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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Circling Taiwan By Bike: An Awesome Guest Post

Although I wish I could be a part of every great ride, with work and responsibilities I miss out on a lot of them. That is why I have to bike vicariously through friends and other riders as they go out have make life happen.

I am happy to share with my readers these exploits of friends and readers around Taiwan so we can all take a moment to daydream of doing the same.

I am always happy to offer space for a guest post if there are any rides out there worth posting... and Domenic Alonge had provided just that.

Enjoy his post and his ride.

Thanks for sharing, Dom!



Hello, I'm Dom, a friend of Andrew, who was turned on again to cycling in no small part by this very blog and so I feel honored and happy to share my thoughts on biking and on my trip around Taiwan with his many loyal readers.

That impulse that drove me to ride around Taiwan was born long ago. You see I've always loved to explore new places, even when I was young. I hope you will indulge me in a quick anecdote- If you're interested int pictures and names of places, you can scroll down.

I remember my first bike well. My father and I picked it out from a Sears Department Store-I was the proud owner of a Kent Ambush (which they still make today) at age 6. It had a chrome finish. It had a foam tube that wrapped around the top tube. The foam had a nylon cover that fastened with velcro and had a checked flag design. It looked cool, even with training wheels. It was cool. I learned to ride on it, learned to explore.

After ditching the training wheels, I got together with the other kids on my street and we rode up and down our street, maybe a quarter of mile each way, but boy, were we tired at the finish. We raced. We looked for uneven sections of sidewalk and curb to imagine as ramps and tried to 'jump.' We managed mere fractions of seconds off the ground, but to such young minds, this was flying!

The slippery spots where leaky engines left giant oil stains- we turned them into skidpads, leaving huge trails of rubber in the street, much to the dismay of our parents, who we guilted into replacing the tires.

We sought out huge puddles to race through and watched the wakes our tires made ripple about, and stared in wonder at the splashes our wheel could make.

We did eventually, as kids do, get bored of our short little suburban street.

We knew its ins and outs.

We wanted to explore.

Our parents set our boundaries for us then. We were limited to our own street. That was it. To go beyond was to risk 'being told on' by a less courageous, but more obedient companion. A tattletale. If you got caught, that was it. You had your wheels taken away for a long time. A long time. No more exploring for you!

But one day, that stands still in my mind, we went past our boundaries.

I don't know what it was that drove us to turn the corner and head around the block to uncharted territory. Probably the rumor of a giant sprinkler on a hot day or word of an awesome section of sidewalk, who knows, we were 7 or 8. It was likely we just grew bored.

Well, a group 7 or 8 of us took off around the block one afternoon, racing as fast as we could to avoid detection. It was a thrill, new road, new faces, new patches of pavement to launch ourselves into the sky!

We got caught. A neighbor saw us in their car and duly reported us to our parents. I got punished, I don't know, for a month. My father literally took the wheels from my bike. I nearly forgot what that feeling was like…of exploring new places on a bicycle...I rediscovered that feeling on my ride around our lovely island.

A year ago, I didn't even have a bike.

Were it not for Taiwan in Cycles, I would not only have been clueless about where to find a bike to suit my needs, I wouldn't even know what kind of bike would suit me on Taiwan's roads. I strongly encourage anyone interested in picking up a bike to refer to Drew's shop directory and post on finding a Taiwan Bike.

I contacted Andrew and thanked him for making such information available and told him I'd love to ride with him sometime. We did a few rides together and through him I met another blogger and enthusiast, Michael Turton. We've have some great rides together since then, and they helped me grow to love the sport, get to know the roads, and of course, as their readers well know, their enthusiasm is contagious.

At some point in the last few months, I decided that, while local rides were great, I wanted to explore some more. Like my childish self, I wanted to explore. “Ride around Taiwan. Why not? It's been done many times by many people. It's almost a rite of passage. I can do it, too.” So went my thinking.

My vacation from teaching lasts all of August, so I knew my trip would be a tough one. Typhoons and high temperatures and thunderstorms would be a constant threat, but I was mentally prepared to end my trip at the drop of a hat because foul weather or injury or worse.

I made the idealistic and foolhardy decision to camp part of the way. I wanted to be surrounded by nature. If it were about 5 degrees cooler it would've been fine, but the nights I camped were sweat-filled fits of tossing and turning and not much in the way of sleep.

I left August 1st, cycling north from Taichung with my packs of gear, which weighed in at about 21kg.

Looking only to cover some distance with my fresh legs, I camped at Beipu Township the first night. On account of the heat and the KTV in the campground, I didn't sleep well, but I did make an early morning dip in the cold spring there, which helped raise my spirits.

I headed north and east into the mountains on Day 2 along Highway 3. My destination was Siao Wu Lai. It was a beautiful but draining ascent into Fuxing Township, and when I arrived, I didn't even think about camping.

I needed a shower and bed. Fast. I found a nice little hotel with a friendly staff. They cooked me a special dinner, and I met a nice family, and two outgoing Taiwanese teachers while wandering the streets that evening.

I wandered around, snapping photos and exploring Little Wu Lai around sunset. Lots of natural beauty and very friendly folks.

I rose the next day with the sun for a wonderful ascent into the Sanxia area on 7. I think the whole descent I may have had to turn the pedals half dozen times.

Finding the campground I planned staying at closed, I cut through Taipei at morning rush hour.

