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SEOUL — Three blissful days of traffic-free roads came to an end Wednesday for U.S. soldiers and civilians in urban areas as the crush of Chusok holiday travelers made their way back from their hometowns.

Though traffic within Seoul remained light through Wednesday afternoon, the highways leading back to town slowed to a crawl beginning Tuesday night. Almost 4 million people were returning to Seoul during that time, the Transportation Bureau of Seoul said Wednesday, with almost 80 percent of them traveling in their own vehicles.

The government estimated 40 million South Koreans traveled during the Chusok holiday, which unofficially began Saturday. More than half of those travelers planned to return from their vacations on Wednesday, officials said.

Most U.S. servicemembers and Department of Defense workers reaped the benefit of a four-day weekend.

“This is the best time of the year to ride,” said Darryl Allen, a motorcycle enthusiast and civilian contractor who has worked at various bases in South Korea for the past dozen years. “The weather’s perfect, there’s no traffic, and as long as you’re not driving across the country, it can’t be beat.”

For many who chose to get out of town during the holiday, it proved a challenge.

“We thought it’s be a good idea to go see Korea, since we’d have a four-day weekend when you include the training holiday,” said Spc. Karen Swift, who traveled with friends to South Korea’s east coast.

“I don’t know if I’d do that again … maybe on an American holiday that we get, but Koreans don’t. It was just too crazy for us, with everyone trying to get everywhere at the same time.”

Chusok, one the biggest Korean holidays of the year, marks the fall harvest, much like Thanksgiving in the United States.

According to South Korea’s highway management officials, the average travel time between major cities doubled during the holiday period. The 280-mile trip between Seoul and Pusan, for example, took more than nine hours, officials said.

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