Wednesday, February 24, 2016


It's not the typhoon season, that doesn't come until July, but the blustery winds that greeted me as I approached the tip of the island and then hounded me as I headed up its eastern shore served up gusts that had me worried that a premature typhoon might be hatching.  The erratic blasts of wind had me swerving all over the road.  I was happy for all the weight I was carrying, ballast that somewhat stabilized me.  The winds were accompanied by a mist that pelted me with equal fury.  The stunted trees on the surrounding hillsides indicated there was nothing unusual about this weather.

I was at least able to make the half-mile hike to the monument at the bottom of the island before the air became strafed with moisture.  It was on a brick-lined path under a canopy of trees that offered protection from the wind.

The monument sat in the midst of a rocky shoreline that was too dangerous to walk.  It was the end of the trail and a bottleneck for all those who had made the hike.

There wasn't a person without a camera in hand.

There were several other viewing points along the coastal road packed with bus loads of tourists.  At one a gentleman offered me a handful of strawberries.  It wasn't my first offering.  The day before when I was riding with Jeana, an official who was patrolling the bicycle route stopped and gave each of us a cold bottle of energy drink.  

The coastal viewpoints were all with Kenting National Park, the first established in Taiwan in 1984 by Chiang Kai-Shek's son, who assumed the presidency three years after his father's death in 1975. The park is laced with a large number of resorts and beaches and a town full of all manner of businesses.  It was hopping with tourists though on this sultry day the beaches were empty.

The pockets of wilderness apart from its coastal strip didn't have much access.  Signs at some trail heads said a permit was required to enter.  Violators would be fined $270.  It wasn't the first warning of punishment I'd been subjected to.  The visa application I filled out before passing through customs warned that drug traffickers would be put to death.  Though martial law was lifted in 1987, some of its vestiges remain.

The nasty weather had me looking for a forest that could provide some protection from the wind to pitch my tent.  It wasn't until I had left the park that I came upon a bamboo forest less than an hour before dark.  I had to clear an array of fallen reeds to create a big enough patch in the thick forest.  They were cross-crossed in every direction like a bunch of tinker toys.  They created a pile almost as high as my tent, providing an extra shield of protection.  The wind didn't diminish and the towering bamboo shoots creaked against one another all night.  With so much dead debris all around, I felt lucky I survived the night without any crashing down upon me.

Though the wind remained fierce and had me at a virtual standstill on occasion as I wound along the rugged coastline, there was at least no moisture in the air.  There was no need for a bike lane on this road, as there had been on west side of the island, as I had the road almost all to myself. 

After a spell the road turned inland and I was somewhat shielded from the wind as I made a long climb to over 1,500 feet, the highest point on the circumference bike route of the island.  The road was narrow, but had little traffic.  It was the polar opposite of my previous five days cycling down the west side of island.  That had been over 300 miles of urban cycling.  This was the rural cycling I am always in search of.  It was green, green, green and largely uninhabited.  Only three per cent of Taiwan's population live on the rugged eastern side of the island, the side that the first Europeans saw, Portuguese sailors in 1544, giving it the name Formosa, meaning "Beautiful Island."

The road finally turned down at the junction of highways 9 and 199 at the Shouka Bike Service Stop, a shrine of a sort for cyclists.

It's walls were covered with graffiti and decals of cyclists.

I hadn't seen another cyclist all day until I began the descent and passed a handful making the climb.  Though it always gives an extra measure of satisfaction to be off biking where few touring cyclists venture, such as last year in Oman, and the year before in the Philippines, it is also most satisfying to be on a well-travelled cycling route.  There is a lingering residue of euphoria from the many cyclists who have ridden the route. It is the trip of a lifetime for many.  I knew Jeana was in a state of exaltation, thrilled to be doing what she was doing, and joining the club of friends who had preceded her.  It is an accomplishment that will stick with anyone who does it for the rest of their lives.  Every time they proudly recall their fine times on the road sends out a jolt of energy to the route.

It is wonderful too that the powers-that-be so strongly endorse the route.  There are signs all along the route marking the way.  They are regularly embedded in the road.

There are also frequent road signs.

And signs, too, indicating official rest stops.

The Taiwan Cycling Association gives out certificates to those who complete the route.  One just has to carry a GPS tracking device that it provides.  I don't need a certificate, but if I did, I'd be concerned about carrying the tracking device, as my unlikely camp sites might trigger some concern, and a law enforcement official might come looking for me.

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