Monday, March 3, 2014
Biking Taiwan's East Coast: Hualien to Amazing!
I have been in a bad way for far too long and it was high time I put myself back on the road. My body has been feeling adequate. My bike still works. I have a couple of coins in my pocket. I decided I had spent far too long on the sidelines and deserved to get out and enjoy cycling in Taiwan on my own terms. With a long weekend and an invite from the redoubtable Michael Turton and Jeff Miller. I threw my hat in for a ride down Taiwan's Rift Valley.
After a last minute attempt to get the logistics nailed down to circumvent Taiwan and be back for work on Monday morning, I made a mad dash across Taichung to hop the Ju Guang Train (a.k.a. the slower than shitting molasses train) to Hualien. The weather was already wet when I arrived and it didn't get any better when we pushed off the next morning into a steady drizzle.
There is something about riding a bike and taking an excellent road that makes the puddle sloshing between your heel and your toe a less than unpleasant experience. I was in luck as we would be taking the Route 193 southward.
The Route 193 is the cyclist's friend when biking the Rift Valley, as it is scenic, with little traffic, few difficult bumps, and plenty of places to find provisions.
As we sloshed along the base of the hillside kicking up spray and grit from the roadway, I kept looking out at the opposite bank imagining the mountains that lay obscured by clouds and mist. It was just that kind of day.
There were a few other cyclists out, but not many. Michael was having trouble with a spoke piercing through the rim tape and was slowed by punctures during the first day.
We plodded along past one Amis village after another to the occasional greeting shouted from the shadows of some roadside shelter or another. If Taiwan is regarded as a friendly country, the ester portion has to be the friendliest.
Jeff engaged in conversation with a local over one of the old wells in the area. We were informed that the quality of the wells has deteriorated since tourists started arriving and throwing cigarettes and betel nut into the wells. As we were leaving I noticed the town was busy preparing to accommodate more tourists.
With the weather growing colder and nastier with every turn of the crank, and Michael suffering from mechanical difficulties, we decided to end our day at the farming town on Yuli. I tested my legs for the final 30km, mainly just to keep myself warm, and was quickly waiting for Michael and Jeff on the outskirts of Yuli where we arrived at a hostel that offered showers with the most instantaneously scalding hot showers I have been fortunate enough to witness first hand. I was relieved to be out of the wet and settling in for the night.
It was most fortuitous that we never made it any further than Yuli as the next morning was simply glorious. The rain had cleared, so we decided to head out toward the coast on the Route 23.
As we headed onto the roads the sun was already pushing through holes in the clouds. The valley was simply glowing between light reflecting off the rice fields or passing through filters of various greens. I beg you will forgive my gratuitous selection of pictured from that day that me seem redundant or doing little to advance this narrative, but I am choosing to revel in the sights of that morning as they were being words.
Alas, it was time to say farewell to the Yuli valley and embark on the Route 23, which is one road my friend and fellow cyclist, Nathan Miller, refers to as a road that, "drops right off the edge of the earth."
Nathan isn't too far off the mark. The Route 23 dips down through some tiny farms and then as if passing through some strangle portal in space and time, you are transported directly into the central mountain range.
The area beyond the hole in the rock echoes of a vast wilderness. It feels like you are caught in the gravity of a much larger area.
Before long the road launches skyward. A periodic road sign advertises an imminent village outpost 15, 7, 3, 1 kilometer ahead. Behind every false top you expect to find the elusive village of Donghe.
I took the climb as if I still had the legs to do it. I scrapped and heaved myself upward on my first significant climb since September and my legs knew all about it.
I reached the true peak and let myself fall over the ridge toward Central Donghe, a sight that had just passed overhead.
As I plummeted downward, the kilometers started adding up without anything remotely passing as a "Central Donghe". I wondered if I had been mistaken.
A few buildings here and there. A farm or two beneath an ancient cliff face. No Donghe.
We arrived at a bridge where roaming packs of idiots have been tamed by the local monkeys to deliver food to them.
Finally, after a few more kilometers of pedaling, we arrived at the ocean, where the little town of Donghe bustled with happy tourists.
We pointed our handlebars northward, and with the gentle push of a tailwind, we made a steady pace to Cheng-gong.
The Bikeway took a brief scenic route along the ocean for a wealth of views and photo ops.
On the the third day we were greeted by wind and drizzle to go with our morning coffee. It looked like it might be another rough day. Fortunately, the wind had shifted during the night and we had another tailwind going the other direction to carry us to Taidong.
I looked out into the ocean and saw a solid sheet of rain a few kilometers off shore and decided to go for broke the rest of the way to Taidong.
As I neared our destination, it became clear the rain would remain off shore and I slowed the pace to better enjoy the scenery.
The monstrosity of the Miramar Hotel, the defunct ecological disaster and eyesore, sat decaying along the beach. It serves as a stark warning for what Taiwan's eagerness to court tourism can unleash.
We were in Taidong well before 11:00am and had plenty of time to adjust our train tickets for an early return home.
It is amazing country out there. Just stay off the Highway 9 and eastern Taiwan is an absolute gem.