Today was a long one, but we all made it! I’m limp with exhaustion and relief. I don’t have much else to say, so straight into it.
Day 4/9: Chiayi to Kaohsiung (127 km)
Today was the hottest and longest day on the trip so far. I hesitate to say anything with out putting “so far” behind it, because I’m encountering so many new things each day and learning so much that it’s probably a bad idea to make my stand on any particular impression. But it was certainly hot. It was a high of 28 degrees Celsius, and in the middle of our longer stretches (22 or 24 km), the guides forced us to stop at a certain time and take a few gulps of water before moving on. Many people ended up taking off their jackets and long-sleeved jerseys to get some relief from the heat, but other people including me stayed resolutely hidden underneath all the long coverings, with only our fingertips showing. If Southeast Asia has taught me anything, it’s that being covered up is counter-intuitively much, much cooler. I’ve been wearing sunblock everywhere, so I don’t have any exciting tan patterns yet, but it’s clear that overall, I’m getting a little more tan despite all these efforts. That’s perfectly fine – I just would prefer not to be perfectly bronzed by the time we get back to Taipei.
I think some people I told were impressed that I was going on this trip. It is a very long trip of nine days. It is certainly also a long distance of 910 km or just over 565 miles. But by the second day, I was thinking that pretty much most people I know who are physically active can do this. Why? Because even kids can bike. The physics of biking are that if you expend some effort to get up to a certain speed, it takes then less effort to stay at that speed. It’s way easy than jogging around, which never gets easier at any point. You have to keep moving actively or stop. But speaking of jogging, I think that if you can or have run a 5K (around 3 miles), then you can do this bike trip. The most difficult thing about the trip is persistence, which is much harder to access. When you face down an entire nine hours of biking throughout the day, you get intimidated. When you’re at your second rest stop after lunch and starting to feel all that rice you had, you are craving a nap. When you’ve been going through unending rice paddies or, worse, hit the third red light in less than 500 meters, you get frustrated and bored. It’s just like any other “difficult” thing. You just have to keep pedaling and keep going, and after nine days of biking, you’ve done it.
The important thing is that Giant has found a good way to counteract this. When you feel all these pressures, you may feel inclined to easily give in, but the truth is that you can’t, because you’re surrounded by all these people, the majority of whom are twice your age, who are killing it without complaining. That really makes it impossible for you to give in, short of an actual injury to your body. Add that to the fact that nobody here in Asia wants to lose face, and you’ve got a whole bunch of people racing each other to the next rest break. No one wants to be the last one in, sweating and slowly biking your way to the top of the hill, while everyone else eats a banana and watches you. From a nicer perspective, we can support each other. We update each other at stop lights about how many km are left, and exhort each other to keep going and keep pedaling. The group really makes a real difference, and I’m glad that I could do this trip with so many new friends.
I really want to go to bed soon, but I have to give a shout out thus far to our guides. Giant has done an amazing job making this event happen. Every morning, a staff member guides us through our warm-ups and stretches while other staff members load the vans with our luggage. Then they brief us on exactly how many km we’re going through, how many hills and bridges we can expect, and remind us to stay single-file and to stay spaced out. When we set out, there are four people with us, one at the front and one at the end, with two in the middle, riding along the whole way. When we make a turn, there’s always someone standing there blowing the whistle in short bursts and directing us. When we stop at a rest area, the van’s already there with the back door up, snacks ready, and the music blaring. They refill the water as soon as it gets low, and next to the snacks, provide small bottles of sunscreen that are refilled so people can put on more. We even found today after people got sunburnt that they carry aloe vera gel. When your tire gets a hole, these guys patch it together right away. When it’s time to pull into the hotel, there’s someone guiding us down the parking lot ramp to the basement where they are directing us to the right corner to pile our bikes together, and then they guide us again through cool-down exercises before instructing us to come down for dinner an hour later. I know plenty of people do the round-the-island tour without a support van and these folks, but they are so experienced and take care of us so well that I feel free to enjoy the road and not worry about where I have to go. Consider this a ringing endorsement (so far) of Giant Bicycles as a travel agency!
Tomorrow, we’re headed for Hengchun, which is located near the southernmost point of the island. So it’ll be Day 5 when we will reach the bottom of the island, and then turn to start our trip back north. I’m excited to see the East Coast, but not as excited about the mountains. I’ll write more tomorrow about my theory about hills and physics too! Until then.