Sorry, no photos this time
My transition from Japan to Taiwan went well. Haneda Airport in Tokyo got me onto my plane without any people help, all electronic, in minutes. A four hour flight landed me in Taipei around 2:00 pm. I had to get Taiwan Dollars (TWD), a sim card, and then to my hotel. I had an interesting exchange with the Information Centre. I assumed I was landing at the Taipei International Airport which is about 50 km out. I didn’t want to pay a taxi to get in so I was trying to get onto a shuttle bus that would take me to the Taipei Main station where I would then get a taxi the rest of the way. What I didn’t realize was that I had landed at the old Songshan Airport in northern Taipei, and the IC people couldn’t figure out why I wanted a bus to the town centre and then take a taxi back north to my hotel. I finally gave up and just got a taxi and realized as he started driving and I checked into Google Maps that the hotel is closer to the airport than the centre of town. Unfortunately when I leave Taiwan it will be from the new airport.
My first night in Taipei I walked around the Shilin Night Market and ate street food, and savoured the dramatic change from Japan. I got my bike the next day and rode around getting used to it and plotting my route out of town. The bike is a bit smaller than my bikes, it also uses older shifters. My panniers are a bit awkward, no handle bar bag, no mirror. So it is taking some getting used to. But it is a good old style bike.
The morning I left I knew I was going to be in for a rough day. Bike familiarization, many hills, much navigation, poor conditioning, too far. The bike paths through Taipei are great and I found my way onto them and on into the hills fine. There was good signage even though there are a multitude of bike paths, for the first 30 km. Once the trails ended I hit the first long climb on a moderately busy road. There is almost always a good wide pedal/motor bike path so the traffic has never been an issue. I would say the roads/paths for biking here are as good as I have experienced.
The problem is that as soon as I hit the hills my strength disappeared. I had to walk my bike a bit towards the top of my first not very long climb. And then I found a bike path again. I am using Google maps for my route finding and it is great. But the path soon stopped and I had to backtrack and follow a road for a while until I got back on. And then I was into an area with hundreds of people using the trail. Apparently it is a holiday and this is a particularly attractive place not far from Taipei. As I was just about to hit a steep climb some other bikers came around the bend as I was shifting gears. I panicked and jammed the chain and fell off my bike. A few scrapes but the issue was the jammed chain. I had to pull it out from between two gears and I just could not do it. I was so tired that I am sure I wasn’t as effective as I could have been. Finally an older couple stopped and asked if they could help. The man went and got some better tools and some work gloves. It took almost two hours to get moving again.
Because of the people and the hills I biked and walked for another hour before I got off of the trail and onto the roads again. I jammed my chain twice more, but not as badly. Finally I had a lovely 45 minute downhill on a quiet road through rice paddies, but I was still not close enough to my destination to be able to enjoy it much. I had not made a reservation and the daylight was fading fast. I stopped a couple times searching on google for a hotel and trying to ask. One guy suggested heading for a train station that was close by and that worked. I stumbled into a great hotel not on any of my maps. 10 hours to go 80 km, in incredibly bad form. Not a good day for my self-esteem nor my confidence. I had not stopped all day. This was a very scenic day and I knew that I had to keep pushing or I would not have made it.
The next day was the beginning of what has been pretty flat riding since. My body felt destroyed; everything hurt and when I walked it felt like my legs would collapse. I booked a place 50 km away and left about 9:30. It did not take long to clear the city and begin riding along the west side of Taiwan heading basically south. Much of the way I have been following Cycle Route 1, and it is well marked. Sometimes there is a nice bike route away from the highway, but usually it is a wide lane marked for bikes. When I have left the marked route google has also given me some nice quiet rides. The next two days I started earlier, at least by 8:00 and did 80 km by about 2:30, by which time I am bagged. I do alright until about 11:30 and then the heat contributes to my general fatigue, and I begin needing more refreshment stops. I think I am getting stronger, but without the hills I can’t really say. My legs are always stiff and sore when I stop for a while. While pedaling on the flat they feel fine.
My accommodations have been good. I have been paying $Cdn 40-75 a night. I usually get close to where I want to stop and then use booking.com to choose and find a place. Most of the food I have eaten so far has been from convenience stores. This is a big thing in both Japan and Taiwan. Family Mart and 7/11 are common in both places. In Japan Lawson’s might be the biggest. There ae other smaller chains as well. They are more than convenience stores. They are often open 24 hrs, they have good coffee, hot food and packaged food they will heat for you. Most have tables to sit at. It is also where I get my money; they have ATMs. Without these chains I am not sure how I would get on. Traditional roadside eateries like I used when I was in China seem hard to find.
Yesterday, after having done my 80 km, and thinking about how I would pass the time until 3:00 which is the earliest you can get into a hotel or a guest house I passed the train station in the town I had just got to. I hadn’t looked for a place to stay yet, and I really would rather have been 50 km down the road at Tainan where I had planned on spending a day birding. I slipped into the station to see what would be involved to get my bike on a train. Fifteen minutes later we were on the way to Tainan. It cost me less than $10 Cdn.
While on the train I booked a place beside the train station. The next morning I was out a little after 6:00 in Tainan Park looking for birds. The first thing I saw were 100s of old people, singly and in small groups, doing their activity. The range of activity includes tai chi type stuff, hard running and exercise, dance, ambling along paths, singing… I was right, this is more China than Japan, my first notion when I arrived in Taipei. I was the only bird photographer. They probably wondered why I was working so hard to capture the birds they see in the hundreds every day. But the Bulbuls and the Night-Herons I got are exotics for me.
After a slow breakfast and a second coffee I got on my bike and headed to the water front. I did a long river bank bike trail, crossed the mouth of the river as it flows into the ocean and found a few more birds in Jiang National Park. This took the better part of the day. I rode about 25 km and walked a small amount, hopefully it will do as a recovery day, but it was more than I had planned. My legs are still pretty stiff. I am thinking about taking the train another 50 km tomorrow to see if I can get some bounce back.
My troubles might seem to mean that I am not enjoying myself, until you understand that a prime reason for this biking part of my trip is to drive the recovery from two years of inactivity, and it sure is doing that. There is no doubt that I was in far worse shape than I expected and so the riding is just that little bit harder than I had hoped. But I am back on my bike in Asia, where I have spent so many good days over the years, I am having to work hard so almost all is good. The downside is the lack of birding that I have been able to do so far. The places I had hoped to bird haven’t panned out. Maybe that will change. Over half of the load I am dragging with me is camera equipment necessary for birds. Right now it has been mostly ballast which is something that I do not need.
All for now…
My bones are aching just reading of your endeavours. I’ll stick with yoga 🧘♀️
Good you get own train when need be and way to stay positive – hope you get more birding in!
I’m doing much better since my light days.
You’re light days are my heavy days!!!!! Praying strength for you extra today Kenny!
I can only imagine the beautiful sights and sounds you are experiencing on your bike ride birding trip.
Wish you smooth bike sailing onwards!!!