Thursday, May 25, 2017

he's at it again

Dr. V once again hammers away at physicalism here, in a post that includes a link to Terry Bisson's now-classic SF short story, "They're Made Out of Meat."

In the philosophy of mind, physicalism is the notion that the mind's existence and functioning can be explained entirely by physical phenomena. An attempt to explain the mind purely through matter gives rise to the problem of subjectivity, which is not easily explained in terms of the physical. This central difficulty, the difficulty of explaining how and why it is that subjective experience exists, is called the "hard problem" (often capitalized) of consciousness. The diametrical alternative to physicalism, seemingly embraced by Dr. V and other philosophers, is Cartesian substance dualism, which posits that there are two basic substances in this world, per the terminology of René Descartes: res cogitans (thoughts, mental phenomena) and res extensa (material things, i.e., things physically extended in space, with three dimensions). This view presents many of its own problems (e.g., how exactly is an unextended, nonphysical mind associated with or attached to a body?), but it's rational enough that a certain proportion of philosophers subscribe to it.

I'm a committed physicalist when it comes to mind, like 99.999% of the legitimate neuroscientific community. Their motto: the mind is what the brain does. People like Dr. V think this is arrogant tosh, and probably irrational to boot. His dualistic arguments against physicalism are fairly strong, but I've long maintained that science will continue to erode those arguments through the slow-but-steady progress it makes in fields like artificial intelligence and mind-machine interfacing. In fact, a recent article titled "Brain Implant Allows Paralyzed People to Control an Exoskeleton with Their Mind" (here) shows pretty clearly that thoughts have neural correlates. People like Dr. V have long been dismissive of this idea. "If you think of a horse," the argument goes, "then you go digging inside the brain for a horse-image, you'll never find one." What that argument is saying is that thoughts aren't material. (I debunk the horse argument here and here.) Except that they apparently are, or brain-machine interaction would be impossible. How can a machine respond to a person's intentions unless those intentions have a physical component?

True: let me concede right now that, even if thoughts are shown to have a physical component, this still doesn't prove that thoughts are entirely physical. But if we now have machines that can pick up the neural correlates for "turn right" and "turn left," how much longer will it be before we have machines that can display a flower, however fuzzily or murkily, when we think of one? A case for total physicalism is being built, brick by brick.

The article I linked to above sidesteps the hard-problem issue of subjectivity, but it highlights the now-obvious fact that neural correlates of consciousness exist (this has been shown to be true of monkeys, too). This should have been manifest from the beginning, given the mind's ability to interact with one's own physical body.

Anyway, let Dr. V continue with his dualistic fantasy if it pleases him. He's a deep and rigorous thinker, to be sure, but he's dead wrong on this issue.



funniest thing this morning

Star Wars... with Tommy Wiseau:






Walk Thoughts #237: why reinvent the wheel?

In this penultimate Walk Thoughts post, I had wanted to present you with a route map that I had cobbled together myself, but having now seen the enormousness of the task, I find myself asking: Why reinvent the wheel? The route's already been mapped! I had a reader or two ask me to provide a map of my route, but as I said in the comments, I had already provided such a map at the very beginning—here, in fact. And in that post was a link to this map. If you look at that map and follow the longest yellow line from Gwangnaru Jajeongeo Gongweon (fifth dot from the left if you start all the way at Incheon and can't read hangeul) all the way down to Busan, you'll be tracing the route I took.

Sorry not to provide you with my own graphic, but creating such an image would be a long and very tedious process—not to mention unnecessary, since the Gukto Jongju route I took has been mapped out several times over.

UPDATE: this site confirms that the Seoul-Busan portion of the Gukto Jongju is 550 km. The motel guy in Busan initially thought my hike was only 400-something kilometers, but the entire Nakdong River trail alone is nearly 400 km (if you count the spur leading out to Andong Dam; without the spur, the Nakdong trail is a bit under 300 km).



Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Manchester: 3 voices

First, the news about the bombing in Manchester, England, at an Ariana Grande concert: here.

Next, three voices:
John Pepple.
Paul Joseph Watson.
Mark Steyn.

As a student of religion, let me once again make my position clear: I see nothing inevitable about the connection between Islam—taken in the abstract as a tradition and a system of belief—and terrorism. This position might rankle some of my conservative readers because, at least lately, the right seems intent upon crafting a narrative in which Islam is inherently violent, inherently a producer of rape culture, inherently homophobic and sexist, etc. This is because the right is making the anthropological mistake of reducing a religious tradition, and the culture with which it is in a feedback-loop relationship, to its scripture. If there's violence in the scripture, then the religion must be inherently violent: so goes the logic. By that same logic, though, Judaism and Christianity ought to be scrutinized and accused in a similar way. After all, plenty of scripture-motivated violence has occurred (and arguably continues to occur) in the context of both of those traditions. But does it make sense to do that?

My maxim, often repeated on this blog, is that religions are as they are practiced. This maxim is rooted in my appreciation for Buddhist empiricism and nonessentialism. Buddhism argues that, metaphysically speaking, there are no essences, so nothing is fundamentally anything. Phenomena, whatever phenomena you can name, are all the products of a constantly swirling dynamic of intercausality. Buddhist empiricism is rooted in the idea that you must observe and react to what is actually happening around you, which means gaining a mindful appreciation for reality as it is. And this is where I do sympathize with the right: the right is correct to observe a deeply disturbing correlation between Islam and terrorism. This is the period of history we live in, and to deny that for whatever PC reason is to stand before the truck bearing down on you and to pretend it doesn't exist. The truck will flatten you unless you react to the situation according to beliefs anchored in actual reality. Is Islam an essentially violent religion? It's not essentially anything, but if religions are as they are practiced, then Islam certainly has violent practitioners, not to mention adherents, probably in the millions, who quietly support violence. But Islam also has its peacemakers, and no analysis of the religion can do it justice by ignoring this demographic.

So I like to think I have a nuanced perspective when it comes to the question of Islam and terrorism. On the one hand, if a religious tradition with some* history of violence, like Christianity, can evolve into an enormous, globe-spanning social phenomenon that is mostly peaceful these days, then who is to say that Islam cannot follow a similar path? In fact, the Sufi mystical tradition shows that devout Muslims can indeed choose and live out a way of radical peace. It's too bad that Sufism isn't the dominant form of Islam in the world, but we have to work with what we have.

Let's be clear, too, about what Donald Trump is trying to do. Trump is not aiming for a "travel ban," as people on the left (and some Never Trump cowards on the right) keep shrieking. He is looking to implement a moratorium, i.e., a temporary hold or delay, on immigration from a very small cluster of Muslim-dominant countries that have been the worst sources of international terrorism. This is where I rankle my liberal readers: I support this idea. It is not insane. It is not bigoted. It is certainly not "racist" because Islam is not a race. We need time and room to breathe in order to sort the current problem out. Heedlessly taking in throngs of refugees, most of whom will do nothing to attempt to integrate into their host country's culture, is an insane policy that has wreaked havoc in European countries like Germany and Sweden. With lack of integration comes the high potential for violence, and the species of Islam entering Western borders is often motivated by a hegemonic agenda (read Pepple, linked above, for why the "grievance" theory of Islamic terrorism is problematic; my own take is that poor Hindus have much to resent in their lives, yet we never hear of Hindu international terrorism). This is how you end up with Manchester. Or Paris. Or Stockholm. Or any number of other cities in the Western world, including inside the United States.

It wasn't that long ago that I was a heedless, clueless transnational progressivist who thought, as many still do, that we ought to do away entirely with the ideas of "borders" and "nations"—that we should embrace our common humanity and just meld into one gigantic human family (as incestuous as that sounds). It was, if anything, my exposure to more religiously conservative ideas while a grad student at Catholic University that caused me to begin to reorient my priorities. Divergent pluralism, the stance championed by religious thinkers like S. Mark Heim, emphasizes the fact that differences matter, and they matter in an impactful, everyday way. Saying blithely that "we're all oriented toward ultimate reality in our own way" (John Hick's convergent pluralism) risks papering over significant differences in worldview that should not be papered over. This realization carries over to the geopolitical realm and is very relevant to the social question of whether a larger society can afford to take in masses of people whose values are antithetical to it.

Am I committing the error of essentialism by speaking of a country's "values"? Not at all. Values are the product of intercausal forces, but on a practical level, they do obtain in any given society or culture. Buddhist metaphysics doesn't say "everything is unreal" or "everything is one"; it merely says that everything is dependently co-arisen, i.e., the product of intercausality. Human bodies are dependently co-arisen, but this doesn't mean they have no specific needs like food, air, water, etc. Humans arise and take specific forms; societies and cultures arise and also take specific forms, so it is indeed meaningful to talk about what happens when incompatible cultures meet. In the meantime, I now know that we're not done with borders and nations and other bounded phenomena. Not by a long shot.

