Cycling: Damyang – Course 1

I’ve documented a lot of rides around Jeollanam-Do, Damyang specifically, most of which can be found here.  Be forewarned, I am not a fan of river path cycling in Korea and this ride is no exception.  This particular course loops through the mountains and countyside roads of southern Damyang, just east of Gwangju (riding from Gwangju via Mudueng National Park would add an extra 20ish km each way). The cyclemeter link can be found here.

From The Damyang House the first 20km of this 55km/2.5 hour ride are on road 887…simply head out to the main road and take a left.  You’ll climb up through the valley the house is in and ultimately pass through a tunnel.

After the tunnel keep heading straight on 887.  It’s clearly marked and an easy ride.  The local makoli bootlegger is up on your left, just across from the abandoned elementary school if you’re feeling thirsty.

You’ll eventually pass Aquana, which is the least fun looking resort/water park I’ve ever seen.  You’ll also start seeing a lot of signage for the dinosaur footprint park that is close by…it’s a pretty park, but like all the other tourist attractions around here, it’s pretty much empty.  Not a bad place to stop for a snack though, just don’t expect much out of those dinosaur footprints.

Here they are!

Keep riding until you see the sign for Daedeok.  Take a left here and follow this road through the farming valley.  Part of what makes this course so great is that these old valley roads have been left largely unused due to newer, bigger, and faster expressways built over the last couple of decades.  Just you and the rice farmers!

 

There isn’t necessarily a climb to speak of, although you do sort of wind your way up through the valley.  You’re met with a nice view at the top and a long decent you’ll feel like you didn’t earn.

Follow this down to the junction with road 60 and take a left towards Changpyeong.  More downhill!

At this point you have some options.  You could easily explore the “slow city” in Changpyeong, get some lunch and continue on road 60 until it reconnects with 887 which if you take a left, will take you back to the house. You might regret it though as the best has yet to come.

Personally, I recommend taking a left off of road 60 towards Yucheon-ri (유천리) and straight into the belly of this beast:

Even the photo came out scary looking!  For good reason as this old unused road takes you pretty much straight over those mountains.  It’s not long, maybe 30 minutes (if you’re in shape), but it’s steep (10%) with lots of switchbacks.   This is what the road looks like from near the top.

You can see the road way off in the distance!

As you slowly start climbing the mountain you will be rewarded with better and better views of Damyang and the surrounding mountain range. I really need to get a proper camera because these photos don’t really do it justice.

You can see the Hanok Village in the foreground.

A bit mind-blowing, but from this mountain pass it’s downhill all the way to the house.  Put on some headphones and enjoy the ride through yet another gorgeous valley.  Just don’t forget to take a right when you intersect with road 887!

TDH Updates: 10-8-14

Seasonal changes:

  • Winter is approaching and with it comes the need to heat the house.  The cast iron fireplace was originally bought for it’s aesthetic value, but after realizing what it costs to heat a stand-alone house with ondol things quickly changed.  That 200kg beast in the photo above, when used correctly, does a much better and more efficient job of heating the house anyhow.  Guest staying during the colder months will be given a quick tutorial and are encouraged to turn down the ondol and enjoy a proper fire.  Honestly, you’d be crazy not to!

  •  Enjoy a piping hot cup of coffee on us.  Have a couple.  Free coffee is now available!  I bought that gorgeous stainless steel french press as a Christmas gift for my brother, but quickly ordered myself one after seeing how nice it was.  A little taste of luxury first thing in the morning is never a bad thing.  

  • We harvested the last of our summer veg (peppers anyone?) and replaced the planter box with some leafy greens and scallions.  Definitely the healthiest garden I’ve ever had the pleasure of maintaining.  Feel free to grab a few handfuls to eat with your BBQ. 

Hiking: A (Dog-Friendly) Walk Through the Rice Paddies

Your dogs will thank you for the opportunity to run around along these empty service roads!


