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Rediscovering the spirit of adventure. A 633km bikepacking trip in South Korea.

This 633 km adventure started being something physically challenging to do with my four-year-old daughter (Becky). However, it turned out to be the ultimate bonding experience and how she taught me to see the world through the eyes of a child again. 

It is your perspective of a moment that makes it good or bad. With a positive mindset, you can find happiness in any situation”.

Why on earth would anyone want to do this?

There are many reasons why I wanted to do this but the main driving force was achieving something that seemed impossible. 

After Becky was born I stopped doing impossible adventures. Instead, I read about them in books. I also follow a few athletes on social media and I got to the point where FOMO got too much. Especially after watching Chris Burkhard bikepacking traverse of Iceland. 

Naturally, Becky loved being on a bike. 

It started 2 years ago when we bought Becky her first bike. We got her one with her favourite Disney character on it. A bright pink Minnie Mouse bike. I then took her to her favourite place, the playground. As she started getting used to the bike we started finding new playgrounds. 

The treasure hunt spirit of adventure was slowly and steadily being built into her. Short trips turned into longer ones. 

I then stumbled upon the Mordak family’s bikepacking video on Instagram. That video woke something inside of me and I needed an adventure again. 

So I started experimenting with ways to carry her on my bike. I, unfortunately, settle with a back-mounted seat. It allowed us to go on longer adventures and our trips turned into half-day adventures. We found some amazing playgrounds. 

But I wanted more and I remembered reading about the Seoul to Busan bike path. And I wondered if it would be possible to take Becky with me.

So we upped our training and we did 3-4 rides a week. Starting with 30 KM out and backs to doing regular 60 KM trips. She was getting so good that we could ride for about an hour without stopping. 

How to convince your spouse?

I then approached my wife (Rosie) with the idea of taking our daughter. She said, “it would be impossible to take a 4-year old”! And there it was. MY IMPOSSIBLE. 

I needed to prove to Rosie that it was safe and achievable. So I came up with this plan;

Our plan;

  • +-100 km per day for 6 days
  • 20 km/h -> 5 hours riding time per day
  • Start around 8 AM 
  • Play break 10 AM 
  • Lunch break 12 AM-2 PM
  • Finish 4-5 PM

Next, I needed to show her that we could do the big distances. After completing several 100 km rides Rosie’s gave us the go-ahead. 

It’s game time.

Last, we needed a 6 days window of no rain. I patiently waited for about two weeks. While waiting for blue skies our shotgun seat arrived. I was going to take both the back seat and shotgun seat, just in case, she got tired. But after one outing on the shotgun seat, I knew it was all we needed.  

Route Seoul to Busan

Seoul (capital city, top left) to Busan (second biggest city, bottom right) route follows Korea’s four major rivers the Hangang, Nakdonggang, Geumgang and Yeongsangang rivers. This network as a whole covers more than 1700 KM, our route would cover 633 KM. 

The path has a unique passport program that allows riders to collect stamps as they ride the trails. There are red booths located in various places and you get stamps in your passport. Once you complete the route, you send your passport in and you receive a certificate and a medal

Day 1. Ara West Sea Lock -> Yangpyeong (106.64 Km)

We had a bit of a late start as we decided last minute that mommy would come with us to the start and wave goodbye. It was very emotional seeing Becky say goodbye to her mom. This would be the longest time they had ever spent apart. Becky gave mommy one last hug and kiss and we were off. 

After about an hour of cycling, we found our first stamp booth. The path from Seoul to Busan is lined with these red stamp booths. We needed to find 7 on our first day. 

This was the perfect game and Becky was in charge of finding the booths. She called them ‘The Red Stamp Houses’. 

She would shout, “Daddy, I see one. Stop! We have to get a stamp”. 

The path is so incredible and as we neared the end of the day the path followed an old railway road. They had converted the tunnels into bike only tunnels. It’s the best experience ever riding through these long tunnels. 

And anyone that has watched Ryan Van Duzer videos knows you have to sing while riding through tunnels. So we did as loud as we could. There are four long tunnels that we went through. Becky was so cute and she was so excited to see so many.  

