Quit...or press on? Osan to Kunsan Ride - 7th Edition

  • Published
  • By Bill Goins
  • Health Promotion Program
On a hot Thursday in August 2008 it began. I had been in the Republic of Korea for about seven months, was a pretty active cyclist and loved to explore. I had never ridden further than 70 miles. On this Thursday, in a passing conversation, a much more accomplished cyclist in the medical group mentioned that he was planning to ride from Kunsan Air Base to Osan AB on a Saturday, and then ride back again on Sunday. I asked if I could join him, neglecting to mention that I'd never ridden anywhere close to that distance.  Long story short, we completed the 125-mile ride to Osan on Saturday and both concluded that we were pretty satisfied with the accomplishment.  No need to ride back!

To this day, I thank my friend Les Handy for even considering trying, what seemed at the time, a fairly ridiculous adventure.  I'm sure he never would have imagined I would still be in Korea today and that the ride would grow into an annual event. A few things have evolved over the years. We now have several "training rides" in the month before the event to screen the riders and ensure that everyone planning to ride is properly conditioned. Thanks to my wife, we also now have a support vehicle, which alleviates the need to carry everything on the bike. Finally, for safety and logistics, the ride now starts in Osan and finishes in Kunsan.

The 7th edition of the Osan to Kunsan Ride was completed on Saturday, Aug. 30.  Nine cyclists, the largest group to date, left Osan at 6:30 a.m.  Simon Carr, Brian Collins, Ryan Gabel, Bill Goins, Joshua Kress, Matt Sanford, John Santandrea, Matt Thompson and Nicholas Watson were all up for the challenge. The ride was going great until we began setting additional records. About 15 miles in, the first of six (maybe seven) flat tires occurred. You lose count after a while. At one point, we even had two flat tires within minutes of each other. I'm sure in a few years the legend of the flat tires will grow. Several chains came off and a front derailleur cable snapped along the way as well. Despite the challenges of unplanned mechanical issues, everyone remained resilient and with the outstanding support from the vehicle, the ride pressed on.

A ride of this length does give you quite a bit of time to get to know your fellow cyclists and yourself.  I don't know a lot of people who have willingly thrust themselves into a physical activity that will require them to do something continuously for seven to eight hours or more. I have always enjoyed these types of endeavors because they really take you to some personal and physical places that are generally not comfortable, and the complexity of what you're doing gets boiled down to two choices: quit or press on. I'm more of the "press on" type.

By the time we stopped at the halfway point of the 125 miles to eat and rest for a few minutes, the temperature began to climb, and so had the terrain. We were about halfway through the almost 4,000 feet of total climbing for the day, with the temperatures rising into the mid-80s, when a few riders in the group were feeling the heat and the hills. This is the part that I love about endurance events. This is where you are faced with sore muscles, heat and humidity, tired shoulders, sore hands, an aching neck and an increasingly sore "saddle." All of the discomforts add up and cause you to begin to question the sanity of what you're really doing.  But this is also where you learn so much about yourself. This is when you really tap into your resilience and also where you actually help others in their resilience. You learn that everyone's sore, everyone's tired and you begin to pick each other up. One thing I rarely hear on these long rides is a chorus of complaints. You're all in it together. It would make perfect sense for everyone to complain about the situation. You're all feeling the stress and the discomfort, but there are only two choices: quit or press on.

We pressed on!

The second half of the ride continued much like the first. More flats, more mechanical issues, more hills and more camaraderie. If you've never ridden more than 100 miles, never ran more than a marathon, never done a physical activity that is continuous for so many hours, then you just don't realize that all the pain and soreness of the first 60 miles is multiplied by 10 over the second 60 miles. They are not equal halves. The pain and discomfort is not equal. It gets worse and you are faced with mounting physical barriers that become mental barriers.

Thankfully, we had an outstanding group of riders, each with their own strengths. We all worked together to pull through. After setting another record for the longest time to cover the distance (lots of flats and other mechanicals will do that) at eight hours and 50 minutes, we arrived at our destination. All nine riders made it the full distance and all were elated. What an accomplishment. 

I may have completed this ride seven times now, but I am pretty certain this was the longest ride each of the cyclists had ever done. I remember that feeling of accomplishment from 2008 with Les Handy. I imagine he felt much like I feel today and it is a big reason this has turned in to an annual trek. Riding from Osan to Kunsan is not about saying you did it. That may be why some individuals decide to try, but along the way, you are taken through beautiful countryside that will cause you some real discomfort. That discomfort forces you to quit or press on.  When you choose to press on, you will learn a lot about how resilient you can be in other situations as well. It will teach you something about yourself and those around you.  That's why I keep leading this ride. It is inspiring to see a new group of riders confront those issues and push through them each year. I can't wait to feel the "pain" next year, because I know together we can press on.