The scent of ripening mangoes and pineapples, still clinging to the last remnants of morning mist, filled my lungs as I fought deeply for more oxygen. The temperature and humidity were rising, making each breath thicker and harder. Each downward thrust sent fire burning down my quad muscles. And just as I began to think I couldn’t push anymore, I passed the crest of this steep climb and saw the valley open up before me… just in time to see the heavens open up and cast a torrential downpour upon me
This is biking in Taiwan during the week of the Dragon boat festival. Oppressive heat and humidity, blazing sunshine, and wicked rainstorms, the 3 varieties of Taiwan weather are all represented… sometimes even all in the same day.
A little over 925 km (575 miles) in total, with over 13,000 meters (43,600 ft of elevation change), the ride around Taiwan can be challenging. Our group was over 50 people, with ages from 15 to 70, and did the route in 9 days.
I love biking. It is something that does triple duty in our lives, bringing exercise and fitness, providing transportation, and building and growing wealth. With that in mind, it should be no surprise that I chose to spend my school break on a bike. Besides, there are too few socially acceptable opportunities to wear tights on a daily basis (except perhaps for those special few that live double lives as super heroes.)
The ride around the island is something I’ve wanted to do for some time. In Taiwan it is nearly a rite of passage, something that fathers do with their sons and mothers do with their daughters, to share an achievement and to experience their country first hand. For me, it was an opportunity for some good riding, a chance to see Taiwan up close and personal, and to be immersed in Chinese culture since I didn’t speak English the whole trip.
Most of Western Taiwan is flat and developed. The first few days were highlighted by a never ending maze of intersections and stop lights. As far as I can tell, the only reason to bike this part is so you can write a blog post called “Biking Around Taiwan” instead of one called “Biking Half Way Around Taiwan.” Even so, over these days we were all able to get to know each other.
From here things looked up considerably. And literally. The east coast is steep, mountainous terrain, and the coming days would be spent climbing it
With rides through the East Rift Valley and through high mountain tea growing country, this is where Taiwan’s beauty really becomes apparent.
Of course no ride around Taiwan would be possible without a ride along the SuHua Highway. Sheer rock faces on one side, a steep drop into the ocean on the other, and a dozen or more long dark tunnels along the way, this is no walk in the park. Rock falls could happen at any moment on one side, and there is little space between the road edge and the guard rail on the other
The SuHua Highway is a scenic piece of land like no other. It is also a major shipping corridor. Large trucks, semi-trailers, construction vehicles, and tourist buses cruise this route all day, and some drivers are less than happy to share the road with a few bikers. Just ask the bus driver that pushed me off the road (in a choice between his rear wheel well and the guard rail, I chose the guard rail)
This trip was run and organized by a family that had ridden their bicycles around the world, and now organizes these tours (link is mostly in Chinese, but there is a doc in English with full details of the trip.) This was their 85th trip and they do their job well
Every rest stop was supplied with bananas, fresh sliced fruit (pineapple, mango, or watermelon), and lots of water. Often we also had a snack or meal that was a specialty from that region or town, whether it be ice cream, a certain special kind of rice, glutinous rice snacks (really good!), or red bean drink (really gross!)
Every night while we slept, our bikes were adjusted and tuned, and every day while we rode there was somebody at the next route change to point out the way. They also carried all of our gear, a definite luxury
The hotels along the way were an interesting mix. Some nights we spent in a backwater place that needed some love and attention, and other nights (usually after a hard ride) we found ourselves at a little oasis with a heated outdoor pool or one of Taiwan’s great hot springs.
One hotel was so proud of their customer service policy that they even put it on their towels 😉
We also had several stops along the way for touristy highlights. Here are 3 of my favorites
Overall it was a great trip. I was able to see Taiwan in a new light, and make some new friends along the way
Bike trip (includes bike, meals, hotels, red bike shirt, everything): 25,000 TWD (~$830)
Superman tights: 1,300 TWD (~$45)
2 scoops of Haagen-Daz ice cream in Taipei: 240 TWD (~$8)
2 scoops of hand made ice cream in rural middle of nowhere Taiwan: 20 TWD (~$0.67)
Pro-grade Chamois Cream: $20 (worth every penny!)