Tai-winding down

After a week of chilling up North, a week of chilling down South, and a week of chilling on the Farm, Mingyu and I decided we’d like to give the mountains of Taiwan a chance to kick our asses.  The plan: Taipei -> Sun Moon Lake, supposedly one of Taiwan’s top sights -> Wuling Pass, the highest road in Taiwan and South East Asia at 3,250 meters -> Taroko Gorge, another top sight -> Hualian coastal highway, to which I’d already been -> back home.  One week, 600km, a total altitude gain (and loss) of 12000m. Such was the plan.
Day 1: Cycle all day, some 100km, stopping only for lunch and dinner buffets.  In the evening, we went searching for a temple, only to run into a realtor with an unoccupied fixer-upper that he let us sleep in.  Better yet, he and his wife treated us to a trip to a hot spring sauna – just what one’s posterior needs after eight-plus hours on the saddle.
The next morning, his daughter took us out for breakfast.  Turns out the guy was running for some sort of office.  He’s got my vote, for sure.
Day two: more endless riding, though not quite as much as the day before since the sauna had sapped all our energy.  In the evening we pulled up at a fire station to ask if there was a temple nearby.  Eventually, one officer coughed up that they had an empty guest room that we could stay in.
After a bit of chatting about our journey and our planned route, “Sean” and “Sam,” the self-proclaimed “friendliest firefighters” in Taiwan, popped the question…”So, do you wanna try on the suits or what?”
“Well…I mean…no…I couldn’t…that wouldn’t be right…I mean…taxpayer money and all…you sure it’s ok?…really?  HELL YEAH!  Gimme a weapon too!”
They even treated us to a six-pack of beer and some deep-fried shrimp and anchovies.  Not to mention noodles the next morning and a trinket to remember them by.
Mingyu bought a new camera body when he got to Taiwan.  Lucky for me, it wasn’t compatible with his old lens.  I bought both of them off him at a very nice discount.  In fact, all I had to do was promise to pay him via bank transfer.  Can you say…SUCKER!!!
The following day, up and over a minimountain on the way to Sun Moon Lake.  See if you can tell which pictures are mine and which are Mingyu’s.
OK, nevermind about that guessing thing.
We reached the lake, at 762m altitude, just before sunset on day 3.  Mingyu’s reaction: “The one in Huangzhou was better.”  My reaction: “Jesus my thighs hurt.”
Off one of the main roads, we found two wooden gazebos to protect our tents from the rain. We also found this utility closet, where we stashed our stuff so we could ride around the lake unencumbered. This was actually Mingyu’s idea – I think my vagabonding is wearing off on him.
I thought the lake would be in some remote national park area.  Nope. Turns out there were several little towns around its perimeter, complete with night markets and street food.  Mercifully, no stinky tofu.
 To my left: fried taro cakes and a shiitake dumpling.  To my right: peanuts and a few not-quite-apples. straight ahead: boardwalk.
I retired to my tent to read, Mingyu laid outside looking up at the stars and waited for the clouds to disperse.
An hour later, he got the shot that he wanted.  This is while I’ll never be the photographer that he is.
The part of me obsessed with measuring and logging wanted to ride the 30km loop around the lake, but trees obscured the views for most of it, so we opted for a stroll instead. Down off one of the trails we played around on some abandoned boats.
The forest was full of all these little ferns. This one looks to me like a boxer getting ready to pummel someone with all twenty-or-so fists.
That afternoon, we coasted back down into the town of Puli, wandered around town for an hour looking for a buffet (probably burning more calories in the process than we took in at the meal), then headed for the hills where we saw this temple sitting.
Except…surprise!  It was still under construction.  Beggars can’t be choosers.  Actually we weren’t the only ones sleeping there – six or seven members of the construction crew were also living at the temple, sleeping in tents or on the floor.
On the way home the next day, I stopped at an intersection to look at a map.  Mingyu zipped by me, apparently looking for a shadier place to take a break. One minute later, I looked up and he was gone.  I rode on for about twenty minutes, cursing him for being so finicky about the dust and for being such a jerk as to not even wait for me to catch up. Then I passed a bridge, asked the cop on duty if Mingyu had passed by, and figured out that I was actually the one in front.  I then did what any good friend would do: proceeded onward to the nearest buffet and stopped for lunch.