Dog friendly areas are few and far between in this country, even outside of city limits.  I’ve written about some of the dog friendly hiking trails here, but another hidden gem (and more of a walk/less of a hike) is the rice paddies in front of our village or behind the Eco-Park/Gwangju Lake parking lot (if you drive there, walk up the road behind the 7-11).Lucky for us the family friendly Eco-Park attracts all the attention and leaves these intersecting farm roads, connecting a vast stretch of rice paddies, virtually empty.  It’s pretty much a “locals only” hangout, which is strange because once in this valley you have almost a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains…most of which are Mudeung National Park.Once in the valley it’s easy to explore and difficult to get lost.  You could walk for 30 minutes or a few hours depending on your route…the options are plentiful.  However, just to get you started, this is our “go-to” route for an after dinner dog walk.  It’s about 40 minutes and a nice loop.  Here’s the cyclemeter link if you think you need it.From the house, walk out to the main road.

 


Take a right at the main road and look for the service road/bridge that crosses the river…take a left down that road.


Take a left where this road dead-ends (a right will simply take you to the Eco-Park/7-11).


Take the first left down in the rice paddies and feel free to explore!  Or continue to follow my directions for the aforementioned 40 minute loop.

 

 

 


Follow this service road as it winds around towards the cows.  At the cows, take a left.


And take the next left (about two minutes).  And the next left after that (about 10 minutes…you’ll see more cows lol).  After that you’ll want to take a left at the pottery studio (which is number 14 on our top 20 things to do at The Damyang House list).  Here’s what you’re looking for:


After that you’ll follow this road until you intersect with the road you came in on…take a right and head home!

Bike’n Hike (VI): Naejangsan National Park

Destination:  Naejangsan National Park

Cycling:  120km
Hiking:  12km
Days:  2
 NaeJangsan National Park

The Bike’n Hike concept was born out of a failed backpacking trip to Jirisan National Park in February of 2014.  For whatever reason the logistics of that trip weren’t coming together so we opted to ditch the car, grab some bikes and head to a closer National Park.  That park was of course Naejangsan.  Since February we have done six Bike’n Hike trips to five of the surrounding National Parks…three of those trips were to this little park to the north.  It’s not by accident that we keep returning.

Traditionally these mini-bike tours have been a minimum of three days.  This was our first attempt to squeeze it all in a weekend.  Luckily we weren’t without willing participants.  Gibby and Jay were the first two to arrive from Seoul and after a bit of drama with cranky taxi drivers and unwelcome rain storms, we headed to a local 고기 집 to fill up on BBQ and booze and wait for the others.

“One Dish”
Once Sunghoon and John arrived in Gwangju we quickly met up and set off for The Damyang House,  which would serve as our home base of sorts for the weekend.  The slick (wet) roads prevented us from taking the scenic route through Mudeung National Park, but it was dark and getting late anyhow so it seemed a better use of time to head straight back to the house.  The ride itself is under 20km and less than an hour.  The rain had stopped at some point during dinner so we were able to avoid getting soaked on the ride home and had an opportunity to enjoy a campfire and the surrounding bamboo forest once we arrived. 
 Relaxin’.
The Damyang House

The next morning we scraped together a nice breakfast, got our gear in order and hit the road.

 The Crew
 Our Departure
Not everyone was happy about us leaving.
One of the (many) appealing aspects of the trip to Naejangsan is the roads that lead to and from the park.  They’re well maintained and largely underused so traffic is never really an issue.  There are two climbs during the 50km ride to the park entrance, but without them the day might be too easy.  Not to mention, the descent into the park makes it absolutely worth it!
 Moments before disaster…sorry Gibby!
A quick rest before the big climb of the day.

