Friday, 28 August 2009

Day 827 - Samcheok

It was my turn to delay our departure for a day. I wasn't feeling as bad as the previous couple of days but I really couldn't face the prospect of a day on the road. We cut our loses and stayed in Andong another day but took a bus out on the 23km run to Hahoe Folk village, a similar sort of set up like the Yangdong village that we had already visited. I hadn't been on a bus for months, it felt a strange experience. The bus was packed, we had to stand, my stomach felt rough, I really wanted to sit, then a young guy kindly gave up his seat for me, I thanked him after trying to refuse, his gesture made me feel very good. As the bus trundled along I realised it was full of young people armed with cameras, all heading for Hahoe, but at various stops other people got on, older people. I was amazed to see that each time an older person got on somebody would instantly give up there set for them, I suddenly realised why I had got my seat, it made me feel very old! The bus ride reminded me of my backpacking days, yet this time I felt strangely detached from my surroundings, almost as though I wasn't really there, it felt like a film was running before my eyes. There weren't the sounds, the smells, the wind rushing through my hair (ok, so that hasn't happened for a few years now), I couldn't stop and take photos, I couldn't even slow down for a closer look. There were advantages too, I couldn't feel the gradients as we went up the hills, it might as well have all been flat. But it was just what I needed, it as a hot day and the ride out there and back would have taken its toll, it was enough just to walk around the village. We both felt we were seeing more of the same having so recently visited Yangdong, we were a little disappointed. We had also visited a mask museum, it had made the journey worthwhile. One the way back we were the only ones to get off at the paper museum. I think I soon realised why, there seemed to be little here, though just around the corner lay the highlight of the day. Indeed there was a paper factory, a very small affair, all made by hand, it was fascinating to watch, we just wandered around, nobody seemed to be bothered by us watching. The mulberry bark is mashed down until it creates fine fibres almost like linen, this is then mixed in water and filtered out on a bed of rush, drained to create a very thin layer that is basically the paper and then placed on a pile. Overnight the remaining water is pressed out, then the individual pieces are pressed onto a sheet metal to dry, rather like a large iron, then peeled off as the finished paper. There was even a small area where you could make your own piece of paper and take it away with you. We were the only visitors there, it was fascinating, much better than the village that had so many visitors. In the museum cum shop there were all sorts of things made from the paper including dresses that are entered into fashion parades in Seoul each year, though apparently not the thing to be worn during the rainy season. I also utilised the time by doing the bike repair of changing the bearing of my front wheel. They looked fine on one side and manky on the other so I only changed the bearing on one side, but now there is no wobble and no strange clicking noises. The wheel spins so smoothly, as good a new. I guess the rim will go now!

So we were back on the road and looking for a nice easy day, but this is South Korea, easy days and cycling just don't go together. We were climbing out of Andong, we weren't even going to get an easy start. After a few kilometres we turned on to the quieter 933, it didn't look too hilly on the map but it was! After just 18km we stopped for a break, I was already really tired so lay on a bench for a nap. Christine went off on her bike to get some ice cream but soon returned saying that everything had sized up, she could no longer pedal. Her gears and bottom bracket could both do with attention, so she assumed one of them had died completely, but it was only a bit of something stuck in the chain, nothing to worry about, at least we didn't think so at the time. We carried on along the roller coaster in the heat of the day before dropping into a valley. It was flattish for a while, it made such a difference, we were making progress at last. We were passing water melons, fields of them, I have never seen so many in such a short space of time. With the heat of the day it made us desperate for one though unlike the apples we decided not to fall to temptation and pick one. The only way out of the valley was up another climb, another pass. I waited for Christine at the pass, more water melons making me feel so thirsty (photo). We dropped down into the some town of Hyeondong where we looked to refill the water bottles at a church. Using the tap at the time was the priest, he very kindly offered us ice water and before we knew it we were in his house, his wife preparing something. A few minutes later we had a large plate of water melon put in front of us. Was this our reward for resisting temptation? With the aid of maps we did our best to tell them about our journey through Korea, but it was hard work. Back on the bike again we were faced with another climb, but as it was getting late we looked for a campsite. That is hardly ever easy, if the land is flat it is either lived on or cultivated, if not then it is steep hillsides leaving few options for us to camp. Christine found a spot, but it was a hell of an effort to get the bikes up to the spot, but we were rewarded with the best view whilst camping in Korea as we looked back down the valley. We could hear voices, they sounded very close, but we never saw anybody, I think it was just that sound carried through the valley incredibly well. It was only a while later that we discovered that we hadn't camped on an old terrace as we had thought, we were camped on an old burial mound. It didn뭪 put me off my nights sleep, I slept very well.

