On the morning of July 1, 2015, an elderly man living in Neighbourhood Unit No. 48, Sungni-dong No.1, Rangnang District, Pyongyang, was leaving his apartment house on a bicycle seen off by his children and grandchildren. Throwing a smile of self-assurance to his wife, who wore a concerned air, and the children the elderly man set out on his journey, his figure gradually receding from view.
Mixing himself among other bicycle riders on their way to work he briskly peddled his bicycle, looking quite strained as he knew he had to make a round trip to Mt Paektu in northern Korea and back. It is 1 000 miles to the mountain and back, and moreover, he was 74 years old. He could enjoy the rest of his life under the care of his wife and together with his frolicsome grandchildren, but he embarked on the trip.
The elderly man, Kim Ho Il by name, was vice-director of the Hydro-meteorological Service before retiring on a pension in 2007. While spending his leisure time at home he, who had been very busy with his work, could not help but feel lonesome. Sometimes he passed hours angling. But the sport was not fit for him to do. An old saying goes that a man dies, his name remains,’he thought. What else can I do now? He could not put the thought out of his mind.
Then he decided to write long travel notes as he had wished to do since he had a study tour to Mt Paektu in his days at Kim Il Sung University. This was why he set out on the trip though many people tried to dissuade him doubting that he could travel the long distance in his advanced years.
At every place associated with the very spirit of the antiJapanese revolutionary forerunners who fought in the dedicated struggle to win back the lost country in the first half of the 20th century he keenly felt anew that all the relevant historical facts should be eternaly imprinted deep in the mind of the coming generations. And he regarded it as his own task to have it implemented.
He cycled ceaselessly in the daytime, and in the evening put down on paper what he had seen and heard. But the road he had taken was not smooth. Sometimes he had to go up a steep mountain road and sometimes he had to go down a sharply bent downhill road. Besides, he had to cross a river flooded by a landslide. At these times he tenaciously overcame all the difficulties with the thought that he must not collapse on the road but continue the trip he had chosen to the end. And sometimes he had to repair his defective bicycle in an uninhabited region, lighting a fire himself.
Tiding over all those hardships he finally climbed up Mt Paektu (2 750 m), the sacred mountain of the nation. While seeing him pushing his bicycle up onto the top of the mountain against a strong wind blowing at over 15 metres per second college students on a study tour admired him for his persistence. And he was imperturbable on the height of 2 750 metres where even the young people panted. He had souvenir photos taken with the help of the study tourists at Lake Chon on the top of the mountain.
After taking photos they asked him how he could keep his good health even in his advanced age, and he replied that it was thanks to the public health system of the country which takes prophylactic measures for him before he gets sick, and that it was also attributable to spiritual strength.
At last he returned to Pyongyang 56 days after he left the city. But when he was about to start to write a travel book, he admitted that the data left much to be desired. So he set out on another trip by bicycle on June 21, 2017. Some people tried to dissuade him suggesting that he might write the book as he thought fi t. He, however, felt impatient. I should go as early as possible before getting older, he thought. (Later he said that his confidence that the book he wrote would continue to be alive with the coming generations though he died invigorated him.)
At every place he met kindhearted people. This always encouraged him to continue with his trip. Once he was saved by people when he slipped on sphagna falling into a stream while enjoying the scenery of the Isonnam Falls in Mt Myohyang, a celebrated mountain of the country. And when he had a high fever, medical workers of a county people’s hospital cured him sincerely. And remembering students in the Hongam village, who had said that they would bravely break through trials remembering the bicycle grandpa, he ran 60 km in the rain in five hours. In this way he cycled 1 500 miles in 60 days. After all he travelled 2 500 miles by bicycle during the two trips.
In the period he crossed 136 high passes and hills including Huchi Pass (1 325 m), Oun Pass (1 579 m), Ogasan Pass (1 119 m) and Jik Pass (1 059 m), and covered 12 provinces, and 139 cities and counties.
When meeting a reporter some time ago, he said, “I knew that man sheds tears when he is happy or sad. But when I was over 70, I came to be aware that man also sheds tears when he is too tired.”
His trouble was not in vain. The long travel notes he wrote refl ects vividly the revolutionary exploits of President Kim Il Sung who liberated Korea from the Japanese imperialists’ military occupation and devoted all his life to the sake of the country, Chairman Kim Jong Il and other members of their revolutionary family of Mangyongdae. It also depicts the image of the country changing for the better day by day.
The elderly man deserves to spend the rest of his life in comfort, but it seems that he knows no satisfaction. He also told the reporter about a bicycle trip he planned to do this year. Actually he was collecting the relevant data, and making thorough preparations for the trip.
His hair turned grey, but he still has a youthful mind.