And yet, on the opposite side of my psyche, an atavistic thrill took root.
“Dude, we’re in the middle of nowhere.”
“It’s ride-or-die now.”
“How badly do you want to survive?”
While that was likely an over-exaggeration, as I glanced around at nothing but wilderness and abandoned fields nothing felt truer. To make matters more real, my water bottle ran dry.
So as many football coaches would say, “In desperate times you just have to call an audible and let it ride.”
I turned off Coates’ illuminating audiobook in favor of some K-pop and southern trap music. The sweet and manic sounds of TWICE, 4Minute, Crayon Pop, and HyunA met the gritty no-sleep-get-money-don’t-fuck-with-me vibes of Plies, Young Dolph, OJ Da Juiceman, and Migos.
Slowly my fatalistic mindset (along with many kilometers) melted away. 20 kilometers to Naju, 16, 10, 5, stop. We made it to the rest stop.
Mr. Meta apprised me of the situation. We were 12 kilometers from our destination. My spirits were high, but my knees were in pain. I realized that a 26” medium-frame bicycle from Lotte Mart was ill-appropriate for a 100-kilometer ride by a six-foot-four-inch rider. I promised her (during the trip I dubbed my bike as a female) that I would retire her to simple rides around Namak and Mokpo if we survived.
As we finished the last few kilometers, I finally found a pace that worked for me. I observed a Korean man riding his bike next to us. He rocked a riding shirt, matching pants and helmet, looking like he was training for the next Tour de France. His pace was good, but his legs moved slowly. I realized I needed to switch to a higher gear and manage my pace. It made a world of difference in energy conservation.
However, my knees were on their last legs. I flexed one glute after another, stood up as I rode, sat as far back as I could, and anything else to relieve the strain. We were too close to give up now.
“Soon this will all be over,” I thought.
Soon enough, that obvious prediction proved true. We pulled into a coffee shop in Gwangju to meet Meta’s friends. Black coffee never tasted so sweet and introductions never felt so rewarding. It almost made up for the last seven hours of hell. Almost.
We punctuated our time in Gwangju with ramen, craft beer, chicken, and French fries. I never felt so justified to eat garbage in my life.
In seven hours, my mindset bounded to-and-fro. During the ride, I felt nothing but pain and misery. The alleged “easy ride down the river” morphed into a slush-laden detour-taking wind-in-your-face hopeless slog. And yet once I finished. The liberating rush of accomplishment flooded my veins. I felt high on endorphins, low on regret, and capable of anything. 100 kilometers of hell left me in a heavenly headspace.
Overall I learned some fundamental lessons.
- Don’t go for a bike ride longer than 20 kilometers unless you are confident that you fit into your equipment.
- Lotte Mart/Walmart bikes are not cut out for touring.
- A miserable in-the-moment experience can translate into a fond memory.
- Don’t shy away from a challenge. That is how you grow.
- Don’t underestimate the power of hyperactive K-pop music to boost your mood and energy.
Another great example of Singapore’s linguistic diversity. The languages from top to bottom include Emoji, English, Mandarin Chinese, Tamil, and Malay.
Singapore has a reputation as one of the safest countries on Earth, yet signs like this appeared everywhere. Some involved drugs, others involved illegal loan sharking operations. Either Singapore seriously cleaned up their problems, or scary signs are very effective.
I was so ready to go home after day four in Singapore. It feels good to be back at work. I missed the structure.
The King magnanimously prepared us a Chinese New Year feast. We ate our faces off.
One of my students built Namak High School out of Legos. I would score it 90 out of 100 kilometers from Mokpo to Gwangju.
The King was dismayed by our gluttony, even though it was he who laid the trap.