When Mingyu still didn’t show up, I decided the next best thing was to head to the train station.  I emailed Mingyu telling him where I was (he didn’t have a phone), and planned to just chill in the lobby, until a cop noticed me limping and told me there was a doctor’s office.
They day before I had taken a spill while crossing some wet, moldy, slimy, slippery cement tiles.  Luckily I had only been riding at about 1 km/h, but even so my left knee and knee-pit swelled up pretty big.  I could hardly even bend the knee.  Double-luckily, all 20km of the ride that afternoon were downhill.
So, I chilled with the nurse (named “Tako.  She gave an sigh of non-amusement when I mentioned the Mexican food..) for a few hours, relating the story of Mingyu’s betrayal and the five months of bicycle travel leading up to it.  She went back and forth between talking to me and calling her friends to say “Hey, there’s a foreigner here and he’s speaking Chinese!” and uploading pictures of me to Facebook.
Next door were some military officers who popped by to chat.  My inner mooch vibrations struck a cord (chord?) with one, who went to the cafeteria to bring me back a dinnerbox.  No meat, no trash!  nice!
After five hours of waiting unsuccessfully for Mingyu, I packed up and headed out.  Refused by one temple and one police station, I finally found this tiny temple and set up camp out back.
The next day, I woke up at 6AM to a crowd of middle-aged women learning to dance to “Oppa Gangnam Style.”  Unfortunately, my knee was still sore.  Not joining their lesson probably qualifies as my biggest regret of this trip.
Thanks to the early start, I had passed the 100km mark by early afternoon.  Mingyu and I had originally planned to arrive in Taipei the following night, but I didn’t particularly feel like stopping.  Weird how stopping to find a place to sleep feels like more of a nuisance than riding an extra 70 or so kilometers.
As night fell, the city lit up and the traffic got heavier.  What had been a pretty serene, even boring afternoon ride through the countryside suddenly turned into a 3.5-hour prolonged adrenaline rush.  Yeahhhh for chemicals!
Only once I was close enough to recognize the road home did I stop to take a couple of photos.
I finally got home at about 11:30, only to find Mingyu already home and alseep on the floor.  Having bought a beer for each of us.  Having already drank his.  And having also drank half of mine.  Total distance covered: nearly 200km!  And at the end, I wasn’t even wiped out!
The next night: a nice home-cooked meal with the family.  Here again are Awi and Uncle.  There is no end to their kindness.
Case in point: Uncle broke out the 25-year old ginseng liquor for Mingyu’s goodbye dinner.  120-proof and full of herbal goodness.
“Brother,” whose name I still haven’t mastered.
That evening, we packed Mingyu and Hwa-in’s bicycles into big boxes, which we took the next morning to the airport.  After some minor complications, both were on their way – Hwa-in to a tiny mountain town in South Korea, temperature -25C (-13F); Mingyu to Kuala Lumpur, temperature 35C (95F).  I’m not sure who I’d rather be. Oh wait, me!  Here in Taiwan it was an oh-so-perfect 25C (77F) today.
Nonetheless, the visa clock is ticking.  The travel itch is also in need of scratching – this feels like about the tenth time I’ve visited Taipei.  I know the city well enough that on the bus back from the airport, I overheard the name (in Chinese!) of one of the subway stations, pulled up a map in my head, realized that the station was between my home and the bus’s final destination, popped off the bus early, hopped on the metro, and saved myself a good hour of public transit. I also know which markets are open at night, which ones are open in the morning, where to find humus, where to get my bike fixed…this can only mean one thing: it’s time to get disoriented again.
So, back to China it is!  ETA 1-Week.  Next up: Guangdong (Canton) province, Hong Kong, Zuhai, Macao…with people to mooch off of already lined up.  Woohoo!
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3 Responses to Tai-winding down

  1. knee licker says:

    Great post. How’s the knee?

  2. Mike says:

    I’ve been off the bike for nearlya week now, so it’s getting better slowly but surely. Too bad you’re not here to do work your magic…

  3. lee knicker says:

    I’m curious which you wrote first: “to do your magic” or “to work your magic.”