Cycling around Taiwan: Days 1-9

Taiwan didn’t make it easy for us beginners, throwing in tons of rain and the coldest day since 10 years.

Got no time to read everything? Just watch the video below!

Day 1: A slow start

Taiping, Taichung City to Liyutan Reservoir, Miaoli County40.5 km

We started a bit late, by the time we were on the road it was already close to 12 pm. It was for the better, as the showers that had been around all morning subsided and the sun got out later in the day.

On our way out we stopped by 185 Warehouse who built my bicycle. We took some pictures together and they even cleaned my brakes. I highly recommend them.

We left Taichung on the fantastic bicycle trail along the Han river towards Fengyuan, before joining Highway 3, which would be our home for the next 100 or so kilometres. It was good cycling although our lack of training became apparent as soon as we climbed some hills. It felt fantastic to be finally doing this after all the preparation we have done!

After around 40 km we reached the Liyutan reservoir. Even though we were short of our target, the woods around it looked like a beautiful camping spot to me. We asked some locals for permission and were suggested to camp in the elementary school instead.

It turned out school holidays just started, which was awesome news for us – we could use schools all over the island as free campsites with proper toilets during our entire trip!

The local boy who showed us the way later came by again to bring us water and some snacks, which overall gave us a good sleep. Only slightly disturbed on my side by cat that would meow loudly while walking around our tent…

Day 2: Getting better at covering distances

Liyutan Reservoir, Miaoli County to Zoudong, Hsinchu County69 km

As we packed up the local teachers noticed us, but wanted nothing more than a few photos and wishing us good luck on our trip. Incredibly nice people.

Our only mission for the day was to follow Highway 3. What a good choice that was! The road leads away from the big cities of western Taiwan through the mountains, never climbing too steeply. Traffic is so light that we often didn’t see a single vehicle for minutes, while the road has four lanes all the way. Cars generally used the inner lane so we had the outer lane to ourselves, save for the occasional scooter.

People along the way were frequently encouraged us by shouting “Jiayo!” (“Give your best” or “Keep going”) and a farmer even handed Yuily some Mandarins after seeing her sign and flag.

I suggested in the morning to do 70 km that day, and that’s what we just about did, stopping in the town Zuodong, Hsinchu county. We went to a local elementary school to ask for permission to camp, but we were told to sleep in their conference room instead. What a luxury. Perfect timing as well, as a major downpour started and continued all night.

Day 3: Taiwan’s trial by water

Zuodong, Hsinchu County to Taoyuan City52.5 km

Looking at the weather forecast the previous night already indicated it, it still rained hard that morning and it wasn’t going to stop. Additionally, a cold front approached Taiwan which meant the temperatures would be falling as the day progressed. Cold winds usually come from the north, which happened to be where we were going. Rain, cold and headwinds. Lovely.

Luckily we had seen this cold weather incoming a few days ago, so Yuily messaged a few friends in the area if they could host us. A positive reply came from Taoyuan, about 50 km away. It seemed manageable.

Before setting off the school’s principal happened to step into the conference room, surprised to find us there. But truly Taiwanese, he only had smile and curiousity for us, and gave us a parting gift of some fruit and candy. I hope we don’t get too used to the kind of hospitality we get here, we might get spoiled.

After a few rough km we already noticed that the rain was easily soaking our “waterproof” gloves, Yuilys rainjacket and my shoes. We lost body temperature through those places and had to stop frequently to unfreeze ourselves. At one of these stops a local woman talked to us and bought us some local dumplings – an unexpected lunch.

Later as the temperature dropped below 7°C it got very tough. After taking my hands out of my gloves to check directions on my phone, I couldn’t put them back in as I lacked strength, feeling and movement (I have bad circulation in my hands). I quickly cycled on without gloves to find the next place where I could warm my hands. Luckily just around the corner, people were burning paper money, a common ritual in Taiwan for ancestors, called “Baibai”. We excused ourselves to warm our hands there, which the people completely understood and encouraged.

We had to keep on cycling as Yuily started shivering pretty badly. Even though we were within 10 km of our destination, those were pretty rough as we lost the feeling in our extremities again and again. After we arrived we embraced a glorious heater and hot shower in our hosts place. Heavy rain, cold and headwind, it seemed we passed the cyclists trial by fire (or better: water). But I wouldn’t be so sure if we would’ve had to camp that night…

Day 4: So cold we could see snow

Taoyuan City to Taipei City39.2 km

We left our hosts place pretty late, knowing that we had less than 40 km to go to Taipei, mostly along fantastic bicycle paths. The rain had subsided, but the cold was still in full swing, as I had to keep my fingers and toes moving within my gloves.

The cold temperatures had a great effect though: The mountains around Taipei were actually covered in snow! This was incredible as the only places in Taiwan that can hope for snow are usually above 3000 meters, but today, the coldest day Taiwan had since 10 years, the snow line was as low as 500 meters. A kind of winter wonderland that you only see in temperate climates normally.