But all of this is merely a personal rumination, quite beside the point of the above-linked perspectives. All of the people cited above agree that we can't continue burying our heads in the sand and pretending there's no problem. Nor can we take the unacceptable approach of London mayor Sadiq Khan, who dismisses terrorism, and its death toll, as merely "part and parcel of living in a big city." There is no excuse for Manchester, no excuse for our current politically correct complacency, and no excuse for our inability to think through the current demographic issue in a calm, rational manner.



*Some anti-Christian readers will object to the use of "some," citing all manner of atrocities committed throughout history in Christ's name. I'm sure those atrocities did happen, and I can't deny them. But what those anti-Christian folks routinely get wrong is that there's a whole other side to the tradition: Christianity's good deeds throughout history. These are doubtless less interesting from the anti-Christian's perspective, but such good deeds have also happened—quietly and in a less-newsworthy way—throughout the centuries. Many of those deeds will never be known because of the humility of the doers, who asked for no credit or praise for what they did. If you, as an anti-Christian, refuse to acknowledge this side of Christianity's history, though, then you and I have nothing to say to each other because I'll know your position is irrational, unbalanced, and unfair. The basic truth of religion is that it is a two-edged sword, not the one-edged sword that you falsely make it out to be. It inspires both the best and the worst in people. Deny this truth at your peril.



Tuesday, May 23, 2017

about that upcoming weekend walk

The route I'll be walking, this coming weekend, goes from the Sangpoong Bridge, northeast of Sangju City, down to the Nakdan Dam Certification Center. It's a good, healthy, 28-point-something-kilometer walk, which means about eight hours' hoofin' it (or "humpin' it," as the US soldiers said during the Vietnam War).

Near as I can figure, Sangju City has a bus terminal, so in theory, I can go there from Seoul by bus. Once I'm there, though, it's a long car ride to the Sangpoong Bridge, and then, when I reach the Nakdan Dam, I have to figure out how I'm getting back to Seoul. What I may try to do is arrange something with a Sangju City cabbie. I may end up paying him a large wad of cash to drop me off at the beginning of the route, then to pick me up at the very end. I also need to look at the bus-schedule charts and figure out (1) how early of a bus I can take down to Sangju City, and (2) how long the bus ride is. I don't fancy ending this walk late at night because of a late start, but arriving back in Seoul late at night is not a problem. Ideally, I'd like to end the hike in the afternoon, well before sunset.

The easiest solution would be to pull a Bruce Wayne and call my own personal chauffeur to drive me from Seoul to the Sangpoong Bridge, then have him or her wait eight hours for me to arrive at the Nakdan Dam. Ah, that'd be nice. But who in their right mind will pull into a parking lot and wait eight hours? (A cabbie would, at least, be free to go about his cab-driving all day long instead of waiting in one place for me.)

I'll refine these plans as the week progresses, but for the moment, taking the bus down, then cabbing, appears to be the best solution.

(This, by the way, is more of a thinking-out-loud post than a Walk Thoughts post, which is why it isn't labeled as such.)

UPDATE, 5/24: According to this site, the earliest bus from Seoul to Sangju City Terminal leaves at 7AM. The ride takes 2.5 hours, covering 194.7 kilometers. A cab ride to the bridge will be 30-40 minutes, which means starting the hike a bit after 10AM. Assuming I can go at a full 3 mph because I won't be encumbered by a full backpack (I'll have a smaller backpack with water in it), I can do the 18-mile walk in about six hours. That puts my arrival time at 4PM. If I've arranged something with my cabbie, then he'll meet me at Nakdong Dam at 4PM, get me back to Sangju City Terminal by 4:40, and I'll be on a bus at around 5PM, arriving in Seoul's Express Bus Terminal about 7:30. The subway (or cab) ride back will get me to my apartment sometime between 8PM and 8:30PM, depending on how sluggishly I'm moving. So this is all doable.



Walk Thoughts #236: antepenultimate thoughts

I know you're getting tired of the Walk Thoughts, Dear Reader, especially now that the major part of the walk has drawn to a close. Take heart, for I have only three more of these posts to go: (1) this "antepenultimate thoughts" post (which would normally be the absolute final post were there not a need for two more posts), (2) a post showing the map of my total route in one big image, and (3) an "epilogue to all the epilogues" post describing my makeup walk. Hang on, then—we're almost there. After today's post, there are only two more to go.

What It's Like to Be Back

Coming back to Seoul conjured a host of mixed feelings. I was relieved the walk was over, but also sad that it was done. I felt a certain fullness and thankfulness that I had gained so much knowledge about a Korea that I'd never experienced before. I felt disjointed and dislocated to find myself back in big-city civilization again.

Finding my urban circadian rhythm again has been a strange process, and it isn't complete yet. Today, for example, I woke up super-early, as I'd become used to doing on my walks, but then I put myself back into bed and didn't wake up until 12:30 in the afternoon, making me way late for work. Luckily, I have a lenient, flexible boss when it comes to my office schedule, so I knew I wouldn't be in trouble. I'm guessing that today's snafu came from the convergence of my body's contradictory urges: the wake-up-at-5 urge that had become my habit over nearly a month, and the sleep-to-recover urge that had taken hold when the walk was done. So I'm in a weird place right now, both wanting to wake up early and wanting to sleep until all my deep fatigue is gone. Eventually, if I let my work schedule take over my life once again, I imagine I'll be back to my old routines and habits.

But do I want that? There's something to be said for waking up early, even though I know I wasn't waking up as insanely early as some people on my blogroll. I still instinctively rebel against going to bed before midnight (I had trouble with that on the trail as well), but old Ben Franklin was on to something with his "early to bed, early to rise" proverb. I'll talk more about the implications of my inner circadian conflict below.

Being back at the office is both a relief and a bit anticlimactic. Settling into the office routine has thus far proven easy enough, mainly because so much of what I do in the office involves a sort of muscle memory. Sure: what I do is somewhat creative in nature because I'm in the business of making textbooks. But it's a low-level sort of creativity that doesn't really engage my deeper faculties and capacities. If anything, the desire is growing in me to branch off and do some work of my own. I have, as a result, several projects currently on the back burner that will be front-burnered later this year. In the meantime, I can already feel myself re-plugging into the rhythm of my job. One thing I haven't done since coming back is go on any long walks. That might change tonight: I need to remain in shape for this coming weekend.

What I Learned About Myself and Korea

Over the course of twenty-six days, I learned I can be resourceful. When my chest strap failed, I found a solution for that. When my shoulder straps became painful, I used the materials I had on me to blunt the pain. When I had to fetch water from an awkward part of the river, I conscripted my trekking pole, hanging my plastic bottles off it and using the pole to dip the bottles into the water, sweeping them across the water again and again until they were filled. I rediscovered my ability to build and maintain campfires using local deadfall.

I also learned that I can endure hardship. When my hip belt failed late in the walk, and my pack began slipping down, I did what I could to minimize the compression on my shoulders and spine, but mostly I endured. On the disastrous day that it rained, I simply soldiered on until I reached that day's goal. (I wish I could add the adverbial phrase "without complaint," but that would be a lie.) I watched the kilometers ticking downward as I made my way closer and closer to the Nakdong River's estuary, and I wasn't driven crazy by the slowness of it all. I walked through blisters, aches, and various irritations, physical and psychic. Over 550 kilometers later, I'm proud to say that I'm still here. I can stand anything.


Korea is a land of mountains and valleys and rivers, and I had the privilege of learning about one particular path: the great path from Seoul to Busan. A fanciful legend began to form in my head as I walked. In this legend, the sky used to be filled with dragons—clouds of them, massed in the air like millions of starlings. Dragons have, of course, their own individual personalities, so it was inevitable that many dragons would clash. In the skies over this peninsula, the dragons fought each other, ripping and twisting and tearing and killing, and when a dragon died, its snakelike body, the size of a small mountain range, would plummet heavily to the earth. The impact would create mountains on either side; the dragon's body, being magical, would bury itself deep in the ground, and a river would form above it, following the shape of the carcass and thrumming with an energy that echoed the dragon's former power. Thus were the mountains and river valleys formed, through the splendid deaths of hundreds upon hundreds of dragons, inadvertently blessing the land with their magic even as their impacts sundered the ground. And to this day, if you fly over the peninsula, you will see the shapes of these dragons in the proud rivers that memorialize their existence. To walk a river is to walk alongside ancient power.

I felt that eldritch energy as I walked. There really are no words to describe what I saw and sensed and breathed as I moved slowly southward down to Busan. Whenever the bike path swung away from the river, I always felt disappointed: I was feeding off the river's quiet, natural force—its ki, if you will. Living in Seoul as I do, I now realize that human activity conjures up its own style of solipsistic, self-celebrating energy, but this energy is scattershot and frenetic, nothing like the evolved, deliberate, stately might of a river and its valley.

