Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A time to keel (over)

I've been out virtually every day running or biking. On the few days I don't do those, I go for a long walk. I'm not losing any weight but am otherwise in the best shape in decades.

A week ago, I decided to bike to Itaewon, the famous melting-pot area I've written about before. My GPS monitor, which I bought in California, said it's 5 1/2 miles from my apartment as the crow flies. (It's longer for a crow on a bicycle, even more so if he stops for a beer at a crowbar. I guess I probably traveled 20 miles in all.)

OMG, guys, to use a popular Korean expression. (No lie: "OMG" and "Oh my God", in English, are very popular expressions here.) Anyway, OMG, what an odyssey. I had a vague idea from Google Maps that Itaewon is north-northwest from me, and I knew that if I kept heading north I'd get to the Han River and be able to find a bridge. The GPS simply says how far away and in what direction the destination is; it doesn't show roads and such.

Well... I biked on sidewalks. I biked in the streets. I biked on the beaches. I biked in the fields. No, wait, that's Winston Churchill. I'll start again.

I biked on the sidewalks (mostly) and in the streets and over the bridges, walked the bike through crowded areas, carried it down through the subway stations and up a HUMENJOUS set of stairs (50-plus of them, each one half-again as tall as a normal stair). When finally I coasted down a steep hill into the heart of Itaewon, nearly two hours after I'd started, I realized I was coasting down the only street there I was really familiar with... I was on Hooker Hill!

I think Hooker Hill is named after Korea's hero, General Joseph Hooker of the Army of the Potomac... no? Okay...

Hooker Hill is what it sounds like, at least after dark. I've never been there after dark and, as far as I know, have never spotted a hooker there; it's also the home of the Foreign Food Market, where I buy curry and Bac-O's, and until that day was the home of What the Book. The reason I picked last Wednesday to do my trek was because WTB was just opening a newer, bigger store on Itaewon's main street.

As for the store itself, I should have waited; they weren't completely set up yet and had run out of pie (which they'd promised on Facebook that they'd have on opening day). The place had all the charm of an airport waiting room. But I did get a copy of the book that changed my life, John Robbins' Diet for a New America.

On the way home, I took a different route; I went south past the huge US Army base to the nearest bridge, figuring I'd cross the river and go down to the path that runs all along the Han until I got to the ballpark, where I'd take my beloved path home. Sadly, there was no way to get from the bridge down to the river, so I turned left along an overgrown sidewalk, hoping to find a crossing. I didn't, but the sidewalk did run out, leaving me to bike on one of Seoul's busiest expressways at rush hour.

I guess they call it rush hour because everyone has to move so slowly; I kept up with the flow of traffic; fortunately the right-hand lane was very wide. After ten minutes or so, I got off at the first exit, only to find myself going through Gangnam (our favorite nearby ritzy shopping area) at the heart of the rush. I walked the bike when I wasn't steering among the crush of pedestrians.

Eventually (after passing a bike shop on my right and realizing it was the same bike shop that had been on my left 15 minutes earlier) I made it home. It was a four-hour trip, including the ten minutes I spent at the bookstore. I'm glad I did it, for the experience, but I'll certainly never do it again.
When I'm not running or biking, I'm usually eating.

Most days, though, I'm running and only bike to and from work. I've never been one to accumulate gadgets; I was the last of all my friends to have a cell phone and still spend five bucks a month on mine, only have a Nano as my iPod, I've never had a Blu-Ray player or flatscreen tv. But somehow I've piled up quite an array of running doodads.

This is all for the marathon; I know I need all the help I can get. I have the GPS monitor to tell me exactly how far and how fast I've run, lots of shorts and tops and socks, compression shorts and tights and sweats and a mesh cap, all of which were prizes from races and none of which I've worn, three medals, two pairs of good running shoes, and, now a Utility Belt. Yeah, that's what I'm calling it...
( ... na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na... CORNMAN!)

(Between the Utility Belt and the GPS, which is roughly the size of Dick Tracy's Wrist Radio...
...I'm the height of 1940s comic fashion.

Someone on the Seoul Flyers page on Facebook had kindly answered my query about running shops and directed me to Fleet Sports. On Saturday, I took the subway to Jamsil Station, found as I emerged that I was across the street from Lotte World, the world's biggest indoor amusement park, walked around a lovely artificial lake with hundreds of shade trees and a rubberized running surface, and found the store.

I bought some energy gels (holy Pheidippides, they're sweeter than a Hummel figurine of Shirley Temple riding piggyback on a Care Bear) and a water/gel belt. It's lightweight, has a pouch for gels, keys, money, and a cell phone, and two holsters, each one of which nestles a ten-ounce water bottle up against my kidneys. (How appropriate.) It may seem like an affectation, but like the bike helmet I bought (which cost as much as my used bike) I think I may need it to survive... that 13-mile run I did ten days ago nearly killed me and I don't want to complete the job on my 15-miler this weekend.

Like Pheidippides, I plan to keel over the moment I reach the finish line, and not one step sooner.

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