Regular FeaturesPeople/Yonseian
Biking from the Far East to the Far WestHwang In-beom, an adventurer who crossed Eurasia on a bicycle
Lee Jai-won  |  jaione_2222@yonsei.ac.kr
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승인 2010.02.25  19:48:27
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CAN YOU imagine how thrilling it would be to cross the borders of 18 countries on two wheels? Here is a guy who traversed Siberia and Central Asia to Europe riding a bicycle. Hwang In-beom (Sr., Dept. of Political Science & Int. Studies) went on a bike trip traveling 18,000 km over nine months with Kim Tae-kwan, an elder friend who recently graduated from the same department. With his calm and soft tone, Hwang tells The Yonsei Annals about his amazing travel stories and some secret tips for Yonseians dreaming of special trips.

   
 


Taking a step toward the unknown world
I had longed to travel Central Asia, and Kim, who was looking for extreme challenges, also wanted to cross Siberia. One day, we spread out a world map and dotted countries we wanted to visit. Surprisingly, these were linked in one line crossing Siberia and Central Asia. We prepared our one-year bike route thoroughly, because our trip extended over a period of four seasons. I bought a mountaineering bike and a bike trailer to put in bulky baggage like a tent. Our ultimate goal included publishing a book on reminiscences of our journey.


Learning how to overcome obstacles
Rather than lodging, we mostly camped out to save money. It was impossible for us to have a large budget for our one-year trip. We sometimes pretended our bicycles had broken down at the gate of a village, especially when we desperately needed to take a shower. Then, passers-by who lived in the region showed an interest in these East Asian travelers who looked thin and worn. They were so kind to us that most of them provided us with a place to rest and even food in some cases. Nevertheless, we inevitably faced physical difficulties. Not only the fact that we camped out when the temperature varied from -20C to 40C but both of us also suffered frostbite while crossing Spain during the record-breaking snowstorm. What was more, Kim was seriously injured in Russia, as he fell from his bike down a hill. Kim received proper medical care in a rural hospital, but we were forced to leave the hospital right after Kim's surgery because of the "Residential Registry" system in Russia. Under this system, foreigners traveling there are supposed to report their residence within 72 hours to keep staying in russia.

   
 


Lessons from the journey
Even though we faced lots of hardships, my amazing experiences of communication with local people were unforgettable. There was a funny episode in Uzbekistan. During the journey, I never cut my hair, so I had to wear my hair in a ponytail. One day in a small town, a boy saw me and then called me "Il-kook! Il-kook!" and asked for my autograph. At that time, the Korean TV drama Jumong was enormously popular in Central Asian countries. It seemed that my hair-style made me look like one of the actors starring in Jumong. Cops at the checkpoints of Uzbekistan, who are infamous for nitpicking, also allowed us to pass through when I told them jokingly my name is Jumong! As we benefited from the generosity of others, I was able to get rid of prejudices I had about foreigners, such as that "people of a specific race or nationality are dangerous or impolite." Moreover, I could develop a genuinely global mindset, feeling as if the whole globe was a small village, after traveling half of the Earth only riding a bike.

To Yonseians dreaming of a journey
If you hesitate to leave because of opportunity costs, such as time and money, you can never begin the journey. Although you might be delayed for a while to prepare for the future, you can never visit 18 countries riding a bicycle when you are in your 60s. After all, setting aside a year for everlasting memories and experiences is worth dedicating this time.

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