The climb begins.
We arrived at the park in under four hours, which gave us plenty of time to tackle the “hike” portion of the Bike’n Hike adventure.  The relatively easy ride to the park is quickly forgotten once you hit the park trails…they’re unforgiving and head pretty much straight up to the mountain ridge that circles around the park.  We were in a race with time (sunset) so completing the ridge hike was out of the question as it takes pretty much all day to hit all eight peaks.  It’s highly recommended if you have the time though…it’s an incredible hike.  Our goal was simply to get up to the ridge, grab a few photos and bask in the sense of accomplishment.  After four hours of cycling that’s easier said than done.  
 Getting closer.
 We made it!
Feeling accomplished!
 Taking a break.
 Our view.
 Exploring.
 Time to head back.
After climbing down the mountain we hopped back on our bikes and rode the 2km back to the park entrance where you’ll find a street of restaurants, a minbak neighborhood and a bit of nightlife (read: a CU Mart).  There are loads of cheap minbaks (about 10,000/person) clustered together at the top of the hill.  The lady at 촛불 is especially nice and her minbak sits highest up on the hill with a red sign.  You can’t miss it.  
   촛불민박
The restaurants around aren’t really anything to write home about honestly.  They are loads of them, but they oddly all serve the same menu.  I’ve been to five or six of them and can’t say anything really stood out enough that I’d recommend it.  If nothing else it’s a good place to catch your breath with some 동동주 and 파전 post-hike.  
We hit the CU after dinner for a few beers and made friends with some of the local wildlife.  As the temperature dropped and fatigue slowly set in we said goodbye to our new friend and got some much needed rest.
Praying Mantis
The next morning we headed towards the nearest town, Jeong-Eup, to get breakfast at a restaurant we found last time we were in the area.  This place is much cheaper and the food is a thousand times better…sadly I didn’t get a photo or even the name of the place!  I can say it’s on the right side of the road, just past the turnoff for road 21 that leads you back towards Damyang (and up the biggest climb of the day!).  The turn for road 21 isn’t clearly marked when heading north on road 49 towards Jeong-Eup so look for the big red love motel…this is where you’ll need to take a right!
Big Red Love Motel
The ride home to Damyang (or the Gwangju bus station) is about 70 or 80kms and starts off with a bang.  This climb through the valley is actually really enjoyable and while it’s quite long, it’s not as steep as some of the other climbs on this route (four in total).  And of course once you’re at the top, you’re met with a nice downhill to catch your breath.  The whole afternoon is filled with valleys and underused roads.  It’s gorgeous.

Selfie at the top of the mountain.
 Valley roads.
 Headed to Damyang.

Bike Trouble!
After fixing John’s bike, we turned off on road 29 which heads south through Damyang “city” and back to The Damyang House.  This road is scenic in its own right as it passes by Damyang Lake and the iconic Chuwolsan, which overlooks Damyang and can be seen from miles away.  Of course there’s another scenic valley to pass through as well.  
 Chuwolsan
Chuwolsan
Valley to Damyang.
We eventually ended up in Damyang and stumbled upon the Namdo Food Festival, which looked pretty damn fun, but was much too big of an endeavor to take on this late in the game.  We instead headed to one of Damyang’s famous Galbi restaurants which didn’t disappoint.  It’s embarrassing how much BBQ’d pork they gave us.  
 승일식당
 Always packed. 
Namdo Food Festival
At this point in the trip it sort of felt like someone hit the fast forward button.  Certainly one of the bigger down-sides to trying to accomplish so much in a two-day weekend.  I think we’d all agree that another night/day to soak it all in would have been nice.  Regardless, it was an action packed 48 hours and I look forward to doing it all again soon (Wolchulsan anyone?)!!!
*all photos by Sean Walker, Sunghoon Cho, Jay Diaz, John McDermott and Mark Gibby Johnson…thanks for sharing guys!

TDH Updates 9-24-14

Lots going on around The Damyang House!’

  • Replacement hammock finally arrived this week.  What started as a seemingly harmless afternoon of cold beers and cornhole quickly took a turn for the serious when ANDREW BLACK destroyed my prize possession.  Shortly after he lost 20,000won on the ol’bean bag court.  Not a good day for Andy. 

    • Hosting Chuseok weekend for over 20 of our friends taught me one thing about The Damyang House:  we were in desperate need of more comfortable seating.  Our timing is a bit off, but we’re now the proud owners of four reclining camping chairs.  Pretty damn comfortable and a built in beer holder in the armrest to boot.  We’re ready for next year. *(the campfire fishing pole is one of the first things we bought when the house was finished…it’s even cooler than it looks!)

