Overprotecting Olle would be a shame
American writer Bill Bryson began walking at Springer Mountain in Georgia on March 9, 1996. His destination was Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail 3,500 kilometers (2,174 miles) northward in Maine.
Each spring, more than 2,000 “thru hikers” leave Springer Mountain. On the way to Katahdin, they will traverse 350 peaks of 1,500 meters (4921 feet) or more and take five million steps over five months or more. One in five hikers gives up in the first week and less than half make it to Virginia, about a third of the entire distance. Only about 10 percent finish the grand trail.
Bryson was in his mid-40s when he challenged the trail; he gave up after walking 1,392 kilometers.
“I learned to pitch a tent and sleep beneath the stars. For a brief, proud period I was slender and fit. I gained a profound respect for the wilderness and nature and the benign, dark power of woods. I understand now, in a way I never did before, the colossal scale of the world,” he wrote in “A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail.”
Between 1974 and 1996 nine murders occured on the trail, though Bryson wrote that there would be nine murders along a 3,200-kilometer line drawn anywhere in the United States.
Despite the natural dangers, many Americans challenge the trail. Hong Eun-taek, a cyclist, translated Bryson’s book into Korean. Hong traversed the United States, riding 6,400 kilometers in 80 days. Nowadays, he rides in China and contributes “Hong Eun-taek’s Great Wall of China” in the JoongAng Sunday.
Ten years after Bryson left Springer Mountain, 55-year-old, former journalist Suh Myung-sook flew to Europe to hike the 800 kilometer El Camio de Santiago, or Way of St. James. She completed the pilgrimage.
After returning to Korea, Suh set up the Olle Trail in Jeju and made “walking” more popular than ever. Since the first trail opened in September 2007, a total of 21 trails have been developed. The last section, the 18-kilometer course No. 21, is scheduled to open on September 15.
A murder has taken place on the Olle Trail, and the case suggests that the killer is a psychopath.
Suh, now Jeju Olle president, held a news conference to announce a safety plan for the trail. Hikers and trail management need to work harder to maintain safety, though it won’t be possible to prevent crime altogether.
Furthermore, the Olle Trail would no longer be the same if safety equipment and facilities were installed. I, for one, do not want police officers every 100 meters or surveillance cameras.
* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Noh Jae-hyun