The ribbon of pristine black asphalt snakes away into the distance, bisected by a neat white dotted line. Bordered on one side by the Nakdonggang river and on the other by tall grass. The sounds of busy traffic can be heard faintly, blowing in on the breeze but mostly overpowered by the calls of birds and frogs.
What’s weird, is that this isn’t some quiet backcountry lane but a dedicated cycle path, stretching further than the horizon. It’s totally deserted. A whole bike motorway just for me.
Eight days in to cycling the 4 Rivers route from Busan to Seoul and we have been treated to more dedicated bike paths than I think I have cycled on in my entire lifetime.
The path, completed in 2011, is part of a network of over 1750 km of bike trails constructed as part of the wider Four Major Rivers Project. The river paths link major cities across the north, south east and west of the country, providing a continuous bike route for most of its length. It’s a popular ride, especially departing from Seoul but it can be tackled in either direction with many additional side trip options.
The path is marked variously by bike symbols, bollards, segregated lanes and beautiful stretches of boardwalk that hang suspended along cliff edges above the river. Not being the sharpest tool in the box it’s taken 6 days for me to realise that the pretty blue butterfly mural I keep spotting isn’t a butterfly at all but the official 4 rivers logo. Which explains its prominence.
Also cropping up regularly are bright red phone boxes, nostalgically familiar to anyone from the UK. These are certification posts and contain ink stamps for those collecting the official (rather lovely looking) Four Rivers Passport.
Having been unaware such a scheme existed I’m slightly disappointed not to have had the foresight to order one but, so I don’t feel left out, I’ve been quietly collecting the stamps anyway on the back of an old receipt.
In abundance too are beautiful wooden picnic shelters of varying design, cycle pumps, racks and toilets. Cyclists with even the worst bladder control could happily ride the path for days and not be caught short, aside from one gent whom I passed who was weeing up against the toilet wall. You can lead a horse to water but…..
What I do miss however are the omnipotent drink-vending machines and convenience stores from Japan which would go down a treat here, especially as many of the paths go for long stretches of countryside or circumnavigating towns. Great for riding, not for nourishment.
It’s spring here in South Korea so, in terms of tourist facilities open for the season, many cafes and other amenities remain closed. We’ve also been treated to the spring weather too. After leaving Busan under grey skies the next 3 days of riding were some of the wettest I’ve ever experienced. The kind of days where, if you were at home you wouldn’t dream of getting on your bike for a 40 mile ride.
That would be ridiculous.
But, whilst we’re going at a relaxed pace we still have a flight deadline to make in Seoul so, when one day of forecast bad weather turned to three there was nothing for it but to put on waterproofs and prepare for a soaking.
I have discovered 3 new things however.
- My waterproofs are not. My rain jacket held out for approximately 10 minutes before wilting like a cheap paper bag and being just as effective.
- You think you can’t get any wetter than the previous day and then you find out you were wrong.
- Bin bags are amazing.
Point number 3 was inspired by a friend who, on forgetting her rain jacket one drizzly day, improvised by stopping at a convenience store for black bin liners.
Freezing and soaked on day two with 30 miles left to cover I was delighted to remember in all the junk I am carting about I did indeed have a bin bag.
Five minutes later and my head and arms are poking out of it, the rest rolled snuggly down my body.
Riding away along an exposed piece of river path, rain lashing in sheets, the wind howling and bin bag flapping, I am laughing like a banshee. A group of fishermen I pass actively jump off the path. I must look so odd but I don’t care, the bin bag worked a treat.
Fortunately the weather gods have smiled for the last few days as the temperatures have soared. It’s been fantastic to be be able to stop and take photographs, to linger for rest and lunch stops and to enjoy the majestic scenery without looking at it through a waterfall.
It’s also given to opportunity to top up my cracking cycle tan. After 11 months on the bike my legs are coloured in 3 distinct phases from lillywhite thighs (hidden under bike shorts/skirt), to a dark brown band around the knees and beige coloured shins from an ever changing combination of short/long socks. Given the effects of sun-aging, I think my knees may be those of an 80 year old by the time I finish!
Whilst mostly following the curves of the river the path also winds up through forests, past temples, alongside rice paddies and city parks, criss-crossing the water on an array of bridges and dams.
As mentioned, the path was actually born as part of the Four Major Rivers project, a controversial scheme and brainchild of then President Lee Myung-bak.
Completed in an unprecedented 2 years the scheme was meant to deliver cleaner, greener water whilst building capacity to meet soaring demand and provide dams to control flow and reduce flooding.
The many dams we ride across on route are certainly impressive creations but criticism has also been leveled at the environmental impact of such a juggernaut of a project; both in terms of damage to wildlife habitat and changed river behaviour, including silting and bridge collapses.
Back on the path I’m happily following the blue arrows, enjoying both the break from the usual constant route finding through cities and also the lack of traffic. Whilst a healthy proportion of the route is flat (or as good as) there are some punchy and testing climbs (up to 21% at times) that keep it both interesting and enough of a challenge to merit my continued cake and beer intake.
Tomorrow however that all changes. Something has been looming on the literal and garmin horizon I have not been looking forward to, a large lump on the map which indicates a 2000 foot climb through the Ihwaryeong Pass, up and over of the Baekdudaegan Mountain Range.
I can feel myself missing the river already, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger apparently…..?? See you on the other side!
If you enjoy reading about adventure, travel, cycling or all 3 why not check out my book: How To Cycle Canada the Wrong Way.
It’s the story of a forty-something woman with no clue in life and no cycle touring experience. What she does have is a sense of adventure, a second hand bicycle and a skirt and the idea of riding across Canada….the wrong way.
Available on Amazon in e-reader and paperback formats.
12 May 2023 at 11:46 am
I enjoyed this post immensely! I Especially liked the adaptation of bin bags to deal with the driving rain.
LikeLiked by 1 person
12 May 2023 at 1:33 pm
Thank you, glad you liked it. I can highly recommend bin bags….it did a better job than my rain coat!