Cycling the Geumgang
Written and photographed by Tim Schilstra
The Geumgang River is an excellent place to cycle. I probably have cycled along the river over twenty times this year already. Recent upgrades and new paths allow a cyclist to bike from Daejeon all the way to Gunsan, if they felt so inclined. As a cyclist from Daejeon, I must admit I am quite grateful that these bike paths have been installed. There are bike paths in the city, but they are usually swamped with people and the roads are dangerous. So, yesterday I set out on another bike ride along the Geumgang, but this time I brought a camera with me.
The Geumgang River bike path starts from Daecheong Dam which happens to be about 30km from my house. Instead, I took the highway connecting Daejeon and Gongju. It’s an hour ride to get to the bike path. When I first come to the river, I usually see some water skiing but no one was out yesterday. As I came into Gongju I was taken by the beauty of the river as it flows through the town. The fortress in Gongju always takes my breath away. From the opposing shore one has to wonder how magnificent it must have seemed to the villagers more than 1,500 years ago when it was built. The bicycle path actually leads you right across the river and up to the main gates of the fortress (Gongsanseong). There was no time for a tour though, as I had a lot of cycling left to do.
As I left Gongju, I connected with the newly constructed paths along the river. It felt great to be cruising along without worrying about traffic. By this time the heat was starting to get to me. It was a very humid, plus-thirty day. I was going through Gatorade quite quickly. I picked up a fresh bottle while in Gongju and it felt refreshing to have something cool going into me. Now I was on my way to Buyeo. It is a town rich in history and the Baekje kingdom. My goal was to get to the Gungnamji Pond. I had been to the pond before but it was during winter. I really wanted to see the lotus flowers during bloom and I knew that they were flowering around this time. The path took an hour from Gongju to Buyeo. Admittedly, the path between the Gongju and Buyeo was rather boring. The river was swollen from the recent rains and I saw a couple fishermen along the shore. It was a beautiful day with crisp blues skies and big fluffy clouds. I passed by other cyclists who were undoubtedly also enjoying the day.
The first thing that you come across as you head into the town of Buyeo is a tower. I believe it is actually considered a bird observatory. In any case, it is also a new addition to the Geumgang River. I hadn’t been up to the top yet, so I thought I’d give it a go. The tower is free so I made my way up the outside stairs. The tower is only 36 meters but it seems much higher from the top (maybe because I am scared of heights). I took the easier way down via the elevator. There is also a Family Mart (convenience store) at the bottom of the tower so it is a popular rest stop for cyclists. I got some more refreshments. While I was eating, a couple Koreans came over and talked to me. The one guy was fluent in English. He works in Canada and was just in Korea doing a bike ride with his friend. They were on their way back from a round trip between Seoul and Jeju. They had already been on the road for 18 days. It got me thinking about my upcoming trek across Gangwon-do Province. I won’t have 18 days to do it though. That’s a long time but sounds like a lot of fun. I talked to those guys for about half an hour, but had to say goodbye as I still had a lot of cycling left to do.
My next stop was to the Gungnamji Pond and the lotus flowers. As I was heading into the city, I noticed some banners. Apparently I picked a good weekend for seeing the flowers as the Lotus Festival was underway. I actually entered the park from the rear and was immediately taken by how large the flowers were. I swear they were the size of my head. There were so many as well, all laid out in a circular pattern. Apparently King Mu had this garden pond dug and established way back in the year 634. It is incredible how long this garden has stood. I am from Canada and we only have a history of about 500 years and only 145 years as a nation. This pond has been around for 1,378 years! I spent some time in the park taking pictures and walking around the pond. It was getting on three o’clock so I decided to head into town to get a quick meal. I stopped at the Lotteria (fast food restaurant) near the bus station. I know it’s unhealthy but I was in a hurry and I knew I was going to burn all the calories on the way home.
After my late lunch I decided to head home. I knew the direction to the river and thought I could just bike that way. I forgot about the fortress that was in my way. I had to back track a kilometre to a bridge taking me to the other side of the river. I had never taken this path before and was pleasantly surprised. It meandered through a quaint old part of Buyeo and through some marshes before connecting back to the path I had taken to get to Buyeo. Along the way I stopped to take a few pictures of free ranging goats that were on the path. When they saw me the kids ran back to their parents and headed into the longer grass. By the time I got out my camera they were already in the thicket.
I rushed through the next leg of my journey. I knew it was getting late and I still had one more stop to make. Instead of going straight home from Gongju, I decided to follow the path to Sejong city. Sejong is a brand new city named after Sejong the Great, inventor of the modern Korean alphabet. It is the new administrative capital of Korea but looks more like a ghost town. There is still a lot of construction and the government offices haven’t really moved in yet. It is a very interesting place and thankfully there are some nice paths along the city. I haven’t ventured into the city yet as I have only biked past. Yesterday was no exception. It was getting dark and I didn’t have my prescription glasses with me. I only had my sunglasses so I had to head back to Daejeon. There is a bike path connecting Sejong to Deaejeon that runs down the middle of a highway. It is much safer than cycling on a road but I turned on my lights just in case. I also turned on my mp3 player and listened to some great tunes as the temperature was finally cooling down. It was a very relaxing ride home after a very long and full day. I slept very well last night.
Route: Daejeon – Gongju – Buyeo – Gongju – Sejong – Daejeon
Distance: ~120 kms
Time: 8 hours (excluding stops – 5 hours)
Highlights: Gongsanseong , Buyeo Bird Observatory, Gungnamji Pond, Goats in Buyeo, Sunset in Sejong