On a practical level, I began to wonder why people are so obsessed with beaches. Rivers provide many of the same pleasures: the water, the living creatures, the breeze, the natural beauty. It's all there, and yet I saw so few campers and riverside sunbathers. Maybe the occasional signs declaring "no fishing or camping" were part of the problem. Maybe the tall, untamed plant life along the river's banks was another problem. I can't say. But from what I saw, there were plenty of places where a person could settle down and enjoy the slow passage of the water, and plenty of manmade campgrounds and parks and picnic areas where people could lay out a spread of good food and let their kids have the run of the land. In fact, I began to wonder about why there were so few kite-flyers. I recall seeing only one little girl, with her American dad, flying a kite just south of the Chilgok Dam.

My walk also reinforced my impression that Koreans are ambitious when it comes to building large structures, whether they be skyscrapers or bridges or tunnels or dams. The brute thusness of those dams was quite impressive. Humans can literally move mountains if they so choose, and Korea is shot through with evidence of humanity's strength and determination.

The people you meet along the way can be kind. I never received any offers for a ride, the way I did in the States in 2008, but I did receive food from some folks, and travel advice from others, and one-upsman stories from yet others. I heard a lot of "Daedanhashineyo!" ("That's/You're great!") and "Sugohashimnida!" ("You're working hard!"), plus the occasional "Jinagamnida!" ("I'm passing you," said as a polite heads-up). Plenty of bikers were doing the entire Gukto Jongju path from Incheon to Busan. For the most part, they all dressed for the role, as Koreans do: they wore sleek helmets, sunglasses, Tour de France-style Spandex clothing, and those silly, foreskin-looking wraparound pieces of cloth that shade the face and neck and make you look like a member of ISIS. Most of the bikers had water-bladder backpacks; some of them had packed more supplies, but I gathered that, for the most part, the bikers already knew they could use yeogwans instead of camping, which is why they had almost nothing with them, supply-wise.

I could go on for thousands of words, or talk for hours, and I'd still never be able to convey what this experience has meant to me. Suffice it to say that, from late April to mid-May, I Went Out and Did A Thing, and in some subtle way, That Thing Has Changed Me. I want to return to the riverlands, maybe as a walker again, or maybe as a mere tourist this time. Now that I know such places exist, I wonder why more people aren't out there, drinking in the ambiance and clearing their heads. Maybe that's for the best: I can have the rivers to myself.

A thought did occur to me: were I ever to get married in Korea, I'd like to be married at the bank of a river. What better place to sanctify a union?

What Happens Now with My Weight and My Health

I lost ten kilograms, i.e., twenty-two pounds, in twenty-six days. I think most of that weight came off during the first half of the walk. That weight-loss rate averages out to almost a pound lost per day, or about six pounds a week, which is three times the rate at which you're supposed to lose weight on a normal diet. If I had the free time and money to walk all year long, I would, as my buddy Tom recently joked, walk until there was none of me left. But let's regain some perspective: I'm still fat. I still have my double chin, my man-boobs, my huge love handles, and my fat ass. None of that has changed, and to change it visibly, I'd need to lose at least another 20 kilos.

Over the past weekend, I misbehaved a great deal and regained a kilogram (NB: a good portion of that regain is just the gunk sitting in my intestines, not the actual return of body fat). Can't say I feel too guilty about that, especially as I plan to buckle down over the coming months. One thing I'll be doing within the next couple of weeks is joining the gym in my building. You may recall, if you're a dedicated reader, that I tried joining this same gym many months ago, but that I ended up canceling the membership and getting a refund because of my finances. I'm in a much better place now, financially speaking; I'll be paying off my third major debt this coming June, which is going to bring my bank account down low for a month or so, but by December, I'll have rebuilt myself back into robustness again. This blow-and-recovery has all been factored into my gigantic, detailed budget. A gym membership, while not something I had planned for, will do little damage to my finances, in part because I'll have KMA and Seoul National gigs that I also didn't include in the budget: the unanticipated income and unanticipated expense will cancel out.

I can't reasonably expect to continue exercising the way I had been over the past month, so something's got to give. To some extent, that's going to mean cutting back on calories, but incorporating cheat days. Specifically, I'm going to have to cut down on carbs, and I need to keep my daily caloric intake under 2600 so that I'm always at a deficit, and thus always losing some weight. Dieting isn't enough, though, for someone with as slow a metabolism as mine is, so the walking will continue, but the point of going to the gym will be to build muscle, which will in turn increase my basal metabolic rate because muscle burns more calories than, say, fat (which actually stores energy). I've been toying with the idea of trying the Atkins Diet once again, but I have horrible memories of becoming depressed while on that diet, and I just proved, over the course of the past month, that it's perfectly possible to lose a good bit of weight while not on Atkins.

So for the near future: walking, gym, and dieting, plus occasional cheat days. You'll recall that I mentioned my "inner circadian conflict" above. While I've got momentum on my side, I should take advantage of the fact that I'm naturally waking up early to hit the gym at 6AM on alternate mornings. If I wait too long to start such a program, I'll revert to my original sluggard's schedule and end up exercising later in the day. I'll continue what I started with the jump-rope program, too, and I'll throw in plenty of building-staircase climbing. If I can find a weight vest in my size, I might wear that while doing my creekside walks as a way to simulate what it was like to walk with a backpack. I might have no choice but to order a weight vest from Amazon. We'll see. Oh, and as for the creekside walks: I'm going to try walking my fourteen staircases in both directions from now on: twenty-eight staircases instead of fourteen. As I've mentioned in previous Walk Thoughts, stairs training is great preparation for hiking up steep slopes. I'm now a big believer in such training. And if it's 1100 steps up Namsan, then walking twenty-eight staircases will have me walking up over 1800 steps, which beats Namsan. Three walks up my building's staircase also beat Namsan.

One last thing: my recent visit to the doc proved disappointing. My blood-sugar results were great (odd, given how much soda I drank along the path), but my blood pressure was, according to the doc, still high (about 140/90). I do wonder, though, how accurate that reading is: the doc seemed hasty and distracted. I need to buy a BP monitor for use at home. In any event, as long as I continue to lose weight and exercise, my overall BP ought to trend downward. The doc says he might not see me the next time I visit, as he himself has to undergo some sort of surgery ("Physician, heal thyself," right?). I may be faced with a different doc in July. We'll see.

I've got my work cut out for me in the short term. Long-term plan: get back into martial arts. There's a taekwondo training hall in the building where I work, and there's a geomdojang (Korean-style fencing hall) in a building close to my apartment. If I can find a place to get into boxing, I hope to add that into the mix.

Will There Be Future Walks?

I've been asked this question by impatient commenters who are already primed for the next adventure. It's a bit too soon to say, but Korea offers a host of different paths aside from its most famous one. There's a trail that exclusively follows South Korea's eastern coastline, for example; I have to wonder how different it is from the Gukto Jongju. Will it have rest areas, motels, and other facilities sprinkled along its length at roughly the same intervals? How hilly might that trail be? What's the weather like along the coast, should I decide to tackle that trail at the same time of year in the future?

Of course, that too is a practical problem: there's no guarantee that I can ever do something like this again. Korean corporations aren't known for doling out one-month vacations, and what I did was mainly the result of a special arrangement between me and my boss, who saw the insane number of comp hours I had built up over the course of my work marathon in January and February, and who kindly granted me a huge amount of time off to realize my peripatetic ambition. I also had to sacrifice my trip to America and Europe this year in order to realize this hike; I've rescheduled my international travel for next year, which means I won't be able to do a long hike next year.

But it's not as though I'm not thinking about future hikes. I've looked online and seen that my Gregory Whitney 95 backpack is still being sold at some outlets for its original price of around $250, US. I'm also tempted to re-purchase my old Big Agnes tent, but I may need to try camping in the Outdoor Research bivy some more before I elect to go back to tenting. So, yes: I'm thinking about hiking again. Once you have the walking bug, you can't get it out of your system, and Korea has so, so many paths to explore.

The story of the Imjin War-era man who walked from Busan to Seoul in only fifteen days—told to me twice by two different people—has stuck with me, and I've been wondering, lately, whether it's possible to plot my own Seoul-Busan route that would allow me to connect the dots between those cities in the same amount of time. I doubt I can match that man's athleticism, but what I lack in speed I can make up in distance walked per day. Such a walk would be painful, though: it'd be little more than a stunt to prove that I can do what some guy in the late 1500s once did. Do I really need to undertake such a walk?

So the future is open. As far as what the corporation will allow, vacation-wise, I'll play that by ear, and in 2019, the year I turn 50, we'll see about returning to the trail. There are many trails to choose from just here in South Korea, but I might expand my horizons, later on, to projects like walking across Switzerland or walking along a French mountain range. There's much to see, much to do. The world is wide, and the future isn't written.



