2022 Korea Epic Ride: Event Recap
The Korea Epic Ride is a 536-kilometer group ride intended to promote Korea’s bicycle camping routes and for riders to get out and practice with their gear. Event organizer Ki-seok Uhm and second place finisher Seong-ryong Kim put together a recap of this year’s event…
Words and photos by Ki-seok Uhm
The Korea Epic Ride follows a 536-kilometer route with a total elevation gain of 21,000 meters (2.3 times the height of Mount Everest). This year’s grand depart was held at Myeonokchi Campground in Hyeonbuk-ri, Yangyang-gun, Gangwon-do, on June 5th, and finished in Yangyang, Gangwon-do to Yeongdeok, Gyeongsangbuk-do in South Korea. It is a bikepacking event in which riders have to pedal their bikes for several days without external help, figuring out their own accommodation and meals along the way.
As the organizer, I planned this event with three goals in mind. First, I wanted riders to experience the beautiful and remote areas of Korea. Second, I wanted to develop the ability to solve problems beyond what they’d typically encounter in a normal day (physical strength, equipment troubles, mental strength, etc.) and develop the skills to overcome these difficulties. Third, I hoped that it would be an opportunity to look back on how rich my daily life was by creating a situation where even a sip of water was precious.
There were 16 participants in this year’s Korea Epic Ride full course, of which eight completed the route. The other half gave up due to the harsh weather, mechanicals, and stamina. The majority of finishers completed the route between four days and a week. The following is the experience of Seong-ryong Kim, who finished their ride in five days, the second fastest time.
Words by Seong-ryong Kim
I enjoy riding my bike, and I’m very interested in bikepacking, so I decided to sign up as soon as I saw the event notice at the end of last year. Gathered at the starting point that day, there were loads of things hanging off my bike. In total, my bike had five bags containing a tent, sleeping bag, burner, cutlery, extra clothes, and bike repair tools. The total weight was over 12 kilograms. The morning’s rain continued for the next three days, through the cold in the high mountains and the drowsiness in the darkness of night. And so begins my Korea Epic Ride story.
Day 0: Prepared People Gather
I mounted the gear I had prepared five months earlier on a bicycle and headed to Yangyang. For me, with no camping experience, bikepacking was as scary as it was exciting. The grand depart was the next day at 8 a.m. At sunset, we arrived at Yangyang Myeonokchi Campground, the starting point, set up tents, and had a light meal provided by the organizer. There were a total of 30 participants in this event, of which 16 were planning on riding the full course, and the remaining 14 were running a shorter 109-kilometer route. I looked at other people’s bikes, tents, bags, and equipment. Most of the bikes were MTBs, but a few gravel bikes caught my eye. I went into my single-person tent and closed my eyes in preparation for the following day’s departure. It didn’t hurt to feel my back on the ground.
Day 1: The Front Wheel Wavered
Yangyang, Gangwon-do – Seongsan-myeon, Gangneung-si (137km)
It was finally time to ride. After leaving the Myeonokchi campground, I immediately entered a forest road. The first course is Micheongol Island, which is famous for its beautiful scenery. Shortly after our departure, everyone dispersed. We all started riding at our own pace, and I wouldn’t cross paths with most of them again. The first day’s riding goal was between 150 and 200 kilometers, 200-250 on the second day, and 130 on the third day. This plan failed from day one. The climbs were steeper than I expected, and the progress was slower.
The target was adjusted to go to Seongsan-myeon, Gangneung, which was 146 kilometers away, but as the day darkened and it started to rain, I slowed further. In the rain and relying on my light to climb the mountain, I was struggling to stay awake. The front wheel of my bicycle, which normally points straight, wavered from side to side. It was already almost midnight. Right when I decided it was unsafe to ride any further, a gazebo appeared in the dark. Shelter from the rain was the best campsite on a day like that. I took off my wet clothes, spread them out in the middle of the pavilion, dried off with a towel, and got into my sleeping bag. I fell into a deep sleep in an instant.
Day 2: A GPS Malfunction
Seongsan-myeon, Gangneung-si, Gangwon-do – Hajang-myeon, Samcheok-si (125km)
At 5 a.m., I awoke to the chirping of birds. The wind was blowing. It was raining, and my tent and sleeping bag were wet. Having slept well, I moved quickly, packed my bags, and set off down the mountain. It was still raining. After riding about 9 kilometers, I arrived at Seongsan-myeon and had breakfast consisting of a boxed lunch and noodle cup from a convenience store. The rain jacket I was wearing didn’t block the rain completely. I bought a raincoat from the convenience store, cut the bottom a little, and put it on.
The final destination on this day was meant to be Hajang-myeon in Samcheok, at kilometer 261. There was only one small store somewhere in the middle. When I arrived, the store was worse than expected. They sold noodle cups, but they didn’t provide hot water, so I set up a burner on one side of the store and boiled noodles. Even though I was wearing a down jacket under my raincoat, my body was shaking uncontrollably. I drank the noodle broth, but it didn’t do much to relieve my chills. The next town, Hajang-myeon, was two mountain passes away, and I still had to ride for another six or seven hours.
