Alishan, April 12 - 13, 2010. Click pic for album

Taroko to Kending

Taroko Gorge to Kending, Feb 14 - 19, 2010.

Northern Cross Island Highway

Northern Cross Island Highway, May 19 - 21, 2008. Click pic for album
16th November, 2007

From the Pacific Ocean to the Taiwan Straits in three days

Day -1, Nov 5
Maybe we went about this thing the wrong way round: first we took days off from work, and then we started praying for good weather. We had planned to do the Northern Cross Island Highway in a three day round trip from Taipei, but the weather was crappy so we decided to go south and cross the island on the Southern Cross Island Highway, Nanheng (南橫), instead – we all know the weather is better down there.
So on Monday evening, we took our bikes apart, bagged them, and headed for Taipei railway station and the overnight down to Chishang (池上). We had no time to make reservations, but how many people could want to travel from Taipei down to Taitung on a Monday night? Book your seats in advance: they were fully booked. We tried again half an hour before departure, and in the end someone had cancelled four tickets, next to each other.
Getting on the train with four bagged bikes turned out to be easy. We squeezed them in behind the seats at the end of the car, two on top of each other, on either side of the aisle.
Day 1, Nov 6
Arriving in Chishang just after 5am we somehow managed to put the bikes back together before rolling down to the 7-Eleven to send the bags to Tainan.chishang.jpg They weigh a couple kilos each even without a bike in them, and with two of us carrying small back packs, the prospect of hauling them over the mountains wasn’t too tempting. But if you don’t know where you want to pick your stuff up, you can’t ask the 7-Eleven system which store is closer to this or that location. Or maybe the betel nut-chewing, Taiwan beer-drinking shop owner didn’t know how to work the system at six in the morning. When I asked him if he always started the day with such a gut kicker, he raised his Taiwan beer can and asked, with a smile red as blood, “You mean this? Beer is nutritious, isn’t it?” He then drove X to the railway station where they sent the bags to Tainan station. After breakfast, it was 8am before we got started along Nanheng /provincial highway 20 (台20線) toward Lidao(利稻), a 1 km climb.
After about 9km, we took a right after the bridge crossing the almost dried out Hsinwulü River (新武呂溪). Here somewhere it started raining for the first time, but the road, higher and higher above the meandering river, was beautiful, so it didn’t really matter. The views became more spectacular as we climbed, and at times it felt like being on Huang Shan again or entering a Chinese landscape painting with trees or pavilions perched on high cliffs enveloped in clouds. After a while we passed the first birch trees.
By the time we reached Tianlong (天龍), it had stopped raining and we stopped for lunch.Tianlong lunch When we started again, I had the only flat any of us would have in three days. Putting the wheel back on, I looked up and saw a massive mountain side that we had to climb to get to the other side. Then it started raining again.
Ten kilometers later we reached the Lidao Tunnel at 1,073m, and at 2:30 we reached Lidao where we checked in at Hsile Minsu (喜樂民宿). No other guests, so they let us put our bikes in the dining hall on the ground floor. After a shower and a nap we had some boar and other assorted dishes we ordered earlier together with a bottle of xiao milu (小米露), some rice wine/liqueur kind of thingy that made it easy to go back to sleep.
The beautiful scenery, the quiet and the solitude, the birds, cicadas, mountain streams (and some pretty heavy breathing) together with the last few months biking around the Taipei hills has added a whole new dimension to living here.Lidao This really is the Ilha Formosa. It is incredibly beautiful so long as you make the effort to get out of the city.

We took the 10:55pm slow train (自強號) from Taipei on a Monday night and arrived in Chishang (池上) 5:05 the next morning. Book in advance, there is a regular 80 percent booking rate. Tickets were less than NT$600 each. Follow provincial road 20 (台20線) from Chishang. After six hours, we reached Lidao (利稻) after 38km and three hours of actual riding, at an average speed of 12.5km/h. We stayed at Hsile Minsu (喜樂民宿), 089-938067, and paid NT$900 per room at a 10 percent discount. Tianlong (天龍) for lunch was at kilometer mark 186.

