A Walk in the Woods

Yesterday I finally set out on a full hike of the mountain behind our apartment. It is about a 10-11 mile loop with steep ascents and long sections of ridge running. For urban hiking, I think it is top notch. Koreans don’t typically build homes on their mountains, so most have a trail going up and several shelters along the way.

Koreans rule these trails on the weekends. Dressed to the nines in their North Face gear, Korean hikers take their sport very seriously, but also seem enjoy it in a way that it should be enjoyed. Food, conversation, exercise, naps and drinking all have a place in the Korean hiking experience. I wasn’t too interested in soju on a hot July day, but I was game for everything else.

I have run the loop before, but I did so without stopping to enjoy the views and with an ipod firmly planted in my ears. On those runs I missed a lot. I set out on this solo hike with one goal in mind, go slow. I bought gimbap at my local diner located about a quarter of a mile from the trailhead. In about 30 minutes I was at the first shelter and sweating profusely. I sat down to eat my gimbap and read the latest Runner’s World Lindsay’s dad sent.

As I was reading, an older gentlemen asked me what I was reading. Mr. Ko was his name and he tried every English question he knew on me. “Where are you from?” “How long have you lived in Korea?” “Do you go shopping?” “What do you do on Sunday?” He was a pleasant older gentleman who hikes this mountain every weekend when on break from being a middle school science teacher. “Can we have dinner tomorrow?” he asked after we split my gimbap and a fruit drink he brought.

After an hour I moved on. I enjoyed the sweeping views of Gwangju on either side of the ridge. About two miles later I was at the next shelter which was being ruled by ajummas. At this shelter I partly read and partly tried to make sense of their conversation. Whenever someone would leave the shelter their loud conversation would turn to a whisper as they no doubt had something to say about the man, woman or couple that just left.

Once the cool summer breeze dried my sweat-drenched clothes, I trudged on and started making my descent down the other side of the mountain. I passed other hikers and two concession stands along the way. These stands consisted of two very old women with a spread of food and drinks spread out on a blanket. You could get ramen or beer and everything in between from these women. They are usually found high on the mountain near the exercise equipment you can find every mile and a half.

The last four miles consisted of the trail that I run everyday. Along this stretch I picked up trash. Thinking I would be overwhelmed with the project, I found that it was pretty well maintained. Mostly, I picked up hard candy wrappers. I stopped only once to enjoy the ear-splitting sound of cicadas chirping in the woods. For a moment I felt like I was back home in the North Carolina woods.

At the last shelter just a mile from our home, lightening hit. I quickly holed up in the open-air shelter with several other Koreans. I couldn’t help but smile. Completely drenched with sweat and rain, I couldn’t believe I had such an enjoyable outdoor experience right smack in the middle of urban Korea.

3 thoughts on “A Walk in the Woods

  1. bza says:

    I love that view of Gwangju! When I think of Korea, I always will think of endless concrete apartment buildings, haha.In September or October, I would love to do that hike one weekend when Tricia and I make it to Gwangju sometime.-Brian from Wando

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