We’re returning to this blog with some exciting news. Connie, at least, is on the road again. Literally! This week, I am fulfilling a long-held dream of biking around the island nation of Taiwan. It’s spring break, and the weather is perfect – mid teens Celsius, nothing above 70 degrees. Steve’s going to take some more convincing that a 9-day bike trip with more than 100 kilometers a day is what he really wants to do, but even though I’ve never done a multiple-day bike trip before, I jumped in head first as I do with so much. You decide whether that’s a good thing or not.
Day 1/9: Taipei to Hsinchu (91 km)
This morning, I woke up right before 6 am, and we brought me in full riding gear and my luggage to Songshan train station. I arrived just after 7 am to greet 49 fellow riders and our crew, the Giant Bicycles Travel Agency. Giant is a Taiwanese company that is known the world over for their excellent bikes, and in Taiwan, they also run a travel agency which brings bike riding and touring trips to an art. We’re going around the island counter clock-wise, and in nine days, will rack up more than 950 kilometers. Meep.
So it’s been a long day, because I’m typing this at 10 pm. I feel less tired than I should be (especially in my legs), but I think that’s mostly because it’ll kick in all the next day. At times, I felt incredibly happy because I was flying along in the wind, reaching speeds of up to 35 or 40 km an hour, but when we reached the two hills that we climbed today, I felt like I wanted to die. So there have been ups and downs, literally though not accordingly. We made multiple rest-stops, one after the first hill where we met a local park dog who wagged his tail very hard when he saw our white van. Our driver told us that he’s excited to see the group every single week. After all, Giant runs this tour starting pretty much every single Saturday. I felt so humbled thinking about all the people who have gone around the island, and some of the folks on our tour have done it multiple times before. It makes me feel like I’m part of something bigger and makes it feel not as hard as it could be.
We took roads to Dadaocheng where we met the river, and biked on river paths until we got to Sanxia. The riverside paths were nice, but the roads were not as scary as I felt, because we have so many people with us – the drivers are on high alert the whole time they’re going past. For lunch we stopped at a fish restaurant, which kept live fish in concrete tanks near the parking lot, and they served us fish soup, fried fish, broiled fish, and fish fillets, and I’m sure I’m missing something else. There was exactly one dish of cabbages. Sounds like a pescatarian-specific meal? The fellow rider I got to know best (and sat next to during lunch) was Debbie, a Scottish lady with an accent so heavy that I initially thought she was from Eastern Europe or something of the sort. But no, she just grew up in Glasgow, and is now living in Beijing these days. I also met a trio of adult siblings from California by way of Hong Kong, a Canadian from Toronto who bubbled over with good cheer, as well as a couple from Los Angeles who were intending originally to go on a scooter trip around the island. And our table was rounded out by two Taiwanese people who mostly watched the entire lunchtime proceedings with bemusement as they had accidentally sat with the English table. That was pretty funny.
When Steve asked how the trip was going, I told him it was going to be easier and harder than I imagined. The reason why it’s easier is that Erin was right: when you have the right bike, you can go faster than 25 km/ an hour with no issue on flat ground. She gave me a lot of advice beforehand, and this is proving to be true! We’re on the rental bike Giant Rapid, which has 27 gears and probably only weighs 4 kg overall. It’s incredibly light. On the other hand, hills and mountains are pretty dreadful. I have never been forced to go up a gradual incline for as long as 7 km, and I’m sure it’s not going to be the hardest hill we encounter. Both times I was climbing hills, my chain actually slipped off, and I got some grease in my nails and hands trying to put that back together. I also end up at the back of the pack, and it’s still a work-in-progress to understand how all of this gear shifting and stuff works.
When we came flying down the second hill, we went past a number of beautiful rice paddies. The same slope that we were flying down made it naturally easy to irrigate these paddies, with the water from the higher ones flowing into the lower ones. I have no idea what time it is in the rice growing season here, but it looked green and fertile and very bucolic. The countryside was great, because there was very little going on. Our last stop, we had about 17 km before we got to our hotel in Hsinchu, and it took more than an hour because we struggled with lights and traffic the whole way. When we were heading out of Taipei, a woman on a scooter actually told the lady sitting sitting next to me at a stoplight that it was much safer to be riding on the riverside and that we should not do the roads. I wish I could see that woman’s face when we get on the freeway in the next few days! Not to end on a super sad note, but we saw a cat that had been hit by a car. Someone actually moved it off the road right before we went past, which I appreciate, but it was sad. RIght after that, we passed seemingly dozens of pet stores, juxtaposing scenery filled with brightly colored signs, lights, and food. It made me feel like it’s all too easy to become a casualty of the roadside yourself.
Enough thoughts. It’s time to get to bed. Morning call is at 6 am, and we will be off to Chiayi before I know it. More missives from the road to come.
P.S. I forgot to add that when I arrived in Hsinchu, Steve informed me I had forgotten my glasses in Taipei, so I had the singular pleasure of shopping for new frames and getting a new prescription and buying new glasses from Lohas Glasses in Hsinchu. Let’s put that in the unexpected expenses column, shall we? (On the bright side, they are cute, have red arms, and were my first pair of new glasses in like 6 years. Also, they were completed in half an hour.)