Bikepacking Taiwan Part Two

Taiwan Day 16: To Taimali and the East Coast

Thur, Nov 22, 2018 (143 kms; 1293m)

Woke up in the city of Gaoxiong to smog like we haven’t seen in Taiwan before. It followed us South until we reached the open waters of the strait.

The shoreline South is very picturesque.m

But already we felt the headwinds coming down from the mountains to the East we had to cross. As we climbed up over the pass was quite busy with traffic made worse by several multi vehicle political caravans equipped with loudspeakers that kept passing us then stopping at random places to woo local voters. We also hit our first rain in those mountains forcing me when descending to breakout the rainjacket I’ve carried unused so far.

The descent was partially spoiled, not by rain, but with gale force headwinds coming up from the Pacific.

When we finally reached the ocean, the wild Pacific was in full glory.

We fought the headwind which dissipated little until we reached the small hotel in Taimali.

Taiwan Day 17: To Chishang

Fri, Nov 23, 2018 (88 kms; 910 m)

We awoke and left our hotel under fresh sunny skies. The winds from yesterday had abated and though still experiencing a headwind, it was nothing like the previous ride.

The Pacific shows its other calmer nature. The beach below stretched for over 15 kms.

We soon left the oceanside and went up a river.

We followed the river and then climbed the flank of the valley. The planned route went over a mountain ridge and dropped down to Chishang. However, we reached a summit only to find the road deteriorate to a gravel trail. This is unusual as we’ve climbed over some very remote hills and not encountered many stretches of gravel. Not wanting to chance a steep gravelled descent with our setups, we backtracked down to the valley and followed the highway to our “Homestay” (B&B) in Chishang.

Taiwan Day 18: To Haulien

Sat, Nov 24, 2018 (118 kms; 648 m)

Today we took a lesson from yesterday’s ride and didn’t attempt an over the mountain approach to Haulien. Instead we stuck to the river valley which was scenic enough. It also allowed us to arrive at our destination before the skies opened up and poured.

Buddha is Kevin’s avatar. Strange because he’s clearly not a cyclist.

Some views along this massive river valley.

And this is the scene outside the restaurant where we ate an early supper.

Taiwan Day 19: To Taroko Gorge and a new hotel.

Sun, Nov 25, 2018 (55 kms; 326 m)

After breakfast in the hotel, we walked to the train station to purchase tickets for ourselves and bikes on the train to Yalin further North up the Pacific coast. We were both apprehensive about riding that section as it is long with much elevation and few alternatives. We were also told the “highway” there gets quite sketchy with narrow curves and nervous drivers intermixed with the trucks. We’ve done lots of elevation and several narrow twisty roads. The route over the North coast will be challenging enough so this alternative seems like a good one.

After that we had to checkout of our current hotel and into another for tonight. (Weekends in a tourist town are tight for accommodations.) With time to kill we decided to ride up to Taroko Gorge to see why it’s such an attraction. As this was to be a rest day, we would have to resist the temptation to climb up it a ways.

The trip from town took us by the ocean.

The ocean is above the blue fence and the bottom of the gorge is at those tall buildings (cement factory) you can see above that.

It also went through one of the many, large Buddhist cemetaries we’ve encountered. This time I did stop to take a picture.

When we reached the gorge, being Sunday, it was quite busy with buses, cars, scooters and even a few cyclists. We rode up a ways to get a taste, but as it was a rest day, which our bodies needed, we quite easily resisted the temptation to challenge the “King of the Mountain” title. (Sorry, Bro, no legs today!) Well, I have to leave something for a next time!

Views up the gorge from near its entrance.

There were lots of bridges and short and long tunnels. One we went through had another road join it mid-tunnel. (Sorry no picture of that as it was dark and we hustled through it).

Some views a little further up. Interesting place for a temple.

On our way back we met a couple of women cycle tourers and stopped to say, “Hello”. In stopping, one of the women lost her rear brake. So while we visited I quickly found and tightened her loosened brake cable. Turns out they were both from Calgary and had already been touring Taiwan for 4 weeks. They were due to leave for home the day after us. I’ve also seen more caucasians in Haulien than during the entire trip.

