A brief bit of interruption, here. So I’ll just leave you – for now – with the photo of how I ended the day I wanted to tell you about:
One of my favorite quotes involving travel comes from William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, describing a character who has just arrived in London, after a transatlantic flight:
For me, this is the perfect way to to describe that empty and displaced feeling I get when I’ve just made a long flight, feeling very much out of my own time and space. Usually alone, often at night, and frequently in a city new to me, I just go for a walk. There’s never a particular plan to it. Just a wander around, trying to absorb the general sense of a place.
So that’s what I did when, having arrived late at night in Taipei and checked into the Howard, I found myself with the energy to move. I did this despite the fact that I’d not slept a bit on the plane, and – in a first for me – found I’d have some company on this walk. Niamh and Mark, also in Taiwan for the Cycling Festival, found themselves a bit restless, too. So off we went. And this is what we found:
It would be foolish, indeed, to think you know a city through a single late night walk. But it does start to sketch a map of sorts. Not just ordinal, but of expectations. Some things you get wrong – I’d soon learn that all those wide bike lanes were going to be filled with buzzing scooters in the morning, with barely a bike to be seen. But others turn out quite right – I felt incredibly safe, and there was an easiness to the people around me. That’s a theme that – while not particularly related to the purpose of my trip – certainly helped me focus on that purpose. Taiwan, despite the challenges of language (and weather), turned out to be a rather easy place.
What is rarely easy, in any place 12 time zones away from your own, is getting yourself keyed into the local rhythms. So it was with no small amount of effort that I hauled myself out of bed early the next morning for a second look at Taipei, this time in daylight:
Click here for same slideshow, but bigger and with captions.
After a lovely breakfast, it was off for a bit of quick sight-seeing before heading to the airport for a flight to Taitung (TTT). This included a stop at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (国立中正纪念堂):
I suppose that now is as good a time as any to introduce the cast. From left to right: Niamh (of Adventures Abroad), John (our guide/magician/miracle worker), Kate (of GlobalSoulAdventures), Mark (of Bikehugger.com), and Beverly (of Beverly Garrity Design). You’ll be seeing more of them later. For now, this is their best side.
Other reasons to check out the CKS Memorial:
It’s an interesting memorial, and undoubtedly could have been the kick-off of many an interesting political discussion (I find Taiwan’s political landscape fascinating, despite possessing just a glancing understanding of it), but this was not to be that kind of trip. Rather, it would be the kind of trip where we found things like this hilarious:
Yes, that’s a robot construction flag waver, and for the remainder of the trip, it never failed to excite and make us laugh. What can I say? We’re a simple people.
On the way to the airport, we saw an advertisement for one of the most useful pieces of Taiwan’s new push for improved cycletouring infrastructure – bike cars on trains:
To get to Taitung (TTT), however, we flew on Uni Air. We departed from Taipei’s domestic airport, Songshan (TSA). For domestic travel, this is far more convenient to downtown Taipei than TPE. The flight was short and uneventful, taking us from this:
Well, except for one thing. This fellow sat directly behind us:
I found it hilarious, though my seatmate was less sanguine. Alas, we all got along just fine, and now I’m sitting comfortably at home. And that fellow probably isn’t. And we were off!
Taitung County (the county/state/province surrounding Taitung, the city) was completely different than Taipei. Green, spacious, green, gorgeous, and green, we’d clearly arrived in a very different part of Taiwan, despite the sub-60 minute flight. From there, we headed north for another bit of tourism – an aboriginal demonstration site that offered traditional rafting. A picture of tranquility, I think:
And it looks simple enough:
So off we went, anticipating a bit of lazy time on the water:
Just look that. Beautiful, no?
Well. Just to the right of this photo? Is the rock I decided to land on, and make an ironic colonial claim. Joke was on me, though, as the rock tossed me off, camera in pocket, for a swim in the water. Which was really quite pleasant, until I’d been treading water for a minute or so and realized that the camera was, in fact, in pocket. So I’m a little short of photos for this day, after this. We ended up at the Hotel Royal Chihpen, where I obtained a magic bag of rice that made much of what follows possible . . .
