My first shock upon arriving in Taiwan a year ago, with the intention of crafting a tour for the less physically inclined, was the discovery that it is, in essence, one big mountain.
An island a tad larger than Belgium, Taiwan rises almost immediately from the ocean and rears up to a lofty level above the briny of 3250 metres. As I had travelled to this island looking for a less demanding tour two things quickly became apparent, A: I was very poor at advanced research, and B: I had my work cut out. Fortunately, #B turned out to be incorrect, for Taiwan is an island paradise for the cyclist and offers much forgiveness for the bumbling tour researcher.
And so it was in the middle of April this year, armed with a tour I had toted as being of a level of physical demand suitable for those who are happy riding our Northern and Southern Thailand tours, I arrived In Taipei with the usual apprehension of a first tour and a merry band of PaintedRoads’ finest lab rats.
Taipei is, in my experience, the most developed and orderly capital in Asia. That is not to say that there are not even more orderly capitals, for there may well be, but if there are I have yet to visit one. Everything I experienced is orderly and organised (except for the machine at immigration that scans visitors fingerprints, that is the sort of rubbish Microsoft would be happy to sell). For example the colourful lights found decorating road junctions in most Asian capitals are also abundant in Taipei, but rather than simply brightening up gloomy days during the monsoon season, in Taipei they appear to indicate to road vehicles when to proceed and when to halt, and the whole nation, with few exceptions, seems to have accepted, and even, perhaps, embraced this concept.
Leaving Taipei, a city with a population of nigh on three million is an absolute delight as we cyclists follow the Tamsui river north along a network of dedicated bicycle paths bereft of both traffic and hills.
The following two days contained short but significant sections to which I had given much consideration since first riding them. The main concerns I had were a couple of short but hilly sections that I considered suitable for the tour, but having toted the tour as suitable for those of a certain physical disposition it was clear to me that only when those people had ridden these undulations could I be sure that my appraisal was correct. Fortunately, a combination of providence and knowledge of my guests proved the choice of route to be a success, and even a little push or two on a couple of steeper sections were deemed an acceptable trade-off for a beautiful and tranquil route. And so, with that, I relaxed.
Midway through the tour, we rode the wonderful East Rift Valley. I love this road, it is a two-wheel paradise, with gentle climbs and descents on a rural road that winds through emerald fields of rice, plantations of betel nut palm, and orchards of fruit. As an added attraction we also crossed the Tropic of Cancer before lunch, and we finished the day at a hot spring resort. Before setting out on the bikes that morning the group suggested that perhaps my description of the day’s ride made too much of what a great day lay ahead and that I should perhaps have lowered expectations in a bid to lessen the chance of disappointment. As it turned out, I had it right and the group concurred, it is a beautiful day to be on a bike.
The final day’s cycling begins with the longest climb of the tour which sees us gain 450 metres over 10KMS. Its a satisfying sort of a climb that leads us via an equal satisfying descent to the south coast and some truly outstanding scenery. As we round the southernmost tip of the island the end of a wonderful tour through a cycling haven is rounded off with a crescendo of cliffs and downs, and a sparkling ocean of most vivid turquoise and blue.
The ride draws to a conclusion in the thoroughly popular coastal resort town of Kenting Street, that with its selection of restaurants serving pizza, burgers, and steak, and Thai to name but a few much-embraced delicacies was the icing on the cake for a group of Western cyclists.
This is but brief highlights of a wonderful tour which is encompasses highway, byway, rail and wonderful cycle paths that together constitute a national network of bicycle routes.
With this inaugural tour being a resounding success I will now make a few detail improvements and before the passing of much more time announce the dates for the next tour of Formosa.
Many thanks to Rod, Mark, Peter & Anne, JP & Alison, Priyen, Kevin, and Mike coming along, providing the fun, and helping to make the tour a great success, looking forward to seeing you all again, hopefully before too long.
Riding through the betel nut palms gives the journey an altogether exotic feel
Narrow lanes light of traffic are a cyclist's delight
Ah, yes, someone led the group along a little lane to a gate that was locked - well, you can't always get it right, can you?
An old suspension bridge as we near our rest day venue in the little surfer's town of Dulan
An old harbour wall and cloudy sky lends a somewhat Cornish atmosphere
Peter and Rod rest after a long and hot climb
A brief pause as we cross the Tropic of Cancer - that it was less than 20º at sea level was a little odd.
Rice fields and jungle
At one stage we managed to become muddled up in one of Taiwan's major iron man events...
and so we released our stallion - he soon showed them all a thing or two