On the way back to the city we stopped at a beach to take some more pictures.

The highlight of my evening came when after dinner I stopped in at a McDonald’s and grabbed my first decent black coffee since I arrived. Most coffees I’ve had are premixed as lattes and cappuccinos. Fine, but not what I prefer.

Taiwan Day 20: Rest day with Train ride.

Mon, Nov 26, 2018

No riding today except to and from the train stations. Just as well, as I’m fighting a cold and inactivity may help.

From what road I could see from the train, it was a good one to skip. Here is a glimpse of the ride profile as it may have been:

The train we took that allows unpacked bikes is a local with numerous stops at every station along the way. The 100+ kms took about 2 hrs.

We hit the mountains just past the base of Taroko gorge.

A misty day in the gorge today. Good thing we toured that yesterday.

We soon encountered the mountains but the train went through them with very long and numerous tunnels. The road has many tunnels but climbs a lot to shorten them.

The first mountain we went right through.

I would not be exaggerating if I estimated that through that mountainous stretch we were under ground 50% of the time.

Many river deltas crossed with nearly every one having some kind of quarry operation.

When we arrived in Yilan the first priority became exchanging some more US$ for NTD$. After that it was find some lunch and our hotel.

Taiwan Day 21: Towards Ping Lin

Tues, Nov 27, 2018; (53 kms; 671 m)

After our train travel/rest day yesterday and not going further up Taroko Gorge, it was time to do a climb. We found this route up over the mountain. The freeway tunnels through the mountain beneath the switchbacks shown here.

It actually proved to be a fairly even grade all the way. Very rideable and we did manage to pass two young Taiwanese cyclists struggling along on our way up!

The low overcast skies prevented us from capturing much of the expansive vistas provided on the climb.

Not much contrast to get a feel for the immense coastal plain on which Yilan is situated.

At the top, we were rewarded with even more views from what was once a bunker and gun placements from WWll.

Oh well, at least it didn’t rain!

All in all a good ride and a fun way to celebrate my 69th birthday!

Taiwan Day 22: To Juifen (Ruifen Dist)

Wed, Nov 28, 2018 (78 kms; 789m)

A gray morning ride out to the coast where it began to drizzle.

Vast expanses of empty beaches with only a few lonely fishermen on the occasional rock.

As we traveled North the rain started but it didn’t deter some hardy surfers.

Eventually the rain became intense enough to prompt us to break out the rain gear.

I’d been packing rain jacket, pants and shoe covers now for 20+ days and only used the jacket once before. I’d say this was overdue.

Eventually we turned up off the coast to seek the Way Young House B&B in a town called Jiufen. This was not on our original itinerary and we’d heard nothing about it. I was expecting a climb, but I thought to somewhere quite remote. But as we began our way up, the volume of traffic on the narrow winding road indicated that it was far from remote.

About half way up the hill.

We were glad to find our host at home who immediately provided our accommodations and a heated and dehumidified hallway to dry our gear. Having been a little reluctant to dawn the rain gear, we’d got wet before we put it on, so everything was damp.

After a hot shower and dry clothes we went to explore the tiny but bustling village etched into the mountain.

A major source of income in tiny Jiufen comes from supplying precarious parking spots in every available nook and cranny. The white things in the shot below is one of several bus lots scattered up the mountain.

This whole scene was very puzzling. The village, situated between very tight hairpins was only several blocks long with no sidewalks and minimal storefronts, yet there were literally hundreds of buses and taxis vying their way around, and streams of school-tour and tourist groups lining the narrow shoulders. Where did they all go? I couldn’t imagine how this small area could absorb these masses.

In the middle of the more central hairpin there appeared a narrow alley which seemed to tunnel into the very mountain. We entered with the throngs and found a virtual catacomb of shops stretching somehow behind the visual buildings for blocks.

Here is just a taste:

So this tiny village I expected to be so remote is actually the largest tourist mecca we’ve encountered. Definitely something any visitor to Taiwan should see.

