"Huandao" Complete

In which  I ride up Taiwan’s west coast, finish my circle of the island, and take my vagabonding to new heights…or perhaps new lows.

After Vipassanna the Fourth (which blew my mind, but is proving rather tough to write about), I whizzed back to my buddy Zaizai’s place in Kaoshiung.  Maybe it was the sunny weather, maybe it was the slight downhill slope of the road, or maybe it was my lightened heart and joy at returning to the external world; in either case, I enjoyed yet another blissful ride through the Taiwanese countryside.  Riding with no tent, no computer, and only two rear panniers, I made the 75km trek in 3hrs, 25 minutes.  (not counting a thirty minute papaya break)

After one day of lazing around at home and at the beach, where I met Taiwan’s top-ranked “Skimboarder,” Zaizai and I said our goodbyes.  This consisted of calling one another “dumbass” and “stupid” for the umpteenth time.  I think Buddha said something about it being good to retain the heart of a child.  I concur.

The first part of the first day gave me some more pleasant weather and a variety of interesting road signs.  For instance, the one above.  Permission to go on a little linguistics digression?
Check out the characters on the top line there.  First, you’ve got 木 (mu), a pictogram of a tree.  Then you’ve got the ideogram (or is this one also a pictogram?  hrm, a category basher!)  森 (sen), composed of one 木 on top and two on the bottom, which means forest.  Third is 林 (lin), another ideogram/pictogram, this time composed of two 木’s side by side.  It means woods, forest, grove.  So, we have a 木森林.  What could this mean? Wood forest grove?

Another interesting, if slightly less intellectually stimulating question: what does this sign mean, and what does money coming out of that guy’s ass crack (look closely!) have to do with it?  I asked my family for an explanation and managed to figure out that it was some sort of loan company.

Within a few hours the winds had picked up, sapping my energy and drawing out my inner vagabond.  Not that it needs any drawing out at this point.  How’s about a seaside nap on a bamboo bench with a shower sandal for a pillow?  If that sounds like a perfect afternoon to you, too, then maybe we can be friends.

The winds blew so hard that I had to put on my normal person clothes.  Of course, this cut my aerodynamicism in half, so that my already pathetic speed was reduced further, to under 10mph.
As I was hoping to make the 380km to Taipei in four days, this meant I had to ride well into the night. Which meant that I had to put on my third layer, and become even more blimpish, and even slower, and…ohhhhh my lord it was a draining experience.

On the bright side, I stopped at this restaurant in the middle of nowhere.  The owner (left) told me there were no veg options, but his buddy convinced him to whip up some stir-fried rice and veggie soup for me.  I am pretty sure they had been indulging in some beer or some betel nut before I arrived, because the one kept dancing and the other kept screaming at me.  In a friendly way.

The liked my story of having Fauxboed my way from northern China so much that they fed me for free, informed me of a campground nearby, and bid me adieu via karaoke.  The accompanying music video looked like some DIY snorkeling footage.  How do I get myself into such odd situations?

Unfortunately, this campground of theirs failed to materialize, so I wound up renegade camping in the back corner of some gardens belonging to a giant taoist temple.  After a noisy, windy, paranoid night, I woke up to more chilly weather, blustery winds, and a total absence of restaurants.  I finished my limited provisions, which consisted of a guava and handful of raw peanuts, and hit the road again.  Eventually I found this little town, where I managed to scrounge up some fried sweet potatoes, chow mein, and fried broad beans.

By now you may have noticed the conspicuous absence of landscape shots. It’s because the scenery was pretty uninspiring this whole time.  The mountains and rivers and banana groves from the mountain foothills had been replaced by overdeveloped wetlands, mostly standing water and roads and buildings as far as the eye could see.  I must have been asleep on my bike, because I woke up to the sounds of a police car pulling me over.  Provincial road 17, which is open to cyclists, had merged with highway 61, which isn’t, though the on-ramp doesn’t have any signs.  I had missed the first exit because it was poorly labeled, had missed the second because it was totally closed, and was heading for the third when he started using his siren on me.  I tried to beg clemency by telling him as much, but he was having none of it and asked to see my “passapoto,” so I started the slow and laborious process of undoing my bungees, removing my backpack, and digging to the bottom of my rear right pannier. I did all of this so slugglishly that before I had even finished step one, the cop gave up, wrote my name down on a piece of paper, and crept along behind me for the next 2km until I could get off the highway.  He was good-natured about the whole thing, and I managed to make out at the end that he said “I’m just protecting your safety.”

The day had taken all the fight out of me and I didn’t have the energy to camp, so I broke down and asked the boss of the little restaurant where I stopped for dinner (veg fried rice, again…) if there were any cheap hotels around.  He said I’d have to go another 10km, but then he got some idea and started scurrying around the street talking to people here and there.  Eventually he popped in his car, told me to follow him, and led me to this giant Taoist temple.  Apparently they have rooms!

