Cycling the East Coast with MyTaiwanTour (part one of two)

Day One: Coastal Riding and Taiwan’s Best Seafood

1 - East Taiwan Ride D1
From Hualien to Liyu Lake

Although I’d only known Brandon and Emily for an hour (including time taken to adjust their bicycles), I felt like I was riding with old friends. A line in Emily’s final tour confirmation email had tipped me off to the fact that this would be an interesting tour.

“I’ll be the only person with pink, purple and gray hair waiting in the lobby!”

Emily, Brandon and I would spend the next four days together winding between coast and rift on a customized cycling tour of Eastern Taiwan.

We were riding under beautiful, slightly overcast skies on the particularly nice stretch of coastal road 11 that winds between the entrance to Taroko Gorge and Hualien City. Though I’d ridden some of the route we’d be riding over the next few days before (both as a solo cyclist and tour leader), other chunks of the route were new to me. I was glad for the chance to exchange office chair for bicycle seat, and a seemingly endless cavalcade of writing projects for a few days of cycling around Taiwan.

We were riding excellent bikes, three super-fast touring bikes provided by Taiwan’s own  Rikulau, and we also had the services of a most excellent driver, a Hualien native named nicknamed Lion. In addition to driving the support van, Lion would also be acting as scout, making sure we found the best roads on which to ride and avoided the as much as possible ongoing repair work from an earthquake that had damaged some of the roads in the area just a month earlier.

Lion also turned out to be an excellent photographer, and some of his photos will appear later in the story.

Lion was waiting for us at a junction just over the Huai En Bridge to steer us onto a smaller road passing through an unusually cheerful cemetery on its way to the oceanfront path. We rode slowly, taking in the scenery, conversation switching between Taiwanese history and whether Star Wars was better than Star Trek. These were definitely my kind of people.

2 - Cloudy Skies Day One.JPGWe broke for lunch at Hualien Harbor, where we feasted on fresh sashimi, parboiled shrimp and an unusual variation of the traditional Taiwanese classic san bei ji (三杯雞, 3-cup Chicken) made with fish (三杯魚, san bei yu).

3 - Seafood Feast in Hualien
Seafood Feast in Hualien Harbor

After an extraordinary lunch that may have been too much considering we still had another 25km to ride, we headed off slowly. But not before stopping for a coffee at one of the more whimsical 85C coffee spots any of us had ever seen.

“Today’s goal is Liyu Lake. It’s thataway, and if we were going directly there we’d make it in about an hour. But if you’re both into it, we can extend the ride by getting lost.”

4 - Coffee Shop Stop
Everything in Taiwan is slightly quirky

Emily and Brandon agreed that this might be fun, so we spent the next hour or so zig-zagging around some of the rice paddies and fields south of the city of Hualien, keeping a more-or-less southwesterly trajectory before meeting up with Lion at a random temple and getting back on course.

We’d planned an easy day for our first day in the saddle together, an under 50k ride in through mostly flat terrain the only exception being the last seven which went at a gentle incline leading up to Liyu Lake. As we headed up the the hill it began to rain, not heavily, but enough to make us put on our lightweight rain jackets. We reached the lake, a beautiful, clear azure pool of water around 5, and were led to our hotel by Lion.

Liyu Lake was beautiful and serene, and though it’s sometimes compared to Taiwan’s better known Sun Moon Lake, the comparison is a bit unfair.

Far fewer tourists flock to Liyu Lake, and while this gives the place a more off the beaten path feel, there’s also a downside. Less tourists mean less incentive for restaurants to stay open on a Tuesday night. Luckily, we had Lion, who scouted ahead to make sure that one of the restaurants set up across from the lake would stay open to serve us dinner.

Though still not fully hungry after our massive afternoon seafood feast, we headed out for an early dinner as the sun set in the mountains beyond the lake before heading back to the hotel for a much welcome rest.

Total distance for day one? A mostly-mellow 53km.

5 - Liyu Lake
Liyu Lake, Taiwan

(Read more: River Tracing in Taiwan)

Day Two: Cycling the Rift Valley

6 - East Taiwan Ride D2
From Liyu to Ruisui

The Liyu Lake House Inn provided two essentials for the first night of any bike tour, namely a relaxing place to sleep and excellent coffee in the morning.

7 - Breakfast Nook on Liyu Lake
Breakfast Nook on Liyu Lake

After looking over our maps on the glass-enclosed cafe on the lake, we headed out on our bikes and were treated to a long coast downhill into the glorious Rift Valley. After crossing over the Zhongxing Bridge, we paused as Lion (who’d driven up ahead) gave us the lowdown on what made this particular stretch of land so important.

“When you crossed that bridge, you crossed from the Eurasian Tectonic plate to the Philippine plate.” Said Lion in Mandarin.

I translated, adding my own spin that this was basically the spot where the two tectonic plates had been meeting in secret for millions of years (probably against their parents wishes) and that the island of Taiwan was actually one of the products of this romantic liaison.

Following this bit of spurious (but generally factual, if not weirdly interpreted) information, our small group began riding on what may be one of the loveliest stretches of 193. It’s a favorite for cyclists in Taiwan, for a couple of reasons. First, the jungle on either side is dense enough to shade much of the road for large stretches.

And second, with a brief detour at the end, this stretch of 193 brings riders to the Guangfu Sugar Factory, which is where we headed for some very welcome ice-cream floats.

We balanced the admittedly decadent mid-day floats with a far healthier post-ice cream float lunch at a local tribal restaurant before continuing south, this time along series of unnamed roads passing through what would prove to among the loveliest roads of a four-day route filled with stellar riding.

Though we’d planned to continue along 193, Lion suggested that we take a detour to enjoy the paths in Danongdafu Forest Park. What followed was an hour of sublime riding through a stretch of the valley that might as well have been designed specifically for cyclists.

9- Danongdafu Forest Path
Danongdafu Forest Path, another of Taiwan’s most beautiful cycling roads

We road along without a car in sight alongside a few other cyclists before reaching a large park milling with people. As we got closer, a heavenly fragrance filled the air, and it became apparent that the crowd was no accident. We were soon surrounded by flowers in peak bloom, so lovely that they drew a crowd even on a Wednesday afternoon.

10 - Flower Shot in Danongdafu Forest
Flowers in Danongdafu Forest (Photo by Lion)
11 - Flowers in bloom
Flowers in bloom along canal in Danongdafu Forest (Photo by Lion)

By group consent we dallied, walking around fields filled with flowers, hanging out inside a house made of cedar, and enjoying in general what proved to be a uniquely pleasant olfactory experience before continuing on for the final leg of the day’s ride, a fairly speedy ride along Route 9 into the town of Ruisui, where dinner, beers and hot springs were on the collective agenda until bedtime.

Total distance for day two? A gorgeous mix of 67km of winding mountainside and beautiful valley riding.

End of Part One

Looking to cycle in Taiwan? Sign up for MyTaiwanTour’s Early Summer Sea and Valley Cycling Tour!

Continue to read the article : Cycling the East Coast with MyTaiwanTour (part two of two)