Monday, April 08, 2013

Riding: Taiwan east and south

Stephen Jack assembles his bike on the platform at the train station in Hualien.

The long weekend offered some great opportunities for cycling, though the weather sucked across the island. Friday my friend Stephen Jack and I took the crack'o'dawn express over to Hualien, had lunch with friends, then headed south. But before we get to the pix from the ride, I thought I'd set down some things I've discovered about taking a bike on the train in Taiwan....

If you want to take your bicycle on the train in Taiwan, here are a few tips.

1. Bagged bikes can go on all locals and jyu guang hau trains. They are not allowed on the Taroko specials. For the dz chiang trains, see the train listing in the schedule and check for the bicycle icon. They will accept a bike bagged on that train.

2. "Bagged" means in a bag, any bag, plastic bag, paper bag, whatever. Dedicated bike bag, of course. "Bagged" means that most of the bike must be in the bag. For road bikes like I ride, I just take the front wheels off. You don't need to take off the handlebars, rear wheels, etc. Again, just remove the front wheel and pop in bag. I know some riders who had big bags specially made, they just drop the bikes in whole and go. This means that....

3. ...for ease of handling, I always roll the bike around the station and carry it up and down stairs and then disassemble it on the platform. When I get off the train, I assemble it on the platform and roll it back out the station. This is because I feel it is easier to roll a bike than carry it unless you've got a really nice bike bag with straps, which I do not. This sometimes leads to arguments with train station staff, who appear to be deaf to the phrase "I have a bag".

4. On all trains but the dz chiang expresses, the bikes can go anywhere they fit -- you can put the bike behind the seats on a jyu guang or in the empty area at the front of some older cars. On the dz chiang designated bike trains, the bikes ALWAYS go in Car 12. Car 12 will be a hermaphrodite, half seats, half baggage. Sometimes they use an old dining car. On those trains, before you buy the tix, tell the cashier you have a bike. They are supposed to put you in car 12, though the system is set up wrongly so seats in car 12 are sometimes hard to come by (but there is always room for a bike). Once you set the bikes down in car 12, you can go to your seats in whatever car. PROTIP: seats 1, 2, 3, and 4 in Car 12 are almost never sold. Thus, they are always empty. You can sit in them and most of the time you will never be kicked out. I haven't been yet. Also, you can usually sit in the baggage car even though you are not supposed to. Just go in and sit down on the floor, the Taiwanese do it all the time. As have I. On the morning trains that car will fill with commuters.

5. HSR: You can take a bike in a bike bag on the HSR. There is usually room on the seats at the end of the car or by the luggage rack, but you can ensure that you get that space by being the first one in line to get aboard. If you tell them you have a bagged bike, they will try and give you the seat next to the luggage. In fact the best seat is at the end of the car, ask for that -- the space behind the last seat is almost always big enough for a bike.

On to the pictures! Click on READ MORE.

Day 1, Hualien to Shiti Port. Leaving Hualien city around 12:45, we crossed the big bridge on 9 and turned left toward the sea. The skies promised rain, but never delivered, we were dry the whole day. Cool and warm, it turned out to be an outstanding day for cycling.

Atop Niu Shan. There are taller and harder climbs, but for some reason Niu Shan is the most detestable climb I know. It goes on forever and there are no rewarding views at the top. Fortunately the new tunnel has taken some of the hard work out of that hill.

As you leave the area around Hualien town the coast begins to improve markedly.

Near Fengbin someone has set up a field full of things made of hay. People stop there to take photos of the ocean, the hay items, and the imposing coastline.

Steve rolls into Fengbin.

A common sight on Taiwan roads are packs of motorcyclists. Here we all stop at the 7-11 in Fengbin for coffee and snacks.

So much sausage, so few varieties. Is the lack of sausage variety in Taiwan a thing of the parent culture or some doleful outcome of modern mass marketing?

Steve bound for Shiti fishing port.

