Challenge and Revitalization

Challenge and Revitalization

Featured Image by David Marcu on Unsplash

I have now been living in Seoul for the past 14 years and I can’t say that boredom hasn’t settled in. I work remotely, mostly from my house, and going out means having to face the kind of aggressive, constantly in a competitive rush people, that only cities of over 10 million inhabitants can breed. So I stay home most of the time, which tends to make for a lonely, and very inactive lifestyle. As a result, over the past year and half, I’ve put on over 15 kilos, making me not only uncomfortable all the time, but also making me lose all interest in doing things in general. It’s a shame, and it is taking a toll on my mental health. So I’ve decided to bike more often, both on my own and with my family. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do too much regular biking, as my extra weight and lack of motivation would prevent me to do so, so I bought an electric bike. The goal was not only to get me moving, but also to allow me to bring my daughter around. She loves being out and about, and I love having her with me. Also, I needed something solid and with enough battery for long range biking, shall I decide one day to take on such a challenge. So I made the jump and got myself this beast:

Becoming Sedentary & Seeking Challenges

It’s been a few years now that I have been looking for some physical challenge. As mentioned above, my job is extremely sedentary, and the conditions in which I perform it are making me very lonely. As such, I end up eating a lot, out of boredom, and the choices of food are really bad. The weight I’ve put on not only affects my general mood, my ability to do things, and my self esteem. I hate that I don’t do as much as I used to, and I needed to find a way out by proving to myself that I can still do fun physical things.

In 2022, I had a good shot at such a feat. I spent a fair amount of time thinking about walking the Haeparang-gil, a 770 km long walking trail that goes from Goseong to Busan on the East coast of South Korea. I trained for it by walking everyday for about an hour, with some sessions going over 2 hours. I changed my diet for something a lot more healthy, and I lost over 10 kgs. However, I was constantly stuck with one massive problem: the trail would take me a month and half by most accounts to complete. I would not be able to take that kind of time off work, and I wouldn’t want to leave my wife and daughter for that amount of time anyway. Also, following a small injury that prevented me to workout for a while, I lost all the progress I made and never recovered.

When I first started using my new electric bike, I made a simple but game changing discovery. Not only did I enjoy riding the bicycle, but the motor helped compensate for my own weaknesses. I’ve done longer rides in the past but for every hill, there was multiple wishes to never do it again. While I see the value of making efforts, I also know that I am too far gone into the sedentary lifestyle to find any pleasure in it. Now, while riding my current bike, I enjoy the help of the motor for the difficult parts, but also require to make a decent amount of efforts once I reach past the speed supported by the motor. It’s a descent combination of pleasure and efforts at my current level of fitness.

So there I was, with a chance to challenge myself while stacking the odds in my favor.

Seoul to Busan

There are many biking trails in Korea, the most famous one being the Seoul to Busan Trail that follows the 4 rivers path, starting from Incheon in the North, and ending in Busan in the South. The trail is 633 kms, a very challenging ask for most people. So this is what I decided to challenge myself with. When looking at time away from home, it could be done within 6 days with an average speed of 100 km/day. There is plenty of information online already, including a dedicated facebook group with people open to all questions, from beginners to advanced, and plenty of articles detailing ways to make the trip as enjoyable as can be. It’s also a chance to go through rural parts of Korea that I may not see were I to only travel by car. And thus, I started to plan this trip, not knowing when it will take place just yet, but with a series of milestones in place already.

Prep and Milestones

One of the first things to do is to test myself to see what my level is now, and then I need to build on top of that a bit more every week, but before going into that, let’s look at my bicycle.

There are a few cons associated with this bike: it’s heavy and it has my daughter’s seat on it, making it difficult to attach panniers. Of course, I can remove it for my trip but there is a chance that my daughter joins me for a short part of the trip. I need to see how difficult it would be to remove it, and then put it back on again on the day that she joins me. Otherwise, I might need to find a way to add panniers that can be attached around the seat itself. I’ve done some extensive research but I haven’t found anything that fits that requirement so far. In the end, if it comes down to it, I can simply use my kendo bogu fabric bag (very light) and cover it with waterproof material if need be, then just put it on top of the seat itself and secure it with ropes.

Now, for the pros of using this bicycle for the trip, this is a very solid bike on which I feel confident to ride for a long way. While it is indeed heavy, the motor does a really good job at supporting the efforts on difficult areas such as long slopes. Based on what I read, I would be able to ride up the hills with motor assistance and then go down without any support at all. The battery should be able to support roughly 75 kms, which isn’t bad, but I would definitely have to use the battery wisely, and keep it for the more difficult parts of any given day.

Continuing with logistics, I need to get the bits and bolts that such a trip requires in the form of tools and puncture patching kits. I also need to learn how to change a tire on a bike like this one. Not only the current setup doesn’t let me turn the bike upside down, but having a motor attached to the wheel makes it even more difficult. I’ll probably visit the shop where I bought the bike to ask them to show me how to proceed.

Next is the physical prep. I currently don’t have the fitness to ride on a bike for 5 hours a day for a week. I first need to text my abilities, and then push them so I can reach the 5 hours milestone. Let’s look at the first three milestones:

  1. I need to see how many kilometers I can fit in one hour of regular riding. The goal is to reach 20 kms.
  2. I need to push for a 2 hours ride and see how I can handle it. The challenge is not only to ride 2 hours, but also reach 20 kms within these 2 hours, and not be so tired that I can’t ride the next day.
  3. Next: 3 hours ride, 60 kms. This will put me in the right return trip radius to reach the official departure line of the Seoul to Busan trail in Incheon. The goal here would be to not only test my endurance but also purchase the trail’s passport for the bike certification system, as well as cover the first bicycle path as part of the full trail: the Ara Bicycle Path. Since I live in the Mapo area, I have no intention of starting from Incheon on the actual trip, but instead, leave from Mapo and head towards Busan right away.

There are more milestones that I need to cover before I can get on the trip, but those are the key ones to get started.

Current Progress

Weight: 103 kgs.

Over the last weekend, I decided to test the first milestone. The goal was to ride for an hour without stopping. Here is my Strava report:

I didn’t quite make it up to an hour due to the bad road conditions on the path I chose to ride. I decided to turn around, and once it was time to choose to extend the path in a different direction or head home, I decided to head home. This was a result of fatigue and the weather being so hot in Seoul at the moment. So, over the span of 48 min, I covered 17.84 km and I am confident that if I extended the trip to the hour, I would’ve reached the 20 km goal. My average speed was 22.6 km/h, but I didn’t do any battery management at all. I simply ran the motor at full speed, giving me a fair amount of help most of the time. I will try again soon, but this time going for a full hour.

So this is it, this is my challenge. This is the result of being bored, struggling to get older, and finding no way out of my unhealthy lifestyle with regular means. I’m hoping that this can jolt me into a better lifestyle, before and also after having completed the challenge. I’m now writing about it, and will post on social media about it, as a way to hold myself accountable. So if you know me and feel inclined, don’t hesitate to ask me “so how’s the biking challenge going?” every once in a while. I’ll be happy to share with you all the reasons why I think I am failing.

You can check my progress on Instagram, on Twitter and on Strava if you want to.

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