Tomorrow: The 2010 Taiwan Cycling Festival kicks off! Also: Taitung International Triathlon, with a guest appearance from the Taiwan Air Force.
So, as detailed earlier, I was invited to attend the the 2010 Taiwan Cycling Festival, which officially took place from October 16 to October 24th. Taiwan’s government, with support from its cycling industry, has been working hard to promote itself as a bike-friendly tourist destination. Over the course of two weeks, I had a chance to see the results of these efforts first hand, and now that I’m (finally) back, it’s time to tell you about it.
Taiwan, for those living in the United States, isn’t a short flight away. For me, it was a five hour flight from Washington to Los Angeles, and then another 14 hour flight from LAX to Taipei (TPE). From a US-based traveller’s standpoint, there’s a pretty steep initial cost to any trip to Taiwan: aside from the ticket itself, the 14 hours in a plane (minimum) and the resulting jetlag means that the destination has to be worth all that trouble. And Taiwan? Absolutely was. I was blown away by it. But speaking of blown away . . .
The Plan Meets Typhoon Megi
The original plan for this trip was constructed, in large part, around the inaugural Taiwan Cup. The Taiwan Cup was designed to be a professional road race highlighting the and headlining a week of amateur racing and organized rides. Unfortunately, Typhoon Megi changed these plans, not only forcing the cancellation of the Taiwan Cup, but also resulting in a number of casualties along the eastern coast of Taiwan.
We made an initial effort at sticking to the plan, before the severity of the typhoon was apparent, but ultimately had to retreat back to Taipei and the western side of Taiwan. This was the resulting itinerary:
Come Ride Taiwan With Me
I’ll be posting pieces that roughly follow the chronology of the trip. So, to sketch out what lies ahead:
- Thurs – Taipei. Straight from TPE to the hotel. There was, however, time for a walk.
- Friday – Taitung/Chihpen Hot Springs. Flew from Taipei to Taitung, toured some local markets, and maybe someone fell into the river while rafting . . .
- Saturday – Chihshang. The opening ceremony for the Taiwan Cycling Festival, and our first day of cycling. It started with a short ride with Dr. Mao Chi-Kuo (毛治國), Taiwan’s Minister of Transportation and Communications. After that, we headed over to Taiwan’s first purpose-built recreational cyclepath in Guanshan, and then rode from there up to our hotel. Bonus: portaging was involved. Second bonus: an unexpected jazz concert.
- Sunday – Hualian. Knocked out a metric century (and then some) in the morning with an out-and-back along Highway 9, turning around at one of the markers for the Tropic of Cancer. Finished up the day in Hualian, where we got the first real hints of Typhoon Megi.
- Monday – Taroko Gorge. Another AM ride, this time along the coastline in Hualian, in driving – but wonderfully warm – rain. We then headed back south to finish the day in one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places I’ve ever been.
- Tuesday – Taroko Gorge. With a constant chorus of oh-my-god-look-at-that in my head, the day’s – and trip’s – highlight is climbing and descending through Taroko Gorge. Words will not suffice to describe this day.
- Wednesday – Taipei. Fly back to Taipei, hit some local bike stores, and end up at the one of the team hotels for the Taiwan Cup.
- Thursday – Taipei. Attend the kickoff press conference for the Taiwan Cup, interview three-time world champ Oscar Friere, and – by the end of the day – find out that the Taiwan Cup is almost certain to be cancelled. Instead of heading to Haulian to cover the race, we decide to head south. But not before visiting Taipei 101.
- Friday – Sun Moon Lake. While passing through Taichung, we visit factories for Giant and Mekkem. The day ends at Sun Moon Lake, a popular tourist destination (and, it turns out, where most of the pro racers end up).
- Saturday – Sun Moon Lake. Start the day with a ride around Sun Moon Lake with pros like Amets Txurruka. Enjoy a good chat on the road with Vicky Liu (劉麗珠), president of the Cycling Lifestyle Foundation, about the challenges of cycling advocacy in Taiwan.
