I was in university. While the floating temple constructed for the movie has been removed, the setting is no less serene. It was pretty surreal to be seeing a place for the first time and finding it familiar.
Dusk was approaching quickly, so we hustled out of the park and headed home. As we left, the golden light of the setting sun seemed to light the wheat fields and apple orchards on fire. It almost felt like I was home.
Due to the late start to our journey, most of the ride back was night riding. It was ridiculously cold and the headlight on my bike wasn’t up to the task of illuminating more than 6 inches in front of me. I probably should have checked that before I left. All the combined factors made for a very uncomfortable, scary, and miserable ride home; luckily, it didn’t ruin my feelings about the day. Once I’d made it back to my cozy warm apartment and brewed up some hot cocoa, all was well.