You could say I have bad luck traveling with members of the Stjernholm family. Before I explain, I'll warn you this story might get rather lengthy. So if you don't want to hear about it, well, then I don't understand why you are still reading about it.
Mike is affectionately known as "The Saint," and I met The Saint about 5 years ago while traveling. We went on a number of trips together that never went smoothly.
One time for example, Mike, myself, and three others decided to hike a mountain. Simple enough. We ended up detained by Malaysian immigration, and hours later Mike was inside a male flight attendant's house being pressured to join a local pornography ring. Without going into detail I'll just say that was the most normal part of the trip.
I learned many important things that trip, during our sleep deprived race to the top of Mt. Kinabalu. I learned the importance of planning mountain related activity, and I learned the importance of planning Stjernholm related activity.
When I learned Mike's brother, Matt, was also living in Korea, I knew I had to find him. Matt is a good friend, by which I mean I'd never met him before, but his last name enough convinced me the adventure would be worthwhile.
As months passed by, it seemed I'd never meet Stjernholm version 2.0, until a few weekends opened up towards the end of September.
Matt came up with the good idea to head to Jirisan National Park, and four others agreed. Our group of six hikers was cut to five after a friend dropped out last minute. This friend starts every joke by saying "Ok everyone I have a joke to tell you. Are you ready. This is a joke." Maybe it's a good thing she couldn't make it.
At 10:00 a.m., two weeks in advance, the five of us logged onto the park website to make this happen. By 10:01 a.m., all of our computers were frozen and every single cabin had been booked. Man. Koreans are good at planning. I'm not. I may have mentioned that.
So yet again, Matt and I failed at meeting. I was ready to give up. Then I thought to myself, what would Mike Stjernholm do? Probably push ups. Or at least something related to not giving up. Ok, one more try.
The following week, again at exactly 10:00 a.m., we all met online and tried to find cabin space. This time we were on the Korean version of the website instead of the foreigner site. Not sure if it made a difference, but somehow we snagged a reservation and the trip to Jirisan was on.
After asking him if he was familiar with Jirisan, he replied "I know a little bit but not much."
I probed to find out more: "So a little bit, like you drove past it or know someone who went there?" Kyu said, "Well I been there about 15 times. Last time I went for five days by myself to decide whether or not to propose to my wife. Oh and I also should have died there one time. I almost fell off a cliff and slept in the rain because the cabin was full."
You could say Kyu knows "a little bit" about Jirisan, and I was anxious to learn a little bit myself. But first I had to get there.
Our hike would be during "Chuseok", Korea's version of Thanksgiving, and while most Koreans don't travel much this particular weekend is a logistical travel nightmare. Still, I had two weeks to sort out the details and find a way to Suncheon, a town near Jirisan. All I had to do was make it to Suncheon by Saturday morning, easy task. Yeah not for me.
Defeated and facing the realization that I completely failed at meeting Stjernholm 2.0, I returned home and wrote a depressing email to Matt about my lack of transportation. He responded only with a blog about hitchhiking in Korea. What would Mike Stjernholm do? He might end up in a local pornography ring, but he wouldn't quit.
I began making signs to hold on the highway:
"I like your country please drive me somewhere"
"I NEED to get to Suncheon."
The signs of course were in hangul, and "need" wasn't capitalized because Korean doesn't work that way. I made three or four versions of these signs and briefly considered buying a motorbike to drive to Jirisan myself, before falling asleep.
All of the sudden, the same people who'd been ignoring me for weeks dropped all of their work and started helping me. There were three teachers on computers looking up every route to Jirisan possible while my Vice Principal was juggling schedules so I could take the next day off to travel. I think there were cell phone calls involved, and at one point our secretary mailed a package I'm assuming was related to helping me get to Jirisan.
A friend's birthday party had kept me out that Thursday night, and I woke up late Friday morning making it to Daegu hours after I should have. Armed with only a backpack and a piece of paper that looked like a treasure map, I found the obscure station. Luck was on my side for once, and I claimed one of the last seats for the two hour ride to Gwangyang. The aisles were lined with standing patrons who weren't so fortunate.
An early Saturday morning cab to "Gurye" on the west end of the park followed by a short bus ride put the five of us in the unlikely position of actually being inside Jirisan National Park. To make a very long story just moderately long, I'll summarize the days of hiking briefly.
Everyone finally made it to the Byeonksoryeong shelter somewhere in the neighborhood of 7 p.m., and after a quick meal lights were out within the hour.
Snorlax recruited followers throughout the course of the night, and virtually no one in the cabin slept more than a few hours.
There was also a guy obnoxiously packing his gear at perhaps 3 a.m. When I awoke, I asked a fellow hiker how he slept. He responded "I think someone starting counting plastic bags in the middle of the night."