I woke up in heaven. Rina’s comforter was wrapped around me, like a hug from a marshmallow, and her room was all different shades of gray. The sun was hidden by heavy clouds that were pouring down rain and the music that goes with it. It was a soothing sound and being in a room that was not my own made me want to stay under the covers on my mini-vacation. Yet, Rina would be taking back her home soon enough and I had a river trekking trip to go on. That thought made the rain sound much more menacing.
The trip was through WINK or more accurately, William Cho, and would be in Gangwon-do Province on the Inje river. On the Facebook event, it was said to wear pants so that your legs wouldn’t get scratched by rocks and wear good shoes so you don’t slip. There would be a trail but there were OPTIONS to get wet. I capitalize the word options because I would soon find out this was a trip where options were out of the question. I put on my black leggings grudgingly, as I find pants, or the like, stifling and will only wear them in winter or unique situations. The leggings were a blend of cotton and spandex so decent enough for water, but my t-shirt was cotton through and through. Oh, and I didn’t have a rain jacket. Things were shaping up nicely.
I arrived at Apgujeong Station, where our bus would be, and saw some foreigners looking for the bus. I pointed them in the right direction and one of the boys started talking to me. His name was Jason and he invited me to sit next to him on the bus. I immediately knew he looked familiar and when he told me he was a meteorologist for the Air Force, then I was positive I had met him before. One only meets so many meteorologists in their day. He had no recollection of me though and even now I cannot recall where or when I met him. Kids, don’t drink alcohol. Apparently it kills brain cells and they don’t come back.
As we waited for the bus to start, a large red-headed guy in a wet suit top drunkenly slurred that he had gotten back from Hongdae an hour ago. I noted that he was most likely insane, but little did I know I would soon be putting my life in his hands. Jason and I chatted on the 3 hour bus ride about the weather, as it was his profession, the good and bad of Itaewon, Greek mythology, traveling Europe, and he ridiculed me for my red umbrella and lack of rain gear. His North Face jacket mocked me. Luckily, I found a yellow poncho at the mart and I put in on over my clothes once we arrived at the trail start.
Steph, a girl I’d met before at our friend Theresa’s birthday party, Jason and I started hiking up a large road. William Cho told us to hike until we came to a bridge where most people liked to jump off. That is where the river would be. The rain was pouring, we were on cement, and the hill kept getting steeper. We huffed and puffed, had people join us, and then lost them again on the man-eating hill. Every corner was a new hill, but time went quickly enough, as we chatted with the people around us and splashed through puddles. We got to the bridge where people were jumping into a questionable amount of water. I’m not sure if anyone even tested the depth before jumping in. William Cho arrived and gave us these directions.
“Go that way. Until you reach the end of the river. If you are fast like Koreans, it will take four hours. But it will probably take you six hours.”
There was no trail now, just river, so Steph and I started walking through the ankle deep water. We screeched about how cold it was, as my poncho uselessly trailed behind me. Jason came down to join us and soon we were ahead of the others and alone in a wide river with only the mountains smothered in trees around us. Walking over the moss covered rocks was slippery and we were slowed down and soon joined by Vosa, a fellow Californian, and Jimmy, from England. Vosa carried a yellow flag he had found in one hand and in the other was a bag of gummy bears. He and Jimmy both seemed quite concerned about losing the gummy bears, but he somehow held on tight every time he fell on one of the rocks and splashed about in the water.
We were all flailing around, walking like crabs and climbing over rocks like monkeys. The current was getting faster and our ability to walk was going quickly. Kyle, from New Zealand, and Caroline, from Canada, who were ahead of us, started swimming through the water, as it was quicker. I was appalled, as I stood watching in my yellow plastic cover. I was COLD and not ready to swim in a raging river. A little farther on, I realized I had no other option (options? nope..) and so the rest of us started swimming through the water that took my breath away. It was cold, but the adrenaline took over when you were swimming in it because you had to keep your head above water as the current tossed you around and close to rocks. We got out and followed the dirt trail that sometimes appeared next to the river and through the woods. As we walked we saw Tom, the red-head from the bus, who looked much more sober, but apparently was just drunk. He became our leader because he was fearless and would flop himself into the river whenever he could to test if it was satisfactory for us to cross. His best moment was doing an imitation of a salmon trying to go upstream. I wish that had been the only “wildlife” we saw. On three separate occasions, we saw frogs fornicating. I don’t think “froggy style” will ever catch on…for reasons I won’t go into on here.
