Sunday, October 31, 2010

Korea!

Here's a little run down of my trip to Korea.

Fly In:  Eleven hours of flying, after  flying from Michigan to San Francisco.  Three hours waiting at the airport in Seoul, one hour riding a bus to the hotel.  Twenty six hours since leaving Grand Rapids, it feels like I have gravel in my eyes.
From Korea, Tour de Seoul/DMZ

From Korea, Tour de Seoul/DMZ

First Day in Country: Four hours on a bus from Seoul to a beach hotel near where we'll start the race.  

Monkey is my co-pilot.
From Korea, Tour de Seoul/DMZ

 We had a rest stop at a place that did wood carvings.  Not the usual bears and big-foots like you'll see in northern California.
From Korea, Tour de Seoul/DMZ

From Korea, Tour de Seoul/DMZ

From Korea, Tour de Seoul/DMZ

An example of the terrain.
From Korea, Tour de Seoul/DMZ

I have to prepare the bikes for the race and they have mostly arrived dirty from use.  My hotel room has a tub and shower head, but no shower curtain.  It became a great "bike wash."
From Korea, Tour de Seoul/DMZ

At one point, a bird flew into my room through the open patio door.  It was dark outside and I couldn't convince the bird to fly back out.  I finally cornered it on top of some cabinets and carried it out the door, only to have it fly right back in.  Another round or birding, I caught it on a bike.  The second time, I closed the screen most of the way before letting the bird go.
From Korea, Tour de Seoul/DMZ

From Korea, Tour de Seoul/DMZ

Bikes ready for the race.
From Korea, Tour de Seoul/DMZ

From Korea, Tour de Seoul/DMZ

Racing, Day One:  The race starts in the northeast corner of the country at the DMZ.  The zone is two thousand meters on either side of a line.  No one is allowed in that zone, and both sides keep a close eye on it.  The war started 60 years ago, and the race was allowed to follow the edge of the DMZ to commemorate the anniversary.  Normally, most of the roads the race followed would be strictly off limits.  Though they will have the Tour de Seoul again, it won't be allowed to race so close to the DMZ ever again.  
From Korea, Tour de Seoul/DMZ

Last night's catch.
From Korea, Tour de Seoul/DMZ

The first day of racing showed two big climbs in the 110-mile course.  To say it was dangerous and difficult would be an understatement.  Crashes on the first descent put four or five riders in the hospital.  One from our team, Phil, went down when he came around a high speed corner to find a motorcycle lying on it's side in the middle of the narrow road.  He was out of the race but managed to also stay out of the hospital too.  
From Korea, Tour de Seoul/DMZ

The hills caused the race to get very spread out, something it seems no organizer is ever prepared for.  There was a police escort out front, and a broom wagon and ambulance in back, but in between, there was miles of racing.  Local traffic frequently appeared.   Ironically, the race was safer when it got closer to the DMZ since there was no local traffic there, only the army.  

And in case anyone forgot rule number one (NEVER leave the pavement), these signs reminded you.  They aren't talking about coal mines.
From Korea, Tour de Seoul/DMZ

RACING DAY TWO:  Another 110 mile stage but with much less climbing.  It took the pros 4 hours and 20 minutes.  Around 80 miles into the race, we passed through a town with a traffic light.  First one we'd seen in two days.  I like it better when there is no need for traffic lights.
From Korea, Tour de Seoul/DMZ

We never forget that nearby are potentially hostile forces.  These blocks were in place to close the road in a hurry.  They were everywhere.
From Korea, Tour de Seoul/DMZ


RACING DAY THREE:  Final day, one minor problem.  The racers follow a lead car but today the lead car took a wrong turn.  Fortunately, the wrong turn did not take them off the course, just cut off about 12 miles of it.  Unfortunately, it put us about 20 minutes ahead of schedule, and that would be a problem anywhere a road closure was needed.  We sat on a closed freeway for twenty minutes, till we were back on schedule.  
From Korea, Tour de Seoul/DMZ

From Korea, Tour de Seoul/DMZ

Even with that break, the police at the finish line were not quite ready for us.  The winners were sprinting past traffic on the way to the finish line.  Potentially very dangerous but it worked out okay.   
From Korea, Tour de Seoul/DMZ

Impressions:  Korea is a very modern place.  There was certainly no "third world" feel to it.  The people were friendly but communication is tough, since even the alphabet is completely different. English speakers were fairly common where you expect them, hotels and at the airport, but to wander around on your own in town would be an exercise in charades.  Learn some key phrases if you go.

If you want to see/read more about the trip, check out the Breezer blog here or see what Phil wrote about his crash here.

I'm getting some rest for a couple days, then I'll begin my trek to Arizona, with a couple stops along the way.


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