“Would you be interested in joining me touring Taiwan?” Kevin Bogle asked me.
Always interested in traveling by bike, I had no real reason to say no. After hearing more, I committed and now it’s only a week away. The planned trip is to travel a variety of routes all over the island of Taiwan focusing mainly on the mountains. Twenty-two planned rides varying from 75-234 kms averaging 133 kms/day with over 41,000 meters of climbing averaging 1880 meters/day.
That kind of mileage and elevation required a close look at my stable of bikes. As it’s all paved roads, mostly rural and climbing, my 12 yr old Cannondale Synapse road bike appeared somewhat inadequate. I would need lower gearing for those repeated climbs and I’ve never been happy with its rim brakes. I could swap out the crankset for a triple, and/or go for a compact set with a wide range cassette, but neither would be cheap or solve the brake issue. I was also reluctant to invest in those changes with the tire size maximum of 28 mm. That is not enough to allow the bike to become a viable gravel bike where, outside of this Taiwan trip, is my real current passion.
After researching my options I decided one of the new breed of Gravel bikes could meet my needs, both for Taiwan and afterwards. I located and tested a Norco Search XR Apex 1 which fit the bill and I liked it instantly.
It has the flexibility to run 700x47mm tires and also 27.5×2.1″. I already have a plus sized MTB that runs bigger rubber and suspension for rougher routes so the Search was a logical complement to add to the stable.
I have temporarily swapped out the stock 40mm gravel tires for 32mm road tires always leaning towards the “comfort” end of the spectrum. The addition of a smaller handlebar bag to better suit the drop bars with the frame and seat bags I already have from Phantompacks and I’m mostly good to go.
For a few rides this seemed all that was necessary, but I became concerned that multiple days with that mileage, even on pavement, were going to cause me some issues with hand numbness that I’ve experienced on other bikepacking trips. The solution was twofold: more vibration damping by adding padding to the bars; and getting more hand and riding positions by adding my old aero bars.
That has seemed to work okay, and hopefully will mitigate those issues.
Next step is to pack the bike, gear, and all needs for a month of riding.
Departure: Saturday, Nov 3, 2018
I arrived at Kevin Bogle and Wang Wei Ping’s the day before our flight.
Did some last minute itinerary adjustments but will wait until the hotel in Taoyuan before loading those changes into my navigation devices.
Kevin was packed and ready to go.
Taking a taxi to and from YVR proved more economical than long term parking, so my truck will sit outside Kevin’s for the month.
The bike bag was thoroughly inspected by customs before sending it through to oversize loading. This provided some unplanned unpacking and repacking. Hopefully that eliminated any hassle that the bike bag also contained all my gear and apparel.
The rest of the boarding process went smoothly and only a 12 1/2 hr flight to survive.
Sitting at YVR
The trip across the Pacific was truly chasing the Sun. It was centered in my window when we flew out at noon Vancouver, and mostly stayed there until we swung South down the Asian coast. It was still up when we landed the next day at 4 PM Taipei time.
By the time we cleared the airport and got loaded into the hotel shuttle it was black dark at 6pm.
Taiwan Day 1: Taoyuan to Baling
Tues. Nov. 6, 2018 (75 kms; 2462 m)
Up early to ride from the hotel in Taoyuan to Baling. It was a good ride, and an especially good acclimater. 75 kms with 2000m of elevation (one tough 6km climb), with 30+ temps and high humidity.
Out of the city and the start of the mountains.
Screenshot from midclimb. Photo below is from the spot indicated. Look closely for 4 switchbacks below.
Closed suspension bridge with tunnels at both ends. Tourist draw now.
My legs were trying to cramp at the end of the day, so it was a treat that the host of our B&B offered to drive us the 5 kms to and back from a village restaurant so we could enjoy our dinner. Definitely set the bar high for our next accommodations!
Taiwan Day 2: Baling to Xinzhu
Wed. Nov 7, 2018 (107kms; 2485m) https://ridewithgps.com/trips/29357289
Taiwan Day 2: Another day of acclimating, only this was fittingly harder, hotter, and longer. After climbing, and for me that also meant pushing my bike partway, we had to reroute and backtrack due to a bridge washout on the planned route which locals told us before we had committed another 15kms down to it. The extra 20km was easier to take than an extra 50.