Through that miracle of transmutation in which public assets are turned into private gold, new buildings and structures have gone up on the formerly empty (and wonderful) rocks next to Shiti Port. I used to swim in the tidal pools there.... but now the place is overrun with Chinese tourists. Another sad loss.

Steve and I explored the fishing port after we arrived and showered.

Sailors from SE Asia are a common sight on Taiwan boats.

Looking north from the harbor. The loveliest part of the coast ride starts here. After dinner of sashimi and vegetables, we hit the sack to brace ourselves for tomorrow's run to Taitung city.

Day 2. Sunrise over Shiti port. No rain today? Yes! When I saw this sunrise, my heart lifted. Out by 6:40, which was good, because we had a long day ahead....

Of course we stopped here to get the obligatory photos of the port and coast.

My friend Michael Fahey showed me this route years ago, and I thank him in my heart whenever I ride it. I always think of him at this time because we go to the small breakfast shop he showed me in Jingpu by the big red bridge after we leave Shiti. Breakfast after a short warm up ride, always a pleasure.

Steve takes in the awesome vista of the big red bridge.

There's a small park on the opposite bank.

Steve luffs up.

The breakfast place has a cool collection of hats.

Riding past the Tropic (of) Cancer Marker, a dumping ground for Chinese tourists, probably not so much for the marker, but for the public toilets.

Millions of cyclists out on the roads this weekend. Always a pleasure to meet them.

Steve fades into the distant mountain peaks.

In the clean air the rice glowed especially green.

In Changbin town, haunt of famed Taiwan cyclist Nathan Miller.

As we sat and sipped coffee at the 7-11 in Changbin, we heard a sudden BOOM! We looked around for the source of the noise, and gradually it dawned: Steve's rear tire tube had exploded as the bike sat against the pillar there. In disbelief Steve took it apart, and we found a cloverleaf-shaped hole that appeared to be from a flaw in the rubber. But blown tire tubes always come in groups....

Some lovely young ladies showed up and turned one of the tables into a cosmetician's shop.

Out on the ocean, the rain and sun struggled, but not a drop touched us. Yes, we were high and dry on the east coast shelf while over on the west side of the island everyone was sodden.

Karmic punishment for our gloating over the lack of rain soon arrived in the form of a second flat. Although we didn't realize it, his brake was rubbing against the tire, causing flats.

Steve went into Chenggong as fast as he could to see if he could find an open bike shop.

Meanwhile I trailed behind and took lots of pictures for you, dear reader.

Like mushrooms, new restaurants and hotels are rising from the earth.

I've always found that wall of mountains behind Chenggong to be especially photogenic.

Meanwhile, in Chenggong, Steve found a bike shop that had been in operation for over 50 years and got his bike fixed, real old school.

We made Dulan in pretty good time, and rested in front of 7-11. Two guys rolled up on brightly painted expensive carbon bikes. I admit that carbon bikes dolled up like cheap whores with matching biking clothing make me curl my lip, and the pair didn't help my attitude much when they asked Steve if he thought it would rain and wet their bikes. We suppressed laughter. Steve made a polite noncommittal grunt and shrugged. Karmic payback came one minute later when one of them said he was 75 years old and they were on their regular ride from Taitung to Chenggong and back. Hey, if you're 75 and riding an 120 km round trip regularly, you can ride whatever bike you want however you want and you have my total respect. Awesome and inspiring, he was. Hope I can do that when I am his age.

Outside Taitung we stopped for a rest.

Under the big bridge, they were harvesting the watermelons. Yum. In Taitung city we grabbed a hotel room and dinner, then hit the sack. 75 kms on day 1, 103 kms on day 2. Tomorrow: over the mountains to Kenting!

Day 3. I was looking forward to this day with trepidation, since the weather report was 19-21C, windy, and pouring. Pulling out of Taitung and heading south on 9, we got the wind and the cold, but no rain. Yes, all four days we stayed dry, really fantastic weather. I hadn't been on this road in years and was really looking forward to riding it. This photo was taken right outside the city, looking south. Taitung's beauty sears the heart with pleasure.