The climb was completed the following morning, before long we were back on main roads, roads that we would remain on for the rest of the day. We stopped in a small town and checked the map, there seemed to be little ahead on the road, so despite it being only 10:30 we stopped for lunch. It turned out to be a good move, we were straight into a long climb, the longest for a long time taking us up to 892m. Now I don't mind hilly routes, sometimes I even enjoy a good climb, but here it is beginning to wear a bit thin. You can be pretty damned sure that at the top of every hill, no matter how long it is, there is a descent awaiting. That's all well and good, but you can be pretty damned sure that at the bottom of every descent there is another climb lurking around the corner. We both yearn for a day or two on the flat, but we also both know that it just isn't going to happen, consequently every day is a tough day, distances are well down, even from Japan, it just hard, hard work. We dropped down to a river, then all of a sudden, despite the lack of joining roads or towns the road became very busy. We could see nothing on the map to tell us it would be urban, but urban it most certainly was, though we were heading for Taebaek, a mining region. By later afternoon we knew we would have trouble finding somewhere to camp. We turned onto the road to Taebaeksan Provincial Park, we were climbing again when at the far side of a large empty car park I spotted a tent, we went for a closer look. To our surprise we had found the first campsite we have seen in Korea, though it was shut. There we 3 tents, 2 were not in use, so we decided to camp there, despite it being right next to the road. During the evening the road quietened down but around midnight a couple of cars arrived and 3 guys set up a tent, thankfully a fair way from us, but they were noisy, very noisy. The noise was fuelled by alcohol, they got louder and louder. At 4am I decided I wouldn't be going to sleep again, our alarm goes off at 5:30. This is part of the reason we both dislike campsites, the chances of a nights sleep are pretty slim.

We were glad to leave the campsite, we climbed just a little further to the Coal Museum, and very interesting it was too, though for me the best bit was the display of rocks, stones and crystals at the start, followed by a room full of fossils. It all ended with a mock mine complete with a roof collapse simulation, though it wasn't very effective, I never felt in danger. We dropped down into Taebaek where we stopped for lunch and discovered that the school holidays are over, there were mums with kids everywhere. We descended on the 38, a horrible road, probably the worst we have been on here. It wasn't even overly busy, but it twisted and turned the whole time, a lot of black spots were signposted. To make the road safer they have put posts along the centre line to stop drivers staying to the other side of the road, but it doesn't make it any safer for us, for us it the worst possible thing, it is truly horrible. Vehicles still want to pass, some want to pass without slowing down, and most of those vehicles are the coal lorries that are heading down from the Taebaek mines, there is very little room left to play with, it was no fun at all. Christine was complaining that her gears were getting worse, we stopped in a bus shelter for a closer look. She doesn't use shimano derailleur gears, like so many other German cyclists she has opted for the Rohloff Speedhub, something I know nothing about, though would soon become an expert. We took the back wheel off only to find that a tooth had broken of her sprocket (the Rohloff only has the one), there was nothing we could do about that, but it hardly made her feel any better. To make matter worse to open the gear changing box to get to the end of the cables we needed a star screwdriver, something I don't tarry as I don't have any on my bike, Christine wasn't carrying one either, there was nothing we could do. Christine wasn't a happy bunny that night, she wanted to give up on the cycling and get a train to Seoul, but we decided to carry on to the next town, see if we can get the tools and find a bike shop and just see how we get on. We camped right next to a track, that didn't make Christine any happier, but it turned out to be a very good campsite complete with a nice little stream to have a good wash down in, we even found a bar of soap on one of the rocks.

The following morning we were heading for Samcheok when we arrived at the turnoff for Hwanseongul caves, an 18km detour up a valley. To my surprise Christine wanted to take the detour, we had a steady climb the whole way. Christine flew up the thing, I could hardly keep up with her. On arrival she was all grins and smiles, a reaction to my talk to her the previous evening about trying to be more positive, the perfect reaction. It was a well worthwhile detour too. From the ticket office it was a steep 1.3km walk up the steep valley, about half of which was steps. The caves were massive, probably the largest cave system I have been in. You could walk around on your own along the metal walkways which passed over the underground water system (photo). It was all very impressive, apart from the coloured LED lights in some places which rather spoilt the cave atmosphere, though it did improve the Christmas tree effect! The ride back down was bliss, freewheeling all the way. The main road improved too as it turned into dual carriageway. On the way into town we spotted one of the many tool shops that line the roads of some towns and to my complete surprise they even had the tools we needed. I removed the gear cable box, everything looked fine, but having replaced it the gears locked up completely. I was able to select a single middle gear for her, we then continued into town and checked into a motel, brought the bike up to the room and set to work on it. One of the cables had completely frayed at the changer on the handlebars, but the tiny headless screw in the changer box that holds the cable in place was locked solid. Forcing it only made matters worse, I only succeeded in rounding the head, the thing was totally knackered. Rather than going into more details, I have included Christine's description from the entry on her blog. Needless to say we were both somewhat glum during the evening as we looked into all the possibilities we had, none of which looked very favourable unless we could get that bloody screw out.
Christine writes:
At the very end of my trip with less than 2 weeks left to cycle I ended up with bike trouble - and big time as well!

It all started quite innocently with my bike stand. John does not have a bike stand and had parked his bike leaning against a wall. My bike was parked in front of it. All of a sudden his bike with 40 kg of crap (sorry, valuable equipment) on it fell and crashed into my bike. Result: My bike stand broke off and John and me were yelling at each other.