View from near the top of the first climb.
Narrow suspension bridge. I watched a scooter cross it before I went.
We then had to find a new route to Xinzhu, so we went to the App, HereWeGo, for which we’d downloaded the Taiwan map before departing home. It allows finding routes and locations offline. It worked but meant using the phone and the screen on the App was very touchy. It also won’t reorient the map as you move requiring scrolling as you go which isn’t easy. It only shows a green dot on a blue line which does move, but if you stop it’s not possible to tell the path you’ve taken from the one you want to take. All in all, awkward and confusing but it got us there.
When we got into the city, I picked up our route on my Karoo bike computer and proudly and easily navigated us to the front of the hotel.
“Good work,” Kevin said, “but this isn’t the hotel. It’s from our previous booking which we changed.” So back on the awkward HereWeGo to navigate through the city to the correct hotel.
Taiwan Day 3: Rest (
Thurs, Nov 8, 2018 (67kms; 491m)
We were in Xinzhu for 2 nights, so the next day we decided to attempt an optional route Kevin had named Tofu Rocks after some formations enroute.
The previous two days were very hot and although I enjoyed them, I was having trouble acclimating to the climbs, but especially to the 30°+ heat and humidity.
I very much enjoyed cycling the city’s new bike path infrastructure along the coast. But when we turned inland and uphill, the wind stopped and the heat climbed with the elevation. After struggling up the first of several climbs, I bailed and headed back down to the mercy of the flat and breezy coast.
Kevin continued and had to do some creative route-finding to complete.
Xinzhu (Hinchu) was an interesting city of contrasts as most are in Taiwan.
The scooters are everywhere by the thousands. You really can’t walk anywhere on sidewalks more than half a block. Each merchant has their own piece of walk out front all on different levels, and if you can master that, most rent out or provide parking for cars and scooters on them. It’s quite fun cycling along with the scooters. There is a designated lane when not blocked and a box at each intersection to sit and wait for the light. Then all 10 – 20 of us take off.
Taiwan Day 4: To Maoili
Fri, Nov 9, 2018 (65kms; 857m)
Our accommodations changed to a B&B in the hills called Fei Ying Homestay. Fei Ying meaning “firefly”.
We had to do some more creative route-finding on the go as our “pinned” route led to the cancelled accommodation. We used HereWeGo again with its unmoving and upside down screen, but it did get us close. We descended down a hill to a hidden driveway which led to another drive with a locked gate. We verified the location on the mapscreen by moving around. It was 1 PM and we had no info on the place so we thought maybe the host was away until check in time. We had a snack and checked our options. The place looked sketchy and had a locked gate – not welcoming! We were booked for 3 nights and we thought that wouldn’t be fun both for the state we found it in and that the nearest food options were 12-17 kms away with hills to contend with. Nothing had been paid (B&Bs here expect cash) so we decided to abandon that plan and go back to the city of Taizhong, back up the hill we’d just come down and another 30kms. We had just started back up when within the first kilometer we came to another driveway. This one looked promising and when we checked it out it proved to be the much more welcoming Fei Ying Homestay.
The hosts, not to be outdone by our previous B&B host, served us tea and offered to drive us to town 17kms down the road so we could eat supper while they shopped the market. All 3 nights they served us tea after our ride and an evening snack in addition to enormous breakfasts.
Fei Ying Homestay has been in the family for over 100 years and supports 3 generations of Chens living there with a 2 month old baby girl to start the 4th! They grow much of their own produce and export tea from this “edible landscape”.
This has been so typical of our experience interacting with Taiwanese. Very friendly, generous to a fault, and patient with both Kevin who uses every interaction to practice and polish his Mandarin, and with me who gestures erratically and mumbles my few words. We are also here during their major election campaign and there is no complacency in their democratic process. Everywhere is plastered with political signs. Annoying sound trucks travel every street and lane blasting away their campaign promises. And what TV I’ve viewed is mostly politics.