Some final pics:

The Samsung service-center guy who repaired my phone basically ripped the phone's whole face off and replaced it with a spanking-new display. He gave me the option of keeping, or not keeping, the original display, so I asked him to box it up for me. Here's what my cracked phone looked like, and now you can see why I was worried about the possibility of humidity affecting the phone.


Below: me with hair gel and no more beard. Sorry, beard, but you had to go: way too damn itchy. Shaving that monster off was a project in itself: the hairs were so long that the razor couldn't scrape off more than a centimeter-long swath at a time before it got clogged. Eventually, though, I whittled my face back down to its normal proportions, and I'm back to being my ugly self again. (The pharmacy lady who doled out my meds told me she thought the beard looked good.)


Finally: one last, loving shot of my foot, six days after the walk's end. The blistered skin finally ripped open in the shower on Friday (a day after my return to Seoul); after that, it was a matter of using a nail clipper to remove excess skin, then swabbing out the smelly areas where the dried blood had collected and begun to rot. I dipped some Q-tips in rubbing alcohol and went at my foot with a vengeance, eventually getting everything nice and clean. The new skin under the blister was already quite tough. So, yes, Poison Girls, you can indeed walk through your blisters, and they'll heal on their own, and your feet will be all the tougher.



Monday, May 22, 2017

Walk Thoughts #235: a review of my equipment

So how did my equipment perform over the course of three-plus weeks on the trail? I've ended up having to say goodbye to some old friends, a few of which gave up the ghost toward the end of the walk. Here's a review of the most important pieces of equipment.

Gregory Whitney 95 Backpack

I've had this pack since my 2008 walk, and the time has come, alas, to part ways. Gregory—recommended by hiking guru Colin Fletcher in his various books on long-distance walking—is a great, great backpack-manufacturing company, and I'm very brand-loyal to it. This particular pack has been with me all over the United States, parts of Europe, and parts of Asia. It's a beloved travel companion, and I hate to see it go.

One of the pack's greatest virtues, aside from its molded internal frame, is the mass of cleverly designed zippers all over its surface that allow you easy access to all the pack's contents. Unlike my older Gregory from the 1990s, this pack is no mere top-loader: you can get at your contents straight through the back and sides, and there's even a large zipper at the very bottom to allow you to access items located there without having to shift around all the other contents in the pack. The Whitney 95 also has plenty of storage pouches along the side and on the belt, as well as a suite of adjustable straps to tighten your load down and prevent shifting while you're walking. In terms of storage capacity (95 liters) and item-accessibility, the Gregory can't be beat. I've looked at recent backpacks by companies like Osprey, and not one of them features the same sort of zipper-and-pouch configuration that my Gregory has—another reason why I'd rather repair this pack than go searching for another pack of equally good design. (What I really need to do is check Gregory's latest packs.)

But let's talk problems. The Gregory isn't perfect. One major flaw is that the pack's top compartment, which is a pouch that's separate from the backpack's main body, has a tendency to sag in one direction or another. This isn't a huge concern on the trail, but it can cause slight discomfort as well as be an aesthetic pain in the ass. A deeper problem is the pack's hip belt, which was giving me fits even back in 2008, when I was on my 600-mile walk. The main problem with the hip-belt assembly is that the belt itself is made of a slippery synthetic material (probably nylon) combined with a plastic belt buckle. This is, frankly, a stupid design, as the belt tends to slip through the buckle after you tighten it. For us fatties, this quickly becomes an issue as the pack sags lower and lower on our backs, necessitating repeated re-tightenings. A belt-with-holes system would solve this problem right away, and I wouldn't be forced to jury-rig my own leather-belt solution. A third flaw is the chest and shoulder straps. The shoulder straps are hard and tend to bite painfully into your armpits; the chest strap is poorly clipped onto the shoulder straps and tends to pop off. Mine popped off on the very first day of the hike after I had tried to reattach it to the shoulder strap. It was essentially useless after that. I ended up having to use a spare strap, which I'd had the foresight to bring along, as a replacement chest strap. As for the shoulder straps, I took care of the armpit-biting problem by folding up a washcloth and a handkerchief and tucking them underneath the straps to alleviate the pain and pressure. I'd much rather have had pool noodles wrapped around the straps; the foam would have distributed the straps' pressure across a wider area.

In summary, I'd say the Gregory's design virtues all have to do with how it stores and allows access to a load, while its flaws all have to do with how the backpack interacts with the user. I was able to jury-rig my own workarounds to the flaws, but part of me resents having had to do so. I hope the latest generation of Gregories (Gregorys?) has fixed these problems.

Cascade Trekking Poles (Costco)

At under W40,000, these trekking poles were a good example of "you get what you pay for." I should have paid more for better carbon-fiber poles. While the lone pole I used did get me across the country, there were moments on the trail, such as when I was climbing down a very steep incline on my second day of camping, when the pole began to collapse on me. That should never happen: your trekking pole, once extended the desired length, ought to lock perfectly in place no matter how much weight you put on it. I already explained this problem in an earlier post, so I won't ramble on too much here. Suffice it to say that I'd rather have a screw-in locking system than a clip-and-grip one. In fact, once I got back to my place, I tested out my screw-in trekking pole, which cost me only W5,000 when I bought it in Hayang, and sure enough, I was able to put nearly my entire weight on the pole, which budged not an inch. So maybe it's not a matter of getting what you pay for, eh?

Outdoor Research Alpine Bivy Sack

A bivy sack, if you're a committed tenter, takes some getting used to. First off: don't be fooled by how the sack is displayed on websites. Instead, look at YouTube tutorials on bivy sacks to understand both how to set them up and what they're really going to look like when you deploy them. On an online sporting-store catalog, the unfurled sack looks nicely smooth and filled out, but in real life, it's going to be a crinkled, droopy mess. Know that that's what a bivy sack is actually designed to be: the drooping is part of how it performs. In my case, I was cautious when I'd read some customer reviews that talked about condensation being a problem with the $180 version of the sack; when I looked at the $250 version's reviews, those complaints all but disappeared, so I ended up buying the more-expensive version of the bivy. Sure enough, condensation wasn't a real problem.

As you may recall if you've been a dedicated reader, I did a test run with the bivy before I went on my walk. On that day, the test went awkwardly, but when I was on the trail and forced to get friendly with this strange and still-unfamiliar piece of equipment, I quickly learned how best to use it. I am now an expert at inserting my foam roll into the bivy, hooking one end of the roll under the bivy's interior strap, then worming my way into the sack while kicking the foam roll to unroll it while working my way inside. The sack provides adequate shielding from the critters and elements thanks to its two-layer zipper system, but I noticed that my feet kept getting cold. I'm not sure that this is actually a problem with the bivy: it may simply be that I failed to tuck my feet into my sleeping bag, or that I failed to wear thick enough socks (or some other sort of foot-warmer).

I had originally wanted the bivy because I didn't know what sort of ground I'd be camping on, and bivy sacks, unlike most tents, don't require tent stakes for their setup. You can't reliably sink stakes into loose soil, which can get annoying when all you have is a standard pup tent like my original Big Agnes from 2008. That said, there were times when I wished I'd had the Big Agnes, which was much roomier and more comfortable to sleep in. A bivy sack is pretty bare-bones in terms of comfort: it's essentially a sleeping bag for your sleeping bag, an extra shell of protection to keep out rain, cold, and creepy-crawlies. I'm still a bit ambivalent about my bivy, but it's certainly better than nothing when you're out on the trail. I just need to remember either to bring something to cover my feet, or to tuck my feet into my sleeping bag.

Speaking of which:

SEMOO Lightweight Sleeping Bag

I never once used the sleeping bag as a bag. What I did instead was use the sleeping bag as a sort of blanket, unzipping it along its length and placing it on top of myself at night when the air was cooler. My foam roll provided perfect insulation from the ground, and I also didn't want to overheat, which is the main reason why I used the bag as a blanket. I can't say how well the SEMOO might perform in cold, mountainous conditions, but it was fine for spring nights alongside the river. I also appreciated that the bag came with its own compression sac that allows you to reduce how much space the bag takes up inside your backpack. As the hole at the bottom of my backpack got wider and wider over the course of my hike, I began to use the sleeping bag to plug the hole, shoving it against the open wound to prevent other items from spilling out of my pack the way my poor trowel did. I especially liked the fact that my SEMOO cost me only $25, compared to the ridiculous prices for sleeping bags here in Korea, with some higher-end bags costing close to $1000.