    • Birdwatching seems like another expensive hobby I can’t afford, but it’s hard not to get wrapped up in it when you’re surrounded by wildlife.  Ringed-necked pheasants, Ruddy Kingfishers and White-backed Woodpeckers are all birds I never even knew existed in Korea before the start of the summer.  Patrick Blake (local birding legend!) will return next month to The Damyang House to celebrate spotting his 700th species (!!!) and hopefully use that fancy camera of his to help me replace some of the blurry cell-phone photos I’ve collected trying to document the aforementioned wildlife.  Check out his website and learn something about the birds flying around the Korean peninsula.  His photography website is worth a look too!

    *Here’s a link to donate to the Birds Korea Organization if you’re feeling generous! 



      죽순 소시지 (Bamboo Shoot Sausage)

      죽순 소시지 (Bamboo Shoot Sausage)
      6km down the road (at the 고서 intersection) there is an appropriately named grocery store called ‘Local Food’ offering all the best and freshest foods the local farmers have to offer.  Bamboo alcohol, free range eggs and volume 10 kimches and namuls are all standard goods for sale.  The bamboo shoot sausage however, isn’t something I’ve seen before and honestly bought strictly for the novelty of the photo.  
      The novelty obviously stemming from the fact that bamboo is EVERYWHERE around Damyang and the locals try their best to exploit it in every way possible.  These particular bamboo shoots (죽순) are no joke though…they’re expensive and people come from all over to try and poach them from the local forests.  I “chased off” at least two poachers this summer from our front yard.  They also grow extremely fast so you have to pick them at the right time.  This photo shows a bamboo shoot that grew 230cm in a week!
      I clearly misjudged the sausage though.  They were delicious.  And as someone that routinely makes sausage, I can honestly say there were made by someone who knows what they are doing (natural casing and all).  At 7,500 for five they’re definitely pricier than what they have at the nearest Home Plus, but worth every won. 

      White-backed Woodpecker

      These little guys love the surrounding bamboo.  My limited research tells me they are White-backed Woodpeckers (the local birding facebook page seems to agree).  They’re gorgeous birds.  

      I hear them almost daily and have been trying ALL SUMMER to get a decent photo.  The odds have been stacked against me.  They’re not only fast birds, and bounce from tree to tree, but the bamboo forests around the house are thick.  And I’m using a camera phone.  I miss the days of early summer when that Ruddy Kingfisher was hanging around…he was much more willing to photographed!

       

      Peanut Harvest

      This summer was really our first chance to address the giant landscaping opportunity/nightmare that is our 200 pyeong property.  Here’s a before picture to give you an idea of what we were up against:

       
      I won’t bore you with the after pictures (they’re all over this website lol), but I will say that every rock, bush, tree and blade of grass was deliberate and done by hand.  The garden was no exception.  There was a bit of trial and error finding not only the right spot, but the right soil consistency (mixture of soil and something called 마사토 was the winner) as well.  The locals swore up and down that my little spot on the side of our house wasn’t going to get enough sun…lucky for me they were wrong.  Healthiest garden I’ve ever had.  Next year I’ll be able to incorporate a trellis or two and essentially double the yield.  This year we did cucumbers, eggplants, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, two kinds of hot peppers, and of course…peanuts.  

      I’ve actually grown peanuts before during our three year stint at the local 주말농장 (a weekend farm called Happy Farm…awesome place).   Seeing as this year was more of an experiment for the garden, we only planted three starters.  That gives you exactly one small serving of peanuts:
      Anyway, they were delicious!

      Yoga Y O G I (Open House)

      We had the pleasure of sponsoring the Yoga Y O G I open house tonight in Gwangju. We supplied the drinks and of course our infamous beer koozies to keep that sparkling water chilled!  It never gets old seeing a Korean use a beer koozie for the first time lol. 

      Megan Cox spent the summer in India getting schooled on all things yoga and is now the owner and proprietor of the Yoga Y O G I studio.  The converted rooftop apartment has been transformed into the perfect space to host yoga classes.  The classes come highly recommended if you’re in the area.  Click here for more information on how to stretch that mind and body.