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

Tag: Taiwan Cycling Festival

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:

and

and

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.

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