Taiwan Day 5: To Tongxiao
Sat, Nov 10, 2018 (86kms: 893m)
Rides from Fei Ying would all have to be replanned because it was not in our original itinerary. Because we have wifi every night we are busy planning and prepping our navigation for the next day. Kevin is able to plan rides on RideWithGPS and Strava by remotely accessing his home computer. I’m able to import them usually to my Hammerhead Karoo bike computer and make them available offline. The surrounding area map tiles come with it this way helping somewhat with finding likely places for food or reroutes.
Today’s route all worked as it should and the weather cooperated by remaining overcast and providing some relief from the heat of the last days.
These beautiful lanes are plentiful and offer more local alternatives to the highways and freeways. Sometimes they are very quiet like this one but sometimes they are quite busy with traffic (scooters, cars and small and large trucks) in both directions on a single lane. Even so I prefer them to the other streets and highways.
This “prairie” probably won’t be so dry in monsoon season.
Typical market where we buy fresh fruit and other portable foods for our rides.
Today’s highlight, being Saturday, was riding through many, many well attended political rallies with loud-hailers, marshalls, and fireworks.
Taiwan Day 6: Touring around.
Sun, Nov 11, 2018 (64kms; 1154m)
Another day of riding an impromptu route. Some very nice twisty descents following some good climbs; “earning our turns” as we say with backcountry skiing.
The last two days, being the weekend, we’ve encountered lots of Taiwanese cyclists who shunned the rural lanes we love and seem to thrive on taking on the Strava segments and going for King of the Mountain status on the many climbs. We saw lots descending as we were climbing and while taking a break on a hill, 4 went by us uphill with completely bare frames. Not even water bottles! “Gia you” (Give’er shit!) we cried.
These mirrors are everywhere on the narrow lanes at driveways and the many blind curves.
Busy little restaurant for lunch. We let these two young men join our table. Fascinated by my pictures of hiking in the snow.
Taiwan Day 7: To Puli
Mon, Nov 12, 2018 (100kms; 1440m)
This route takes us another 50kms South and another 50kms inland to Puli at the geographic center of the island. Puli is the largest tourist town near Sun Moon Lakes National Park. Lots of tourists of course, mostly Japanese it seems.
Our ride started and ended with some confusion. The beginning was also not on our original planned itinerary and we had to connect with that. When I descended down the hill the original route came up on my computer so I turned on to it only to discover some 8kms along that I’d turned North towards Maioli instead of South to Puli. (Overcast skies will do that to a country boy!) Fortunately I corrected and regrouped with Kevin who had waited on the correct route. We did some recalculating along the way, which adds a little frustration but made it to Puli just the same. To end the day we had to search and reroute to our new hotel, which, as shown, is worth it as we’re here for 4 nights.
One of the numerous Buddhist temples.
River flowing down from Sun Moon Lakes. This was the low point from which we had to climb up and over to Puli.
Overcast skies obscure, but this was the summit of today’s longest climb of 14kms.
Taiwan Day 8: Real rest day
Tues, Nov 13, 2018 (8? Kms)
Took the time to rest body and bike. Only rode out for lunch and supper which did involve a bit of touring around Puli.
We visited a park commemorating the fact that this is the geographic centre of the island of Taiwan.
Pretty much an empty park at least at this end and not as well maintained as others in the area.
We enjoy finding small eating establishments where you can pick your ingredients and watch them cook it fresh before your eyes. This one is typical of many (several on each block actually) that depend mostly on a brisk takeout business but offer eat in as well.
Last night we had splurged a bit and ate at a more upscale “hot pot” restaurant where you choose a soup base that cooks in a pot in front of you on the table then you choose buffet style from a large assortment of fresh foods to both throw in the pot and as sides. I had a spicy Mongolian soup base and it was delicious.
Taiwan Day 9: Sun Moon Lake
Wed, Nov 14, 2018 (82 kms; 1300m, ride paused 10 k and 100+m not recorded)
I was excited to do this ride and to see Sun Moon Lake. The ride and the lake didn’t disappoint, but the use of the lake by Taiwanese did. It is very commercialized and all actual access to the lake is limited and sold. The pictures show the real vantages we had from the road that circumnavigated the entire lake.
The ride involved climbing up from Puli on various roads and a highway with several tunnels. Once there we rode on mostly new pavement up and down and around the lake through a shady forest. Very nice.
