J and I hiked the Bugandae trail of Bukhansan, a mountain in north Seoul. At first the trail was made up of bricks, with the occasional car driving by. Then the trail narrowed into an endless staircase of white rock.
I described Bukhansan as a “non-trivial hike.” Someone in the hotel overheard me and said that phrase is an oxymoron. I packed light for our trip, so I did not have my hiking boots or poles. But all around me, the locals were fully decked out in sleek matching hiking sets, some with scarves tied around their necks. Basically, we shared the trail with a bunch of dignified, trendy, well-prepared physically-fit old people.
As I continued hiking, my knees became wobbly, and I wished I had purchased hiking poles from one of the numerous purveyors at the base of the mountain. The hike was tiring, but I took a simple pleasure in every step. The leaves had a beautiful red, the trees around me had the novelty of being a distinctly Asian variety, and the air was fresher than the smog of the city. Along steep sections, there was a thick metal rope for hikers to grab onto. The trees along the route had smooth bark where thousands of hikers had latched on for stability.
I was traveling minimally. I had a backpack full of water and snacks, and I’m a lightweight person. But J was having some trouble, so we took frequent breaks. I held his backpack, and it was unreasonably heavy. I wondered what he had packed, because I thought that I was carrying all the essentials for our hike.
“What’s in here?” I asked.
A laptop, an empty metal thermos, and a liter of Japanese lube.