I may have escaped the mundane world of corporate America (in my ignorant opinion), but there’s no denial that I spend Monday through Friday working for the weekend. As a Kinder teacher, the toddlers are cute and all: pulling at my shirts, smacking my ass and crying for attention but come Friday afternoon, I need an out.
Luckily for the expat community of teachers, soldiers, and students seeking to breakout from the day-to-day routine in and around Seoul, there are a handful of tour companies available for exploring the multitude of weekend destinations Korea has to offer. As for me, I’ve spent the past month busing around the country with Seoul Hiking Group.
A typical weekend with SHG, as well as the competitors, starts off late Friday night, convenient for those teachers working until 10-something. By midnight, the charter bus is strolling along the freeway with millions of other weekend warriors in quest to step away from the office (or school, in my case). We reach a rest stop around 2am, which is buzzing with fellow tour groups and couples decked out in neon hiking gear looking to fuel up before the big climb. Another hour passes before we reach this weekend’s getaway: Seoraksan National Park.
The bus comes to a halt, shaking me out of a half-assed nap. But at the moment, there’s no point to dread on the amount of sleep you did or didn’t get in the past 24 hour hours. Because at the moment, you grab your backpack, and you hike. No thinking, just hike.
For the slower readers of this post, let me clarify: we began our hike at 3am. I stood gawking at the entrance in my running shorts and rain jacket while packs of 40-60 something year olds flashed by in their hiking poles and head lamps. I made sure to stay close behind, as the sun wasn’t to rise for another two hours.
As we chased away the darkness, my mind seemed to simmer from the constant noise I’ve been hearing from the previous week. Instead of listening to the toxic thoughts emerged from stress and anxiety, I focused on the step ahead of me, with minor conversation in between breaks with my peers. Relief began to settle in once the sunlight poured through the trees, offering a sense of enlightenment and hope. The light also brought the attention of the trail maps, indicating we were just a few short kilometers from the summit.
And what a summit it was. All 360 degrees of the peak offered breath-taking views of various rock formations in their sedimentary glory. The wind blew hard and it blew cold, but I could care less. I felt free and alive, and completely unaware that the summit was only a fourth of the way of the hike.
Without disappointment, the next 9 hours proved to be just as majestical. Though as each hour passed by, my enthusiasm softened more and more. We continued along the treadmill of stone, stopping by natural springs to soak our swollen feet in from time to time. It was calmingly bad-ass, like Reese Witherspoon in Wild. I felt especially one with nature after waking up from a power nap atop a rock in the shade. Who knew granite could be so comforting?
With every rest stop, the motivation to persevere receded further away. It seemed as if every time we passed a map, the number on the scale failed to decrease. We knew complaining about the distance, the time, and the shooting pain in our knees wouldn’t get us to the end any sooner, so we shut up and carried on.
We carried on and on, until we started to see the light. And in Seoraksan, the light embodied through a giant Buddha. The Buddha, the souvenir shops, and the moms in jeans and platforms were a sure sign that we had reached the end.
We celebrated the feat with a warm Korean meal and a nap on a bench. It’s amazing where you can manage to fall asleep throughout a 12 hour hike. After a an hour or so of restoration and flipping though hundreds of photos on the GoPro, the Seoul Hiking Group assembled back to the bus and headed toward a buffet.
The remainder of the night was a painful blur. I apologized to my surrounding company for my evident misery, heading for the shower and the bed before my beaten expression bummed out anyone else.
At 8am on Sunday, the exhaustion had been relieved but the stiffness in my legs had not. I stretched what I could and sucked it up, as I signed up for a 50km bike ride for the day and like the hike, there was no turning back. Luckily the ride toured along a (mostly) flat coast, but five hours of biking is still five hours of biking. The pain from my knees transitioned to my ass after the first quarter of the ride, but like every extensive outdoor activity, it was well worth it.
We strolled through rice farms and fish markets, beaches and seaside villages, all of which kept my mind off my aching muscles. But aside from the scenic views, I was relieved to hand the bike over to the rental cart by the end of the trail, which was conveniently next to a beach. Upon crossing the finish line, I retired to the sand to take one last nap under the sky.
Resting my head on my backpack, I reflected on the time and distance spent roaming through the Eastern coast of Korea. I couldn’t have done it without the kind and genuine people I befriended during the trip, and I kick myself for having doubt about myself prior to the excursion. We were melting pot of races and nationalities, with different goals and different opinions. Though we all shared the desire to get the most of our weekend, in hopes to escape from whatever occupied our time from 9-5 on Monday through Friday.
As I worked though this Monday, I carried a little more hop in my step (figuratively, as I’m still walking funny from the hike). I’m still daydreaming of the summit sceneries and planning my upcoming weekend getaway, but I’ve hit a mental reset button. I just had to endure two days of physical challenges to realize it.