Taiwan Day 23: One Ruifen District Loop

Thur, Nov 29, 2018 (27 kms; 767m)

There is a huge number of roads that intertwine in this District up and down and around these mountains. We chose one to try that would take us away from the crowds in Jiufen, and it was a good one if only a little too short.

No rain today, providing some fantastic views.

More Buddhist graveyards.

We had a great climb with only scattered traffic followed by an exhilarating descent to a river before climbing back up to Jiufen.

One could easily spend more time here developing legs and lungs while exploring this spectacular terrain. But all good things need to come to an end, and our journey tomorrow takes us around the coast and back to Taoyuan and where we started.

Taiwan Day 24: Around the North Coast to Taoyuan

Fri, Nov 30, 2018 (123 kms; 894m)

This was a special ride today; a very fitting one to end the circumnavigation of the island back to the hotel from where we started. Full sunshine, with azure sky, and mild but favourable winds. For a cyclist it rarely gets better than this.

There were some segregated bike paths, and where there weren’t, the traffic was calm and without many trucks.

Near the Northern most point, we took in this lighthouse.

But when we turned South and began to go around the Capital city of Taipei, the traffic part of the equation changed. It did manage to dull the pleasure of the ride a bit, as our focus was changed from our scenic surroundings to the close proximity of this bustling and modern city’s scurrying traffic. It takes your full attention to ride with this traffic. It all flows surprisingly well but there is no room for anyone to be distracted. (And hence my desire to get some pictures of the traffic and Taipei skyline went unsated.) It is always a relief to reach your destination in the cities.

A fitting ride to sum up our experience of cycling Taiwan. 80% beauty and wild terrain; 20% bustle and semi-controlled chaos. Truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Taiwan Day 25: Postscripts

Sat, Dec 1, 2018 (0 kms; 0m)

A day of rest and reflection. No ride today. Back in higher temperatures and humidity. Decided not to fight the urban traffic to get in one last ride here. Instead we caught an express bus into the centre of Taipei city.

A very modern, clean and busy city. In our travel, we noticed very long specific bicycle routes on both sides of the Tamsui River that flows through the city amongst parks and recreation facilities that make a substantial green belt swath. If one lived or stayed in the city these would grant great cycling opportunities.

Being a lifelong car-buff, I have to mention the car culture here. Taiwan is full of new and well-cared for cars of every description that would be seen on most North American streets. Being left-hand drive, they would be an easy fit for anyone back home. The percentage of luxury cars (e.g. Lexus, BMW, Porsche) is much higher than most of North America, save the West Vans and Richmonds there.

Like most places elsewhere in the world, most manufacturers have many models here not offered in NA.

One example that will be offered soon in a similar model is the Ford Ranger pickup. I’d say about time!

And I can’t leave the description of car culture without mentioning the delivery trucks here. These are at least as ubiquitous as scooters and can be found delivering goods of all shapes and sizes on every street, lane, and backroad in the country.

Very plain and utilitarian with a 1.3l diesel they seem to be capable, economical, and indestructible.

Family transportation. Usually child (or often a dog) travels with no helmet and standing. Often see a family of three on these scooters.

Trip Summary

Although far below that of our original itinerary, the nearly 2,000 kms and 25,000 m of elevation we cycled this trip provided us with a pretty thorough sampling of what’s available here for road riding. Would I do anything differently on a subsequent visit? Not necessarily.

It might be more fun to stay longer in some of the rural centers such as Puli and particularly Juifen, where the opportunity for fun and varied country rides with views and challenges abound. Then you could lessen the amount of riding getting in and out of the larger urban centers.

However, if you are touring the island, hitting those urban areas is inevitable, but passing through them and concentrating your stays in the rural areas may be more rewarding.

The people in Taiwan really make the whole experience a pleasure. Everywhere we’ve been, people have come forward to engage and be helpful, patient and friendly. You can truly relax and be yourself amongst them. I have truly enjoyed Taiwan.

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