- Sunday – Taipei. Late start to the day, which is mostly a road trip back to Taipei, where we reconnect with the rain. Did I mention the rain? End the day with a trip through an amazing night market.
- Monday – China Airlines Flight 8 to LAX. The longest Monday in my life (35 hours, I think). The day’s plan to go for a ride in Danshuei is foiled by more rain, so we end up on a lazy tour of the waterfront and local markets before heading back to TPE for the trip back to LAX. I leave behind new friends but take back a strong desire to return and share Taiwan with others.
Sound interesting? Then check back daily. There will be words, photos, and even the occasional video. All of which I hope will show you what a wonderful place Taiwan turned out to be, and why I’ll definitely be heading back with my bike.
Note: I’ve added a Taiwan category (see sidebar), so all of my posts related to Taiwan will be available here.
I’ve ridden in some amazing places – Nova Scotia’s windswept coast, Shenandoah ridge lines, Hawaii’s North Shore, and Utah’s Zion National Park. But nothing left me in awe the way Taiwan’s Taroko Gorge did:
I’ve finally returned home, and look forward to sharing more of this soon. In the interim, go check out Beverly Garrity’s take on our time there. (Reminder: you can click on the photo for a larger version.)
I feel like I’ve been on my way home all week. Oh, wait, I have been. Stuck in Memphis due to the big Midwest/East Coast storm. Took a little over 5000 photos in Taiwan, and since my external hard drive died somewhere along the way, they’ve ended up filling my laptop. Which is now running only slightly faster than I can walk.
And I miss my bike.
That I’ve been utterly unable to stick to my plan to post daily about Taiwan isn’t just a testament to my ever present ability to overestimate myself, but also to the incredible amount of things we were able to see and do in Taiwan. I’m now in an LAX hotel (this would be hotel #14 in 15 days for me, I believe) and just beginning to sort out a plan for relaying what turned out to be one of the most incredible trips I’ve ever undertaken. From cycling through the natural beauty of Taroko Gorge to seeing the human faces behind the cycling industry, Taiwan blew right past my expectations. Stick around, if you’re interested in hearing more about it.
(click to enlarge photo)
I’m going to try to share all of my GPS tracks while I’m here, with basic descriptions. Then, as time permits, I’ll head back and expand the descriptions for each, with the idea that they may be useful to someone travelling here in the future.
Today was our first ride: a very easy, flat, but beautiful loop along the Guanshan Round-the-Town Bike Path, then tick-tacking through the rice fields as a shortcut to our accomodations at the Papago Resort Hotel. As a result of an unplanned trip into the water yesterday, I did this ride without a camera, so this short tourism video will have to suffice to give you an idea of the scenery. It’s not long enough to be a destination in and of itself for a touring cyclist, but it’s absolutely worth a stopover or diversion.
Today involved the first leg of my ~8,000 mile trip from home in DC to Taipei, Taiwan for the 2010 Taiwan Cycling Festival. What is that, exactly? Err, I’ll find out the details when I get there. Taiwan is trying to promote itself as a cycling destination, and is hoping to use this event to showcase what it’s got. And, courtesy of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau, I’ll be giving you my take on the reality of that effort. I’ve been lucky enough to get around a bit, so I’m hoping that my well-considered take – which will be posted here over the next couple of weeks – will be useful to those thinking of trying Taiwan for a cycling trip.
That trip, however, comes with a pretty steep initial cost for Americans. Nevermind the actual ticket cost, I’m talking about the 14 hour trip from LAX (can’t be much shorter from SEA or other northern US departure points) to Taipei (TPE). At 6’1″, and recalling my 14 hour LAX-SYD flight last year, I’m dreading it already. I did a 16 hour flight from Newark to Hong Kong some years back, and it was miserable. That said, Hong Kong turned out to be one of the most amazing places I’ve seen on this planet, and was absolutely worth those 16 hours. So while the price can be steep, it’s quite possibly worth it. We’ll see.