The whole place was empty, so I had the entire third floor to myself.  Lights, electric sockets, blankets, a warm shower, and a water purifier.  If only all hotels were so simple – I don’t want to pay for TVs, beds, mini-fridges, in-room computers (ok,  I wouldn’t mind an internet connection), and fancy paint jobs.  I’d much rather save my money for one more kg of fruit or day on the road. For me, these “Miaos” are just about perfect.  The best thing? They rent out their rooms on a donation basis!  I shelled out three bucks, which wound up being the only time on my 11-day circuit of Taiwan that I paid for accommodation.

The following morning, the wind died down and the skies went from grey back to blue.  Everything seemed to be looking up.  In particular, come lunch time I meandered into the market area and stumbled upon a vegetarian buffet that only cost 40 NTD – the same price as my lame plate of fried rice the night before.  Afterwards, I bummed around the market to pick up the usual camping supplies: guavas, legumes, and some dried fruit.  I even got to bask in the admiration of two lovely lady fruit vendors, who swooned over my exploits (though not enough to give me a discount).  I embarked all smiles, until I looked down and noticed:

I’ve been hit by a smooth criminal!  Sometime while I was at the buffet, someone must have snuck up to my bike and stolen my clock/odo-/speed-ometer.  It’s a bit of a bummer, perhaps even more so because without stealing the little plate that’s attached to the bike, the little magnet that’s attached to my front spoke, and the little sensor attached to my front fork, the readout unit is completely useless.  So, the thief won’t even be able to use or sell the thing!  It’s probably already in a trash can somewhere.  Oh, humanity!  The tragedy and the comedy!   I rode for the rest of the day with a sort of phantom limb syndrome, looking down every so often to check my speed.  How long will  this habit will persist?

That evening, I snuck into “West Ocen (sic) Educational Sea World,” which I had previously found on a map of campsites in Taiwan.  I had planned to reach this place on my second night, but due to the aformentioned wind issues, it took me a full three days to get there.  I arrived after nightfall and kind of had to sneak in, but didn’t feel too concerned since a) the gate was open wide enough for my bike to slip through and b) the workers at the train station tourist info center had told me that I could sleep there for free.

Not only were there picnic tables and camping huts in the forest, there was a building with bathrooms and public (cold-water only) showers.  A few minutes of snooping around revealed this:

The second, third, and fourth characters say “please don’t enter,” but I couldn’t read the first one.  I know it looks a little something like the character for “chive.”  So, I’ve got plausible deniability on my side.

Turns out it was the janitor’s storeroom!  I plopped down my tarp and sleeping bag and had a grand old evening meditating and watching documentaries.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my tent, but why bother setting it up, taking it down, putting all my crap inside, waiting for the dew to dry off in the mornings, and trying to sleep through the wind’s attempts to lift me up and fly me off to Oz?

A concrete walkway out to the beach, with shower heads mounted every here and there.  Not bad.

Worried that someone might come and find me sleeping in the janitor’s closet, I woke up at five, did my morning meditation, and packed up and cleared out by 6:30.  After breakfast in the woods, I headed back to the exit…only to find myself locked in.  It wasn’t until 8:30 that the guardsman came to let me out.

My lord, this post is getting lame.  I rode again the next day.  All day.  It was about 140km to get home, which is much further than I like to go in a day, but I didn’t want to bother camping again and riding a paltry 40 or 50 the next morning.  Luckily, it was a straight shot along a mostly empty road, and the weather held up.  I started at 8:30, took about ninety minutes’ worth of lunch and snack breaks (including one photo op at a trash incineration facility), and got back to Taipei around six, knees burning and thighs quaking.  Whew!

I think I hit the mooch equivalent of a grand slam on this one.  Or perhaps a triple-double?  No-hitter? Perfect game?  Whatever the analogy, here are the stats:

Total days elapsed: 43
Days actually on the road: 11
Distance traveled: 1100ish km
Longest ride: 140km (first day and last day)
Shortest: 75km
Highest Elevation: 500ish m
Camps: 4
Couchsurfs: 2
Friends: 3
Hotels: 1
Turning a stranger’s pity into a free room for the evening: 1
Broken rear spokes: 2
Cash spent: just under $100

So, it must be about time for me to head back to China, right?  WRONG!  Now it’s time to take a break for the holidays, then do it all again now that Mingyu and his friend Hwa-in have arrived.  Hurrah!

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One Response to "Huandao" Complete

  1. Merry Christmas Shaky! I mapped the next couple years of your route for you. Now you don’t have to fret about where to go next!