Came upon this feature on the way up. Someone had discovered this completely natural log in a perfect resemblance of a dragon and decided to share it. Others see it as an opportunity to post a political banner which are everywhere as are loudspeaker trucks roaming around blasting out platforms.
Yep. Another ubiquitous Buddhist temple.
Leaving the lake and wending our way further up and then back to Puli, I had another not so pleasant adventure. Rounding a blind corner at about 25kph, I hit a large pothole I hadn’t seen. The handlebars were jerked left a full turn and off the bike I went and down on the pavement hard. The bike followed over me and also landed hard and slid drive-side down. I knew instantly I had some scrapes but I was basically okay. I scrambled up, disentangled myself from the bike and got it and the bike to the side of the road. Kevin came up and helped move us to a safer spot so we could assess the damage. I had some road rash on my hip the size of a baseball and scrapes on my elbow, knee and calf. But not so bad. I straightened the handlebar and spun the wheels and applied the brakes. No problems there. The derailleur had suffered a good blow and would not shift without complaint or hitting the spokes. Without thinking to use the vinyl gloves I carry with the tools, I grabbed the greasy chain and derailleur and began to force it into some semblance of alignment. I managed to get it to function well enough to ride the 20 kms back to Puli and the hotel.
As we reached the city, we passed a small bike shop with a few scooters and decrepit bicycles outside. After demonstrating the derailleur behaviour and the scrapes down my side, the owner jumped right in and began wrenching the derailleur. One of us holding up the bike, one of us spinning the pedals and manning the shifter while he fiddled with adjustments and alignment. (No workstand used). He did get it to shift without skipping, but refused all efforts to pay him, and actually pushed me and my bike down the road to show his refusal was serious. He went to wash the black grime off his hands and we carried on. Such acts are totally common in Taiwan.
All was not well though. Only a few meters down the road, Kevin noticed my chain was hanging and nearly falling off. There was no spring tension in the derailleur to take up the slack. I put it on the largest cogs and carried on. The cable had also been sheared off at the nut and would need to be replaced. Plan A was to get a cable and install it and repair the derailleur on the sidewalk outside the hotel.
A few blocks from the hotel there was a Giant bike shop. I was encouraged to see a Sram decal (my brand of drivetrain) but let down when there was no bike mechanic on duty. The young woman said her husband would be back at 4pm but did manage to get his help by phone to locate a shifter cable. All this with lots of gestures and Kevin’s interpretation.
At the hotel, after showering, applying Polysporin liberally and stopping my leaks. I went downstairs to see what I could accomplish with the bike. I removed the chain and derailleur, but could not get any spring tension to return. Not wanting to try to expose the inner spring on the street I went to Plan B. We loaded all the greasy parts in a bag and rolled the whole mess to the Giant store. Hubby was there and again, like the guy before, he stopped what he was doing and checked out the derailleur. He informed us he had no Sram derailleur for replacement and as it’s an integrated system this was bad news. But he perserverred and after about 15 minutes managed somehow to restore the spring tension. The derailleur was functional again. I then held up the cable for installation, at which point he threw up his hands and laughed shaking his head and told us to come back at 8:30 to pick up the bike.
After dinner, we returned and the bike was whole. He did let us know that things weren’t perfect but it seemed to function just fine. All that for the equivalent of $36 CAD.
Phew! The adventure can continue!
Taiwan Day 10: Puli Circles
Thurs, Nov 15, 2018 (84 kms; 1574m)
I was also keen to ride the second of our planned tours based out of our stay in Puli. Kevin had dubbed it Puli Circles based on the routes shape. I was especially keen this morning to see how my body and bike would function after our accident. Turns out both were fine.
Highlight of the scenery was this massive 60 year old tree that provided shade to the whole intersection and half of the bridge.
The actual route was a very good ride with some challenging climbs and swift descents. We deviated from the plan slightly to get out of the heat sooner and get something substantial to eat back in Puli.
We managed to get a late lunch and a dinner in before retiring for our last night in this quality hotel. Time to pack up the bikes for tomorrow’s ride.