The best thing about the shotgun seat is that I’m basically hugging her the whole time. And with 10 km to go my back was starting to seriously hurt and I just wanted the day to end. Then, Becky just started hugging my arms and kissing them. “Saying I love you, daddy”. 

It was the perfect end to the day. I was so proud of how well she did. 

Avg Speed 20.2 km/h – Max Speed 42.9km/h – Total Time 5:26:50 – Elapsed Time 8:46:32 – Ascent 838m

Day 2. Yangpyeong -> Suanbo Oncheon (115.11 km)

The one thing that stood out about day 2 was how friendly everyone was on the bike path. 

It started at the hotel. The lady at check out said Becky looked cute so she gave us two bananas. 

On the path, nearly all the cyclists greeted us with warm smiles and a wave. It reminded me of my childhood. My sister and I would stare out the back window of my dad’s car and play a game we called sweet and sour. We would wave at people in the traffic and if they waved back they were sweet, if not they were sour. 

Keeping our toddlers entertained is a critical part of a successful bike trip. So I decided to teach Becky this game. She loved it so much and obviously, everyone waved back. How could you not wave back at a toddler, and one sitting on a shotgun seat… impossible!

Becky is a natural chatterbox but it’s marvellous how engaged she was without any distractions of toys and TV and the conversations we had were my favourite part of each day. 

Why does it always rain on me? 

After lunch, we got the first raindrop. We rode for another few hundred meters before we got a serious downpour. We made a quick dash for a shelter. We were so lucky to find one as we were in the middle of nowhere at that stage. 

I was devastated and frankly, I didn’t plan for any rain. Sitting in that shelter and trying to stop Becky’s tears was a real low point. 

Becky was crying because she wanted to continue and she kept saying, “Let’s go daddy. I have a rain jacket”. I kept thinking if she got wet our trip would be over. 

The rain got lighter and Becky’s will to continue got stronger. The biggest obstacle was, how could I stop her legs from getting wet. 

I decided to wrap her mini picnic mat which has a plastic coat, around her waist and then use the Shotgun foot strap to hold it in place. It worked a treat. 

We rode for three hours no stop in on and off rain. I have no idea how my baby managed that. Even my bum was sore. 

The last 10 km we started to climb into the mountains. It was incredibly beautiful. The moody clouds, gorgeous landscapes and autumnal colours were breathtaking.

As we checked into our hotel and walked into our room, I saw a huge hinoki (wooden) bath and everything changed. From thinking the trip had been ruined because of the weather – to feeling proud of myself for pushing through a tough day. 

Becky stayed warm and dry and she was now bouncing around the hotel room shouting “look at this daddy and look at that”. We filled our wooded bath with hot spring water and jumped in. Sitting in the bath watching my baby swim around with the biggest smile on her face, made me reflect on how challenging the day had been. 

As with any big adventure there always comes the I want to quit voice and why on earth am I doing this. If you ask any adventurer they will tell you this is a prominent part of why we do these kinds of things. 

The battle between body and mind and the will to continue when all you’re thinking is “where is the finish line” can be challenging. However, when you do reach the finish line, there is no better feeling. That feeling of freedom, that knowledge that you can do more than you think. That no one can stop you, not even that inner voice that kills so many dreams. 

That is what I wanted to show Becky on this adventure. 

Avg Speed 18.9 km/h – Max Speed 46.2km/h – Total Time 6:10:25 – Elapsed Time 9:42:03 – Ascent 901m

Day 3. Suanbo Oncheon -> Nakdanbo  (95.8 km)

We woke up to the sound of roosters crowing and sunlight streaming through the curtains. All the pain of yesterday had vanished and I was more excited than the first day. 

Becky was in a fantastic mood and she was ready to go. The ride out of town went straight up the mountain but we were so happy it wasn’t raining that the hills felt like nothing.

We got treated to the most unimaginable views, the path is lined with trees but every now and then we would spot a clearing. We would look out at the vista and I felt as if we were floating up the mountain. We then stopped at a clearing and I took this photo. It is my favourite of the whole trip. 

