Flat and Straight

Sounds like a bluegrass band name, or a hair style. Maybe I’ll ask for a flat and straight next time I visit my stylist (barber shop). Many roads I’ve ridden can be described with this hairstyle name, but I didn’t see any hair, not that I was looking for it either. FnS (Flat and Straight) bike routes or roads are good for the race of truth, and they can become KOM/QOM drag-strips.

The race of truth, or time trial, seems to be what I always did racing. I’ve only raced two TTs, but almost every race I’ve done was a solo effort. Maybe I’m that fast! But it’s the opposite, I’m probably slow. Most of my racing has been off-road, not the best place to be a foot behind a wheel, while needing to solve problems (obstacles) you can’t see until you hit them. Those two TT’s were on some of the most bland roads, nothing to see of interest, except for the distant horizon or mountains, brown landscape, no trees, fenced off, nothing to see. Roads like these are often considered very scenic, but not in the sense of the route being labeled aesthetic.

Stream crossing, Wongok. I always search for such jewels that add character to a route.

FnS routes have some appeal. That could be the shortest distance between two points you want to connect, or you’re after a KOM. Is there any other possible appeal to an FnS route? Some geographic areas have FnS’s that provide very distant views of far horizons. The only FnS rides I’ve enjoyed are riding through cities, or other highly populated areas. This works because it provides visual distraction. For me, that visual distraction is a major characteristic of an aesthetic route: curves, hills, or rapid overload of attractions. My bike riding began on trails. Twisting, turning, climbing, diving, rarely a steady view, and that constantly changing scenery is one aspect of cycling that really pulled me in. And I always want to know what’s over the next hill, or around the next turn, (that’s the addition part!).

So many miles of these narrow farm roads everywhere! Made a wrong turn first, then got to the correct left turn and the impending 16% climb with no approach speed.

For me, running has this same route requirement, must not be straight, at least. I admit sometimes I don’t need (want) to run uphill. And this developed from my favorite runs which are not road-based, but on trails. I’ve done a couple marathons, and they had at least three straightaways, no shorter than 50 miles, on these 26.2 mile routes! I don’t know how they designed those courses. I often wonder why marathons aren’t routed in hills. This oddity probably perpetuated from one of the main attractions to marathons- to create a standard that all runners can use for measure, or self-assessment, comparison, (I’m faster than you, at 26.2!). Many marathons do have an attempt at aesthetics, most are inside city landscapes, providing some type of visual distraction from those 50 mile long straightaways!

This section is just north of me, one of the many steep ridgeline passes. This one is around 16% on both sides.

Flat and straight. When planning a ride, or run, I study maps, and previous rides, and try to “draw” my plan without FnS’s. I’ll admit I did label a recent ride as the Jinwi Time Trial. And this was so close to almost flat (279 ft elevation gain) for 19 miles. It was an after work evening ride that I envisioned sometime after lunch, while crawling through afternoon tasks at the office. Doesn’t everyone use afternoons at the office to decide where to ride or run after work? Must have been a terrible afternoon to come up with a flat ride idea.

Moobong Dirt
Nice dirt road climb to Moobong Pass

I came to South Korea from New Mexico, and I knew SK was not flat before I looked out the airplane window, I studied a little, and I had passed through Seoul for a few days back in 1999. With about 38k square miles, most of the terrain is not flat or lowlands, 70% is upland or mountains (not flat). The peninsula has been likened to a sea in a heavy gale, because of the nonstop mountain ranges covering the land. Highway builders here are experts at tunneling, same for trains. There are a few tunnels that are bike friendly, and some I maybe shouldn’t have ridden through. But the beauty of cycling is riding over these ridgelines, but that’s not always possible. Although there are trails on every ridgeline, (SK Cow Rule #3), IMBA style switch-backing trails are near non-existent here, and many paved roads go straight up steep slopes.

