Waves, Water, and Wind: Taitung to Hualien (The East Coast)

Day 1: Taitung — Shitiping

Monday, November 20, 2017
Distance: 63.7 mi / 102.5 km
Elevation: 3804 ft / 1159 m
Accommodation: Shitiping Campground

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Quite predictably, we started our first day late. Jetlag sucked Teresa into bed at 8pm the night before and woke her up at 2am while I half-woke around 4am and couldn’t shake loose the drowse until around 6am. By the time we ate, picked out and packed all our stuff under Teresa’s grandpa’s watchful gaze (not sure if he was just curious or secretly evaluating my suitability for his granddaughter based on my packing acumen), and sorted out phone issues (Teresa’s aunt lent us a phone with prepaid data), it was about 9:30am. We checked the time, said quick goodbyes and then hit the road – lots of pressure on that first clip-in when you’re being watched!

The first few miles along Provincial Highway 11 out of Taitung were filled with “We are actually doing this!” moments, as we felt years of imagining, planning, and prepping finally coming together. The route for the day was well-marked with brown Taiwan cycling route signs and road markers. As we approached the town of Donghe, our thoughts shifted to their notoriously delicious baozi (包子). We were definitely not disappointed with our lunch of meat, veggie, and peanut fluffy clouds and maintained enough discipline to not eat too much and turn into baozi ourselves.

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We hit the road again at 12:15pm, quickly diverging from the recommended cycling route which goes up over the mountains into the East Rift Valley so that we could remain along the coast and head up to our campground at Shitiping (石梯坪 – Google translates it to Stone Stairs Ping). Despite the amazing coastal views, we soon learned why the recommended route goes up and over the mountains into the calmer inland.

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Teresa’s grandpa told us that the World Longboarding Championships were in Taitung likely due to the great North-South winds that November brings to the coast. We didn’t connect the dots…

Unlike climbing, where the eventual descent reward your extra efforts, headwinds just suck all your extra energy. On our way to Changbin (長濱), we crept along in 15-20 mph headwinds that varied between difficult and brutal. One potentially enjoyable downhill straightaway resulted in the slowest aero tuck I’ve ever experienced, probably topping out at about 8 mph and taking more energy to balance than it was worth. Needless to say, we were overjoyed when a 7-11 came into view at about 3:30pm.

After a few rice ball snacks and a Pocari Sweat sports drink for me (delicious but not the most appetizing name) and a bowl of soupy things for Teresa, we gritted our teeth for the last 24 km to the campground. The rest of the journey mostly featured a protected bike lane, which tellingly displayed all bicycling figures facing the other direction.

As we carried on, the light started to fade, slowly at first, but then faster and faster. We whizzed by a few landmarks, the Tropic of Cancer monument and the red bridge to Shitiping, in the interest of getting to the campsite sooner.

As we rode by our headlights and taillights (thank goodness for those!), we started the stop-and-go process of navigating Google Maps to the campsite. A handful of highway-side stops and a brief bout of drizzle later, we turned onto a dark side road and found the campground’s tent shelters. It was pitch black yet only 6 pm, so we still had enough energy to set up our tent in the shelter (which had overhead lighting and outlets), and take a hot shower (this is a standard feature of “camping” in Taiwan). With a mix of drizzle and sea spray periodically wafting into the shelter but overall not too cold, we left the rain cover off, listened to the waves, ignored demands for food from the unusually pushy stray kittens, and fell asleep hoping for a sunrise alarm clock in the morning.


Day 2: Shitiping — Hualien

Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Distance: 41.5 mi / 66.8 km
Elevation: 2704 ft / 824 m
Accommodation: Chi Ya B&B

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Today started earlier than expected. At around 11pm, Teresa woke up and said “hey, it’s a person,” who then came over and began talking to her in the dark. She eventually left with him, as I wondered what the heck was happening. Before I could decide what to do, she had returned. Long story short, her family had contacted her uncle, a police chief in Taichung, to call the local police department to check on us after the Shitiping campground manager had called to informed the family we hadn’t arrived. We found out that (1) we missed the check-in location last night in the dark and (2) Teresa is still the favorite grandchild.

Fortunately, the rest of the night was uneventful except for the occasional wind-blown drizzle or refreshing ocean spritz in the face. We did not wake to the sunrise we were hoping for, as a cloud front blanketed the ocean, but the view was still exceptional as we packed up camp and said goodbye to our kitten campmates. Getting an on-time departure was much easier with the natural light to spur us on and no comforts of home to cause us to linger.

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We were on our way by 8 am and logged the 15 km to Fengbin (豐濱) in little time and, thankfully, little wind. Once there, we wolfed down some tasty danbing (蛋餅 – savory scallion egg pancake) to start our morning. We topped off our sports drink and snack supply after a strange conversation/lecture from a portly smoker who, among many things, performed tai chi for us to demonstrate that he was in better shape than cyclists.

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After a few more beautiful ocean views, the road turned upward and inward for some lush jungle climbing. Even away from the seashore and breezes, the heat was not really a problem and we made steady progress up to an amazing viewpoint just before a tunnel (and the actual official overlook on the other side).

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Then it was down the first of the trip’s many giggle-inducing descents, followed by a bit more up, some more down along the coast, through a series of tunnels where we saw a group of bikers churning uphill in the other direction (ouch), and then on to the flats for the final 20 km of the day. Making good time, we spun past theme parks and along riverside bike paths into the city.

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After papaya milk, we sought out this famous youbing (油餅) stand.
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3 cooks stand around this big vat of oil, throwing in, taking out, and spicing up slices of dough and eggs
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Highly recommend for non-nutritional reasons

With snacks out of the way, we headed to our homestay. For a similar price to the previous night’s campground, we had a spacious and clean modern room, koi pond, and a washing machine (already much-needed). We felt bad dragging our stinky and dusty bikes (and selves) inside, but the host graciously welcomed us in to relax.

Long warm showers and purple velvet furniture allowed us to lounge comfortably and plan next day’s route to Taipei. We considered combining a train from Hualien and short ride to Jiaosi with the big vertical climb into Taipei into a single day, as well as skirting around the northern coast via Fulong and Tamsui. We eventually decided to play it by the book: tomorrow, we would take the short train ride from Hualien to Su’aoxin followed by a quick spin into Jiaosi, then make the climb to Taipei the following day.

Plan settled, we set out on foot to secure train tickets for us and our bikes (which require an additional half-price ticket each), and to locate some of Hualien’s vegetarian cuisine, which is notable and widely available due to the large local Buddhist population. The train tickets were easily obtained, so easily in fact that having listened to each half of the conversation, I realized that even I might have been able to accomplish it with my rudimentary language skills. Tickets in hand, bellies full, we returned to our homestay and did a quick load of laundry (Emerson)/passed out (Teresa, later also Emerson).

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