Kyle and Tom were the biggest and strongest of our group so they usually led the way when we were forced to cross the river to the other side because the gorge walls were getting too steep and too dangerous to walk on. Caroline was quiet at first, but impressed everyone when she went down a waterfall like a champ. Girl was a bad-ass. Most of our team were reckless crazy people. When Kyle, Caroline, Jimmy, Vosa, and Jeremy, from Wisconsin, decided to swim a rapid full of rocks, I almost lost my shit. My dad is a former raft guide, who filled me with tales of people dying in rapids by being reckless. This had me nervous as I watched people not fully realizing the danger the river can possess. I honestly believe to respect the river, you have to fear it. Jimmy had a huge smile on his face but I couldn’t see the rest of them and they bobbed through the turbulent water for almost five minutes. Jason and I ran ahead to make sure they would all come out all right. At the eddy, Vosa wobbled out to the shore. His face was white and it was obvious that ride had scared him. Even Kyle admitted it had been scary. But the scariest part was yet to come…
Tom found a bright red rock and asked me if it was the famous red rock that our pension would be made out of. It was and when we smashed the clay on another rock, we were able to smear it on our faces. We dubbed ourselves Team Red Rock and also Team Awesome because we hadn’t seen any other people the whole way. We wondered if we were the only ones on the trail. The rain was getting heavy so we stood under some trees and played a name game.
“Hi, my name is Tom and I’m bringing bandanas.”
Everyone groaned because Tom didn’t understand the game.
“Hi, my name is Hannah and I’m bringing hot dogs.”
Everyone groaned because I understood the game, but now the boys had an excuse to be perverse.
“Hi, I’m Steph and I’m bringing hamburgers.”
We gave up on the game and took a group photo.
No one had a watch and we pondered how long we had been going. There hadn’t been any sun for our whole journey and so we couldn’t tell if it was getting dark. So we trudged on and came to a marker that said we needed to cross again. The current looked strong but Kyle walked out into it and after struggling a bit, he made it across without having to swim. Tom made it as well and swam around a large boulder waiting for us. The current grabbed everyone who swam over but Kyle was able to grab them and pull them into the eddy. Caroline and I were left. Two small girls and one big current. We stepped out and I felt the current push against me. It was very very strong. To be honest, I knew I was not strong enough to swim against it to the other side; it would pick me up and smash me into the rocks and white water that was waiting for us. Caroline pushed herself forward but the current wouldn’t let her move and she found herself unable to move back to shore or towards the other side as she held onto a rock. A guy and girl came out of the trees and tested the water. The girl had the same problem as me but the guy held her hand and kept her from being pushed over by the current. She reached out her hand for me and I had to leap for it. Both of us almost fell over and the guy had to use all his strength to keep us up. He got us out of the strongest part and we swam to Tom and his boulder. He helped us move around that to float to Kyle, who then grabbed us out of the river before we could hit danger. Caroline looked trapped but the nameless guy went back and helped her over. We cheered and I felt my heart going crazy. It had been scary as anything but team work saved the day..and probably our lives.
After that and the others scary ride down the rapid, we were more weary of the river and stuck to paths (even though, we had started calling ourselves Team Fuck Paths). Our last river crossing was the strongest current yet, but lucky for us, someone had tied a rope to two trees on either end so we could pull ourselves across. We saw the other groups going and because we were in an imaginary race, we quickly moved on down the banks. A bridge appeared and it seemed we were at the end of the river. Vosa and I did a victory dance as the others screamed “Team Awesome!” and “William Cho!”.
We peeled off our wet clothes, put on dry ones, and sat down with some beers, ramen, and chips. It was odd to see all these people dry and in normal clothing. The other trip members slowly straggled in with tales of adventure and cuts and bruises. After an hour of chilling, William got us on the bus and off to the pension. Team Awesome secured a room and we started playing card games and having victory drinks. We had only met that morning but it felt like we had been together for ages. Defying death bonds people, I suppose. Outside our dinner was laid out and we ravenously ate burgers covered in mushrooms and onions. Maybe it’s because I hadn’t had a proper meal all day, but I was so enamoured with that burger that I couldn’t even speak to anyone as I ate it. It would be Canada Day at midnight so the Canadians lit some fireworks and proposed flip cup. It was America vs. the world and we lost. But when it came down to boys vs. girls, the girls DOMINATED. We out drank and out flipped the boys. It became strip flip cup and we got the boys down to their skivvies as we sat down fully clothed and waited for them to plan a sexy dance in lieu of having to take off anything else. They turned around and did the can-can which ended in them mooning everyone in the camp, including many Koreans. I gotta say, it was the best game of flip cup I’ve ever played 🙂
Soju was poured and and drank, as we all sat around laughing until we were too tired to be up anymore. Vosa had started with the soju at 5pm and was barely aware of what was happening anymore. I forced him to drink water and he yelled at me like a little boy, but I finally got him to drink half a bottle. He may have been hungover the next day, but things would have been much worse if I hadn’t gave him that water and kept his hands away from the soju.
The day after our trip, I told him that I’d saved his life with that water. Vosa, who for reasons unknown, must eat ice cream every day and had it at least two times a day on our trip, even at breakfast with his muffin, responded, “You’re like my new ice cream (my previous life saver)!!!”
Team Awesome was full of positive people who kept things fun and without them, I surely would have freaked out and been unsure of myself and my ability to make it down that river.
Team Awesome, you’re my new ice cream.