Because I had zero interest in tying on the five hour flight from DC to LA into the LAX-TPE flight on the same day (for 19 straight hours of fun!), I decided to skip out to LA a day ahead of time. My favorite local airport, National, doesn’t do much in the way of direct flights to LAX, so I had to head out to the airport I often mock – Dulles (IAD). It turns out that I might have to ease back a bit on knocking it. In fact, it came off as a perfectly nice airport – one that might even eventually live up to the promise of its Saarinen-designed ticketing terminal.
First off, the moon buggies are mostly gone. In its place is a much improved security hall and rail transport to the terminals. And much to my pleasant surprise, Vino Volo, previously accessible only on int’l flights, now has a (much bigger) location at Terminal B. Like ATL’s One Flew South, it’s a great wine bar with good food. Much better than the usual regret-inducing airport fare.
The departure from my airport of choice also involved a departure from my airline of choice (Delta). This flight was on American, and since (in yet another departure from the norm) I’m actually checking a bag this trip (hard to pack clothing, cycling shoes/pedals, and a helmet in carry-on, it turns out), I experienced the joy of getting nickled ($25 for checked bag) and dimed ($39 for an aisle seat up front). (Too many parentheticals?) I don’t so much mind the total cost as the pettiness of dinging me for what I’ve come to expect as basics. We’ll just avoid the matter of food entirely. Personal thanks, though, to the flight attendant who took mercy on me and doubled my vodka tonic.
So I’m at the LAX Hilton now. Did you know you can snag pretty much any of the standard airport hotels (Marriott, Hilton, Crowne Plaza) for ~$65/night on Priceline? I used to mock a friend mercilessly for using them (and I still mostly avoid them), but that’s a regular and reliable halving of the price anywhere else. I’m trying to sort out a few more last minute things before I head off to uncertain connectivity, and then get a good night’s sleep ahead of what I’m sure will be something less than that.
But I’m really really looking forward to actually being in Taiwan.
As I mentioned, I’m heading off on a rather unplanned trip to Taiwan next week, to check it out as a cycling destination. I suppose the unplanned modifier is really unnecessary in my case – the only trip I’ve *really* planned for in the past few years was to hike Machu Picchu, and that was so derailed by the birth of my nephew that we ended up in Prague, instead (did I just blame a small child for my poor judgement? Yes. Yes I did. It’s not like he can argue with me.). In any event, I’ve done what I do for any trip – I bought another Lonely Planet guide, and have started surfing the web. I feel like I’m coming up a little short.
On one hand, the web’s already been good to me – Taiwan resident Michael Turton (who found me, out of the blue) has quite graciously helped me assess my itinerary, and the author of Taiwan in Cycles has solicited his readers to make sure I “get to see what [I] really should be seeing.”
On the other, well, that language barrier is significant. There’s a *ton* of Taiwan cycling info out there – and it’s all in Mandarin. Believe me, I’m doing my best to get the basics down before I arrive. But I couldn’t possibly gather up enough in time to sort out a trip with it.
There are some decent English-language resources – like the Tourism Bureau’s “Let’s Go Cycling in Taiwan” site. It describes cyclo-tourism routes (with Google maps – a serious plus), gives contact information for local resources, and appears to hit the high points. But I don’t see the sort of individual feedback that I think really adds value. For the folks looking for racing in Taiwan, Craig Johns’ Taiwan Racing seems to be the place to go.
There are plenty of English-language blogs to mine for info. Swanky Frankie’s journey (complete with daily music tracks!), the Hungry Cyclist’s search for the perfect meal, and sites with a wider focus that briefly turn to Taiwan (yet produce useful stuff like telling you about “Ni you pijiu ma? You pronounce it: ni yo pee jyo ma? It means ‘do you sell beer?’.”).
But with all that, I’ve yet to discover a good site centralizing the basics – where, how, and how much. Which is fine enough for me – things are tastier when I have to work for them, instead of picking them off a platter. Can’t say that I’d turn down an assist, though.
Then again, sometimes you don’t need words at all. Check out Ewa Kamila‘s video of her solo tour across Taiwan (including the brief unpleasantry at 1:30):