Around Taiwan On 2 Wheels 01: The Short Take

A cyclist’s dream come true 

Riding a bicycle is about getting back to basics. It’s good for the waistline and it’s good for the wallet, is what I’m saying. – Phil Keoghan, presenter (The Amazing Race)

9 days of sitting in a bicycle saddle didn’t do anything for my waistline, is what I’m saying. Notwithstanding the almost 900 km worth of tarmac covered.

Muscle expansion? Water retention? Or the heat?

Maybe it was the beers.

How could we resist the beers in Taiwan? Those metallic cans gleaming brightly from inside convenient store chillers, beckoning to us. And very affordable compared to ones back home. Thus, drink them we must! On top of that, there were ample choices: local beers, Japanese beers, western beers, there’s up-sized beers.

Yes, we had separate bellies just for beers – lucky us!

Those convenience stores were really god-sends. Especially after a long, dreary ride under a 30°C cloudless sky and then suddenly, we saw them in a horizon, almost like a mirage. That every convenience store came with an attached bathroom/toilet was a huge huge plus.

Besides stocking up on beer and answering nature’s calls, you could get almost anything from a convenience store, even super glue for a detached sole. The best part – they were friendly, always open and the staff wouldn’t bat an eye if you decided to take a nap under the air-con. I’m quite sure they were a key factor that earned Taiwan the accolade of being one the world’s most cycling-friendly country.

Our day wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t stop at one of them.

The sole stayed intact till the end, which was the best ending I could hope for. I was relieved that I didn’t need to resort to baring my flip flops – there was no way they could handle the rain and hills especially on days 6, 7 and 9. Those were very long, steep hills.

The last one had us climbing for 12 km from sea level up to 550m. Going down wasn’t that fun either when you had to hold the handle bars steady for an hour + while speeding down a windy mountain road at 45km/hour.

Thankfully, the organiser, Giant, equipped us with decent road bikes and had 3 vans following us: A lead van (with a snack bar), a luggage van (for our bags) and a repair van (with spare bikes and parts). The route was well-thought out, the food were delicious (we got to try many yummy local specialties) and some of the hotels were really cool.

We stuck to a strict schedule everyday. Breakfast at 630am, warm-up at 710am, briefing and set-off by 730am. We usually wrapped up for the day by 6pm. My group was well paced, so we had ample rest stops along the way and could still arrive early.

Here’s our hardworking crew.

This must be the most stress-free cycling trip ever. For once, I didn’t have to handle the logistics. Or carry my bag. Or navigate. All I had to do was made sure I didn’t knock anyone down plus hand-wash my cycling garb every evening. Between the 2, the latter was harder, though keeping a safety distance from 43 fellow cyclists needed skill and concentration.

That said, would-be participants ought to be comfortable cycling in a big group and in big cities with busy (sometimes reckless) traffic.

One other challenge – making out who’s who in the group during dinner because all I ever saw were their backs and costumes. When the helmets were off, the hair let down and they donned normal garb, it was hard to make out who’s who.  I could walk into the restaurant, on the streets and not recognise them at all.

The tour was pretty fun but it certainly wasn’t easy or pain-free (Counterpain was my best friend, 9 nights in a row) and there were days (or times of the day) when I wished I could just veg out in the convenience stores and not go back under the sun. But, we’ve got to do our part for the cameras yah?

Here’s how you pose.

The reality: when no one’s looking.

This was an extremely well organised cycling trip. I think after this, I’d be too pampered for anything else. The one thing that would have made this perfect was a washing machine in every hotel room.

Cycling days – 9
Tour Cost – TWD 36,400/twin-sharing (~S$1520), full board + bike + accessories (helmet, water bottle, lights, gear bag, 1 cycling top)
Distance covered – 912km

To be continued: next blog – a boring blow by blow account of the cycling tour.

Cycled 27 Sep – 5 Oct 2014 

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