One foot in front of the other. Grab onto the rope. Watch that muddy spot- don’t slip. Maybe the ground evens out up here.
Crap, it doesn’t.
Grab the rope. Keep going.
I kept repeating this to myself during our hike up Gwanggyo mountain in Suwon last Thursday. It’s not exactly a super-precarious climb, and at just under 2.5 kilometers up I’m sure a lot of people would brush it off as no more than an amateur hike.
But for someone who, just a few months ago, was repeating a different mantra – get up, one sock at a time, button the coat, gonna puke? Maybe, grab a bag just in case - to do simple things like go the bathroom or catch a cab down the street for a doctor’s appointment, I pretty much felt like I’d climbed Everest when I reached the top.
See the towers off in the distance from our starting point? That’s where we ended up. So…maybe not Everest. But you get the point.
What did I learn from this little expedition? Well, first of all, the human body is capable of some pretty astonishing things. Like going from being bed-ridden with a tube sucking yellow goo out of an infected lung to hiking a mountain and feeling great at the top six months later.
The other thing I learned is that old Koreans totally kick ass.
Josh and I passed dozens of folks going up and down the mountain. I think it’s safe to say that over 90% of these hikers were over the age of 50. We saw one family with two kids, another mother with her teenage daughter, and a solo traveler probably in her twenties. Other than that, these were all grandparents decked out in full hiking gear, complete with oversize visors, walking sticks, and massive backpacks with metal teapots and cups clanging on the sides. At several resting points they could be found seated cross-legged on the rocks, enjoying a cup of tea in the peace and quiet of nature and good company.
I could write several blog posts (if not a book) on the difference in generations and the huge shift in values in Korea, but this was particularly striking. I can’t help but wonder if, thirty years from now, hiking will be so popular among the 50+ crowd in Korea. Something tells me it won’t.
I wonder if, when these elders were younger, their parents dragged them on hikes and they pouted and sulked. Or if they enjoyed it, and have carried throughout their lives a deeper appreciation for nature and hard work than their children and grandchildren possess. Either way, what makes them continue hiking even now, despite arthritis and pains from years of labor and, in some cases, a hunched back from a lifetime of tending to gardens?
I’m not sure what motivates them, but seeing these people at the top, sipping tea and laughing, sure motivates me to keep climbing.