Although it seems I just got back from a long ride from Taichung to the Mingde Reservoir and back, I really wanted to share this route with my good friend and riding buddy, Michael Turton from The View From Taiwan. This is not a short ride on the bike, but, for me, 186km.
One of the regular themes of this blog is the subject of "culture", and I hope to use this blog space as a journal or record of Taiwanese culture as it unfolds. Cycling is a great example of one of Taiwan's cultures or one aspect of Taiwanese culture and I think, in some way, it highlights the importance of viewing Taiwanese cultures in terms of their particularity rather than through the warped lens of a grand narrative.
The topic of the meaning of "culture" has had very little respite from decades of academic assault and there has yet to be any unified, applicable meaning to the term "culture". About the only thing anyone can seem to agree upon is that "culture" is something shared. This is the focus of my post. The variety of people I meet on the road adds so much depth and vibrancy to the scenery, I return home full of excitement to discuss the people I met and what they were about.
On the way out of Zhuolan, I passed a young loner (on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the helpless, the powerless... in a world of criminals who operate... above the law), who was out on a sleek looking steel bike. I was really amazed that he had such a "different" bike and so well outfitted.
I turned around to discover the bike was a Surly Cross Check CX bike. This is one of those great "Taiwan Bikes" I love to recommend to people who want a great bike for just about every type of Taiwan riding-- The elusive all-rounder.
The rider's name was Jimmy, and he was on his "Round Island Tour" starting in the Neihu suburb of Taipei.
The bike was perfect. It was all Shimano 105, light racks, steel, 28c touring tires. I wanted to high-five him for making a great choice. The only things I would change are the Alex rims and lose the kickstand.
Jimmy mentioned that he also had a Kuota racing bike at home, but that was the wrong bike for the task.
After leaving Jimmy, we wrapped around Miaoli's Liyu Reservoir and into the rolling hills of Miaoli County.
The strawberry farmers were busy preparing the fields and the deep rows of earth make for fantastic pictures for contrast.
The weather was as perfect as you could get for riding. Not too sunny, with a breeze. The northerly wind was a little annoying at times, but the dividends would be paid on the return trip.
We passed the town of Dahu, where I spotted a pair of lanterns from the old Shinto shrine at the gate of a more modern buddhist monastery.
Michael plugged along up the hill to the Mingde Reservoir.
The roads are so perfect they could just about make a cyclist weepy. There is some cycling infrastructure in place, but it appears to be substandard or someone's brother-in-law made a fortune from a government contract to produce bike racks.
There is lots to take in during the ride through the reservoir, and the wetlands are an invaluable natural resource for wildlife.
At our pitstop in Shitan we met a group of boisterous riders with some of the heaviest, shock-absorber-est, fat-tire-est mountain bikes I have ever seen. They looked like they were training to win Leadville. We chatted them up for a while and they were at first full of bravado, but when Michael tried to sell them on road bikes, they became a little less sure of themselves. We had a lot of fun bumping into them at several points along the ride and we just couldn't figure out how they were catching up with us. Then we remembered the hour lunch and snack stops we had since first running into them. They ended up being just a goofy bunch of guys out on their bikes to get away, goof off and maybe smoke some cigarettes with friends.
We then climbed out of Miaoli on the Highway 13, only to turn onto the Miaoli Local 119. I was eager to show Michael this little road and scenic detour. I figured the tailwind on the Highway 1 would be a blast on the way back.
We hammered home. My legs were still feeling fresh. I was keeping my speed up... way up. Things were just clicking. We then cut back to the Highway 13 on the miserably straight 140. It is a demoralizingly straight road that makes no forward progress.
Just before our climb back into Houli, we passed some riders with some interesting gear. The woman had on a white veil and I had to turn around to chat. It turned out they were newlyweds from Tamshui, who were on the second day of their honeymoon. Their plan was to take a cycling trip around Taiwan as their first act of their new life together. They were being followed by a friend who was also the cameraman for this adventure. It was one of those wonderful little stories that makes cycling so interesting. I was glad to have met all these people and glad I can share.
Please see Michael's Post on the ride at his blog.