Grayl Water-filtration System + Potable Aqua Purification Tablets

My Grayl was a pain in the ass to use because it was so labor-intensive: you have to use your body's weight to push down on the French-press-style water filter. The Grayl itself, being mostly metal except for the plastic filter cartridge, was actually one of the heavier items in my backpack. Despite these disadvantages, though, the filter fulfilled its purpose and kept me pathogen-free for the two days that I used it. (On my third day of camping, I was at a formal campground that had potable-water stations, so I didn't need the Grayl.) In terms of performance, the Grayl was a huge step up from the ridiculous Katadyn pump-action filter that I had used in 2008. That filter didn't do anything to prevent me from getting watery bowels after drinking river water (from the Columbia River), and it was also a pain to use. The Grayl's major disadvantage, however, is that the filter, which works on a nano level, clogs up easily, which means the filter's performance degrades quickly. On my second day of camping, there was already a noticeable difference in filtration efficiency: pressing the French press was much harder. True, the Grayl instruction manual advises you to pre-filter the water you're trying to strain in order to remove excess particulate matter, but that would have added extra steps to an already-slow procedure for me.

The Potable Aqua purification tablets that I used in tandem with the Grayl also worked well. What I did was this: I fetched river water in my large plastic bottles and brought the water back to camp. I wiped off the bottles' exteriors with wet wipes to minimize contamination, then I dumped the tablets into the water to kill off microorganisms. Potable Aqua tablets come in two bottles: the first tablets you throw into the water will give it a nasty rust color as the iodine (well, technically, it's tetraglycine hydroperiodide) works its evil magic. After thirty minutes, you throw in the second set of tablets, which remove the rust color, return the water to pristine transparency, and take out most of the iodine-y taste. The result is water that tastes as if it comes from a swimming pool, but which is perfectly drinkable. Next step: run the purified water through the Grayl. This eliminates most of the nasty aftertaste and makes the water even more palatable. Passing the water through the Grayl also eliminates all the abiotic particles—silt, grit, and various gross things like animal fur.

All in all, my tabs-plus-Grayl system was a winner, keeping me alive and healthy for the brief duration of my riverside camping.

Esbit Pocket Camp Stove and Fuel Tablets

I'm surprised my camp-stove system worked as well as it did, especially since I hadn't bothered to test the system before I went on my hike. I guess I was trusting the German technology to come through for me when I needed it to. The stove is essentially a rectangle of lightweight metal. Two panels on the stove fold out and turn into angled "walls," on top of which you can set your pot or pan to be heated. You then place the Esbit's white chemical briquettes onto the stove's bottom, light them with whatever ignition system you've brought (I brought a cigarette lighter), and voilà—instant heat. I think you're supposed to use only one briquette at a time, but I piled on three, which was enough to get my water boiling rapidly.

When the chemical flame dies, you're left with a bit of a blackened mess at the bottom of your stove (not to mention the scorching on your cookware), but these are minor issues, and the blackened surface of the stove's metal doesn't affect future performance. I simply stored my stove inside a Ziploc bag to keep it from besmirching other items inside my pack.

Coleman 5-piece Mess Kit

This kit is almost exactly the same as the one I'd used in 2008, so I already knew what to expect, performance-wise. My main interest was in having a lightweight pot in which to boil water for my Mountain House freeze-dried meals, since that's all that those meals needed for prep: just add boiling water, stir, zip closed, wait ten minutes, and you're good to go. I didn't end up using any of the other pieces of the mess kit, so I'm wondering why I brought them along. All I needed was the pot, really.

Therm-a-Rest Foam Bedroll

This is the classic foam roll that pretty much every backpacker carries on the outside of his pack. Since I'm already fine with sleeping on the ground, a foam roll is all I need for a more-or-less comfortable night's sleep. As equipment goes, this item is pretty straightforward in its purpose and function; there really isn't much to it. This roll did what I asked it to do, keeping me insulated from the cold ground at night. I suppose there might be some clever way to MacGyver it into a waterproof shelter or something, but otherwise, it's just a foam bedroll.

Food

Food isn't equipment, per se, but it's part of what you pack with you, and like equipment, it does have a purpose and perform a function. I think, however, that I've already written pretty extensively on the types of food that I brought with me, so I'll simply offer a quick summation of my thoughts here.

MREs: never again. They're good, but they're bulky, heavy, and ultimately not worth taking along. In fact, knowing what I now know about opportunities to eat while in town (thanks to my readers' constant harping on this topic), I would drastically reduce the amount of food I'd pack were I ever to do this trip again. In the end, I think I really needed to eat only three camp meals. I could have survived on convenience-store food and restaurant fare pretty much the whole way down. That, or I could have stocked up on Korean-style dried food, spices, and powders to create my own soups.

Mountain House freeze-dried food: keep on packing it. I love the brand, and all the meals taste good. If it ain't broke...

Survival Tabs: cute, but ultimately unnecessary.

Soylent: I never once used this, so that damn pack of powder ended up weighing me down for no particularly good reason. Soylent might be useful in an emergency, but having walked nearly the entire length of the Gukto Jongju, I have a hard time imagining what sort of emergency would leave me on the brink of starvation. When in peril, just walk another 20 miles down the trail, and you're sure to find a restaurant! Food isn't nearly as important an issue as water, anyway, and I've got the water covered.

Toshi, Hat, and Other Clothing and Footwear

My manchettes and my hat both served me well. I didn't purchase them until after I'd been badly sunburned, but I think they did a great job of protecting me for the rest of the journey. The main problem with the hat, however, was how the brim forced my neck into an exaggerated head-forward posture because of my desire to keep the brim from brushing against my backpack.

The soles of my New Balance walking shoes now definitely show the wear that comes of walking 340-plus miles, but the shoes themselves performed well during the walk. They were comfortable, even in rain, and while I occasionally felt a pinch in my pinky toes, the shoes weren't overly tight. My REI socks, which date back to 2008 and are still going strong, also worked well with the shoes, guarding against irritation and the hazards that would have come with wearing cotton socks (odor, blisters, etc.). Footwear is an absolutely crucial consideration for hikers, and in my case, New Balance is the only brand that seems to fit the unique shape of my feet. (Believe me, I've tried other brands.)

My REI cargo/hiking pants also deserve a big shout-out here. Made of light synthetics, the pants are both breathable and generally water-resistant, and they don't reveal sweat stains on unsightly areas of my body. If I have one complaint, it's that the pant legs have zippers at their bottoms, and at the end of a long day's hiking, the last thing I want or need is to accidentally tread on a zipper's pull tab when my soles are tender and painful after twenty miles on the road. I'd have loved to take the pants in to a seamstress to get the leg length shortened by about an inch, But Oh Well. Aside from that complaint, the pants worked wonderfully.

My two leather belts performed bravely, although one of the two belts will never be the same. My thinner leather belt was used to hold up my pants; my thicker belt was drafted to supplement my backpack's hip-belt assembly. You may recall that, toward the end of my hike, the belt suffered a severe malfunction when the buckle popped open. Luckily, that malfunction didn't reoccur, and the belt seems to be doing fine for the moment. I've now punched new holes into both of my belts; this will allow me to track the regaining of my weight should I begin to swell up again.

My poor black tee shirt is no longer black after the brutal use I put it through. I'm a sweaty guy, and I was outdoors for nearly a month, so the shirt began to change color thanks to a combination of sun, soap, and sweat. I'd wash that shirt every time I was in a motel, but I don't think it actually became clean until I finally stuck it in my apartment's washing machine a few days ago. I should show you all a side-by-side comparison photo of my two black tees, just so you can appreciate what my one shirt went through.

My bandanna gave me a properly gangsterish sort of look, and it did its sweat-wicking job, but the holes in its fabric that were once tiny are now the size of bona fide rips. Sad.

Lastly, there's the matter of my Spandex cycling pants, which began the walk with holes in the crotch—holes that only got worse as I went along. Imagine hiking for miles with one ball constantly crawling out of your pants. Yeah... that happened. More times than I care to admit. But I used those pants for one reason: to avoid firecrotch. If you're not familiar with what that is, it's basically my term for what happens when a thick-thighed person walks for several hours straight without protection: the inner thighs begin to chafe, becoming red and sensitive, making it hard to do normal things like shift in one's chair or walk across a room without wincing. Spandex cycling pants completely cover and grip the thighs, preventing thigh-on-thigh contact and abrasion, which makes them essential for long-distance walking. An alternative solution to the problem, using Vaseline to lubricate the inner thighs, is inconvenient for long walks because of the need to reapply the Vaseline at annoying intervals. With Spandex pants, you put them on and forget about them.

Samsung Galaxy S4 + charging components

Despite my having dropped the phone and cracked the screen, it performed beautifully the whole trip. Being a 2013-era S4, my Samsung Galaxy is considered an old phone at this point, but after I got back to Seoul, I took it to a local service center and got the screen replaced for a whopping W115,000. The process took only about ten minutes (after twenty minutes' waiting in a take-a-number line), and now my phone has a brand-new face and feels like a spanking-new piece of equipment.