Looking for another night of sound sleep and relaxation, I settled into a Beitou hot spring hotel to help me soak my fatigued body. Rejuvenated, I strolled around lovely little Danshui.

I slept deeply, renewed for my quick dash to Jioufen on day 3.

Passing through Keelung, I made a stop for lunch on Heping Dao, at Drew's suggestion. What a wonderful little spot.

The climb into Jioufen awaited me, and with that ahead of me, I found it hard to linger too long in Keelung. I had a delicious lunch and zoomed up to Jioufen with the help of a generous tailwind.

The Descent out of Jioufen down to the coast is worth doing again and again, especially in the quiet morning hours.

Stopping the next night to camp in Fulong, I finally began heading south to Suao on day 5.

I decided to stop there because it has a famous cold spring and I wanted to gather my wits and my strength before striking south on the notorious Su Hua Highway. I also heard good things about the cold spring there. They turned out to be true.

The ride from Su Ao south was my least favorite part of the trip. Camping again left me tired in the morning and though I got an early start, I wasn't ready for the rude climb out of Suao port. An hour into the ride I felt exhausted and overheated, and I had only covered 6 k or so. It was only 7 a.m.

Rolling down after that initial ascent, I rounded a sharp, blind curve at a reasonable velocity, surprised to find that the last third of the turn was wet concrete. I instinctively tried to eat some speed, braking lightly, but alas with all that gear on the back of the bike, the rear wheel shot out from under me. My bike and I skidded across the choppy concrete to a painful halt in the middle of the road.

Thankfully, there wasn't any traffic coming in either direction.

Checking my bike and my body and laughing with joy to find only a pair of scrapes on my hip and knee, and a big bruise on my hip, I continued south towards Hualien slowly, cautiously, a bit unnerved and sore that my handlebar was bent.

In spite of being on edge the whole time, especially in those long dark roughly paved tunnels, I made to to Hualien without incident, stopping to take only a few pictures.

After such a harrowing experience, I decided to take a rest day and feast day in Hualien- no riding for a day and few square meals. They also have a Carrefour there, so there was a chance to get a replacement gas tank for my stove.

I ate my way through Hualien and found a new favorite: Coconut Muagi.

I headed south with fresher legs. I took the ride easy. There was a light headwind, but I had plenty of time to make it to my next stop, Shitiping Campground in time to set up camp.

The road south from Hualien is really where the east coast starts to charm. The imposing shoulders of the moutains eases away from the coast and the Island seems more like a tropical paradise.

Shitiping Campsite a gem of a spot. Beautiful location, covered tent area with power supply. Perfect. Well worth a visit, during the cooler months. For me, it was another night of short rest and an early start.

Though encouraged by meeting another group of riders from Hong Kong heading North to Taipei, I found the ride from Shitiping to Taitung to be brutal. It was hot, and though the road was flat, each kilometer felt like 5 under that strain- the heat and the weight. I came then to the conclusion that it was foolish to try to camp on a trip like this at this time of year, but, at that moment there was nothing I could do but take it 1 day at time, one 'k' at a time, if needs be.

It was that afternoon in Taitung that I got a call from Michael T., of the View from Taiwan, asking me if I wanted to meet up with him to ride around Kending. He knows the roads to ride in that area, and I thought of all things I could do with, some company would be the best.

My bike and I boarded a train to cross the mountains from Taitung to the west coast, the port city of Fangliao.

I was buoyed the next morning knowing that I would spend the day riding with no gear whatsoever. I could leave it in the hotel. Needless to say it felt like my bike had wings that day.

I met Michael and his friend Jeff ready to ride south to Kenting. We were to spend two nights and two days there, taking it easy and riding the gorgeous roads of the Hengchun Peninsula. I'd heard a lot about these roads and was really looking forward to the part of the trip.

We rolled steadily into a headwind that afternoon arriving in time to enjoy a leisurely meal, find a place to stay and unwind a bit.

The next day proved a gem. All within the span of a hundred K or so, the views along 199, 199 and 200 were beyond description.

Here the varied landscapes of Taiwan are in full flourish, as valleys, plains, and hills are interwoven, the road the thread that binds them all together.

And here we were, us three, sweating in the heat, for sure, but smiling all the way. We were exhausted, but in a very satisfying way.

So much did I enjoy this little circuit that we made that I decided right then and there to end my trip around Taiwan. At that point, I felt that I had seen so many beautiful places and had so much fun, that going on would just dilute them in my memory. I was also really tired of living out of 7-11's. I didn't actually want to complete the task of circling the island anymore. It wasn't my goal to add another notch to a belt of accomplishments, though there is something to be said for that kind of thing. I just wanted to have fun. This place, this evening, was how I'd like to remember my trip: A day spent in the sun amid a world of green, with grinning faces, racing up the hills and flying down.

I felt then, like a kid again; but how mature of me, to know I've reached the point when enough is enough. What a great ride.

So I boarded the train in Kaohshiung and shipped my bike north the last 350 k without any regrets.

Thanks Michael, and Jeff for showing me a really beautiful side of Taiwan.

Thanks Andrew for indulging me in this post, and Thanks for reading!



Be sure to check out Michael Turton's post from the Kenting leg as well.


  1. Looks like a great trip there and many memories. You must be inspired to go elsewhere in Asia for this length also.

  2. All the pictures are heart touching and mind blowing. I am impressed with the same.