Tuesday, April 28, 2009

East Coast Bike Trip: Day 1

Friday afternoon after class I caught the 5:40 express from Taipei to Hualien to begin a ride down the stunning east coast of Taiwan, one of the beautiful places of the world. Waiting for me were two of my most beloved friends and an attractive young woman, and 175km of open road. It doesn't get any better than that.

We stayed at the Formosa Hostel in Hualien that Friday night. Beds were $400 a night. Clean, friendly, plenty of English books. Highly recommended.

Michael took us out for the famous Chiayi Stewed Turkey rice. Here a turkey has been carved to our order. The source of the fame of a dish of stewed meat over rice is an elusive mystery.

Hualien in the early morning.

In addition to my friends Michael and Jeff, Huiling, who worked in Michael's office, came along for the ride.

The breakfast place at 5:30 am. We got up early to get ahead of the sun. Not that it mattered.

On the way out of town, while stopping for coffee, one group of the Tour de Taiwan passed us. They were going all the way around the island. In the time it took me to get to Taitung.

Outside of Hualien we took in the scenery of graveled rivers and mountains tumbling down to the water's edge.

Exports may be down, but the boats still roll out to see at dawn bound for the exotic West.

South of Hualien the road climbs gently.

Fisherman out to work early.

We climbed past a new tunnel up the old road, no longer open for cars, but plied by many a biker. Monkeys cackled in the trees next to us.

Up we went, as dark clouds blew in.

We went to a gas station about kilometer 23 and took a water break, then, when the rain arrived, decided to pass the time in this betel nut stand hoping the rain would abate.

Suddenly riders of the Tour de Taiwan flashed into view! We watched excitedly, joined by a local expat.

The riders roared through the downpour, on their way to Chihpen Hot Springs almost 200 kms to the south, attempting to do the whole trip in one day.

They flashed by, heading up the imposing flank of Niu Shan, Bull Mountain. We soon followed them. Bull Mountain was 5 kms of gentle but inexorable slope, 300 meters high, the hardest thing I'd done so far on a bike. It took me an hour to grind my way up, pumping and puffing the whole way. Halfway up Jeff met me just as I faced my greatest temptation: Satan had sent a taxi. The taxi driver leaned over to the passenger window, a faint red light behind his eyes as he said "Psst! Do you want a ride to the top?" "Steady there, Michael," said Jeff at my side, "remember, they have to ask you three times before the spell can be invoked." I prayed to Lance Armstrong, and received the strength to say no. The taxi driver next offered me all the kingdoms of the world, but I declined, since they are all insolvent anyway.

About halfway up Bull Mountain we stopped at this pleasant overlook to enjoy what little scenery could be made out through the fog and rain. It began to rain pretty hard....

We tried to wait out the rain in Bashi on the other side of the peak, but several cups of coffee did not make the rain go away. Clad in the most fashionable rain gear 40 NT could buy, Jeff and I headed out first for the day's goal, the little fishing port of Shitiping some 30 kms up the coast.

Jeff and I arrived about 4, after riding a total of about 70 kms for the whole day. I'd like to show you some pictures of the lovely scenery, but it rained the whole time, until we were soaked through. I described most of the trip in poetic, colorful American vernacular. Naturally, as soon as we pulled up in Shitiping, the bicycle gods stopped the rain, leaving only sullen, cool overcast.

Dinner was a local seafood restaurant. Here Michael and Huiling decide what to order.

We tried this fine product of the Taiwan Alcohol and Tobacco Monopoly. Due to its unique taste, we had exactly one bottle.

After killing several bottles of Taiwan beer, we returned to the hostel for some skull-splitting karaoke, and then dropped off to sleep at 9 pm. Huiling snapped this great pic of me hitting the high notes.

Day Two

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your journey, I've always thought it would be nice to cycle around the eastern side of Taiwan. It has to be a lot of fun to do the trip with friends. I am now tempted to purchase a bicycle and go for a ride myself!

Edward Chen said...

cycling in Matsu would be great as well, if you ever plan on visiting to Matsu free feel to hit me up.

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