Day 8 definitely merits the above quote from the Aeneid, known in the original as “Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit.” I’ve been looking for one to use this on, and I thought it was going to be one of those sun-baking days, but today definitely takes the cake so far. This quote is a good reminder that even the worst of times will be pleasing to look back on one day. And biking in the rain and mud is definitely something it’s going to take some time and perspective to look at with an unbiased eye! Here’s to Day 8.
Day 8/9: Ruisui to Jiaoxi (84 km?)
Today was a rainy, sodden mess that took me forever to get out of my clothes and shoes. I’ll be wearing some of the grime from the East Rift Valley forever, it feels. When we started off in Ruisui this morning, it was in the fine drizzle. I was wearing a dry short-sleeve jersey with long arm coverings and Steve’s rain-resistant jacket over it all. But by the end of our first 20 km, it wasn’t rain-resistant anymore. In fact, it’s not a breathable jacket, so between the rain and the sweat, everything was soaked by our first stop. I was horrified, but fortunately, we had some spare clothing tucked away in our bag. I switched to another shirt, and put on a yellow rain poncho, and kept that for the remainder of the morning.
Riding in the rain is basically the most unpleasant thing. If you’ve got sunglasses, it fogs things up and makes it hard to see. If you don’t have guards on the rear wheel, it throws up mud and grit that gets into your gears and your back and even your helmet. When trucks and large vans pass by, they emit a fine mist behind them of nasty stuff that you inevitably breathe in unless you’ve got a wet headscarf over your mouth which is its own form of torture. And the rain is usually accompanied by wind. In this case, it was a healthy headwind that was taking at least 7 if not 10 kmph off my speed. I was severely irked. By the time we stopped for our second stop, everyone’s shins and knees looked like they had been sprayed with concrete. We actually took a fun picture of all of those muddy, dirty shoes. I washed them tonight, of course, but now have some real doubt about whether they’ll make it in the future. At the rest stops, they wouldn’t even let us have a proper rest, because if you cooled down too much, it would be dangerous, and we were likely to catch a cold. To round it all up, we were trying to catch a train. We made it the epic 73 km or so to Hualien Station with only about 15 minutes to spare.
On the train, we had gotten a whole train car to ourselves. On one side, we put all our bikes. On the other side, the mainland Chinese bunch elbowed us out of most of the seats, so we took a seat on the floor (not that our muddy, dirty butts minded very much), and enjoyed our lunchboxes of charcoal-roasted chicken and veggies very thoroughly. It took about 90 minutes for us to go from Hualien to Yilan. This trip was because the Su’ao Tunnel is the only road connecting these two cities, and it’s notoriously difficult and dangerous, even for proper vehicles, not like our bikes. So they didn’t chance it, and just had us train it, which was a different way of seeing the eastern shore. Finally, we got off in Yilan, and had a leisurely 10 km bike ride to the hotel where we were staying in Jiaoxi.
Tonight was our third night of hot springs and last. It was also our last dinner together as a group. We’ve generally sat together every meal: the three Californians and their Canadian cousin, Debi, the Scottish lady from Beijing, a husband and wife from LA, and two Taiwanese ladies who came separately but room together, and of course, me. I proposed hot pot, which is NO surprise to anyone who knows me, and we found a really great place just two doors down from the hotel. They let us bring in beer and liquor, and we enjoyed a fun night having dinner together. We talked about things we’d seen on the road today (a snake!!!), incidents that had happened (one of the girls biked straight into a tree, and it was captured on video), and how old everyone was. It turns out I’m the youngest in the group (though several women look way younger), and I also took a picture on the train with the oldest person in the group – a 72 year old man from Houston. He took the pic with me, and then laughed about how his younger son is older than me (I should hope so). We then walked around Jiaoxi buying a few presents for family and friends, ended up spotting some Singaporean friends from the road in a massage center, and generally enjoyed our last night out.
Tomorrow, we have 90 something km to still tackle. The grapevine says at least 5 km of uphills (though not all at once). We’re expecting some more drizzle and rain (which I am super dreading now), and we expect to be back in Taipei between 4 and 5 pm, tentatively. I’m really, really eager to see everyone at home, though it will be amazing enough to have finally made the trip. I’m going to be glad to not live out of this suitcase any longer, and will be sad to say goodbye to these new friends. And of course, to go back to work the day after!