Politics, open government, and safe streets. And the constant incursion of cycling.

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Riding through a dark tunnel into the sunlight during the Atlanta Beltgrind bicycle ride.

Taiwan Cycling Festival: Taipei to Taitung

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:

“Her mortal soul is leagues behind her, being reeled in on some ghostly umbilical down the vanished wake of the plane that brought her here.  Souls can’t move that quickly, and are left behind, and must be awaited, upon arrival, like lost luggage.”

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:

to 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.

The Most Beautiful Ride I’ve Ever Done

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:

Kate LaCroix rides up Taiwan's Taroko Gorge

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.)

Off to the 2010 Taiwan Cycling Festival

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.

Great Circle route for LAX to TPE

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.

Ticketing Terminal at IAD

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.

Vino Volo at IAD's Terminal B

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.

Still Looking For Taiwan Travel Tips

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):


Pro Cycling Photography

I’m in the process of trying to re-organize some of the online galleries of the pro cycling races I’ve shot over the past few years.  I’ve occasionally linked them here, but haven’t created any central index.  I’m still working on that, but in the meantime:

The CSC Invitational has been a favorite race of mine for a very long time now.  It helps, of course, that it takes place just blocks away from my house.  It was, in fact, what got me interested in watching pro cycling races after we stumbled upon the first edition of it in 1998.

While the name has changed – it started off as the Clarendon Cup, turned into the CSC Invitational, and will now be known as the Air Force Cycling Classic Clarendon Cup this year – the race has remained the same.  100 laps of a very tight 1km circuit through the middle of the Clarendon neighborhood of Arlington.  Often acting as a prelude to “Philly Week”, it has consistently attracted a top-quality field of US pro cyclists.  It also happens to be the source of one of my favorite finishing shots (see above – Rahsaan Bahati winning for Rock Racing in 2007).

The ING Direct Capital Criterium has only run a single edition, thus far, in 2008.  Notable for its setting – a course that runs through downtown DC – it offered such a spectacular backdrop that it’s been noted as one of the reasons the organizers of the Giro d’Italia are considering starting their race in DC.  Race organizers say it will be back this year – on July 11, 2010.

I probably shouldn’t link this gallery, as I didn’t go to de Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) with the intention (or capacity) of really shooting it.  I went purely as a fan of the Belgian cobbles, and managed a few pictures.  Frankly, the quality is a little embarrassing, but I was particularly lucky to be positioned on the Muur.

Which is exactly where Fabian Cancellara opened up his (ultimately race-winning) attack on Tom Boonen.  This is an unedited set, to be whittled down in the future.

The Philadelphia International Cycling Championship is a grand tradition in US pro cycling, with 25 editions behind it.   It is not, I suppose, as grand as it once was.  The Philadelphia International Cycling Championship used to cap off a week’s worth of racing through the Pennsylvania countryside, but a tough economic environment has pared it down to a single day of racing on Sunday.  But a fantastic day of racing it is.  It’s a short road circuit that winds its way along the Schuylkill River, through the working class neighborhood of Manayunk, and then back onto Benjamin Franklin Parkway, a finishing straight I’d put up against any in the world.  It’s a lot of fun to shoot – and not just the action on the road, but the crowds there to see it.

The Tour of California is the US last and greatest stage race left in the US (sorry, Tour of Missouri – I fear we won’t see you in 2010).  I only made it in for a couple of stages, but got some great time trial shots.

The Little Bald Nugget of Santa Rosa (Levi Leipheimer) almost looks scary, doesn’t he?

The Tour de Georgia was the first stage race I had a chance to properly cover.   It was a great experience, meeting a lot of folks from whom I learned a lot.  The galleries below (hopefully) illustrate that progress.  I’m particularly happy with how the 2008 race coverage turned out, and have broken it out into stages (check out Stage Four, which consisted of a team time trial at Road Atlanta).

Unfortunately, 2008 was the last edition of the race.  Though promoters are claiming to be working to bring it back in 2011, the TdG is by all reasonable standards dead.  They haven’t even renewed the race’s domain name.  A shame, really.

The Air Force Cycling Classic is a recent addition to the DC cycling calendar, added by the promoter who has been running the Clarendon Cup for the past decade.  The Air Force, as a sponsor, is behind this Crystal City circuit race in a big way, and I hope it will find a long-term place in the domestic cycling scene.  This race briefly took over the Clarendon Cup’s traditional slot on the National Racing Calendar, but it looks like that’s been handed back.   You might want to check out the Service Academy Shootout for my (entirely luck-based) How To Win A Sprint The Army Way series.

The U.S. Open Cycling Championships, which took place in Richmond, Virginia in 2007, was rather notable for a number of reasons.  First, it was nearly canceled because of heavy snow at the start (in April!).  Second, there was even a cobbled climb!  But most important, it was the first pro cycling race broadcast live on a major network (NBC) in recent memory.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to keep the race alive, and despite year after year of assurances from the promoter it would return, this remains the only edition on this race.

