▲ Bicyclists take to the roads in droves once the warm weather hits Jeju, but caution is needed to share the road with drivers. Photo courtesy Jeju Provincial Govt.
Jeju offers many opportunities to get the pulse racing, from deep sea diving and parachute jumping to jet skiing and surfing, but the most dangerous sport by a long way is without doubt cycling.
Thirty minutes on a busy Jeju road is probably going to shave a year off your life in stress, if it doesn’t kill you outright. But for those with the guts, Jeju biking offers big rewards.
When foreigners move to any country, how to adapt to the road system is always a concern. For a cyclist in particular, it is glaringly apparent that the vast majority of Jeju natives view road-using cyclists as at best eccentric and at worst mentally unstable.
Actually, part of the buzz of cycling is knowing that at any moment there could be a Kia with your name on it. The exhilaration demands cat-like awareness of everything within 360 degrees, especially when cars all around are being driven seemingly on auto-pilot.
Despite the risks, cycling on Jeju can reach a level of bliss that makes the rewards greater than the risk. Much has been said already about the sheer brilliance of the Jeju landscape, but nothing compares to the pain and pleasure of conquering the brow of a Jeju hill by bike. Arguably the most dramatic is coming into Daejeong-eup on the 1135.
Attacking the incline is like a personal mission and the strain in your sinews only pushes you on in intensity. The landscape around as the brow nears opens out to reveal farmsteads and woodlands which were invisible before, and just feet before the cusp your legs forgive you for the ordeal. It is this moment, perhaps less than a couple of seconds on the crest, when you know it has been worth it.
The huge mound of Sanbangsan is framed by the wavy oreums and the Pacific Ocean opens out southwards. As the wind rushes over your face, you feel like an arrow flying through the air, knowing it is downhill for the next 10kms. As the road flattens out you have more time to take in the immediate surroundings at your pleasure.
Perhaps less exciting, but no less delightful, are the coastal roads. The ring around Jeju and many of the cross-island highways have their own little “cycle shoulder”. These have to be some of the best cycle paths in the world. In London, cycle paths famously jump onto sidewalks, veer into pedestrian crossings, or if you’re lucky lead into a brick wall, so to experience your very own mini-road system is unimaginable. There is one slight drawback, and that is during harvest season, which seems to be every season on Jeju!
You see, these roads have a dual use. Not only do they give holiday-makers and residents the chance to cycle freely with the sea wind, at speeds and intensities entirely down to preference, they are also an integral part of the agricultural production apparatus. Everything from barley to garlic to seaweed is laid out in the sun on these paths to give your ride an extreme assault on the nasal senses.
Whether you opt for the death-defying commute, the calf-crunching climb or the barley-bashing ring-road, there is a cycle for everyone and they are all uniquely Jeju.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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