Saturday, June 15, 2013

Eastern Taiwan: Cycling to Hot Springs!

Caution, we have “cycling geek speak” (CGS) in this blog posting, so that we can share the details of our great adventure with others who may be searching the internet for info about how to do a similar trip. We will note these sections by starting with “CGS.

After checking the weather forecast and seeing that rain was likely, we had a few second thoughts. Was it folly to think we could ride rented bikes for 250 miles over four days, in a country we had only been in for a week, carrying our essential gear, and handle being wet from rain? We decided to triple bag our gear and go for it! Here's everything we took with us.

We rented Giant road bikes from the Hualien local Giant dealer located at 213 Linsen Rd. The shop was owned by a very friendly husband and wife team who spoke a little English. The bikes we rented were in great shape and had panniers for our gear. The owner put on our SPD pedals and swapped seats so Kristina would have a women’s saddle. We carried two extra tubes, a patch kit and 2 CO2 cartridges. In retrospect, we should have brought more CO2 cartridges or a pump – see Day 4 notes below.

Day 1: Hualien to Antong Hot Springs 
Here we are at our hotel in Hualien, packed up and ready to go.

CGS. We got great info from Michael Turton’s blog at (see "The View from Taiwan" & "Taiwan Cycles"). Michael is an avid cyclist who is passionate and knowledgeable about Taiwan. He emailed with us and answered our questions about riding. Based on his input we decided to start via Hwy 193, which is the inland route. We encountered almost no traffic for the 6 hours it took us to ride 63 miles (102 Km). There was just over 5,000 ft (1,663 M) of climbing. There were road side stands selling drinks and fruit all four days of our trip, but we were glad we had carried extra water because on today’s ride the shops were quite far apart.

The scenery was lush and green with lots of agriculture, and we passed many rice fields that were ready for harvesting.


We startled these egrets that were foraging for rice that had fallen from the stalks during harvesting.

We crossed a number of bridges on our ride. As you can see, the riverbed is mostly dry. That would change dramatically in two days.

The country road was idyllic, and we saw Golden Rain trees in full bloom. (We had seen these in Thailand and Vietnam, too.) 

We planned our trip to end each day of cycling at hotels that were hot spring resorts. Many times the thought of soaking in the tubs at the end of the ride kept us motivated to keep pedaling! We loved Antong's outdoor pools, and the sulphur smell reminded us of Tassajara hot springs back home.

Day 2: Antong to Zhiben Hot Springs
At the start of the ride we climbed under sunny skies today. It was hot and humid, with the combined heat index about 110 degrees for most of the day.

CGS. Our original plan was to go back to Hwy 9 and then take Hwy 23 to the coast, but yesterday's effort had taken its toll on our legs and we needed a flatter and shorter route. So we chose to continue east from Antong on Hwy 30 to take us out to the coast. Hwy 30 has a 600 foot (200 Meter) climb up to a tunnel that is 1.5 miles miles long (2.6 km). The tunnel had lights and was fairly wide inside; there was very little traffic and we felt completely safe.

Into and down the long tunnel we rolled, enjoying the coolness.

Pete is after the end of the tunnel and still high on the mountain.

We coasted down to sea level, enjoying beautiful ocean views like this for most of the day.

This is sculpture is made of driftwood. We saw several others along our route.

Tender coconut juice has electrolytes, which helped us handle the heat. We stopped several times along the road where they were sold.

CGS. We rode Hwy 11, which had a scooter/bike lane and wide shoulder for most of it. Traffic was light. We rode 67 miles (108 Km) and climbed 2,681 feet (935 M). The heat made us take extra breaks, so for 4.5 hours of riding we had 7.25 hours of elapsed time.

As we rode into Taitung city we saw dragon boats racing. We quickly changed course so we could get a closer look. The Dragon Boat Festival is part of the second largest holiday in Taiwan called Duan Wu, which takes place on the fifth day of the fifth Chinese lunar month and is close to the summer solstice. The races were happening all afternoon with many different teams competing, and we could feel the excitement of the crowd.


We continued through Taitung to Zhiben. This photo was taken from the balcony of our room at the hot springs resort after we had showered and donned the complementary robes. We loved the fact that we could wear the robes to the hot tubs and to dinner too!

Day 3: Zhiben to Antong
We awoke to rain, so we were leisurely over breakfast. When the rain cleared we took this photo from our balcony.

But the rain quickly resumed and continued for most of the next two days. The rain had the effect of cooling it down to a more comfortable, but still warm temperature. And it didn't stop other cyclists from riding - we saw lots of other riders on the last two days of our tour.

We rode through more agricultural areas but instead of rice there was a new crop dominating: this is a type of custard apple called Buddha head fruit. The fruit won't be ripe for another month or two, and then dozens of road side stands will be open selling them. Instead we bought cookies made from the dried fruit. We dubbed them “Buddha newtons”.


It's easier to get a flat tire when it's raining since debris gets stuck to the tires. Here Pete is changing the tube in Kristina's rear tire, which had been punctured by a thorn.

CGS. Today's ride was north on Hwy 9. There was more traffic but the scooter/bike lane and wide shoulder were present for most of the ride. We rode 62 miles (100 Km) and climbed 3,651 feet (1,186 M). We were surprised by how much head wind we encountered; We took turns pulling and drafting each other.

Day 4: Antong to Hualien

We went back out to the coast to complete our "figure eight" route.

 We saw and heard birds as we rode each day, including drongos, mynas, magpies and bulbuls. During a break in the rain we saw this majestic Serpent Crested Eagle.

Kristina is near the Tropic of Cancer. We saw lots of marble sculptures along the coast, since marble is so plentiful here. This is actually the marker between two coastal counties, Hualien and Taitung. (We rode by the marker at the Tropic of Cancer in the rain, but it was behind construction fencing, hence no photo!)

The rain was heaviest this day, reminding us of a previous cycling tour in Alaska where we rode for 80 miles in a continuous rain from Cooper Landing to Homer. Luckily it's much warmer here! We stopped at Baxiandong, the vagina cave, where we saw over 100 Kuan Yen statues in front of the cave. Kuan Yen is the Boddhisattva of Compassion.

We took cover under a tree to eat some Buddha newtons and bananas. We got a good look at this temple that was under construction. The temple is made of concrete, and later will be adorned with roof tiles and roof sculptures.

We climbed up through consistent drizzle. The rain stopped briefly and we captured this stunning view of Jici Beach.

CGS. We rode Hwy 30 to the coast, then went north on Hwy 11. Hwy 11 in this direction had the most traffic and the least amount of dedicated scooter/bike lane. We were passed by over 100 tour buses, and while the drivers didn't get too close, there wasn't enough of a shoulder for us to feel comfortable. There were five tunnels today, and four were very close together. The hairiest part of the ride was when buses would pass us in the tunnels. Interestingly we saw about 50 other cyclists on Hwy 11, all heading the other direction. Kristina got another flat. We only had enough CO2 cartridges to inflate the tire once, but the first time we didn't have the tire seated properly and resulted in a sidewall bulge. We rode really slowly and nervously to the next town where the Police station had a cyclist rest stop (which are very common and are always on the main road through a town). Much to our relief, we were able to deflate and successfully re-inflate the tire! Today's ride was 71 miles (115 Km) with 4,301 feet (1,411 M) of climbing.

We arrived in Hualien, drenched and dirty but exuberant with our accomplishment. Kristina's gloves had failed under the wet conditions, staining her hands and fingernails black. But it was a small price for the fantastic experience of riding for four days along Taiwan's beautiful eastern coast!