The Somi portable charger also worked beautifully the entire trip, keeping my phone nicely charged while I was camping. I had worried about how humidity might affect both electronic items, but ultimately, nothing bad happened.

I contrast my Samsung's performance with that of my BlackBerry from 2008. My BlackBerry (a gift from my parents) did its best to handle the weather, but in the end, it died just as I was arriving in Portland, Oregon. I ended up with a replacement phone (refurbished, I think) that lasted the rest of that walk, but the seeds of my mistrust in the BlackBerry brand had already been planted. Samsung, meanwhile, builds a tough phone. Color me impressed.

Conclusion

A hiker is nothing without his equipment, and overall, my equipment stood me in good stead. Some of the equipment died along the way, but some of it survived, bloodied but unbowed. At this time, I'd like to offer a salute to the following items, now tentatively or definitely among The Fallen:

• my backpack
• my Spandex cycling pants
• my Cascade trekking poles (not worth keeping)
• my trowel (lost along the way)
• my bandanna

It's going to be a real shame when I put the Gregory out to pasture, but unless I can find a place that repairs backpacks, there's not much else I can do.

In the meantime, O Pieces of Equipment, I raise a glass to you all. You were my companions on this trip, and I couldn't have done it without you, so here's to you.



Sunday, May 21, 2017

Walk Thoughts #234: a review of my lodging

I stayed in a lot of yeogwans, motels, pensions, and guest houses. The varieties of lodging available in Korea can be confusing. Luckily, an enterprising Aussie(?) couple has written an article on what they're calling the twelve types of Korean accommodations; go have a look and come back. I found the article generally solid, although I'd quibble with some of the descriptions, especially now that I know what I know.

April 22: Baro Hotel by City Hall in Hanam City.

Not a bad place to spend the night. I don't remember the cost, but I'm sure it was in the W40,000-W50,000 range. Recommended, mainly because it was the only place to allow me to check in right away instead of making me wait until after 10PM.

(Actually, I do remember the cost: W80,000. The regular price was W60,000, but I was obliged to pay the "early check-in" fee of W20,000 for having arrived around 2PM.)

April 23 & 24: River House Motel in Yangpyeong.

It was a relief to reach this motel after one of my hardest days of walking (yes: Day 2 remains one of my hardest days; it's the day I got my huge foot blister, after all). Only W35,000 a night for a room facing away from the beautiful river. (River-view rooms are more expensive.) I stayed for two nights. Recommended, if for no other reason than that it's easy to get back on the trail on the morning you leave: simply walk across the street and find the stairs down to the bike path.

April 25: Yeongneung Baekga Guest House by Yeoju Dam.

The nicest lady in the world runs this place. You'll need to pay W50,000 via wire transfer to her bank account to reserve a room. The lady leaves you alone and lets you rest. She's not pushy at all. I enjoyed my time here, despite the lack of a bed, which is okay by me as long as there are enough blankets to pad the floor. Recommended.

April 26: Jangsu Pension in southern Yeoju City.

Grimy, grungy, but livable at W30,000 for a night. I had a roof, walls, and a floor. The guy running the place turned out to be friendly, although I had trouble understanding him over the phone. When we talked face to face, though, he was fine. The room had a grungy kitchenette; the tap water was fine, and while the bathroom was cramped and not very pretty, it served my needs. Cautiously recommended, but only if you're willing to slum a bit.

April 27: U& Tourism Hotel in Chungju City.

That's not a typo: it's really spelled "U&" and pronounced "yoo-enn," like the United Nations. The cost was about W50,000 for a night. Good facilities. Recommended.

April 28: Baekun Park Yeogwan in southern Chungju City.

This was the first accommodation that actually had a bathtub, which I gladly soaked in to relieve my aching feet. It was ridiculously tacky, as love motels go, but that was part of its quirky, naughty charm. Leaky toilet tank in my room, but when you're tired, that's a forgivable sin, and I had plenty of leaky plumbing along the way. You learn to live with it instead of bellyaching. I doubt this place cost more than W30,000 a night. Recommended, but cautiously. If you're not okay with leaky plumbing and tacky interior design, this isn't the place for you.

April 29: Suanbo Sangnok Hotel in Suanbo-myeon.

Large and expensive at W130,000 a night, but one of the few lodgings with any space. There happened to be a multicultural event going on that day, one involving a lot of American bikers all dressed in leather jackets (the "Morning Calm Festival," or something like that). My room wasn't bad, given how much I paid for it, but it could have been better. Cautiously recommended, mainly because value didn't match price (no desktop computer, and no air conditioning). I can't vouch for how the other hotels and motels in the area are, but I can say that that whole town is a huge tourist trap.

April 30: Saejae Park Inn in Gwaesan-gun, Yeonpoong-myeon.

At W30,000 a night, and with a friendly but initially absent manager, this simple yeogwan wasn't distinguished in any way, but it was a bed and a roof, making it just what the doctor ordered. Recommended.

May 1: San Gwa Gang Pension in Mungyeong City.

I really liked this pension, which reminded me somewhat of the Yeongneung Baekga Guest House from Day 3 of the walk. Very roomy for one person, with a nice interior and facilities, and with a deck out back where a person can relax and watch a nearby watercourse. Alas, there's also a freeway in line of sight, but it's far away, so it isn't noisy.

May 2 & 3: mysterious guest house

After having been booted out of Sangpoong-gyo Hanok Guest House by the frazzled, disorganized owner, I was driven (not by choice!) way south to another guest house/minbak whose name I never learned. I don't recommend either place—not Sangpoong-gyo Hanok Guest House, and not the nameless second place, either. In fact, except for the guest house I stayed at on Day 3, I really don't recommend guest houses unless you're fine with being ordered around by a pushy Hausfrau. I cannot stress enough how terrible my experience at both places was. I'm still sore about how this day went, especially because I was dead tired from my walk that day, and I really didn't need to endure this sort of organizational clusterfuck. W60,000 down the goddamn drain.

May 4: Blue Muin Car Motel not far from the Nakdan Dam Certification Center.

I paid extra to stay here (W60,000 total, I think, for one night) because I had arrived early in the day, but the motel itself was very nicely appointed. The local Chinese food was great, but it may have given me the runs. There are plenty of other yeogwans and motels in the area, including a bikers' yeogwan.

May 5: Libertar Pension close to Gumi Dam Certification Center.

Despite the expense (W120,000 a night, payable via wire transfer), I highly, highly recommend this place for couples and families. It was a gorgeous accommodation that made me burn with envy when I saw the kitchen's immense counter space—something lacking even in many large Korean apartments. A person could prep a huge gourmet meal on that counter space, which is another reason to stay at this pension. The manager was friendly but remote, which was fine with me: the less intrusive, the better. There's a nearby park, the river is just downhill, and it's a wonderful place to just clear your head. If you want the address and contact info for Libertar, email me (my email info is, as always, on my blog's right-hand sidebar). I was very sad to stay here only one night.

May 6 & 7: Lee Motel by Chilgok Dam Certification Center.

Another somewhat tacky motel with sexy sculptures, but decent accommodations. The floor was a bit dusty. I think the price was around W40,000. Recommended.

May 8: Motel Boom (or the Boom Motel) in western Daegu.

W40,000 a night, and the facilities are quite nice for that price. Recommended, but it's a couple miles' walk from the cert center.

May 9: Weonang Park Jang Motel close to Dalseong Dam Certification Center.

The nice yeogwan lady gave me a walker's discount, so I paid only W25,000 for my night here instead of the normal rate of W35,000. The inn is a bit of a walk into town, but not too far. It's cheap and simple, and not the cleanest place, but it'll do when you're tired. Recommended.

May 10: camping downriver from the Hapcheon Changnyeong Dam.

You take what Mother Nature gives you.

May 11: camping again.

May 12 & 13: CF Motel in Namji-eup.

Definitely recommended at W40,000 a night. Very nice lady at the check-in desk; she was quite helpful and informative. Great accommodations, too.

May 14: Mirpia Auto Campground, south of Namji-eup and north of Yangsan City.

This is camping for the timid. I stayed here for free thanks to the kind assistance of one of the office ajeossis, but if you pay full fare, you'll be spending W20,000 a night, which in my opinion is steep for a simple campground. Then again, KOA campsites in the States were charging $15 a night in 2008, which is about W18,000. Cautiously recommended.

May 15 & 16: Bliss Hotel, Yangsan City.

About W45,000 a night, I believe. Very, very nice accommodations. Highly recommended.

May 17: Busaninn Motel, next to Busan Station, Busan.

W30,000 a night. Clean and decent; a good, cheap alternative to the annoying and expensive hotels surrounding Busan Station. Recommended.