So what’s next?  I’m definitely getting to the 2010 editions of the Clarendon Cup, Air Force Cycling Classic, ING Direct Capital Criterium, and the Philadelphia International Cycling Championship.  Also aiming for the USA Cycling Professional Championships in Greenville, this year.  Had been hoping to (finally) get to the Nature Valley Grand Prix, but that will have to wait for another year.

Virginia’s 3 Feet to Pass Cyclists Law Up for Final Vote in House

The always helpful Virginia Bicycling Federation reports that the proposed “3 feet to pass” bill, which provides that cars must give cyclists at least three feet of clearance when passing them, made it out of committee.  Barely:

After being reported out of Sub Committee yesterday by a 5-2 vote, HB1048, 3 foot passing & following too close, was reported out of the full House Transportation Committee this morning by a very tight 11-10 vote. Since the vote was electronically tallied and then taken down rather quickly, I’m not sure exactly who voted each way, but it appeared that all the D’s voted for the bill, joined by two or three R’s (which I think included Oder & Rust).

As in Sub Committee, there was even more discussion of how difficult it would be with the additional foot to legally pass a bicycle without going over the double center line on a two lane road. The strongest anti-cycling sentiment was expressed by Del. Cosgrove of Chesapeake, Del. Knight of Virginia Beach, who clearly voted against the bill, along with Del. Villanueva of Va Beach, even though the representative of that City and Bruce Drees of the Tidewater Bicycling Assn. both spoke in favor of it.

Remember, the Virginia Senate has already passed this bill, and it is an unlikely veto target.  So all that stands between this sensible idea becoming law is the Virginia House of Delegates.  VBF asks:

Now its on to the Full House floor (either on Saturday or Monday), where Chairman Joe May of Loudon (who also appeared to vote against the bill) wished our patron, Kaye Kory, a good-natured “Good luck on the floor” after he announced the result of the voting.

Now, we need EVERYONE to contact their delegate. If you don’t know who it is, you can find out at the VA General Assembly’s Who’s My Legislator page…


Please take a few minutes to do this, even if you think you live in the district of someone who will certainly vote for it.  It would be a shame to get so close to success, yet lose because of a bit of complacency.

The Helmet Thing

WashCycle takes it on in a most sensible way.

Bike DC this Saturday, October 17th

Bike DC, after a successful test-run last year, is back for sure.  On Saturday, October 17th, thousands of bicyclists will participate in Bike DC.  This year, it expands across the Potomac to be the “Washington and Arlington Community Bike Ride.”   For those who are unfamiliar with it, this is a noncompetitive ride offering miles of car-free biking through the heart of DC and Arlington.  It also gives participants the opportunity to enjoy cycling on the George Washington Parkway, which is normally closed to bikes (this is the part I’m particularly looking forward to, as will anyone who’s ever driven the parkway).  I hope you’ll consider coming out and enjoying the day.  Details are:

Time & Start:

There are two route options.  The 25-mile Capital Ride begins at 8 a.m.  The 12-mile Family Ride begins at 9 a.m. Both rides begin on Constitution Street NW in front of the National Archives Building and end across the Potomac River in Crystal City, Virginia.


To make the event especially family-friendly, Bike DC is free of charge for children 15-years old and younger. Registration and helmets are required.  The adult registration fee is $35 for the Capital Ride and $25 for the Family Ride.  Registration fees are $10 higher on the day of the event.  Details and registration are available online at www.BikeDC.net until 11:59 p.m. on Friday, October 16th.

Route Differences:

Both the Capital and Family rides pass by the U.S. Capitol, the Supreme Court, the White House, the Washington Monument, the Pentagon, and the Marine Corps and Air Force memorials. The longer Capital Ride also features a climb up Embassy Row to the U. S. Naval Observatory and the Twin Oaks estate in NW Washington, plus a rare opportunity to bike the tree-lined George Washington Parkway in Arlington and the Whitehurst Freeway in Washington.

While I’m definitely going to get a lap or two in on the GW section, I’ll be spending most of the ride as a volunteer near at the Iwo Jima rest stop.  Say hi.

Update: this is a map of the longer route:

Want to Help Arlington’s Bike Transportation Policy Efforts?

Then please consider donating a couple hours of your time.  Arlington County volunteers collect bicycle and pedestrian count information several times a year, and there are still a number of unfilled positions for next week’s seasonal bicycle and pedestrian counts. From David Patton, Arlington County Bicycle and Pedestrian Planner:

We could really use more help to have full coverage at the 20+ locations where we count. The September seasonal count is the most important one of the year, and the one with the greatest number of communities participating. (Here in Arlington we have counted four times in the past year – other places only once.)

To check the sign-up sheet, and for lots more information, please visit the website: http://drop.io/september09bikepedcount

Much of what is there is pretty self-explanatory. Please feel free to write to me at this email with any questions. I’ll be checking it periodically over the holiday weekend.

With thanks, and best wishes for an enjoyable end of summer …

David Patton

I’ve done this before, and I’ll be out there next Thursday, at a minimum.  Very easy, and very helpful.  For more about the National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project, in which Arlington County participates, visit: http://bikepeddocumentation.org

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