I've spent my last four days in Korea on a borrowed bike, riding around Jeju Island. If you didn't know, Jeju Island is a small volcanic island just off the southern end of the Korean Peninsula. It's a popular getaway for Koreans and international tourists and famous for its local produce and volcanic landmarks. With a guided track roughly 200km around, it's also the perfect size to tackle on two wheels.
In my four days I rode about 4-5hrs casually, stopping in towns, cafes and a couple of interesting geological sites. Not unlike the rest of Korea, you're never more than a stone's throw away from other people and urbanised space, but the infinite blue line of the track invites you to meander down picturesque paths between black-rock fenced fields of cabbage and broccoli or tuck away to the islands many dark, hidden beaches.
Jeju's mother volcano, Hallasan, is always by your side though often obscured by ocean fog. The consistent presence of the mountain acts as a centrepiece to your movement, reminding you of your journey as you circle around it. In the modest southern city of Seogwipo, it looms as a particularly beautiful and quiet scenic presence to the North. It's inescapable gaze defines the geographic identity of the city and I'm sure there's always someone returning it's gaze back during each of the daylight hours.
This trip was the first time I've really travelled alone. I stayed in hostels and guesthouses along the way, and met a handful of lovely people but spent most of the time on my own. It was freeing and refreshing for me. Plenty of time and space for introspection and reflection; looking back on my time in the Korea that is now coming to a close.
Here's a portion of my journal from the road.
Inspiration comes on the move. With no time to write, I lock it away in a safe with no key, door, or walls. So it sits and slides out with every turn of my bike and my eyes. Slipping off the floor and into the ocean of thought that waits on every side.
The coffee is nice though. I’m drinking a caramel machiatto straight off the Hanguel menu. With a shorter ride today and plenty of time, I’m able to be picky with which coffee shops I stop at. On this stretch of road however, there are less locally-run stores. GS25’s and 7/11’s around every bend it seems. What do people even buy at these stores of white and plastic. Everything, nothing. It doesn’t seem to matter. Their doors will remain open until the end of time, fueled by glowing signs of global branding and underpaid, disinterested employees. I am a coffee drinking warrior for the people, ofcourse.
The water is moving today and it’s the first ocean swell I’ve really seen in the last 3 days of coastal travel. Its nice to see energy in nature, from the earth. Constant, unrelenting. A comforting consistency into my tumultuous head perhaps. This ride has been one of ups and downs, and a lot of in between. Blank, messy space in my head. I’ve built an empty grey room. A square room, but with rounded corners. And sometimes, like the safe, the walls disappear and the door comes and goes, appearing on different sides.
Although it has been tiring at times, its nicer to be alone on the road than in the city or hostel. Perhaps that has got to do with purpose or direction of self in the moment. It’s nice in the air on the road, to be going someplace. To marvel at the blue of the water and the black of the rocks. Couples taking photos of themselves. Just up the road, their hazard lights warn me to take my time. I have photos of things. But I can’t help but feel they are neither documents of the trip, nor valuable artistically. The optimistic in me sometimes believes they are both. But probably not this time. Atleast I’ll have something to show Mum and Dad when I get home.