I planned to arrive in Hajang-myeon before 8 p.m. to eat and do maintenance, but I was moving slowly. It was getting dark, and to make matters worse, my GPS device started to malfunction. The GPS device stores the route I had taken while riding, and records speed and time. But most importantly, it is used to navigate to the final destination. The route couldn’t be completed without it. Fortunately, I figured out the problem and had the GPS working normally after some time. I arrived in Hajang-myeon at 11 p.m. I decided that camping was out of the question because it rained all day, and I stopped at a motel instead. Although the use of lodging facilities went against the objectives of the event, it was raining all day and I couldn’t find a proper place to camp. It didn’t help that it was very cold in Gangwon-do this June. As soon as I entered the room, I took off my wet clothes, ran the washing machine, and took a shower to remove the dirt and sand from my body and gear.
When I opened my frame bag to charge the auxiliary battery, water came rushing out. The external battery and phone charging cable were not working. I tried to dry the GPS device with a hair dryer, but now it didn’t even turn on. It was dark ahead. All of my previous ride data was gone. For a cyclist, when the ride is deleted, it is just as bad as losing all of the photos from a trip. There’s no way to prove what you’ve ridden to the organizers. More importantly, I had no way to navigate any further on the route. GPS devices are expensive too, and it was money down the drain. I wasn’t even halfway through yet, but it felt stupid to give up. I cooked and ate two noodle packets given to me by the motel owner and went to bed.
Day 3: Riding Alone
Hajang-myeon, Samcheok-si, Gangwon-do – Seokpo-myeon, Bonghwa-gun, Gyeongbuk (323km)
I woke up naturally at 5 a.m. The rain seemed to have stopped for a while, and I made up my mind and decided to ride the rest of the course. The important thing is not a record on my GPS device, but that I actually completed the route. After this change of heart, I thought I could focus more on riding. Jong-ha and I had noodles for breakfast and began the climb to Samsu-Ryeong, at 935 meters above sea level, where the Nakdong River begins. Jong-ha’s GPS device went back and forth and stopped working, and he decided that he would stop riding. He said he would not be able to attend classes on Thursday if he finished at the current pace, and there was also a problem with his bike. The friction between the frame bag and the seat tube caused the carbon tube to wear out, and it was on the verge of wearing a hole right through. After stopping at Seokpo, we had dinner at a nice restaurant and went to bed early. Starting the next day, I figured I would have to ride the remaining 200 kilometers by myself.
Day 4: Six Big Mountains
Seokpo-myeon, Bonghwa-gun, Gyeongsangbuk-do – Yeongyang-eup, Yeongyang-gun (470km)
I woke up at 4 a.m. and started riding within an hour. The convenience store in Seokpo was open 24 hours. I packed a lunchbox, noodles, food, and rode along the Banya Valley to the mountains. To get to Subi-myeon, Yeongyang-gun, 100 kilometers away, I had to climb six big mountains. There is no place to bail out in the middle. Fortunately, the rain had finally stopped. An exciting downhill awaited at the end of the seemingly endless uphill. As the climb and descents rolled on ahead of me, the remaining distance gradually decreased. Although I got off the road once or twice, the navigation guide on my phone’s large screen was easier to see than it was on the GPS device. The road I followed alone was different from when I was with a companion. I was able to proceed at my own pace, and I was able to focus fully on myself.
There were no supply points in the 100-kilometer section from this point to the finish line in Yeongdeok. The route is designed to be terribly remote. I could feel the route designer’s will to let the riders figure things out on their own, whether it was food or finding a place to sleep. I thought it would be unreasonable to ride alone at night, so I went as far as possible before the sun went down, and then setup a tent at a pavilion in Singi-ri, Yeongyang-eup, at kilometer 470. It was a cozy place under a big tree with a view of the valley in the distance. When I settled down in the tent and turned off the headlamp, it became dark in an instant. About 60 kilometers remainied, which I could finish in the morning. I was not afraid of the dark because I could finally think about arriving in Yeongdeok and taking the bus back home in the afternoon. Rather, knowing that it was the last night, I felt regret.
Day 5: The Weather is not Capricious
Gyeongsangbuk-do Yeongyang-eup – Yeongdeok Ocheon Campground Finish (536km)
I woke up to the sounds of all kinds of birds. It was a much more beautiful place than I had seen in the dark the night before. In particular, the large zelkova tree next to the pavilion was a 250 years old and was the village’s guardian tree. I felt good energy. On the fifth day after leaving Yangyang, I saw my shadow for the first time. The sun was scorching hot, and I thought maybe I’d prefer the rain. It’s not the weather that is capricious, but the human heart. I arrived at the finish at 1 p.m. There were no spectators clapping hands and no organizers. I felt a little futile.
I informed the event organizer, Ki-seok Uhm, of my finishing by text message along with a selfie taken at the arrival point. There were many challenges during my 536-kilometer ride in the mountains: three days of rain, a broken GPS device, and a friend giving up midway. I sat on the bus heading to Seoul and looked at the scenery outside the window. The mountains and villages in the distance looked like the road I had been through. I had tears in my eyes. I imagined how the experiences of the past five days would alter my life. As I climbed the seemingly endless uphill, I thought, “One time is enough for this kind of experience.” I promised myself that I would never come out to this exact stretch again, but I’m already looking forward to what route I will tackle next year.
Congrats to everyone who participated in this year’s Korea Epic Ride. To learn more about the event, head to KoreaEpicRide.kr.
Make sure to dig into these related articles for more info...
Please keep the conversation civil, constructive, and inclusive, or your comment will be removed.