Day 2, Nov 7
A fter breakfast at seven we got started at eight. From here, we had to climb another 1.7 km to get to the Daguanshan Yakou pass (大關山埡口) at 2,722m. No rain in the morning, and the sun even broke through at times, making for a lovely morning ride. We passed Motian (Touch the sky, 摩天) at 1,524m and had our first group photo taken by a duly impressed couple crossing the island by car.All of us Views were beautiful with small cotton clouds weaving in and out of the mountain above and below us, and sometimes I almost reached that euphoric state that you can get to when you’re sailing and everything runs like clock work and you don’t have to speak and you hear nothing but the sound of the wind and the boat cutting through the seas. Supreme.
About 25km from Lidao we reached Xiangyang (Face the sun, 向陽, a lot of beautiful names up here) at 2,312m, and just after that, we reached Yakou guesthouse (埡口山莊), which wasn’t much of a guest house at all. We didn’t know that, though, and it was raining pretty hard by now, so we decided to go there for some warm food and a hot drink. Closed, but we managed to get the attendant to sell us some paomian, my first in about several years, which we gulped down before heading out in the rain again.yakou3.jpg The 3 km ride from Yakou up to Daguanshan is the steepest part of the whole ride, reaching roughly an average 10 percent slope, quite hard when you have 30 kilometers or so of uphill in your legs. At the Daguanshan pass we had our photos taken by some other car people to prove that we were actually there. It had stopped raining, but with the thick fog, there was still water in the air.
Having reached the highest point, we were looking forward to a long and relaxing ride downhill, at times reaching speeds of 50km/h and more. I hit 52.5km/h. Can’t go any faster than that with the sharp twists and turns in the road, but then 50km/h is pretty good speed. After 30 km, we reached a section with a few kilometers of mixed terrain, but then it was downhill again. We had planned on reaching Baolai (寶來), but quite some time before Meishan (梅山) it began to really pour down. It was pitch black by now, and there was no way to see if there were any holes in the road, which is common due to the rocks and stones and pieces of mountain that fall down when it has been raining a lot for a long time. We saw how rocks kept falling off the mountain on the other side and how the protective railing had been pushed off the road or had huge bends put in them by falling rocks. Some mud stays on the road making it slippery when it rains, especially when you’re on a road bike with thin wheels. We decided to stay in Meishan, where we checked in at the youth activity center (梅山青年活動中心).Vandrarhemmet Without an argument they let us bring our bikes into the room, which eliminated the risk of theft.
In the evening, we ate at a restaurant run by an extended Aboriginal family from the bunun and paiwan tribes. The place had character to say the least. They mixed the dishes up, and when they were out of something, they just gave us something else. When they were done, two of the women came over with some clear homebrewed rice wine – good stuff – which they called water in their glasses. We now understood the reason for the erratic serving – they already had a lot of water to drink. The paiwan chef asked if I was of the “Amerika-tribe,” to which I replied “No, I’m North Europe-tribe.” That worked too, so we toasted.Mirror Then they toasted the others, and after another several rounds of toasts, the paiwan woman shouted “Close the place up” and ordered yet another round of beer. That may have been the moment when it was decided that we should take our leave. Be careful when drinking with Aboriginal women. Restaurant, beer and water notwithstanding, the evening ended with some light conversation over a bottle of xiaomilu in our room.

There’s a 1.7km climb from Lidao to Daguanshan Yakou pass (大關山埡口) at 2,722m. Yakou guesthouse (埡口山莊) is only open to reservations. Motian (摩天) at kilometer mark 171 is followed by a couple of kilometers of level road, so you can rest as you go. The last 3km from Yakou to the pass are the steepest part of the road. The road after the pass goes downhill for 30km before it levels out and then continues downhill again. We did 71km in five hours, an average of 14.8km/h. We stayed at the Meishan Youth Acticity Center (梅山青年活動中心) for NT$2,000 per room.

Day 3, Nov 8
It’s 30 km from Meishan to Baolai,baolai.jpg mostly but not all down hill, and the last 10km were probably more up than down. After second breakfast in Baolai following good Hobbit tradition, we continued through the beautiful green rolling hills alongside the Laonong River (荖農溪) down to Laonong (荖農) where the road split and we stopped to buy some fresh, juicy wax apples from a group of local women sorting their harvest, before sticking to road 20 toward Chiahsien (甲仙) and then down to Tainan. After Laonong, there was 5km of uphill road before another long ride downhill to Chiahsien, again breaking through the 50km barrier, topping 55km/h.
After two days almost without a single bus, truck, car or motorcycle, traffic increases after Baolai, and 50km later in Chiahsien we were back in civilization again. Traffic and pollution only got heavier the closer we got to Tainan, where we arrived around 5pm after 109km on the road.
In Tainan, we went straight to the railway station to pick up the bike bags. We then decided to stay the night rather than go straight back to Taipei – I hadn’t been there for 17 years, and H had never been there at all, so it was an easy decision. The tourist information at the railway station gave us a hotel a short walk away – rooms for NT$970 per night. After a shower, we went for traditional Taiwanese fare at Chihkan Danzaimian (赤崁擔仔麵).tainanfood.jpg The evening ended with a stroll down to the Confucius temple, past a movie theater with huge hand painted posters advertising the latest Bruce Willis and Harry Potter movies – a dying art form that seems to be alive and well in Tainan. The temple closed as we got there, so we had some juice and shaved ice with fruit at a famous fruit bar across from the temple instead.

30km from Meishan to Baolai (寶來), the last ten with a lot of uphill. Laonong (荖農) is followed by 5km of uphill road. Most of the 65-70 km from Chiahsien (甲仙) to Tainan is urban and industrial sprawl with heavy traffic and pollution. We did 109km in 9 hours, with about 5.5 hours of actual biking at an average speed of 20.3km/h. Al in all, we did 219km from Chishang to Tainan, giving an overall average speed of about 16km/h. In Tainan, we stayed at Guang Haw Hotel (光華商務大飯店) on Beimen Rd Sec 1, #155, 06-2263171-4 for NT$970 per room. Lousy breakfast, but cheap, clean and close to the railway station.

Dag 3+1, Nov 9

Facts With our bikes in the bags, we took a couple of taxis to the high speed rail station outside Tainan to catch the 300km/h 8:53 back to Taipei. NT$1,541 per person poorer and 1 h 45 min later we were back in Taipei. There was ample luggage space in each car to store the bikes on the train.


The view from the Yakou pass at 2,722 m above sea level

If you want to do this tour, I recommend finding a place somewhere before Chiahsien to bag your bikes and hop on a bus down to Tainan or Kaohsiung. Kilometer after kilometer going through polluted urban and industrial environments isn’t something to look forward to, in particular since it kills that fantastic feeling you have after having climbed almost 3,000m high mountains on your bike breathing clear, fresh mountain air and having had an extraordinary experience. It is a pity to end that with the memory of urban pollution.
Still, anyway you do it is good, as long as you do it. It was a beautiful ride, and it is a great feeling to stop along the road to enjoy the views, get something to drink or buy some fruit and sit down with the people selling it for a few minutes.
Total relaxation. So total, in fact, that after returning to Taipei, I found it more difficult than normal to start working again after a holiday.

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1 comment to From the Pacific Ocean to the Taiwan Straits in three days

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