Saturday, May 20, 2017

Walk Thoughts #233: belt holes

I was curious to know how many inches my waist had shrunk thanks to all the walking. To find out, I needed to put on my leather belts, tighten them past their final holes, then calculate how many more holes I'd need to punch. Result: for my smaller belt, which was already tight at the start of the walk, I ended up punching three new holes. For my larger belt-- the one giving the "official" measurement-- it turned out that I needed to punch six new holes. I'm impressed in spite of myself: I lost six inches from around my waist.

But I still look fat.

I went to Euljiro 4-ga to look for my belt-hole-punching ajeossi, but he had disappeared along with all the other street vendors in that sector because his street corner had become a major construction site. Disappointed, I turned toward the many hardware stores in the neighborhood and began asking around for where I could find either the tools to punch my own belt holes or a hole-punching service. I discovered the word for the belt-hole-punching tool was peonchi (펀치), and what I eventually found and bought was not the hole-punch I had imagined. Instead of being a staple-gun-style punch, it was a bullet-shaped, hollow-point metal cylinder that you hammer into the leather. I got one for a mere W3500 (about $3 US).

Hammering inside my apartment would have been too noisy, so I took my belts and tools outside and did the foul deed outdoors, amid springtime revelers in the park next door to my building. And now, at long last, I have belts that hold up my pants without forcing me to puff out my gut to keep the waistline up. Feels good.


The back of that cutting board, which is made of soft pine, is now a horrorshow. I'm debating whether to just throw the board out and buy a new one. The wood was the perfect density for what I needed to do, though: punching through the belt with the peonchi would have been difficult to accomplish on a hard surface.





Kevin's Pie: officially dead

It happened during my absence, but it happened. Kevin's Pie succumbed to the inevitable and died a quiet, ignoble death. One look at the scatterbrained lady running the place, and I knew it was only a matter of time. True, the place lasted (or should I say "lingered"?) about twice as long as I'd thought it would, but its demise was written on its face pretty much from Day One. Contrast this with Gino's pizzeria in Itaewon, which is still going strong after a year and a half because those guys know what they're doing. As I learned in my walk: having a plan is much better than not having a plan. Blindly jumping into the unknown is often a good way to waste time and money, and maybe even to ruin your life.

So have a plan. Having a plan doesn't make you inflexible. Quite the contrary: it gives you a framework from which to be flexible.


I'll buy that

Given journalists' relentless bias, their lack of scruples, their singleminded pursuit of a particular agenda that is always and inevitably in favor of a specific worldview, and their overall inability to think through and honestly report on the issues and events they cover, I think this study on journalists' brains is just about right.



Friday, May 19, 2017

Walk Thoughts #232: Day 26, Leg 21 assessment

I began my final day of walking with some impatience. I knew I had a 17-mile stretch before me, and I wanted to get through it with the minimum number of breaks possible. I filled my water tank with the plum juice that I had bought the day before, then I started out on the trail. Let me tell you: sucking on plum juice almost the whole way down made a world of difference to my mindset. It was glorious. Too bad it didn't last the entire distance.

Much of the day turned out to be anticlimactic. Neither my boss nor my colleague Neil ended up meeting me at the estuary, so all that happened was that I quietly arrived at my goal, went to the convenience store on the premises, and sat down to a Snickers bar and a Coke. The trail itself was smooth sailing the whole way: not a single challenging hill to speak of. As I noted in an earlier post, the trail's quality went markedly down the moment I hit the Busan city limit, becoming cracked and lumpy. Much of the path was a straight shot between two noisy six-lane roads. After that, the estuary and a dam-like structure—some signs called it a "barrage," using a French term—came into view. I crossed the barrage to reach my goal, which lay just on the other side of the estuary.*

As I also wrote earlier, most of the bikers I passed along the way during this final leg refused to return my bowed greetings to them. I still have no idea why, but the difference in behavior made for a sudden and distinct contrast to what had gone before. I did, however, have one surreal encounter with a female walker on the trail. She was walking north; I was walking south. I nodded/bowed as I passed her, and she stopped in her tracks, looking as if she wanted to say something. Seeing this, I slowed down. The woman's mouth worked silently; it was obvious she was going through her limited Rolodex of English expressions in search of the right thing to say. What came out was:

"English... okay?"

I nodded, smiled, and said, "Yes, I speak English."

"USA?"

I nodded again: "Yes, I'm American."

"You... trekking?" (A lot of Koreans apparently know this term, trekking, which I assume has entered the Korean sports lexicon.)

"Yes, I've walked from Seoul to Busan using the Gukto Jongju [i.e., the term for the end-to-end bike path connecting Seoul to Busan]."

As soon as she heard me correctly pronounce "Gukto Jongju," the woman knew I could speak at least some Korean.

"Hangungmal haljul aseyo?" she asked. Do you know how to speak Korean?

I nodded and smiled again; the real answer—"Yes, but not fluently"—would have introduced too much subtlety into the conversation, and I had the impression that this lady wasn't primed for that sort of nuance.

After that, the woman was relieved to speak in Korean. I once again received the Standard Questions, to which I gave the Standard Answers. At the end of it, she said, "Daedanhashineyo!"—which I'd been hearing the whole way down the trail. The expression means "That's great!" or "You're great!"

While the conversation ended up being a fairly normal one, I'll never forget the awkward way in which it began. Many Koreans, upon seeing a foreigner, somehow feel obliged to speak to the foreigner in English. I wish Koreans would drop this mentality in favor of the more American approach, i.e., expect the foreigner to able to speak your language. Many Koreans on the trail, to their credit, immediately spoke to me in Korean. More of that, please.

Eventually, I made it to the end, crossing the river along the barrage, stamping my final stamp at the certification center, taking pics of the huge, vaguely winged memorial there, and sitting down to my sugary victory snack. It was just me, myself, and I, quietly celebrating the accomplishment of walking 340-plus miles from Seoul to Busan.

But something happened while I was seated in the shade of an admin building: a huge group of local folks suddenly appeared: handicapped people with their able-bodied minders. The disabled displayed a variety of disabilities ranging from physical to mental. But they were all on bikes, and at first, they wheeled about randomly in the large, open space around the monument. Eventually, the movement smoothed and coalesced into a circular traffic pattern orbiting the tower-like statue, and I was struck by the simple joy on all those faces. Looking at those uncomplicated smiles and realizing how purely those folks were in the moment, I felt as if my own personal victory had been sanctified, blessed by the eruption of these people and their bikes onto the scene, almost as if they were providing me the arrival celebration that I had vainly wished for.

Eventually, though, it was time to go. The convenience-store ajeossi had told me where to catch a bus into town, but I knew I wanted to slump into a taxi, not ride on a crowded bus. All the same, I followed the ajeossi's directions to the nearby bus stop, then flagged down a taxi. The cabbie was a friendly sort, and the drive across town to Busan Station was fairly long. I paid the driver a few thousand won extra as a tip, then marched over to the Toyoko Busan Station Hotel #1, the hotel I had been planning to stay at to enjoy a final night of semi-luxury in Busan before returning north.

I walked out of the Toyoko in a huff a few minutes later. When I walked in, a pretty lady at the reception counter greeted me. I asked whether the hotel had a room for one night; the lady said yes, then gestured toward a chart on the wall showing the different varieties of rooms I could choose from. I said I'd like the single, which was the cheapest option. The lady asked whether I smoked, and I said no, to which she replied that, since I didn't smoke, there were no singles available. The next-cheapest option was the "mini double," so I asked whether I could have that room. "Sure, but check-in isn't until 4PM," the lady replied—something she should have told me at the beginning of the conversation. It was 3PM; I was in no mood to wait an hour to flop onto a bed, so I walked out.

The train station was surrounded by hotels of various sizes and qualities. I walked across the way and down a shady side street, which is where I found the oddly named "Busaninn Motel" (부산인 모텔). This looked exactly like the sort of ratty place I had been staying in during my walk south, so I stepped inside and spoke with the ajeossi. I asked how much a room would be, and he said "W35,000." I then asked whether I could pay by card; he made a face, laughed politely, and appeared to strain in replying: "That... would be difficult." I smiled and whipped out some cash. The ajeossi handed over a key, then he asked me what my story was, so I knew I was in for the Standard Questions again. I rattled off the Standard Answers, and the ajeossi expressed envy at my being able to take such a long trip. He turned out to be a big-time hiker, and he told me about his time, years ago, doing the Baekdu Daegan mountain-range trail. He also showed me a phone app, called "Tranggle" or something, that maps and logs your mountaineering exploits. Eventually, I made it up to my room on the third floor and settled in.

That afternoon, I taxied over to my boss's hotel, the much nicer Homer's Hotel, which was way north in the Gwangalli neighborhood of Busan. The boss saw me and joked that I was starting to look like Bodhidharma, which pleased me because I've long imagined myself playing the stern Indian monk—considered the First Patriarch of Zen Buddhism and the father of Chinese martial arts—in some film or other. We met up with the boss's friend John, who is a married university prof who also does freelance textbook-writing work for our company (among other projects). We walked down the street to have dinner at Slice of Life, a pizza-and-wings joint. John turned out to be a man of many talents, music and standup comedy among them. Nice guy, witty conversationalist—which was a good thing because I was fairly quiet.

