Getting My Ass Kicked

Professor Oh and I at the base of Daeduk Peak.

Professor Oh and I at the base of Daeduk Peak.

I’m a pretty big proponent of jumping into novel experiences and then figuring out the consequences later. As such, when Professor Oh Yong-sun of the engineering department invited me for a nice little hike in the countryside I did not worry that I would be the only non-engineer on the trip. It did not concern me that I knew none of the other hikers save Professor Oh. It gave me little pause that I’d never heard of the mountain we would climb. What’s the worst that could happen? The mountain, it turned out, was called Gyeryong Mountain and the area we’d hike was known as Sutonggol.

We met at the base of Doduk Peak in a small clearing with bathrooms and a creek. We checked all the equipment, or at least the others did. I got bored, hoped into a little stream and discovered an amazing creepy-crawly of, I believe, the family gardioidea. Supposedly it lives inside insects for most of its life and then pops out their butts when the time comes to reproduce. The others seemed considerably more horrified than I and so commanded I return it to the stream. Boo, hiss, boo.

연가시, or gardioidea, I think.

연가시 like creature, or gardioidea (hairworm), I think.

The others all had new hiking boots and backpacks. I, cleverly, went a different way with my very old hiking boots and single strap sports bag. We took pictures, posed by the national park sign and made jokes about the noisy, weird people up ahead on the trail. Then, without any cue I noticed, everybody took off up the trail. At first it wasn’t so bad. I was in the fastest group for the first 2 kilometers of ascent before I started to get pretty tired. Only it was an odd sort of tired. I wasn’t really breathing that hard and my muscles felt fine, but damn, something was going on in my head.  I felt dizzy, weird, light headed. I took a break and let the first group pass me by. This hurt my pride a little (okay a lot), but I didn’t have much choice. I caught on with the last group, which was most definitely slowing down for me, and more or less kept up for the next couple clicks. Then, in preparation for the last kilometer or so, I took another break for water. It was then, upon lifting the sports bag off my neck I came to a realization. I had been strangling myself the entire way up the hill. That single strap had come to rest on my left carotid artery and, with the help of a lot of water bottles, pinched it off. It was amazing how much better I felt for the last push.

The view from Daeduk Peak.

The view from Doduk Peak.

Then we climbed another peak and my muscles started to give out. Then we climbed another peak at which time my muscles must have been fine because I could no longer feel them – but I could feel dehydration coming on. Then we took a short break, all together, and ate some raw cucumber. My thighs felt like they’d been through a tenderizer, my calves were, after a period of numbness, realizing it would be more fun to feel like they were on fire and I was still alternating between pinching my left and right carotid arteries.

My carotid pinching, muscles on fire dehydrated face

My carotid pinching, muscles on fire dehydrated face.

At least nothing but the downhill stretch remained. It was then I discovered another thing about steep downhill descents – they require near constant flexing of both the calves and the quadriceps. When the descent takes the better part of an hour, that can cause some muscle fatigue. The returning numbness disguised that muscle fatigue to the point I didn’t really notice until, arriving at the base of the mountain, I discovered I’d lost the ability to walk normally on flat ground. Surprise!

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The descent.

By the time we arrived at the restaurant for a bunch of post hike booze and bbq I wanted to vomit (thankfully I didn’t eat before the hike), I was unable to walk normally, I was pretty sure I’d torn a muscle in my left calf, my head hurt and I was having trouble staying awake. This was an asskicking on the scale of anything I experienced training for wrestling and beyond anything I went through in hell week playing football.

But you know what? It’s just pain. Muscle tears heal, soreness fades and puking isn’t really that bad. The friends I made on this trip, the coworkers who saw my willingness to take a beating and keep going, the knowledge I didn’t quit, the sense of community I felt with the people I’d just met as we all spent three hours telling jokes and getting tipsy afterwards – those things don’t fade so quickly.

I think I’m going to do it again.

View from the second peak.

View from the second peak.

Daejeon, my city in Korea, as seen from above.

Daejeon, my city in Korea, as seen from above.

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6 comments

  1. I feel the same way about hiking–aptly described, Ben!

    1. Was your trip to the summit of Mt. Rose similarly trying?

  2. Charles sprague · · Reply

    Really enjoyed the read has me laughing for some bit. Reminded me of a similar experiance with a 35 mile bike ride I took on. Look forward to reading more!

    1. Yeah, I imagine a 35 mile bike ride would have the legs “invigorated.” Nice to hear from you, Mr. Sprague.

  3. 오용선 · · Reply

    I really enjoyed your article and had some emotion of you, Ben. I did not realize you suffered so much from this trekking.
    That creepy animal looked like 연가시, but they are not the same. 연가시 is just an artifitial one from the thought of the author of that movie. We would be so thirsty if we got infected with 연가시 in that story.
    I was so sorry you brought your single strap bag because it might be too inconvenien to hike the mountain. You’d better prepare a double strap backpack for the next time to hike^^.
    Many people suffer from their tough breathing and/or some kind of headache during their 1st. trekking mountain. But I am a little impressed with your expression “I felt dizzy, weird, light headed.” Frankly speeking, I don’t completely understand what the feeling was, but I can imagine your situation at that time.
    Downward slope is not easy in general. In fact we have to be much more careful to go downward from the peak of the mountain. So we usually take a pair of sticks to protect our knees when we trek.
    Mountain trek usually improve our friendship between the people who got together to join a trekking. I am so happy you already started to know about its strong attractiveness. And you said “I am going to do it again.”
    I will definitely invite you again to join us for the next trekking. The only thing I want you to do is that you’d better bring two strap backpack and possibly a pair of trekking sticks.

    P.S. Daedok peak — Dodeok peak (도덕봉)
    Sugoltong — Sutonggol (수통골)
    I cannot find the word ‘gardioidea’ in my dictionary. But I was really happy when I was reading your amazing article. Thank you.

  4. Professor Oh, I’m glad you enjoyed the article. The animal I think that weird worm was is a gardioidea. Here is all the information I can find about it. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Gordioidea/pictures/
    I think the common name is “hairworm.” http://animal.discovery.com/worms/hairworm-info.htm

    I’ll edit the article to fix those mistakes. Thanks for pointing them out. Oh, and thanks for inviting me – I really did enjoy the experience!

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