Bundled up, we headed south.

We left Taitung without breakfast, deciding to eat in Taimali. Here the first big climb of the day looms between Taitung and Taimali. It's actually much longer than it looks, but it isn't difficult.

Houses on the slopes.

Steve takes a last look at Taimali after breakfast.

Like giants watching our progress, the mountains lean down to the coast.

The road climbs a couple of times, offering excellent vistas of the amazing southeastern coast of Taiwan.

A vendor family.

Looking back the way we came.

Speeding through one of the little towns on the way.

A river comes to the see. As my friend Michael Fahey puts it, riding in Taiwan is climbing over one ridge and down to the next stream, then climbing the next ridge and down to the next stream, ad infinitum.

For part of this ride the train line follows the coastal highway, going through a series of tunnels.

It was astonishing how much stuff people were carrying.

On to Daren and the climb over the mountains.

We shot through Daren and begin the climb. I hadn't been on this road in years, dreading it as the potholed mess I remember. But it is in excellent condition now. Were it not for the unrelenting stream of cars this would be an enjoyable climb.

The grade is not bad, but it goes on for a looong time. It's one of those roads on which you keep saying "Is this over yet?" Worse, when a switchback turned north that bitter wind in your face was brutal. But we did it....

The views are ok, only.

Flocks of motorcycles came barreling down, at speeds beyond the ability of their owners to handle. As this photo attests. Fortunately he didn't hit anyone else when he lost control.

After what seemed like twenty years of climbing, but actually went quickly, we came to the police station at the point where 199 and the 9 meet. We planned to head down the 199. There was a group of cyclists from Hangzhou on bikes rented in Taiwan enjoying the scenery, and another set from Hong Kong. They had really enjoyed their ride down from Taipei, even in the miserable weather.

199, empty, dry, one of the most enjoyable roads in Taiwan.

Weeping Lake, near Dongyuan.

Steve rolls through Dongyuan. Still no rain. We were shockingly cold, but not wet.

I'd ridden up this section many times, but never down. What a pleasure 199 is. Highly recommended.

We came to the switchbacks overlooking Shihmen and Mudan Reservoir. Usually a gorgeous view, here in muted grays thanks to the weather.

We lunched in Sichungxi. Originally we had planned to stay in Checheng, but we were making excellent time and Hengchun beckoned with better food and more to do. So we hit the side roads....

...where it was harvest time for onions.

Finally, in Hengchung, I took Steve over to the old wall. Hengchun has the best preserved old walls of any town in Taiwan, well worth a visit. The town is one of my favorite in Taiwan and I often dream of taking a high school job there and retiring.

We walked over to the old town after getting rooms at the Kenting Training Hotel, a real bargain. Highly recommended. 130 kms to Hengchun, a fantastic ride even in the cold, gray weather. The bike gods granted us some sun for our stroll. Hengchun is a great place to walk around in, you'll stumble over old stuff if you avoid the Old Street.

The next day we ran back up the coast 50 kms to Fangliao and hopped the train for home. Great ride, great company. Wish you had come....
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!


Mike Fagan said...

"This sometimes leads to arguments with train station staff..."

Yes. I had to carry mine in its' bag slung over my shoulder - from the very back (car 12) of each platform and out of the station. And mine is an old steel-framed thing which I guess weighs around 15kg; not especially comfortable.

But at least the station staff knew I wouldn't be pulling wheelies on the train tracks and bunny-hopping over old ladies - and that's what really counts I suppose.

Mike Fagan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Steve said...

It was a great ride Michael. Thanks for organising it. It helped renew my enthusiasm for multi-day cycling in Taiwan. So now I am officially 'born-again. I look forward to more rides in the future.

Unknown said...

Nice one guys

Anonymous said...

wow. Michael you are amazing.

I was born in Taiwan, my parent never took me any where then I moved to US.

I love to follow your blog. maybe one day. I can travel Taiwan like you do.

keep on updating... thx.