A few shots from my first week
I left you in Tainan on March 3rd. I was pretty beat up, but I had had an easy and enjoyable day birding and cycling in Tainan. A big part of the rejuvenation comes from spending two nights in one hotel and not cycling with a full load during the off day. Also, in bigger cities it is easier to find a variety of places to eat, and so that lends itself to rejuvenation.
The second morning in Tainan I had two breakfast sandwiches and hot coffee from the same place I had found the first day. This unpretentious place was jumping, but then it closes for business at 10:00; a perk of being so popular I guess. I pushed my bike over to the station and bought a ticket for Kaosiung about 50 km down the road. It was definitely ridable but my legs told me that they wanted another easy day. This time the train was packed, and I stood holding my bike the whole way. It is Saturday, rooms were tougher to find and I think many people, particularly the young ones, pay the few TWD to get to a different town, possibly even for the day. My hotel let me in early, and I headed off on my bike. Kaosiung I think, might be the biggest city on the west coast. I rode down to the harbour area, took some pictures of the fancy architecture and then wound my way back through some small streets, one of my favorite city activities when I have a good bike. Another good city type meal and early to bed, as usual.
The hotel had a great breakfast; unfortunately most places I am staying do not provide breakfast. It was Sunday as I left the hotel at 7:30 hoping for some respite from the big city traffic. It was not to be, but at least the navigation was easy. Most of my day I would be following the cycle route 1 on good bike trails alongside the main highway south as it wound through this never-ending city. My target for the day was a train station about 60 km down the way and I hoped to arrive before 2:00.
Well into the day my progress was good enough that I could make a side-trip. My two easy days did their job, I felt stronger, so I headed off looking for Qifeng Wetlands Park. As soon as I left the main highway the tension seeped away. I am doing well riding on these well-defined bike routes but the continuous traffic and in particularly the frequent annoyingly long red lights are great to get away from.
The ride to the park was just as nice as the park itself. In the park I even pulled out my big lens for a few birds that are not new on this trip but the setting was nice. There were even a couple other bird photographers at work. Other that having to rejoin the highway for a large bridge I was able to stay away from the main highway ultimately finding a back way into Fanglian Station, which marks the southward extent of the train tracks on the west side of Taiwan. I bought a ticket that would take me across the mountains to the east side of the island.
I disembarked at Taitong where I would spend the night. The east side of the island has a completely different vibe than the west. Only two small cities, Taitong one of them. From my perspective a big difference is the riding; it is hilly. I began working on a train/bike strategy that would give me some riding with an avoidance of the big hills. I do not have much confidence in my ability to ride hills. One of the big climbs is right out of Taitong, so I planned to take the train two stations along, about $2 for me and my bike, saving 25 km of climbing. I wanted to visit Taitiong so I spent most of the day riding into the main part of town, primarily to a park called Forest Park. I took the train to Luye in the afternoon.
My first major goof of the trip showed itself when I arrived at my hotel. I use my visa to book rooms but pay in cash when I arrive. No wallet. For the next 45 minutes there was much teeth gnashing and phone translator conversation going on. Finally the owner connected with the service desk at the train station in Taitong and they had my wallet complete with all the cash that I had just taken out, about $1,000. The hotel owners had a taxi friend that drove me the 25 k down to the station and back, charging me about $20, much less than I offered. This is just one of the many examples of honesty and kindness of the Taiwanese that I have experienced.
For the next two days I rode the highlands along the inland highway #9. I left early, about 7:30, and rode steadily until around 12 to 1:00, by which time I had done first 65 km and then 80km and was surprisingly at my destination. The hills were gentle on me. I had one 7% hill and many long ones at 4-5%. But it was pretty cool in the morning and I was certainly much stronger now. When I arrived at my destination I had my major meal of the day and got on the train for another 25 km. I thought about just riding that extra leg the second day, but opted to keep from taxing all of my reserves.
March 7, Taroko Gorge
So, this has brought me to Xincheng, 25 km north of Hualien, and possibly my nicest guesthouse of the trip. After a great breakfast I left, without panniers, at 7:30 heading to Taroko Gorge, possibly Taiwan’s major natural attraction.
It took close to half an hour to work my way through the two small ocean front villages at the foot of the gorge and into the climb. Taiwanese, and sometimes their occupiers like the Japanese, have made many attempts to carve passages through the gorge. The current version is called Highway #8 and is the site for at least one major cycling event: KOM (King of the Mountain) where cyclist come to test themselves against the 105 km climb to the summit at 3075 m.
I am not doing that. I am cycling up the first 15 or so km to have a look at some of the dramatic parts of the gorge and to see some of the early efforts to build passage through the gorge. My legs worked pretty well but I am glad that I started early, as it heats up fast. The steepest parts that I hit probably were in the 10-12% range, but most of the time I was not working too hard.
I stopped at three places to view and walk parts of the original, or at least earlier versions of the passage. The river has been cutting its path through the marble for 100 million years. Taroko, and the efforts to build passage through it certainly lived up to its billing.
I was back down to my little guesthouse by noon to pick up my panniers and catch my last train ride, this time to Yilan. In this case it is recommended that the leg of the journey north from Taroko be avoided because the road is narrow, without bike lanes and subject to rock fall.
March 10, to Ruifan
This will be my last hard day, and it proved harder than I had expected. In the round Taiwan bike trip one version has you riding over the mountains to Taipei from Yilan, but as I have a few extra days on my bike rental I am riding around the northern tip of the island to Ruifang where I will spend two nights before what is hopefully an easy ride into Taipei to finish my cycling.
This day was possibly the most beautiful part of my ride but only about 30% had the lovely bike lanes or paths that I have become used to. The road hugs the coast the whole way and like many coastal highways it is quite rolling with some of the climbs quite long and steep. On the longest of these I did jam my chain again. I was helped this time by three young heavily laden walkers who seemed to know a lot about bikes. A few of these climbs would then turn into a tunnel that would take me through a hill into a different bay.
A light headwind slowed me a bit but mostly I did very well stopping four or five times for water or convenience store refreshments. What made the day very hard was the constant large truck traffic. For some reason a large number of trucks rattle and bang as the whip by my elbow and they always seem to travel in groups of five or six. Of course they catch me as I am huffing and puffing up-hill as well. Very stressful.
To get into Ruifang I left the coast highway and in 3km climbed about 100 m through a couple of tunnels that put me in town on the Keelung river that I am expecting to follow gently downhill into Taipei.
It might be obvious that I am riding much better than I indicated in my first post. That has more benefits than just the comfort on the road. I have more energy off the bike and as such I think I am taking a few more photos and getting to know Taiwanese food a bit better. I still primarily use the convenience stores along the road while biking, but when stopped I have begun to find some other places to sample the wonderful food. Onto a few more days in Taipei
Looks like the car on cycle route #1 has an Alberta licence plate. Love the pictures and your narrative. So glad you are regaining your strength and now have the best possible adventures ahead on the last leg of your journey. Enjoy the greenery as you cycle as it ain’t so here ❄️⛄️
Thanks Dorothy it’s been great to be able to get out again.
All inspiring stuff. You make me wish I was there too. However, I’ll be cycling
And won’t it be lovely in Ireland in the spring