As automobiles will usually take the quickest route, many of the older narrow roads over the mountains are left for bikes, and locals. As the old roads reach the end of the farmable lands in the valleys, they sometimes continue up. 10% grade is normal here, with many averaging 15%. I sometimes try to see the number on my GPS and I’ve seen it show 25% a few times. That was just before I dismounted to walk, the hazards of riding a single gear bike, (imagine Hans Gruber, in Die Hard, saying this instead of “The benefits of a classical education.”)

abandoned-bridge.jpg
This bridge was probably on the main road a few years ago.

Most of the FnS possibilities are along the rivers or through the farmlands. Why do I enjoy the farm roads so much? Before I moved here, I assumed there’d be many miles of dirt farm roads. After riding around here for three years, I’ve come to accept that less than .001% of all the miles of farm roads may be unpaved. Yes, not much on the dirt roads, sad, but I think the reason is to prevent erosion of the roads into the rice fields. But, I’ll say that I enjoy riding these narrow, one-car-width, roads! The faster you go, the narrower they feel, and when the curves come, it’s similar to riding a single-track on an mtb.

An aesthetic feature about the FnS routes here is that I ride many of the farm roads year- round, watching the full life of the many crops from rice to corn, is spiritual, in a nature sense (?). In the winter, the rice fields will be a dry hardpack, spring brings the irrigation then planting. Rice starts as a plug about 4 inches tall, become a monster stalk about 6 feet tall at harvest.

green-road.jpg
Typical “road ride” feature I search for on the maps!

The farm roads will also take you through the older communities, with homes from older construction techniques, similar to southwest US, timbers, mud, straws, etc. These streets are narrow, barely one SK vehicle sometimes, not a place to reach for that KOM! But a place to slow and soak in life from an exciting and different culture. I’ve never felt like an intruder on these “intimate” streets, always see smiles, and as much as I’d like to photo everything there, I try to be respectful of their neighborhood!

Flat and straight is usually the least culturally valuable route. But FnS can display the mountains around the valleys in a beautiful composition of nature. Did I mention how green this place is? Mountains covered in trees, of many varieties. And any other plant that can, will fill the gaps between the trees. Even kudzu, just like the southeast US. While riding in the valleys, I’m always searching for trailheads into the trees. Every ridgeline has a trail, (SK Cow Rule #3). Only busted that #3 twice, and both times was after an unmarked straight-up hike, carrying the mtb. So, I look at the mountains and wonder if the ridgeline trail is worth the approach on the typically steep SK trails.

moobong-pass.jpg

Moobong Pass. Not very tall, but one side hits 24%!

Quite often, the twisty farm roads that skirt the valleys were the main road through the farm areas, staying at the edge of the forest and hills allowed maximum use of the flatter easier to farm lowlands. And not every old road continues, I’ve hit many dead ends while searching for the best routes through the flats, (SK Cow Rule #2).  I always get excited when I find a new twisty farm road that does not dead end, these are rare in the valleys, but not on the flats.

Avoiding flat and straight has resulted in many miles of amazing exploration in this country. With spare time, and the best maps, and ride files from locals, it is possible to draw some awesome routes, over the mountains, through the valleys, and into towns I’ve never seen. The narrow farm roads feed my avoidance of flat and straight, and these are my favorites; sometimes they lead to a single-track which adds a bonus to any road ride! If you are in South Korea, and haven’t ridden these jewels, you are missing the prize! The straight route is usually the easiest, but the twisty is always more rewarding! Aesthetics is important, and not just how you look on the starting line, but how that route looks from the handlebar! I could just ride the rollers inside if I didn’t need to be visually entertained by the constantly changing view out front.

Maybe applications like STRAVA, MAPMYRIDE, GARMIN CONNECT, etc., should add a data field for an aesthetic rating, but should it be Yes or NO, or a scale of 1-10? Or choices like BORING, or F!@#$NG AWESOME? I think the latter! But would you share your route if it got the BORING rating? Probably not, just like I will not be asking my hair stylist (barber) for the flat and straight!

https://www.strava.com/

https://www.mapmyride.com/

https://connect.garmin.com/

https://gopro.com/

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