The Land of Morning Calm

A Bikepacking Trip to Korea

Photo credits: Finlay Woods @finlaywoods

The origin of the project

My mom was born in South Korea and immigrated to Canada with her family when she was 11 years old. The day they arrived, my grandpa decided from that point on the kids would only speak English in order to assimilate quickly to life in Canada. Unfortunately this meant that by the time I was born, my mom had forgotten most of her Korean, so I didn’t learn as a child. When I visit Korea, there are so many aspects of the country that are familiar and comforting. But without the language, I feel like a stranger. This trip allowed me to connect with my motherland beyond the constraints of language all from the familiar perspective of my bicycle - even if it was a road bike.

I should preface by saying I am not a road cyclist nor a gravel rider. If I was to identify as some sort of cyclist, it would be a mountain biker. Before this trip, I knew little about road cycling or bike packing. This was evident from my use of panniers (allegedly inline storage is what’s trendy right now), my frequent falls from failing to unclip, and low levels of pastry+espresso consumption. My only redeeming road cyclist quality was my fresh Peppermint kit, which made me at least look the part. But this trip wasn’t about performance. It was about experiencing the culture and seeing the country.

The itinerary

My partner and I rode the 630 km Four Rivers Bike Path in 6 days from Seoul to Busan. This cross-country route cuts a diagonal line between Korea's two largest cities, connecting bustling metropolises with tranquil countryside. The path traverses through Korea’s mountainous interior before reaching the coastal city of Busan.

Navigating the route is stress-free being almost entirely on dedicated bike paths, far from major motorways. On the few occasions when you need to ride on the road, these are typically quiet country roads. The path varies from paved riverside tracks to tunnels, elevated platforms, and bridges. Following Korea's four major rivers, the route is mostly flat, with a few small mountain passes. And if things couldn’t get any easier, there are numerous water refill stations, public restrooms and maps installed along the way.

To spare ourselves traveling with bikes, we rented some in Seoul. We packed light, skipped camping gear, and stayed in Korean "love motels" along the way. These motels are not only a unique cultural experience with their fine decor and surprising amenities, but they are also the most affordable accommodation you'll find (aside from 24-hour bathhouses).

We started our journey midday from the bike shop. The 600+ km ride seemed like a good time to try clipless pedals for the first time. I created quite the scene getting acquainted with the clips outside the shop, receiving numerous concerned looks from suit-wearing Korean businessmen who had to dodge my disheveled carcass lying on the sidewalk. We detoured for one last touristing stop at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza. This ended up being a rather stressful mission as navigating downtown Seoul clipped in for my first time was scarier than any mountain bike trail I have ever ridden.

The Korean countryside offers a stark contrast to the vibrant and technologically advanced cities. It’s peaceful, simple, and full of natural beauty. Without venturing beyond the cities, it is easy to assume that all Koreans live in apartment buildings. However we saw a variety of homes on our ride. We saw tiny homes, to traditional hanok style homes to modern western style homes. Homes surrounded by rice paddies, onion farms and pine-covered mountains, each with a cluster of onggi (the clay pots used to store and ferment kimchi) outside.

South Korea has some of the best food in the world and since this trip wasn’t about biking performance, I definitely wasn’t fueling myself with protein bars and energy gels. As I learned, road biking seems to be all about riding from one eating spot to another. In a country where food is at the heart of the culture, there was no shortage of places to stop and eat, making it hard to cover much ground some days. On top of that, eating a Korean-portion of lunch then riding another 50 km in the blazing heat took some getting used to. But, the promise of another sight down the track - be it a temple, museum or trendy cafe, got our sore butts and full bellies back in the saddle.

As we approached the sea during golden hour on the final day of our journey, I felt a newfound sense of connection to the country. The ride brought me closer to Korea’s landscapes, culture, and people. I felt as though I had become more acquainted with the Land of Morning Calm. I can’t wait to return and to experience the other bike path routes the country has to offer - but with flat pedals next time.

I accept the Terms of Use of I understand that any item purchased on OUTLET or SAMPLES is neither exchangeable nor refundable, unless the item received is defective or does not match its description on the website.

You have successfully subscribed!
This email has been registered