The effort of the first day was felt throughout my entire body, as I wearily arose and began packing. Ideally I would have liked to have set off as early as possible every day, say around 7am, but my body had other ideas. After a quick fill-up at the local CU, I eventually got onto the road sometime between 8.30 and 9am. Not ideal, but the cloudy start meant that it would be a while before the sun began beating down, so I wasn’t too worried.
I had mentally prepared myself for a slog today, making careful note of the 450m climb up the Saejae Pass just before Mungyeong. I tried not to push too much on the hills and kept a close eye on my rhythm on the flats, searching for speed without too much effort.
Before this dreaded climb, however, this route would pass through the dramatic valleys around Chungju, and I would even get to see some fighter jets occupying the skies around the city. After a long summer, the trees and vegetation around this area felt lush, you might even say tropical. Even though the dedicated cycle lanes had all but disappeared, I didn’t feel overly concerned by traffic as there largely was none.As mid-morning approached, the mist had all but burned away and the sun began to beat down in earnest. Hovering around the high-20s with a slight breeze made it bearable, but I was still losing fluid at a rate of knots. I happened upon a filming location for the popular k-drama ‘Vincenzo’, moving further into the mountains until, at about 55km, the first hill awaited.
My memories of this first climb are a little hazy, to be honest, but going on the GPS data it seems that it lasted around 15km, after which a big drop followed for 5km, and then the real test – the 10km climb up the Ihwaryeong Pass towards the Saejae Peak. Just before tackling that big climb, I re-fueled in what I recall was the town of Suanbo. This stop was fortuitously timed as I knew I badly needed sustenance before tackling what would be the most challenging climb of the course.
For 10km, in unrelenting heat, I crawled up the Ihwaryeong Pass in the lowest gear possible. The climb seemed to never end, and I took a couple of rests along the way. Towards the end, I began to mutter all sorts of mantras, along with belting out some of my favourite songs which were playing through my headphones. It was a sweet, sweet feeling to make it to the top of this hill.
The course down was unfortunately not a clean run through, so I didn’t manage to generate as much speed as I would have liked. Nonetheless, the remainder of the route was all downhill, welcome respite from the tough day of hills.
My motel in Mungyeong was easy enough to find, and the larger selection of eating establishments was also a welcome change. Ironically, the bowl of black bean noodles was fairly bland to what I am used to, so I found myself craving something more. I managed to launder my dirty cycling kit, grab some coffee, and headed back to the motel for some rest.