The route will take us 125 kms South up past Sun Moon Lake again and then up some more before dropping down to the city of Chiayi. It will seem a bit strange to be riding fully loaded bikes again. Interesting that about half my load is for riding in rainy weather. Forecasts I researched ahead of time promised some showers about 40% of the time. 10 days in the bag and not one drop of rain. The most we’ve seen is overcast skies for two days and high humidity. Most of the time it’s been hot and dry.
Taiwan Day 11: To Chiayi
Fri, Nov 16, 2018 (124 kms; 2071m)
Riding loaded bikes again today moving towns and hotels. The route climbed up past Sun Moon Lake again and then down to Shuili Township where it followed two rivers for awhile.
View from the other side of Sun Moon Lake today.
This was actually the way in to an upscale bike shop/rental on Sun Moon Lake.
We passed by 4 caucasian people walking at Sun Moon Lake today. That makes a total of only 5 for the entire 11 days I’ve been here. Most of the tourists here seem to be Japanese.
Part of the well developed tourist cycling infrastructure at Sun Moon Lake, taken from the highway.
This was my attempt to make Tony Only jealous. His Canadian landscapes often depict the range of blue hues caused by haze in the mountains. You’ll have to zoom in to see it.
A huge monsoon flood control dam on the river.
The now nearly dry outflow from the dam. The floods must be something to create this.
Duck pond in the valley. Many dinners to come here.
Baby duck ponds. Duck nuggets?
The valley was nice, but it was hot, and we had another long steep climb to cross before dropping to the next valley and into Chiayi.
Tea plantation high in the mountains. There have been quite a few of these on our routes, but I’d neglected to capture them earlier
The tall, spindly palm trees are actually beetle nut trees that are also an extremely lucrative crop.
The beetle nut is harvested and sold as a legal drug. It is apparently a stimulant similar to the cacao leaves chewed in South America. Some men we’ve encountered have their mouths so full of plugs they can hardly speak. Good ol’ boys like back home. Like chewing tobacco and cacao leaves, the beetle nut is highly carcinogenic and oral cancers are prevalent as a result.
People met here in Taiwan continue to amaze with their friendliness and generosity. While nearing the top of a grueling climb we came upon this little store and said hello. “Ni hao.” The woman responded and started to say more. Kevin conversed with her while I tried to follow the jist. She offered us oranges, then sliced them up for us to eat. We asked about the exotic deep red flowers near the oranges and she got a pitcher and poured us each a drink made from the flowers. Very sweet and of a unique flavour. I captured this picture not realizing she’d turned her head.
She was trying to make us coffee and also offered water, which we refused as we had just restocked and needed to finish the climb. She did manage to force us to stuff some more oranges in our bags though.
After conquering the climb and enjoying more descending it was then time to make our way through the Taiwan city sprawl, in this case the rather large city of Chiayi, which is continual farming dispersed increasingly with residential areas until one is near the city core. We then relied once again on the HereWeGo app to navigate us offline to our hotel which was a different one than on our planned route. Many turns and hundreds of stoplights later, we rolled in just before 4 PM.
Taiwan Day 12: To Dongshi
Sat, Nov 17, 2018 (73 kms; 103m)
Today we planned a rest day and spent the early hours doing laundry and reassessing our itinerary. Considering the short daylight hours and our reluctance to extend our days due to the taxing heat and demanding climbs, we’ve come to the realization that our current itinerary is too ambitious based on these first 11 days. We actually explored cutting the trip short and skipping the routes up the East coast. Perhaps taking the High speed Train partway back North and catching an earlier flight home. We ruled that out when we found the limited earlier flights home would cost us about the same as our hotel costs if we stayed. And traveling the train with uncased bikes was too complicated. So we’ve decided to persist with our itinerary but continue with our current pace and make route adjustments when needed and maybe skip some more ambitious but optional ones.
Having that out of the way, we hopped on our bikes and headed West to the ocean at Dongshi.
Not too far along we came to this parade. Evidently a wedding procession.
This is one very impressive delta. Nothing but beautiful crops as far as the eye can see. We saw pineapple, corn, and sugarcane fields, as well as many more indistinguishable crops, all looking like they were a month or so from ripening. And this is November.
Making good use of the roadway. Peanuts drying.