Next the bottom bracket started making some very weird noises again. It has not come loose (yet), but going uphill it sounds worse than an old steam engine.

And then the real trouble started: Slowly but gradually the gear shifter stopped working. First it was just hard going, then I could not reach the lower gears any more and in the end it would not move at all.

But things got even worse: When we took the back wheel off to investigate the gear shift problem we discovered that a tooth had broken off the back sprocket!

That night I did not like cycling at all any more. All this cannot happen when you are hiking. When hiking gear breaks, I can usually sew it or tape it, but bike trouble is a little bit more complicated. I started contemplating finishing my trip on a train. We decided to cycle to the next bigger town and try to repair the whole affair. And we just made it there in time before the gear shifter become totally stuck.
Part of the problem was the lack of tools. In order to open the cable box on my fabulous Rohloff speedhub you need a star key. Of course any reasonable person would have tested every nut and bolt on her bike before setting of on a major trip to have the right tool, but I had never thought about it. And to make matters worse I did not even have a spare shifter cable. So there we were not being able to open the cable box because we did not have the right tool and even if we had had the right it would not do us any good because we did not have a spare part?

Luckily the first tool shop in Samcheok did have star keys! We opened the cable box and saw what we had expected. The shifter cable had frayed and become stuck. Luckily I had posted the problem on a German internet bike forum and received loads of very good replies from which I had learnt that you can use any thin shifter cable as replacement. Life seemed good: We had the right tool and a spare part. But then it happened: The screw that fixes the shifter cable in the cable box did not budge at all - and then the screw's head wore out, the tool did not get any grip and all seemed lost. I saw myself on a train again and did not sleep very well that night.
Next morning we did a Grand Tour of Samcheok's tool shops. I must say that some things are easier in less developed countries. The people in the tool shops really knew how to deal with the problem. The first guy just took a bigger Allen key than needed and filed it to the right size to get some grip - it worked but the screw would still not budge. We were sent to another tool shop where we eventually hit the jack pot. The owner knew his stuff and drilled the screw out. I expected that he would ruin the thread doing that but no - everything was fine. And when we found spare shifter cables and a M4 headless screw in a bike shop nothing could stop us any more. Two hours and two fucked up shifter cables (cut off too short) later the gear shift was working better than ever before. I was very proud of John, because he had done all the repair?

But when we tried to fix the sprocket problem we were in for a bad surprise. We thought that you can use just any replacement sprocket - and that was very wrong! The sprocket was a special Rohloff part and of course not available in Korea. Even the only shop in whole Korea that deals with Rohloff does not have it. I could still ride the bike with the broken off tooth but should we risk it? I decided to do some internet research and the same German bike forum came to my rescue. I discovered an old thread discussing this exact problem and including an answer from Mr. Rohloff himself. Content: Teeth do not break out of Rohloff sprockets and if they do it is a quality problem and Rohloff will send out a spare part to wherever you are. I emailed Rohloff immediately and got an answer within 2 hours. This is what I call German efficiency. The answer was even better: Continue with the broken sprocket (it will not deteriorate) and we will replace it once you are back in Germany.
So now I will continue cycling with a functioning gear shift, a broken sprocket and a bottom bracket that squeaks like hell. Wish me luck for the rest of my trip!

Me again.

Once we could do no more we decided to take our mind off things by doing a bit of sight seeing. Samcheok proudly calls itself the `Cave Capital`, so we went to a cave museum...where else. So what does a cave museum have? Well it had a bunch of rocks, a load of screens showing films, pictures of caves from around the world and a whole load of mock cave settings, all mildly interesting, but nothing compared to the real thing. So having never even known there was such a thing in the world as a cave museum, how do you follow that up? That's a tough one isn't it? Actually no, here in Samcheok it is very easy, you get on you bike, cycle 200m and go to another cave museum. The second one was a hoot, I thought the first one had enough cave mock ups, but this completely outshone it with complete mock caves that you could find your way through, even including sections that you climbed up with the aid of a rope, all very dodgy from a safety point of view. From here it went down hill and focused on things such as `cave treasure` and `cave dragons`, but at least it succeeded in taking our minds off the bikes.

But there are other weird and wonderful things around the area, so today we visited another, a small fishing village of Sinnam, nothing special in itself, but it does have a rather unusual little folklore story attached to it. A girl used to go out to sea and collect seaweed. One morning her boyfriend dropped her off on a rock and returned to shore, but later a storm blew up stopping the boy from returning to collect the girl. A huge wave covered the rock, dragged the girl into the sea and she drowned. Shortly after her death the local fisherman noticed that their catches were dwindling rapidly and believed the fishing grounds had been cursed by the 'unfulfilled' girl. Everything seemed lost until a fisherman having a pee did so facing the sea and noticed that his catch the next day increased. Soon the village started erecting phallic symbols, though they tend to leave little to the imagination, until the catches returned to normal. Now there is a `willy park' and each year there is a festival and new carvings are erected (excuse the pun). It made for a rather alternative type of sight seeing but one phrase kept returning to my head....'Never in the UK!'