Riding up the last section of the mountain it was so peaceful. The only thing we could hear was our wheels rolling over leaves and birds chirping. While training when Becky was in the backseat to try to keep her entertained I would always point things out for Becky to look at, but today she did it for me. 

“Daddy, look at that bird!” 

“Did you see it?” 

“Daddy look at the persimmons.” 

“Daddy, here comes a big bump. Hold on tight.”

What is Blah-Blu?

The path to Busan follows a blue line and blue signboards. So when we go through towns all we need to do is look for the blue line and signs to lead us back to the path. 

Becky was pretending to be a baby at this point and was still pointing things out. She then kept saying “Blah-Blu” and pointing at the blue line. From that moment on the path was renamed Blah-Blu and whenever we couldn’t see the blue line Becky would ask; “where did Blah Blu go”? 

Some coffee shops and restaurants cleverly, have a red booth outside to trick cyclists into stopping. We fell prey to this one. We had lots of stops on this day and we just enjoyed being out just the two of us. The bond between us was growing stronger every second that passed.

The end of the day was starkly different to the previous. From wishing the day to be over to yearning it would never end. And that Becky would stay a baby so we can ride together forever. 

Avg Speed 18.0 km/h – Max Speed 45.1 km/h – Total Time 4:47:13 – Elapsed Time 9:06:15 – Ascent 847m

Day 4. Nakdanbo ->  Dalseongbo (116.1 km) 

We started the day in morning mist and we once again felt like the only two people in the world. I love mist as it reminds me of early morning fly fishing sessions with my dad as a kid. Riding through it I quietly hoped that Becky was building these kinds of fond memories.

The day was going flawlessly and for the first time, the kilometres were flying by. We stopped at a convenience store to buy some water and snacks. We left the beautiful path and had a short 3 km ride into a tiny town on the hill, where we would stay the night. 

Rosie had organised us a homestay with the sweetest host I’ve ever met. Becky and her “new grandmother” became instant friends and for the first time on the trip, I got some me-time. She even fed her dinner and let her play with all the toys that she keeps for her granddaughter. 

The trip was beginning to feel like it was normal to ride the whole day. I knew at that point I had to savour every second. 

Avg Speed 20.4 km/h – Max Speed 38.8km/h – Total Time 5:49:40 – Elapsed Time 8:40:04 – Ascent 428m

Day 5. Dalseongbo-> Changnyeonghammanbo (127.33 km)

We woke up at 6 AM to get an early start for our big day. The weather forecast for the last day was rain, rain, and more rain. So we made the call to try to ride as far as we could, leaving us a short ride on the last day. 

Becky played with her best friend while I packed and got everything ready. As I came back into the house she started wailing, “daddy I want to stay here with grandma”. These kinds of moments are the ones that make or break a trip and I knew this was not the time to push her. 

So I told her I would enjoy a nice cup of coffee and when she was ready, she should let me know and we can go. After playing with all the toys one last time and playing the piano she suddenly said, “okay daddy I’m ready”. My heart melted and I was so proud of her.

I jumped on the bike, and at this stage, Becky insisted on climbing up herself. So maneuvered the bike against some steps and she hopped onto her seat to the applause of her “new grandma”. 

Grandma gave us the little bracelet and told her it was so she wouldn’t forget her and to keep us safe on our journey. 

We rode in silence for the first hour or so until we heard the sound of drums coming from a distant hill. When we got halfway up the hill, nestled in the rocks was a beautiful Buddhist temple. At that moment, someone was singing and playing the drum. The sound echoed across the valley and each beat seemed to take away Becky’s sadness and by the top, she was back to her beast mode chatterbox self.

I was taken aback by how much Becky wanted to help and be part of everything. One of the tips I read on Kids Ride Shotgun’s site was to let your kids help install the seat. I did that and it snowballed into everything else. It not only made the trip more pleasurable it made it a lot easier too. 

And so I started putting her in charge of more things. From spotting good places to take photos to making sure we didn’t forget anything after packing up. 

