Kending or Bust – Cycling the East Coast of Taiwan
This Guest Post by Trey Archer, Co-Founder of Xtremetravelstories.com, was published by Kaye McDaniel. Trey Archer has been hopping across the world for years teaching English in a number of countries. Currently teaching in Taipei, Taiwan, he has gladly shared one of his most recent adventures with us.
I was looking at a map of Taiwan my first week in the country when the crazy idea struck. “Yep, it must be done,” I said to myself, “I’m riding my bike from Taipei to Kending for Chinese New Year.”
The first day, Taipei to Yilan, was rough. The road was mountainous and the weather cold and wet. (Big surprise, a cold and rainy Taipei winter day.) Nonetheless, I prevailed; after a full day of pedaling I arrived in Yilan. Now, remember, this is Chinese New Year’s Eve, meaning prices are quadrupled! I couldn’t afford the cheapest hotel. Luckily I knew this before leaving and bought a sleeping bag.
I found a nice park in the heart of the city which, coincidently, just so happened to be hosting the town’s New Year party. There were three stages set up playing everything from rock and pop to Chinese traditional drumming. After walking around and checking out the local bands, I found a boulder next to the rock and roll stage and called it my mattress for the night. I sprawled out my sleeping bag and fell asleep to the sounds of fireworks and “Gongxi, gongxi gongxi ni! Gongxi, gongxi, gongxi ni!”
I awoke the following morning to the sight of old timers doing their morning exercises (I still don’t understand the concept behind these funny moves). You should have seen the look on their face with a white guy waking up in a sleeping bag in the middle of the town’s park!
The path to Hualian on the second day was killer; nonstop uphill climbing for hours. Thankfully, what goes up must come down- after every steep climb there’s a decline. It’s a true adrenaline rush flying down the road at 50km per hour! Despite these quick free falls, the vertical climbs really took a toll on my body. Plus I was sore and not well rested since, as one can imagine, sleeping outside on a rock in the cold rain didn’t provide the best night’s rest.
However, toward the end of the day, a figure from the side of the road waved me down. I followed the dirt path to his house and met an entire generation. They were aboriginals of the Ah Mei ethnicity. They fed me traditional foods and let me pick fruits from their garden, showing me true hospitality. After an hour or so of chatting and eating, I jumped back on my Giant and began trekking south.
Incredibly, I found a Taoist temple on the outskirts of Hualian with cheap rooms that evening. I jumped at the opportunity for a hot shower and real bed.
I was beat and too tired to ride on the third day, so I decided to stick around Hualian and check out the local culture. I somehow ended up in a night market with a group of locals singing Michael Jackson karaoke. After screaming “Thriller” for the thirtieth time, I called it a night. I laid my sleeping bag next to the coast and passed out to the sound of Pacific waves crashing into the rocky shore.
I opened my eyes early on the fourth day knowing there’d be a lot of riding to do. After nearly eight hours of pedaling, hunger gripped my stomach causing me to stop at a restaurant in the little town of Chenggong. This joint wasn’t your average hole in the wall. It was an upscale seafood restaurant/shark museum. I couldn’t afford anything on the menu so I began walking out when, suddenly, I heard the English Language.
One of the owners lived in Canada and began speaking with me. After explaining my bike trip and financial situation, he offered me a free meal with the staff. One thing led to another, and the next thing I knew, they said I could sleep in the museum. It was an offer I willingly accepted. Due to their tremendous kindness, I helped out in the kitchen cleaning up and washing dishes; it was the absolute least I could do.
I woke up in the shark museum the next day and had breakfast waiting on me. They even gave me an employee uniform, a wonderful souvenir! As much as I wanted to stay eating fresh seafood all day, I couldn’t. I rode for another three hours and arrived in Taidong at dusk.
After a fairly uneventful night eating in a Taidong night market, I rode a short way to Zhiben National Park. I got a tip there was a pretty nice hot spring there, the perfect remedy for my aching bones. I saturated myself in the boiling water all day and chatted with locals touring the park. That night I wrapped myself in the sleeping bag next to a rushing river and stared at the stars in heaven.
I got up on the seventh day after a great sleep in the middle of nature surrounded by five curious monkeys. (They were probably wondering what a stranger was doing in their home!) I waved goodbye to my long, lost ancestors and jumped back on the road for another grueling day.
I thought the mountain treks were over but I was dead wrong. Highway 9 in the southern part of the country is a biker’s nightmare. I climbed one hill and instantly knew I couldn’t possibly do it again. I asked a local if there was an easier route and, to my surprise, there was. I detoured onto highway 199, a one lane road that bypasses all the steep slopes.
My original plan was to sleep outside that night after getting some nourishment at a local cafe in the small farming community of Sichong. However, the owner of the place had other plans. She insisted I stay in the restaurant that night because outside was too cold. It was another tremendous display of hospitality. She threw me the keys to her place and told me, “Wan’an!”
Again, like de-ja-vu, breakfast was waiting on me in the morning. I inhaled a plate of fried rice and rode a short two hours to Kending, my final destination.
I did it! It was an incredible feeling accomplishing my goal of cycling the entire east coast of Taiwan. For the next four days, I switched my body into vacation mode and chilled on the beach. It was a sweet end to a remarkable excursion.
This trip taught me a lot and (out of the numerous journeys I’ve done through sixty countries and territories) goes down as one of my all time favorites. It made me love Taiwan more than before (and that’s saying a lot because I’ve enjoyed every second of my time in this country). But, perhaps most of all, it restored my confidence in humanity. It showed me that there are still good people out there willing to help and share, something we don’t see much in today’s fast pace, “all about me” society.
Graffiti spray painted on the Taipei bike path says, “Life is short, death is long.” It’s so simple but yet so true. We need to experience our short lives to the fullest and have adventures, see the world, meet new people, try new foods and basically, just have fun. And as one can see through my personal experience, we can do this without breaking the bank. Sure, it might mean sleeping on a rock in Yilan, or a national park with monkeys in Zhiben, or a shark museum in Chenggong, but those go down as perhaps the most memorable moments of the trip. In retrospect, if I did spend a lot of cash by staying at hotels and taking the train, I never would’ve had these unique and interesting experiences along the way.
As mentioned, the bike trip was epic in so many ways and I’m glad I have this journey engraved in my thoughts forever. It’ll be nice looking back on it in the future and remembering the amazing people of Taiwan and the wonderful experience I gained from living here and cycling the east coast for a week.