Words by Jake Preston. Customer since 2014
Jake is wearing The BIB K.O.M.
I've been using RedWhite Bibshorts ever since 2014, In fact, I still have my 1st ever pair and they still get used. All up I have bought 5 pairs :
As a rule, I "enjoy" hills. By "enjoy" I mean that weird 'type 2 fun' masochism, whereby one hates oneself for doing it, whilst doing it, but later glows in a self indulgent satisfaction. So, worrying often times, I find my enthusiasm outrunning my skills, common sense and so on. It was one of those days. I hated it, and I loved it.
The "Adventure Series" of permanents (PTs) in the Korean Randonneurs listing comes with some warnings. They may not be the absolute hardest rides listed, but the Adventure Series combine loads of climbing with rough roads, and remote locations. My chain was already stretched, the brake pads thinner than I'd like, but suddenly...I had a free day! So, it was on. 4 semi-solid hours of sleep later and Roberto (my 2018 Specialized Roubaix) and I were off.
The first section was a familiar 9% climb up to the top of the UNESCO listed Namhan Sanseong fortress in southern Seoul. My backyard, and very familiar ground. What wasn't at all familiar was the pot hole I banged through on the descent and the puncture soon after. Not an auspicious start, and made less so by my hurried finger sweep of the tyre's inside that found the culprit...by slashing my finger. A rusty thread of steel wire had shot clean through the Gatorskins, and that pot hole which my RedWhite bibs absorbed with ease...had torn a 1cm2 chunk of the tyre. I hurriedly changed out a tubes, remounted Roberto and "Pop! Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!", the replacement tube exploded and collapsed - an old patch blowing off.
Crikey! Only 18km in and 2 tubes down. My remaining tube in, I was away again with the 180 odd km of rough roads still ahead on me.
The pitted concrete farm roads were littered abundantly with sand wash and fallen chestnuts. Punchy short climbs through the warming morning air were followed by treacherous descents on loose gravel, sand and pot holes. The dabbled light and narrow track making it impossible to drop at any normal speed, as I repeatedly hit gouges, holes, cracks and sticks. Yet, the sheer joy I was absorbing from this bucolic corner of the Earth was blissful. Wizened farmers on putt-putting cultivators bounced past, while mangy farm dogs yapped and snapped off their chains at Roberto and I.
The heavy heads of the golden rice bowed down the fields and apple trees reached hungrily downward under their seasonal burden.
"Where are you from my friend? You are American?" came the unexpected Russian drawl from a parked farm truck. Salman was a Chechen immigrant, and his smile in the early morning sunshine was literally as golden as the rice paddies he was harvesting. A solid top row of 6 gold teeth beamed out at me, encircled by his chinstrap beard. He'd been in Korea for a short while and was busy with the harvest. Life was good he assured me, and asked about where I was going. I mentioned a few random points on the course...but I couldn't be sure if they meant anything to Salman. They were obscure, tiny counties or passes, and most I'd never heard of in 18 years here.
The pure drudgery of forced pack marches was etched deeply into the faces and sagging shoulders of the young soldiers. Their aged M-16s and K-1 rifles swung as listlessly in their arms, as the over-sized shirts on the sun-bleached scarecrows nearby. I felt guiltily comfy and cheerful as I weaved between their ragged lines and potholes down the gravel road. Their dusty camouflage uniforms a stark contrast to my Sahara orange RedWhite jersey and polka-dot adorned KOM bibs. Then I reflected, my colours might well be good camouflage in a few weeks, as the first hint of Korea's vivid Autumnal orgy of reds, pinks, yellows and oranges were beginning to show.
The calm cold surface of the Han river temporarily swept by on my left, broken by leaping carp and the reflected images of long legged white herons. Then it was back into more hills, farm roads and a total absence of other people. A sunny 11% climb in Hanggeum-ri, rewarded me with my first real descent where I was on decent roads and could open up, at least for a short time. The devious course designers soon had me on crazy farm roads again, bouncing along merrily.
After skirting Korea's self-appointed cycle capital of Yangpyeong, on a short section of the renowned Seoul to Busan cycle path, I headed into the second 100km of my course. This was where, I had been told, the big bad mountains would be waiting.
Sections of quiet country road gave way to single lane concrete pathways between ride fields and fishing ponds. Short punchy climbs, past unexpectedly cute 'pensions' and farm villages had me spinning hard, or grinding harder. The shade had gone too and it felt far warmer than the 24 it was. Then, at 120km, I began what I though would be a familiar climb up road 37 to the top of Yumyeongsan (515m).
Uh-uh. Suckered again. Roberto and I broke right, up the gorgeous Yongcheon-ri valley...and I mean up.
The 15% climbs I'd hit earlier were mere bumps by comparison. Though the road was initially pretty good; winding up past trendy cafes and 'pensions'; it got rougher, narrower and steeper as I panted, sweated and swore my way forward. According to Strava, it hits 19% despite the switchbacks. In a "delightful" 5km stretch of climbing, the Seolmaejae Pass road stays stubbornly between 13% - 19%. I admit it, full confession, I ground to a halt, not once, but thrice! Just to let the military jeeps squeeze past, of course.
Finally atop the pass (actually a false pass, as the short dip is then followed up mercilessly by another small climb), I accepted the knowing wink and nod of a local. If the road up had been bad, the track down was it's ugly brother. Whereas the ascent had been in open sunshine on at least somewhat OK roads, the descent was in the late arvo murkiness of a forest. Sand, chestnuts, pine needle mounds, stones and the odd snake did a great job of hiding the deep wheel munching cracks, holes and breaches. 9%-14% descents like this stay with you forever, and made me recall fondly the just cursed climb that had brought me here. If I'd had Salman's gold teeth, I reckon they'd have been bounced clean out! The shake down ended at about 140km, and I remembered, there was still the climb up Yumyeongsan to go.
Despite a section of roadworks and a lack of hydration, I was feeling good. Knees, bum, ankles, shoulders...all OK. However the descents earlier had worn my brake pads down to their last gasp. Bike tool out and some emergency disc brake tweaks, and it was off again...by now I was finally seeing a few other cyclists out too. Some old Ajeosis (middle aged men) at a village mart rehydrated me with can coffee and water as I pushed on to the final small climb through Botgogae pass, and the final 40km down into Seoul. This was the "just dessert" descent I'd been longing for. Golden rice fields and persimmon trees raced by in the fading arvo sunlight. At Yangsu I rejoined the Seoul - Busan bike path and "civilization". A mixed feeling: good to be nearly home despite the inauspicious start,but sad too that I was again in a whirl of humanity and all that it brings. The 100 story tall Lotte Tower; looking every inch the "Eye of Sauron Tower"; pierced the sky before me like a silvery lighthouse guiding in wearied travellers.
Some 10 hours, 202km, 3,188m elevation, and I was done. I was stinky as all get go, salt encrusted like a Herman Melville character and hungry enough to eat my own arm. But, despite all that, I had no sore bum, no rash and no regrets. The RedWhite KOM bibs and Sahara jersey kept me as comfy as any adventurer could hope to be.
Chapaeu to RedWhite.