14 August, 2018

Welcome to Hot Taiwan: Tales From an Abandoned Tour

by Igor

Whether it's road conditions, poor weather, injury, or even simply getting lost, self-sufficient tours rarely go 100% as planned. But we persevere. We push through those tough spots where we second-guess ourselves and that is where we learn to be exceptionally resourceful - cleverly solving problems to get back on the road and continue exploring. This is not one of those stories.

Starting out of Taipei along my two local companions, Kist and Black, we were feeling really good. The weather was comfortable and we kept a nice pace. We left town and started for the mountains.

The road got progressively steeper until we were riding what we could and walking what we couldn't. We got deeper and higher, with no downhill respite. I have loads of experience hike-a-bike'n, so I understand that at a certain point, walking is simply more efficient than standing on the pedals, especially loaded. Don't let your ego get the best of you. Sometimes it's ok to walk.

As noon came and went, the sun and humidity started to become increasingly oppressive. It would have been fine riding and allowing our epidermis to cool down our bodies through the efficient production and utilization of sweat, but when you're walking uphill at a crawl, your body can't do diddly squat. We simply couldn't drink enough water to compensate that which we sweat out. We eventually found a local resident who kindly gave us enough water to fill our bidons.

Once sufficiently hydrated, my compatriots turned back as they only took the day off for our ride. Thanks for the wonderful company, guys!

And then there was one.

Continuing up the mountain, the pavement turned to unmaintained concrete, which turned into gravel. The gravel faded, and full-on rough and tumble dirt and rocky trails were left.

The trail I was supposed to take simply became a loop leading me back to familiar roots, obstacles, and views. A loop with stunning views and fun riding, but a loop nonetheless. The other trail simply stopped with a guardrail overlooking a cliff. And the third, very tiny trail had long been swallowed back up by nature.

So here was my dilemma: the original plan was now completely shot. There were no other routes to traverse the mountain, but there was one option that was definitely earned - descend.

The original plan was to ride through the country, into the mountains, and descend via gravel and forest roads stopping in small villages for supply restocking, ultimately reaching Taroko Gorge. Simple, right? That plan was abandoned. Instead I made a route to the hot spring town of Wulai to regain some energy both physically and spiritually.

There is a beautiful waterfall which is the centerpiece of the town. If you go a bit further down the road, past the shops, through a couple tunnels, you can do a bit of hiking which takes you to a smaller waterfall that many locals and visitors go to for tea and relaxation. I joined several locals for a good foot dip in the cold mountain water.

Without sounding egotistical, I'd consider myself a strong rider. I'm a seasoned tourist, I trained (as much as I have for other tours), have plenty of experience with gear, and am comfortable conversing with foreign locals for help (often involving charades), but frankly, the landscape tamed me. No scratch that. The landscape spanked me. At the top of the mountain, with the only option in front of me being going back from whence I came, I felt absolutely defeated.

For all intents and purposes, my tour had failed. My original plan was in the bin and I felt physically deflated. Maybe if I had gone back and taken another way around on main roads - it would have only added about 75km - I might have gotten back to the correct route. But there was no way. I was dehydrated, my muscles were tightening, and I was contemplating how continuing on could affect my family if anything happened to me (a bit dramatic, but those are the thoughts that cross your mind).

After a couple days at Wulai enjoying the natural springs, I headed back to Taipei to catch an early flight home. As I headed out onto local roads, the sky opened up for me, graciously, in the form of rain. The rains subsided and made the atmosphere even more humid as I entered the city limits and welcomed those familiar river bike routes that I am so fond of.

And you KNOW I'm gonna hit a pump track on my touring bike. It's the little things, right?

Up at the top of that mountain, as the sun was temporarily blocked out by puffy clouds, I realized I'm not doing this to win a contest. I'm not doing this because I have to. I'm doing this for fun. Potentially injuring myself is not fun. It isn't epic. It isn't rad. I get that some hilarious stories come from tough spots, but they often aren't threatening bodily harm. As someone who creates content (among the other hats I wear at VO), you need to show your super-human side. Things slide off your back, you don't get flustered, and you definitely don't fail. But you know what? I am only human.

A failed tour (and failure in general) should never be looked at negatively. You should understand that you put yourself out there, something didn't work, and now you have the wisdom and strength to know what to do in the future - that's growth. And while this particular tour wasn't meant to be, I'm already looking forward to the next one equipped with a better grasp of my limits, understanding of resourcefulness, and more water capacity.


蔡秉衡 said...

This is Billy from WOHO Bike. That's too bad cant meet this time. See you next time!

Ryan Peterson said...

Hey Igor!

Any chance you could make a Google map of your route?

I've just relocated to Taiwan and am looking forward to taking some rides once the weather cools down a bit.

The VO factory doesn't give tours, does it?

Franklyn Wu said...

I was in Taiwan the same time as you were, and went to Taroko Gorge. The island was experiencing a hot (even by its standard) stretch. Even if you have figured out the correct route, the oppressive weather would test the resolve of even the strongest and more experienced of tourists! I grew up in Taipei and am so glad that the island has developed good bicycle infrastructures in the last couple of decades. I want to tour the island one of these days, but definitely in the winter!

Igor Shteynbuk said...

Hey Ryan,

I wouldn't suggest the route I took, haha!

During the winter would probably be a good time for a nice, long tour.

VO doesn't have a factory. We work with a number of specialized factories to manufacture our products and make our dreams come true. Our home base is here in Annapolis, Maryland.

Igor Shteynbuk said...

Glad you made it out there! I'll get down there one of these days!

Mr. Cranky said...

So Igor, as one old bike tourer to a young one, no maps? Or were they inadequate?

Oakley Cline said...

Hi Igor - What front rack are you using to hold those panniers?

Anonymous said...

Is there a reason your front roller panniers stick out so far?

VeloOrange said...

Sorry for the late response, just seeing your question! I used my cell phone between maps.me (offline mapping app) and Google Maps. We use paper maps for our other tours, mainly as a backup as e-maps are so good nowadays (in areas with good cycling infrastructure) but did not find then useful in Taiwan.

VeloOrange said...

Hey Oakley,

I'm using our Campeur Front Rack for the handlebar bag and panniers.


VeloOrange said...

The rack is one whole unit for the handlebar bag and panniers, so they stick out more than just lowriders. They're more integrated and keep the bags off the fork unlike regular lowriders. They're a bit wider, but the whole setup is super solid.