Cycling into many big cities is usually a precarious affair, but not so for Taipei. A beautiful bicycle path along a riverside lead us towards the city and within it we were able to use the super-wide pavements with bicycle lanes marked on them. Only crossing a bridge was slightly hairy as we had to share the lane with scooters.

We made it to our hosts place after dark. Yuki is an avid bicycle tourer herself, having traveled for two years around the southern hemisphere. We owe a lot of our knowledge to her as she helped us to prepare for our trip.

We decided to have a rest day here to take care of some things and continue our journey on Tuesday.

Day 5: Rest day in Taipei

20 km unloaded

We got some electronics on our day off here and visited a friend. We used our bicycles to do this and further enjoyed the great cycling infrastructure.

It was still a cold day, but it (strangely) got a lot warmer by night as we returned.

Day 6: Loop around Mt. Yangmin

Taipei City to Ruibin, New Taipei City via North Coast104.7 km

Another friend close Keelung agreed to host us that night. We had two options here: Go the direct way of just about 40 km or via the North Coast around Yangminshan, over 90 km, most of which would be very scenic. Combined with the facts that we were well rested and it would be a warm, sunny day, we felt up for the challenge.

We left Taipei via excellent riverside bicycle paths all the way to Damsui before keeping on highway 2. It was mostly fantastic. There was a bit more traffic on the road than what I would have liked and my rear derailleur kept dropping the chain, but the scenery more than made up for it. We even found some time visiting the northernmost point in Taiwan, knowing that that detour would push our distance over 100 km for the day and had us arriving in the dark.

People kept encouraging us and asking us about our trip. Touring around Taiwan is not uncommon, but Yuily often mentioned our extended plan of touring the world for three years, which often left them in amazement.

We pushed on after Keelung and rode the last 5 km to our hosts place in complete darkness. We were welcomed with a home cooked dinner and spent a great evening with old and new friends.

We didn’t think we would pass the magical daily 100 km distance so soon in the trip. While it was a great achievement, we both agreed that we are fine with less, like 70 km, leaving us with more time to enjoy places.

Day 7: Crawling along the North Coast

Ruibin, New Taipei City to Maoan, New Taipei City35.2 km

We originally planned to head to Toucheng that day, about 70 km away along the coastline, where we could stay in another friends place. It seemed like an easy task, but there were numerous hurdles.

We didn’t get going until 10:30 because we enjoyed the time with our hosts so much. There were also numerous attractions on the way. Cycling into the first few km we noticed a ferocious wind, strong enough to almost blow us off the street, coming from the south. Unusual, since it usually blows from the north this time year, which is what I expected. I brought the news to Yuily that we might not make it to Toucheng if we kept sightseeing, so we made the quick decision to split the journey into two days, staying somewhere along the way.

While the scenery was spectacular, this road was unfortunately the main highway for trucks heading to the east of Taiwan. This, combined with the wind made cycling quite stressful and scary. We took many breaks, including a small hike recommend by our host.

We were very happy for a bicycle lane to appear in Fulong. Around 4 pm we located a nearby elementary school and made camp. I looked at the weather forecast and had good and bad news for the next day: The good: The wind would turn. The bad: a much higher chance of rain.

Day 8: The last of the coast for a while

Maoan, New Taipei City to Toucheng, Yilan County36 km

The forecast for the rain held true, but not the one for the wind. Luckily we still had our bicycle lane which saved us from the worst. We managed to visit the cape lighthouse and enjoyed the scenic coastline. The rain stopped after a while which made things more pleasant.

Given our short distance, we arrived in Toucheng much too early for our host to receive us. We enjoyed riding the few bicycle trails the city had and its small old town. Also, we stocked up in a supermarket for the next few days as we would take remote mountain roads. After settling in, we went to sleep early as I figured from the forecast that only the next morning will remain dry before continuous downpours in the afternoon.

Day 9: Beating the rain and positioning ourselves for the mountiains

Toucheng, Yilan County to Songluo, Yilan County40.2 km

We got up an hour later than planned, but still early enough to get a head start on the rain. We made good ground quickly as there were much less photo opportunities in the Yilan farmland and before noon arrived in Songluo, which is the last sizeable village before highway 7 becomes a remote, winding mountain road.

Just as we went to the local elementary school, the downpour started. After waiting for over an hour and being invited to tea and rice wine by the teachers, it became apparent that it was not going to stop. Even though we could cycle in this, the increasing altitude would make things colder and, having to wild camp, very hard to dry our stuff. So we made the decision to camp right there.

We had a lot of time on our hands now, which Yuily used to take a nap while I checked my bicycle. I re-aligned my derailleur and my brake pads which I messed up around day 3. Not all very successfully, but it’s a learning experience. We were going to climb the mighty mountains of Taiwan from tomorrow on!

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