She was even in charge of stretching and she proudly showed me all the yoga posses she learnt from “cosmic kids yoga”

I love how positive Becky always is and how the small things make her so happy. I thought I was going to have to keep her motivated but the opposite ended up happening.

The motel we stayed at was not the most beautiful place I’ve stayed at but as we walked into the room Becky ran around jumping for joy. For some reason, she thought the kettle was the best thing ever.

I just smiled and gave her a big hug and told her how much I loved her and how special she is. 

Avg Speed 21.6 km/h – Max Speed 49.2km/h – Total Time 5:59:35 – Elapsed Time 9:02:18 – Ascent 1046m

Day 6. Changnyeonghammanbo-> Nakdonggang Estuary Bank  (61.46 km)

This day was the star in many of my daydreams and I was so excited to get to our finish line. So much so that waking up to the sound of rain didn’t bother me. Becky kept asking when we could go ride our bike. I don’t know how I got so lucky. At around 9 AM the rain eased to a drizzle so we started packing up. 

We stored our bike in the laundry room that was attached to the back of the motel. It had a tin roof and when we walked in. It sounded like it was raining cats and dogs. The roof had a leak and there was a bucket catching the rainwater. While I was attaching all our stuff to the bike, I looked back at Becky and she was prancing around the bucket. 

I asked her what she was doing, as I was worried she was going to get wet. (she didn’t have her rain jacket on yet) She told me that the water was making music and she dancing to it.

She keeps reminding me that it is your perspective of a moment that makes it good or bad and that with a positive attitude you can find joy in any situation. Even at the back of a gloomy motel in the pouring rain. 

We only had to ride 47 km to get to the finish line. We decided to attach the GoPro to Blah-Blu signs for every 10KM milestone. So at 40 km we stopped attached the GoPro to the sign and rode past screaming only 40 km to go we did the same at 30 km, 20 km and 10 km.

We could see the finish line with 5 km to go because it is on an island in the middle of the river and we needed to ride past to get to the bridge.

There weren’t any other riders on the wet road that day so we had the whole road to ourselves. The path was in an avenue of trees in full autumn colour. The falling leaves became our confetti and the trees were thousands of people that lined the path to celebrate our achievement. 

We set up the GoPro and we cycled under the sign that signalled the end of our impossible cross country adventure. 

We didn’t get to savour the finish line for too long as we still had 15 km to get to the hotel. 

Becky’s feet were cold so all I could think of was getting her into a bath. I hoped this hotel had a bath. It didn’t have a bath. It had a massive jacuzzi with a TV mounted to the wall! It couldn’t get better than this. Until it did. The doorbell rang and I opened the door. I nearly passed out at the sight! 

There stood a delivery man holding a pizza box. My beautiful wife had arranged pizza for us. We ate pizza in the jacuzzi while watching cartoons. The best finish ever to the best adventure of my life. 

Avg Speed 23.5 km/h – Max Speed 29.9km/h – Total Time 2:46:58 – Elapsed Time 6:50:04 – Ascent 86m

Day 7.  Flying back home

After a quick breakfast, we made our way to the airport. We packed the bike into a box and boarded a flight back to Seoul. 

It was strange that our 6-day effort would now take us 45 minutes. But as we flew back we both looked out the window and got a birds-eye view of what we had just accomplished. 

Becky was helping me push the trolly and as we walked out into arrivals she shot out from behind the trolly and sprinted to her mom, screaming mommy, mommy, mommy as she ran. I was so ecstatic. I had made it! I had achieved the impossible and I had delivered her baby safe and sound.  

I got more out of this trip than I had ever imagined. I learnt so much about Becky and the bond we created is so special. Having Becky riding up front with me made the journey all the more enjoyable. I was able to monitor her mood and knew what she wanted before she did. It also allowed us to talk to each other without having to shout. 

I’d recommend doing a trip with your toddler to anyone. They are capable of far more than we think, all we have to do is let them help. 

Now it’s your turn.

Story and photography by Rob Maruszewski 

 

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