After dinner, we walked out to the beach, which was just across the street. The ocean was right there, a large bridge in the distance (Gwangan Daegyo, called "Diamond Bridge" in English) spanning the seaside panorama. John had told us that the bridge often lit up at night, with a sound-and-light show, and the bridge was indeed alight by the time we left the restaurant. I went over to the water and took a dark, murky photo of my hand touching the sea. My boss took some pics of me standing with the ocean behind me, and after that, I said my goodbyes and grabbed a cab to go back to my humble motel.

There wasn't much left to do. I laundered my clothes, happy that the motel had a large electric fan that I could use to dry my damp items faster. I slept comfortably that night, cabbed over to my boss's hotel in the morning, met with Neil—another teacher/freelancer and another of the boss's many friends—for lunch, then drove back to Seoul in mostly decent traffic. I regret not having gotten a shot of Neil for the blog. He's another smart, witty gent, and he had written me some encouraging emails during my walk. Well, maybe I'll get a picture next time.

The boss dropped me at my apartment building. I've already told the story of meeting the lobby guard, so I won't repeat that here. When I got to my room and went inside, I saw that my bathroom's light and fan were both on. This is from when some men entered my place, with my permission, to check whether a leak in the ceiling of Apartment 537 was coming from my place (initially, my boss had called me to tell me about the problem). My boss told me that, in the end, the leak wasn't coming from my apartment, but I guess the men who checked for the leak were neglectful when they left. No matter; I doubt my electric bill will be all that large.

Coming back felt strange, but the strangeness wasn't unexpected. I had been away for three-and-a-half weeks, after all, so I knew I'd need time to readjust to the sights, smells, and textures of my apartment. It also felt odd not having to gear up for another full day of walking, and I felt guilty, Thursday night, going to sleep and knowing that I wouldn't be doing any sort of hard work the following day.

But I'm back now, and I've already run some errands around town. I've got more errands to do over the weekend. I've seen "Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2," so I'll be slapping up a review of that alongside my epilogue posts. I moved my visit to the doc's office to Saturday morning. I'm staring at a box full of Soylent bags and another box full of leftover MREs, all of which I'll be consuming, instead of spending money on meal shopping, over the next several weeks. I still need to unpack my backpack and think about consigning my poor Gregory to the trash heap, but I'm not quite ready to shoot the lame horse yet. If I can find a way to have the backpack repaired, I'd rather repair it than go about the chore of finding, and acclimating myself to, a whole new backpack.

Those are issues for other days, and I have many days ahead of me to get back into my old routine. Except for one small bit of trail, the Gukto Jongju now lies behind me, a part of my personal history. No one can take from me the fact that I've walked all the way across South Korea, and that's a nice feeling. I've done it. I did it.

And, who knows? I may do it again.



*Linguistic note: I've been translating the term haguduk (하구둑) as "estuary," but I think the word hagu (하구), by itself, means "estuary." The duk, at least in the context relevant to my experience on this walk, probably refers to the barrage itself.



Thursday, May 18, 2017

Walk Thoughts #231: feet

Another unnecessary piece of equipment was my second trekking pole, but the extra pole does offer an interesting basis for comparison, allowing you to see what walking 340 miles can do to the foot of a trekking pole.

As for my claim that you can indeed walk through a blister: as you see in the last photo below, my blister from Day 2 of the walk is a shadow of its former self, having healed and hardened despite having been walked on for most of a month.




My Costco trekking poles did what they were meant to do, but if I had this walk to do over again, I'd buy better poles. My major complaint is with my poles' locking system, which uses a flip-and-grip switch instead of a screw-into-place design. The switch acts as a brake or clamp to prevent the pole's nested segments from sliding along each other's length, but if you put your full weight on it, the pole will collapse, no matter how tightly you've fastened the clamp. A screw-into-place design doesn't work that way; it will support your full weight because the only way to loosen the pole's segments is to unscrew them.

Also, my Costco poles' feet reminded me of satanic goat's feet, thanks to their shape. Since I was using only one pole the entire time, I began to think of myself as "half-Sataning my way across the peninsula," on the assumption that the Evil One walks the earth on two hooves.



Walk Thoughts #230: not a big loss, but not nothing

See for yourself:







Walk Thoughts #229: back in Seoul

I survived my boss's speed-demon driving to make it back safely to Daecheong Tower, my personal fortress. The drive up from Busan involved several rest stops, at none of which I successfully pooped—but not for lack of trying. Birth is a beautiful thing; you must simply let it happen, not force your beautiful children into the world.

I have some photos from this morning, when I was saying goodbye to my final motel. I'll post those soon, along with my last-day assessment and a few epiloguish thoughts, some of which will be big-picture in nature, others of which will be more technical and practical for anyone thinking about doing a similar hike.

I have some news, too. My backpack's final weight, when I weighed it just now without any water in the water tank, is exactly 15 kilograms (33.1 lbs.). And I'm sure you're dying to know my current weight, so I weighed myself, too. As I suspected, there was no dietary miracle, but I did lose some inches off my waist and some pounds off my body. After starting the walk at 126 kg, I am now down to 116 kg, which puts me 1 kg below my lowest weight while I was teaching at Dongguk University's Seoul campus and hiking up Namsan almost every night. So now I know: to lose 22 pounds, just walk 340 miles in 26 days.

As Neo warned the machine intelligence behind the Matrix, where we go from here is a choice left up to me. I can fuck this all up by rapidly regaining the weight I've lost through miles and miles of hard work (more as a byproduct of hiking than as a goal of hiking), or I can do something to keep the weight off and continue to lose more. In future posts, I'll be talking about what path I'll choose.

For now, I'm happy to be back in my apartment. I had completely forgotten that I'd left two Bundaberg ginger beers in my fridge; I've already sucked one down, which isn't going to help my blood-sugar numbers when I visit my doc tomorrow. But the doc ought to be pleased about the weight loss and, I hope, the concomitant reduction in blood pressure.

The kind old lobby guard to whom I had given W300,000 to pay my bills in my absence was there to greet me when my boss dropped me off at my place. He clasped my hand in both of his hands and asked me how everything had gone. He noted my weight loss and reassured me that my "rent" had been taken care of, and that I needed to visit the building's admin office to pick up my receipt and my change. After dropping off my backpack in my place, I went to the second-floor admin office and got my white envelope back with about W120,000 in it; my "rent" that month had totaled about W180,000, which is dirt cheap: I wasn't around to consume any electricity. I still need to pay my gas bill myself, and the gas company left a message about needing to visit my place for an inspection; I called the company and we came to no definite arrangement, but we'll work something out, I'm sure.

Before I left the front desk, the lobby guard also told me a package had arrived: when he handed me the box, I saw it had the word "COOKIES" stenciled on the side. What better way to end the day, right? I won't eat those until after I've seen the doctor.

Tomorrow's agenda:

1. Confirm when the gas company will come for an inspection.
2. Pay my gas bill.
3. Quickly run to the office to grab some meds that I had left there.
4. Go to Euljiro 4-ga, find the belt-hole-punching ajeossi, and have him punch extra holes in both of my leather belts. I'm curious as to how many extra holes I'll need.
5. Find a service center for my phone and get the broken glass replaced.
6. Go watch "Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2."

As returns to civilization go, that agenda doesn't sound so bad.



Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Walk Thoughts #228: what happens now

Tonight, I'll be laundering my clothes and sleeping the sleep of the righteous. Tomorrow morning, I'll be checking out around 10AM, taxiing over to my boss's hotel, then driving out to an early lunch with my boss's other friend Neil. After that, my boss will drive me back to Seoul, and once I'm settled back into my apartment, I'll write up my final "assessment" post, plus maybe an epilogue post or two.

So it's not quite over yet, and remember: there's still that make-up walk that I need to do, even if my boss thinks that no one's going to care. I wouldn't be able to live with the knowledge that I had come that close to walking across every inch of the country, only to be foiled by a guest-house ajumma.

Walk Thoughts #227: arrival... and beyond

These pictures take you through the final, final part of the walk to the estuary. You'll also see a pic of my boss (seated on the right) and his friend John, who lives and works in Busan. We ate great wings and pizza at a seaside restaurant called Slice of Life. There's a murky shot of my hand in the ocean, and my boss took the final shot of me standing on the beach. I wish I could say I touched the water as soon as I got my final certification stamp, but the land at that spot was too high above the water for me to touch it. It wasn't until two cab rides later that I walked out to the beach in the Gwangalli neighborhood and touched the ocean. Yeah... cab rides. Being in a motor vehicle again was a treat.