▲ EPIK English teacher Darren Southcott, from England, has spent much of his free time exploring the highways and byways of Jeju by bicycle. Photo by Kim Gyong Ho
Cycling is all about finding somewhere off the beaten track. Jeju’s famed cycle lanes are unparalleled for their accessibility and extensiveness, but their comfort can sometimes leave us unawares of what lies beyond the curb.
One such hidden treasure is Andeok Valley, a short detour off the 1116 road. The cool, green vale is a perfect respite for cyclists seeking a bit of solitude beyond the highway.
Arguably the best cycle-laned highway on the island is the 1135, which dissects Jeju from Jeju City to Jungmun. For the cyclist wishing to traverse the island, but without the time to take in the coastal road, this is a life-line to the tourist hub of Jungmun and the southwest.
The arduous climb rises out of the city and initially the only distractions are the overhead signs which congratulate Jeju on the UNESCO 2nd anniversary. However, as Aewol-eup approaches, the northwest of the island opens out to the sea and it is with relief after 20 kms that Sae-byeol Oreum rises on the horizon.
Reaching Sae-byeol is one of the moments that make cross-country cycling so rewarding, as you realize the worst is behind you and Jeju drops away to the sea. The view at Dongwang as Sanbangsan’s wise forehead rises at the coast is breathtaking.
Taking the 1116, the route slides into Gamsan-ri, Andeok-myeon. A swift hop up the curb and down wooden steps transforms the fields, sky and tarmac into intimate crags, waterfalls and drooping bamboo. Your endeavor unveils Andeok Valley, a granite enthroned natural amphitheater, which runs vein-like through the land.
For millennia Chang Ko River has cut its way down through the colossal stone, forming a snaking path from Halla-san to the sea at Hwasun-ri. Coming off your bike, the cool shade is a blessing away from the summer heat, and the deep green and crystal waters, framed by silver rock, naturally calm the mind and sinews.
That this secret pleasure is a natural relaxant has been known for centuries. Chusa Kim Jeonghee (1786-1856), Jeju exile and calligrapher, would retire to these very shades to seek inspiration in the caves. He was merely keeping up tradition, as these Eongdeok were also Tamna residencies, betrayed by Gwakji pottery finds.
▲ While many cyclists on Jeju Island are content to ride the shoulder of the busy highways, a short detour can lead to hidden gems, such as Andeok Valley, above. Photo by Darren Southcott
Jumping from rock to rock, over whirling pools, the path (a term applied very loosely) wends upstream, teasing you round each beckoning corner. The early-summer, Darth Vader-esque butterflies clumsily flit about, while swooping song birds attempt to dine on their less fortunate insect cousins. It is increasingly hard to imagine a mere 20 feet overhead, the thundering Seogwi-Jeju bus ferries tourists down to Jungmun.
At times, the deep colors and sounds, with the flirting of the wind and insect life, give the valley an otherworldly air. The sheer-faced gorge walls, and the babbling brook hold the senses hostage and the 30 km cycle passes into memory.
Down on the valley floor, there are times when you need to keep your wits about you, as bike-laden, you attempt cross-stream leaps over rocks and water. Once a mid-flow perch is found, the scenery comes into its own. There is enough to keep you here for an hour, or even two, as the sunlight shards pierce the foliage and shoot into the water around.
On the climb back up the wooden stairs, the mind and body slowly readjust to the opening sky and oppressive heat. As you saddle up, deciding whether your legs deserve an hour’s rest on Jungmun beach, you begin to leave behind the hidden valley of Andeok.
With each distancing kilometer, the legs begin to grow weary, but the images of hidden Jeju, emerald, clear and silver, remain forever vivid.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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