The great Korea 1200

On June 5th 2014 at 4 a.m., riders will mount their bikes in Gwangju to tackle the third edition of “The great Korea 1200”. This will be an epic journey of 1200 km in 90 hours (four days and 3 nights), a true endurance test for “legs and mind” in the "land of the morning calm".

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The "Great Korean Triangle"

“Team checkout”, consisting of Lothar Hennighausen, Ulrich Schoenemann and Kim Sung Hak (KoRa #1, #2 and #304) rode the “Great Korean Triangle” and each side of the triangle was unique and yielded a different experience. We passed through six provinces (Jeollanam-do, Jeollabuk-do, Gyeongsangnam-do, Gyeongsangbuk-do, Gangwon-do and Chungcheongbuk-do), each of them unique. It was Buddha’s birthday and the weather turned out to be perfect (although we had to battle some headwinds going north into Yangyan). Here, are some of the highlights (GPX waypoints to interesting restaurants, Jimjilbangs, Yeogwans and bike repair shops).


DAY 1: We left Gwangju at the crack of dawn heading east on quiet country roads to our first control in Namwon (km 68). Our legs were still fresh and, with the exception of one moderate climb, this was an easy stage. The second stage to Hapcheon (km 169) skirted the majestic Jiri-san, which was in full view for most of the morning. The long climb towards the end of this stage was rewarded by a thrilling descend and lunch in Hapcheon. This stage was the most challenging on day 1. Stage 3 to Yangsan was very pleasant and we enjoyed the long stretch on the bike trail along the Nakdong. At sunset we arrived in Yangsan, the 

Heading east from Gwangju
end of the first side of the triangle. After a good meal of 돈가스 (Donkkaseu) we embarkedonto the first night stage. 
 Around midnight we passed through Gyeongju, capital of the ancient kingdom of Silla. As the night progressed temperatures dropped and the bubble wrap we found in the trash at a CVS turned out to be a great insulator.

DAY 2: As the sun rose over the East Sea we arrived in the port city of Gangguhuang (강구항), the world’s capital for Yeongdeok Daegae crabs, also known as King crabs (아름
) and big sculptures everywhere are a vivid reminder. However, when we arrived none of the restaurants serving crabs were open and we had tosettle with breakfast at the CVS. We continued riding north and followed the coastal road, passing through small fishing villages and resort towns. The tourists had come out in full force to take advantage of the 4-day holiday weekend, with perfect weather. Just in time for lunch we found a restaurant (gpx link) that served the world’s best “cold Sashimi soup” and the owner offered a room for a short post-lunch nap.


Next, our control in Uljin, home of one of the four nuclear power plants of Korea. Sung Hak had lived here and worked at the power plant 25 years ago and it was like a home coming for him. As the afternoon progressed, the headwind grew stronger and we worked well as a team to minimize its impact. Soon we entered Gangwon-do, the most northern province of South Korea, and approached Donghae. Typically for a Sunday afternoon, weekend tourists returned to theirhome and traffic was quite heavy. The many signs in Cyrillic (Russian) and Japanese were a clear reminder of the ferry connections to Russia and Japan and the many tourists enjoying this part of Korea. For us the enjoyment was arriving at the Mukho control well ahead of schedule.

With daylight fading we continued north along the coastline,
passing scores of resort towns with even more restaurants, all of them packed with tourists enjoying the great seafood of Korea. Gangneung (
강릉시) is the last larger city before the turnaround in Yangyang, and with its scores of Yeogwans and 24 hour saunas (Jimjilbang -찜질방) a perfect place for a short sleep stop.The Jimjilbang in Gangneung provided an amazing experience, not only because of its sheer size (three floors of sleeping rooms) but also because it was completely packed and people sleeping like sardines. Of note for those fond of winter sports, indoor events in the 2018 Olympics will be held in Gangneung. Yangyang: by the end of day 2 we had finished the second arm of the triangle
Cold Sashimi soup
and we headed south-west, heading home. NOTE: we had shipped a Taekbae package with spare clothes to the control in Yangyang and this worked out just fine. The owner of the 7-Eleven was very friendly and he suggested we change our clothes in the corner with the microwave. Korea is just a very practical andaccommodating country. After purchasing sufficient food to keep the owner happy and our stomachs full we mailed the packages with the old clothes back and started the third side of the triangle.

DAY 3:  This was a long day with many climbs (and
After the soup ...
descends) and even more beautiful vistas. A highlight was visiting Pyeongchang, host of the 2018 Winter Olympics. Extensive road construction is a harbinger of the big event and riders need to be cautious on the long downhill stretches between Jangpyeong and Pyeongchang, the road is in rather poor conditions and traffic is heavy. We stopped in Pyeongchang for lunch andthought about including Randonneuring as sport for the Winter Olympics. On this stage mountain ranges to the left and right accompanied us all day. The list climb befor Danyang was quite spectacular as the road meandered along the mountain side overlooking vast valleys. We arrived in Danyang at the end of a big festival and the military
police directing traffic were a reminder of the event.

Leaving Danyang in the still warm afternoon sun, we continued to head southwest through, yet, another mountain range and reached our nextcontrol in Sangju long after the sun had set. As night fell on the way to Sangju, the temperatures dropped again and a coffee machine outside a country restaurant drew us into its ban, but it was broken. Instaed the restaurant owner invited us to come in and served coffee and rice crackers to the hungry and cold randonneurs. Suddenly his daughter
Before Danyang
started speaking almost impeccable English. How can this be in the middle of nowhere? Well, she had been a missionary for two years in Los Angeles. Sangju: again, the Jimjilbang was the place to rest for a few hours. Unlike the mega Jimjilbang in Gangneum, the one in Sangju was provincial, but served its purpose and the 7,000 won was just the right price.

DAY 4: Buddha’s birthday – perfect weather and even better company. As the ride progressed through day 3 and 4, some of roads became familiar, as they overlapped with other Brevets out of Cheonan,
Our control in Danyang
Gwangju, SBS and likely several Fleche routes. The area around Geumsan must be hub for a number of Brevets. As the day progressed traffic became very light as the 4-day weekend had come to an end. While the beginning of a 1200K is always filled with the excitement of new experiences and great lunch and dinner stops, legs and minds are getting tired as the event draws to an end. In sum, this is not an easy 1200k, probably a little more difficult than last year’s out of Gwangju. But this might be just a psychological trickas the “Great Korean triangle” is just such an impressive image covering a large part of the country. I have covered many roads in Jeolla-do and Chungcheong-do and tremendously
Bubble wrap against the cold
enjoyed the Brevets out of Gwangju and Cheonan. But this GR1200, the Korean triangle, gives you an even better perspective of this great country. Cycling for a full day along the East Sea and cherishing the great seafood was unforgettable, as was crossing the peninsula from the northeastern province of Gangwon-do to the southwestern province of Jeollanam-do.

The “Great Korean Triangle” is a showcase of South Korea

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