Post by Alec Burney
Note: you can click on any photo to see it bigger.
Before the Taipei Cycle Show, I took a few days to tour around the north end of the island. It was really great to see a bit of "normal life" before all of the factory visits, meetings, product discussions, quality improvement debates, and enormous dinners...
|GPS kicked in on the second day, and says my route |
was kind of like this
It was a beautiful ride with a still night and a flat, wide road. It had an ample shoulder marked with stencils of a guy riding a bike, a good sign. Everyone else seemed to be asleep, so I took my time and enjoyed the warm air.
I found a nice patch of grass next to the beach, slept. It was a nice, calm night, and when I woke halfway though, I realized that I was in a foreign country, with a vocabulary not extending much past "hello," and "thank you." I thought maybe I should be afraid. This wasn't exactly an official campsite, I could be easily misunderstood. I was alone. But, I was completely comfortable and unafraid. I would be for the entire trip, and I'd come to realize that I was surrounded by a kind, gentle, understanding people, who despite the language barrier would feed me when I was hungry, and point in the general direction of a city for me when I squeaked out the Mandarin name for it. I get the impression that there's not much crime in Taiwan, and I never once felt threatened, not even by heavy traffic.
There seem to be a lot of bike paths in Taiwan, as well as small roads that serve as defacto bike paths, having only occasional, local, and courteous car traffic. This one was blanketed in fog, and I was alone, waiting for the GPS to figure out I was on the other side of the world, so I rode in what later seems to be circles on the coast looking for the road that would lead to the mountains.
When the GPS woke up I zipped up the road towards the Wulai district, the mountains, and the hot springs. My destination was the "public" hot spring, and I didn't know much about it except that I hoped I could make myself welcomed there by the locals. I didn't want to go to an expensive private spa.
I squeezed past about a half-dozen local families and found myself alone on a set of steps below everyone else, equipped with two piping hot streams of water emptying into a small lagoon in the freezing cold river. Great place for a mid-day bath!
Like many other places in Taiwan, the building was delightfully dense. Can you well which is a dwelling, hotel, restaurant, spa, or store? Some of them are all of the above!
I had some more noodles afterward, chuckling about our various states of weirdness with the shop owner, who was wearing a getup that seemed to be straight out of 80s pop, with splatter decals, stripes, florescent colors, and backwards cap. He seemed to think my bike was pretty funny, too, so we got along well.
VO Hi-lo hubs, PBP 700c rims, and Pasela tires, and as always, they were perfectly happy to bounce around on the dirt trail, even with 25lbs of camping stuff).
He stopped to eat at the top of the mountain, in a small town in the Pingsi district, and I kept going. It started to rain, then, and I put on my jacket before heading through some long tunnels under the peak of the mountain. Soon it was raining hard and I was wet all the way through. I had put my tent up wet in the morning, and it was time to imagine how nice it would be to sleep in a soggy tent that night.
When I arrived in Fulong, it was raining so hard I could hardly see, and the guy behind the counter at the (official!) campsite spoke enough English to tell me that I should camp under the pavilion.
I tried not to do an excited happy dance as I pedaled over and unrolled my stuff to dry under the roof. The bathroom had warm water and showers, too. I was overjoyed. Then the rain stopped, and I rode to the town center and had some noodles, and the tent was dry by the time I got back.
There was also a short bike path of a couple miles that lead down to the sea. The Phillipine Sea, this time. It was nice to spin along without my camping gear, and I was also reminded about how well this bike transitions from one role to another. The handling was impeccable both loaded and unloaded.
I tend to ride straight through. I don't like to stop, and with my big handlebar bag on its little rack, I can load up my meals and eat while I'm riding.
But, on that day I made an exception and stopped in the early morning. Not for lunch, but for a haircut. It was a high-end looking salon in the small town of Nuannuan, and predictably, no one spoke any English. I pointed at my hair and my beard and made some snipping gestures and she hopped to it, giggling at my bravery. A cut, shave, and shampoo followed with few ill effects, and the charge was quite reasonable. All of our friends in Taiwan thought this story was hilarious. A haircut in a foreign language! And it looks okay!
Near Yunshan, in the Northeast, one of the tunnels was open on the side and had some wonderful concrete details and a sidewalk where you could look out on the ocean. This time it was the East China Sea. That's right, a third one! I think I missed one on this trip - the South China Sea.
I was warmly received everywhere, and with an open mind.