Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Fulong, Taiwan

After four days in the mountainous interior I'm back along the coast, fifty miles from the northern tip of the island.  Once again I have the friendly signs reminding me I'm following the Around Taiwan Cycling Route and signs pointing out official rest stops.  I also have the ease of hard-boiled eggs after four days of no chain convenience stores.

The interior is too sparsely settled to support those stores that pop up every few miles in the rest of the country, so I couldn't count on a hard boiled egg whenever hunger came a gnawing.  Until I ventured off into the interior I made an egg-stop several times a day in honor of those early-day global bike tourists in the late 1800s who largely subsisted on eggs.  I can make a salad out of them with all the condiments available for hot dogs.  I had no qualms about patronizing the chain stores, unlike one of the cyclists who posted his Taiwan touring diary at crazyguyonabike.  He called his tour the "7-11 Free Tour."  I was hoping it would be about all the free stuff he got at 7-11s, as I've managed to do.  But no,   he was a Brit, married to a Taiwanese, who had lived in Taiwan for six years and had a predisposition against their taking over the country.

My final fifty mile descent to the coast slashing diagonally through the mountains on Highway 7 was disrupted late in the afternoon of Day Three when I entered a moisture-laden thick cloud.  It rendered the road wet and perilous. Though rain wasn't falling, I too was growing increasingly wet as I warily made my descent in the near white-out conditions with brakes squeezed hard.  I had to keep my speed to a minimum without any runaway truck lanes to save me with my minimal braking capacity.  I kept hoping I would escape the  cloud that enveloped me and hit dry pavement and dry air, but after half an hour of taking on moisture and wearing my brake pads I began to look for a place to camp, hoping for improved conditions in the morning.

I was down below 6,000 feet, 2,000 feet lower than I had camped the night before that left frost on my tent.  It was still going to be a cold night, especially as wet as I was.  My descent had been going so well earlier in the day I had hopes of being back down to sea level by day's end.  But after I had plunged to 5,000 feet, I had to climb up over one more pass, derailing my hopes.  Still, if I hadn't been plagued by the wet conditions shortly after I crossed the pass into the coastal zone, I could have flown down almost to the coast.  As it was, I cut short my descent at 4:30, ninety minutes before dark.

I felt fortunate to find a place to camp in the limited visibility and the steep terrain.  But at one of the hairpins there was a level spot up above the road.  I had to strip my bike of its gear and lift it over a guardrail to reach it, a small price to pay.  

As the night before, I had to immediately wrap myself in my sleeping bag when I entered my tent.  I also had to dig out my long-sleeved winter cycling jersey to add to my layers and put on my wool cap.  It was already 42 degrees, so would get close to freezing when night set in.  The ground was rocky and puddles were beginning to form.  If it started raining, I could be flooded out.  I was hoping I was doing the right thing.  I had quit before I was too wet and cold, even though I would have loved to have gotten further down the mountain.  I could occasionally hear moisture pattering on my tent, but that was usually when there was a gust of wind.  It never lasted more than a few moments.  Moisture wasn't seeping into the tent other than a slight hint at its edges.  I was warm enough, though far from toasty.  It looked like I could survive the night.

I was hoping I'd be woken by bright sunshine, as I had been the morning before at 8,000 feet, but I was still in the cloud, though it wasn't as wet as it had been when it forced me off my bike.  The road was damp, but not saturated and slick.  I could allow myself a little more speed, but I was still squeezing the brakes hard.  It was 36 degrees and my hands were cold.  Luckily I had brought along two pairs of gloves, as my gloves from the day before hadn't dried out.  I had kept my wool gloves in reserve.  The cold cut through them.  I had to stop after ten minutes and less than two miles to warm my fingers.  I put plastic bags over my gloves, enabling me to keep riding much longer.  

By the time I had descended to 4,500 feet, the road had dried and I could let it out.  The steepness of the grade had diminished when I entered a large agricultural river valley.  People were in the fields engaged in an early spring planting.  I could see patches of blue in the sky down valley.  The sky never cleared to allow the sun through, but at noon when I stopped to eat at a gazebo in a small village I spread out my wet tent and damp sleeping bag.  They both dried in the warmer air.

A couple hours later when I reached the large coastal city of Yilan, I stopped at the first Seven-11 I came upon for a couple of eggs and also to fill my metal water bottle from its hot water dispenser.  It's close to boiling.  I have to wrap it with a neckerchief to protect it from the other items in my pannier.  The water has to cool considerably before I can transfer it to my plastic bottles.  Since it's not advisable to drink tap water, this is one of my sources of water.  Police stations are another.  Before I came upon a police station for its water and WIFI, the road took me past the first library I had seen in Taiwan.  I may have passed others, but this was the first that identified itself in English as well as Chinese.

It was a newer building than those that predominate, though not of the stature of a Carnegie.  There are no Carnegies in Taiwan, though there is a bar in Taipei called Carnegie's that Lonely Planet describes as one of the liveliest nightspots in the city.

The library had no books or periodicals in English, though it did have signs in English.

It had no heat and with the temperature below sixty, it's few patrons were bundled up.  It had a water dispensing machine and WIFI, so I didn't have to keep my eyes open for a police station, though they are one thing that my Western eyes can easily spot.  Even before I checked mail, I googled "Oscar winners" and learned  "Spotlight" upset "Revenant" as the best picture.  That means Telluride keeps its several year string in tact of playing the North American premier of the Oscar-winner.  It would have played "Revenant" if it had been finished, as Its director, Alejandro Gonzales-Innaritu is a Telluride regular, whether he has a film to present or not.  He is very likeable, so I was glad at least that he won the best director Oscar for the second year in a row, something that has been accomplished only twice before. 

Back in the urban environment the Buddhist temples, that are almost as common as convenience stores, are back to being grand and ostentatious.

If it had been warmer, I could have availed myself of the showers along the first beach I came to in Wai-Ao.  It is one of a string of popular surfing beaches along the northeast coastline.  There was one lone surfer in a wet suit on the otherwise abandoned long, wide beach.  I might have camped off in the trees along the beach if it had been closer to dark, but I was able to push on for a while longer reveling in the beauty of the coastline, the most scenic yet.

I ended up in a bamboo thicket at the base of the steep mountains that come close to the shoreline, passing through a narrow tunnel under the railroad tracks to reach it.

 I was still close enough to the Pacific to hear it's waves. It was a relief not to have to add layers when I entered my tent and to have warm feet. And I could truly look forward without trepidation to my next day on the bike.

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