SOME 22 staff members from Central Spectrum (M) Sdn Bhd embarked on the ride of a lifetime recently, cycling 400km from Sanju City to Seoul, and it all began with a wishful idea two years ago.
It was a challenge mooted by chief executive officer Mahmud Abbas.
We were not athletes with chiselled calf muscles. We were your average nasi lemak and teh tarik consuming Malaysians. We came in all shapes and sizes, ages and fitness levels. Some only cycled as a hobby and most of us didn’t even own a bicycle.
Nevertheless, we were determined to rise to challenge.
We began training early last year, going to the gym, hiring aerobics instructors to get our fitness levels up, and watching our diet.
We knew we had to be physically and mentally prepared for the trip.
We arrived in Incheon Airport at 7am local time with 22 bycyles in tow. Our tour agent Charlie, a South Korean married to a Malaysian from Taiping, received us.
The day was spent repairing and setting up the bikes for the journey.
Sang Punggyo-Ihwaryeong Rest Area
With an average temperature of 8°C to a high of 17°C, cycling around the Saejae range provided a scenic route of undulating mountains and rivers. We pedalled down the valley surrounded by impressive summits and fast flowing streams with the cool breeze stroking our faces.
The cycling pace was a relaxing 17km/hour and came with lots of stops for coffee and mandatory photo sessions.
We followed the bicycle path but every time we reached a junction, the signage was in Korean only.
We did not hire guides so it was left to us to navigate. Getting lost and finding our way back added to the thrill of the trip and we took time to soak in the picturesque scenery.
With pit stops and looking for directions, we arrived at our first destination at 5pm, after cycling for eight hours. After a Korean dinner, we hit the sack early to prepare for the next ride.
Charlie warned us this route would be the toughest as it involved two big climbs. True to his words, we navigated steep slopes all the way to the top.
Thanks to our training, we conquered the Saejae Range! The view from the top was a fitting reward for all the hard work.
Coming down was a totally different experience. While it was a blast going downhill, gusts of strong winds greeted us, and suddenly the thought of getting blown away or tumbling down the hill was a real threat.
So we tackled our descend with more caution while getting lost and trying to understand directional signages in Korean was becoming a norm.
We reached town at 6pm and managed to find the hotel, again with Charlie’s help.
Just when we thought the worst was over, the third day proved even more challenging.
Charlie led us to the cycling path, and after 7km we checked our bearings.
We asked an elderly lady and she shouted at us in Korean. From the sign languages, we gathered she was telling us we were heading towards Busan instead of Seoul.
We backtracked to the starting point where a lone Korean cyclist pointed us in the right direction.
The cycling path had elevated sections and riverbanks, with pleasant views of rural surroundings, contrasting sharply with the majestic mountains we had seen two days earlier.
We stopped for lunch and the weather took a turn for the worst. It had been cloudy all morning and began to rain. With another 30km to go, we had no choice but to brave the rain.
Although we came prepared with rain coats and windbreakers, the chilling wind was something else. Most of us were shivering on the bikes.
We had mechanical failures and a rider down but not seriously injured. One rider was closed to hypothermia and we had to make a bonfire to warm him up.
Despite that, we were in high spirits and reached our destination at 7pm soaked to the bone.
The bike path along the Han River brought us up to the waterways. This route also took us to lush agricultural landscape and striking feats of engineering, with bridges and dams sitting side by side.
The highlight must be the tunnels, which was once used as railway tracks, now converted into a cycling path.
There were four tunnels with the longest being about 400m. The tunnels were equipped with light sensors and would light up as you cycle onwards.
Paldang-Ara West Lock
This would be our last leg of the journey. Despite the challenges of the past four days, everyone was eager to complete what we had set out to do.
The skyline of Seoul greeted us as we cycled towards the city. Riding in from the countryside into the city was like experiencing instant urbanisation.
After five days of cycling, we covered almost 400km, more than any one of us had ever done.
But a bigger achievement was our camaraderie, and pushing the limits of our mental and physical strength. It was an excellent experience, proving that with proper preparation and the right attitude, we could overcome any obstacle.