As we moved closer to the coast the emphasis changed. We routed through this ecological reserve filled with what we think are mangroves.
Then we came to the inland oyster beds and this mountain.
Yes those are all oyster shells and yes that is a large loader on the left.
We eventually reached the Dongshi Fish Market on the docks. A busy place on a Saturday.
Walk around and pick your fish or eel, if you prefer.
This is actually a restaurantish establishment attached to the fish market. Not the upscale tourist restaurants nearby.
We chose a nice filet of fish, but left the lobsters alone. They cooked it up with some veggies, and of course I had to try those oysters! Yum.
After lunch we explored the park and seawalls next door before heading back to the city.
There are oyster beds as far out as the eye can see.
And one interesting parting shot. What do you think of these washroom demarcations. A little too graphic?
Taiwan Day 13: Half a Seahorse
Sun, Nov 18, 2018 (104 kms; 346m)
Another optional loop ride from Chaiyi that we reduced due to the heat and the slow going getting in and out of the city.
These “flagpeople” arewidely used at the many construction sites encountered. Did I mention there’s an election happening?
Waterdragons feature at the intersection of two roads.
Rode through seemingly endless farms all meticulously tended and supplied with irrigation.
The lack of weeds and insects testifies to the great dependance on chemicals. I am pleased to see some swallows around, but not in the numbers one would expect.
I tried to get a shot of this crane as he flew past but this is all I was able to get.
Just more random scenery passed.
Taiwan Day 14: Chaiyi to Gaoxiong (Kaohsiung City)
Mon, Nov 19, 2018 (113 kms; 400m)
This morning started with a nice video visit with my daughter Bevin and grandchildren Jordy and Sydney in cold Regina, Saskatchewan.
Then it was time to load up the bikes and head to the bank to exchange some $US cash to local Taiwanese dollars.
Waiting for the bank to open.
It warmed up pretty quickly as we made our way out of the city, which really takes about 20 kms.
Virtually endless rice paddies.
As the day heated up, the cold Kevin is now fighting began to sap his energy and we decided to take the most direct route for the remainder of today’s ride. This became really a matter of following the high speed rail tracks through the large city of Tainan and on to our even larger city of Gaioxiong.
Apparently not everyone in Taiwan is law-abiding as we passed by this prison.
We were fairly hot and tired after the 20+ kms into the center of Kaohsiung City, and not overly pleased when we discovered we had routed to the wrong Just Sleep Hotel. Who knew there’d be two hotels in town with that name? We were further disappointed when, after backtracking 4kms, we were told at the hotel they wouldn’t allow us to take our bikes to our room. Not a total shock but the first accommodation in two weeks where we hit this policy. As our “luggage” is all attached to the bikes it’s quite inconvenient, but there they sit for three nights in the lobby beside the front desk.
At 6PM Monday this is the traffic at the intersection outside our hotel. More than the usual number of scooters for sure, but they are by far the most preferred mode of transportation all over Taiwan. We cycle mostly in the same lane as them, but often on major routes there is a third lane designated for bicycles.
Taiwan Day 14: True rest day
Tues, Nov 20, 2018 (0 kms; 0m)
Our first true rest day without biking while Kevin recuperates from his cold. Tomorrow we hope to tour near this city before moving on Thursday to Taimali on the East coast and begin our journey back North.
Taiwan Day 15: Tour of Gaoxiong
Wed, Nov 21, 2018 (110 kms; 393m)
Time to go to the ocean again, and what better way when in an industrial giant like Gaoxiong than to go to the harbor. We took a course over to Cajin island via a harbor ferry which avoided the non-cycling tunnel and the throng of heavy transports.
We toured the very busy island which has see an effort to combine natural attractions with industry. Unfortunately on a November Wednesday most attractions were closed and there was general neglect of what was there.
When we left the island by recrossing the ferry, we rode South in segregated lanes but with hundreds of heavy transports going to and from the harbor. Eventually we arrived at a large river delta.
Further along inland on the delta we saw these odd nets stretching as far as one could see.
After leaving the delta we returned through farmlands and up a very steep hill covered with thousands of elaborate Buddhist graves.
NOTE: This is the end of Part One.
Please see Bikepacking Taiwan Part Two for Day 16 onward.