Thursday, October 28, 2010

Taking your breath away in Taroko

Day 6 in Taroko National Park deserves a second entry for this Blog. I think I said it before, but it's the most beautiful place I've ever seen. Takes your breath away. I'll try to show pictures, and use the right adjectives, but you'd have to see it to believe it.

We drove up and down a number of times, and most rode up and then all rode bikes down the red highlighted portion of the canyon (22km). First night was in the serene Leader Hotel, off on the Southern side of the canyon up a very steep road. The next day after riding the gorge we were driven to Silks Place. A luxury hotel that also deserved more time for one to appreciate it.

At the Leader Hotel's breakfast we saw this photo of the same location we rode rode the day before in Hualien, with Typhoon waves crashing the breakwater walls. We seem to be a group that skirts all the bad stuff, rides in the rain, and has the luck of having a fantastic tour leader, stunning accommodations and group dynamic that makes me sing. We are already family, and already having a trip of a lifetime.

Leader Lodge is a peaceful retreat that one night is not enough to soak it in. We met a nice couple from Australia - that saw monkey's on the Bamboo Nature Path. Alas none of us were able to get the timing right, but we knew they were there. Leaves that could wrap around you like a skirt with their huge jurassic park water catching scale that was hard to believe.

Just when you were admiring size, you might accidentally run into a somewhat colorful spider, that is the size of your hand from toe to toe. Do Spiders have toes? I hope not actually.

We adjusted bikes from another "Giant Cycling Station" below the National Park entrance and began the day's adventure. I assembled any blinky light I could, as the some of the tunnels were frighteningly dark. Surprisingly it was not a rainy day, which the group was not used to, but appreciated! It also seemed traffic was less than the day before when we drove up.

The girls coordinated in our Taiwan Cycling Festival Jersey's, the retina burning colors were hopefully going to keep us alive from the double decker buses rounding corners over the double yellow line, if there was a double yellow. Safety was on my mind. Niamh was on my mind, as she was a super novice rider, and this descent could get fast, wet, technical w/ a mere guard rail to keep you from the cliff diving exit possible. Kate was equipt with here GoPro helmet cam, and if we can get it to reduce file size - I will post the most amazing video of riding through this paradise.

When there were no cars- it was the dreamiest ride you can imagine. Waterfalls on all sides, steep marble swaths going up thousands of feet. Lush green plants with butterflies finding mates and pollen in tiny and large bright flowers.

Every tunnel had it's own personality. Different lighting, no lighting (yes a dark tunnel forced us all to "use the force" & pray it would all work out. Didn't breath for several seconds of total overcoming fear).

When you look at this picture of carved out overhangs and tunnels - t's easy to fantasize about the architects and laborers that built the road. The first pathways were built 1644-1911 during the Ching Dynasty. Rebuilt by the Japanese becoming a highway. In 1932 the Tunnel works were completed.

Self portrait, as with most these images, was taken while riding. It was a fun easy descent, other than a few blind corners, water draining water fall surprises at ends of tunnels or along the overhangs we rode under like awnings. Happy is an understatement of how I felt leaning left and right and looking everywhere as I easily rolled along the most amazing space I've been lucky to ride in.

Back at the highest point in Taroko we went, there was a colorful bridge that beckoned you to cross it and pass under the bright red entrance gate to Heaven Summit Pagoda. The silty grey water of the Liwu river below was super fast and intimidating. Boulders the size of RV's. The parks 100 peaks of up to 3,742 meters rise around you, hidden by low clouds, peaking out to surprise you. The gate backed by cement tiles that were backwards swastikas. Which alarm the average American, but are actually representing the Sun.

Up many stairs, which is a theme in general I find in Taiwan, something the average physically fit, injury free human might not notice, were shrines. Being that I've only started successfully managing stairs in the last month, post leg surgery - this was always a personal moment of choice, when I would approach another long ladder of stairs. I'd choose to call it a non-issue or physical therapy with a prize at the top! Usually a Pagoda, or as in this path, a couple of stunning golden Buddha's!

The stairs are so worth this view, and structures that are lovingly taken care of. Bright colors contrast with the almost monochromatic background of fog and deep greens. Said a little prayer here.

We all returned to our next night at another new amazing hotel, the Silks Place. Huge rooms with dreamy bathrooms. We all sighed at the site of the free standing tub. Really we are all getting ruined for future travel.

(images of me riding were taken with
my waterproof camera by Mark Blacknell)

All is well despite Megi

We had to re-route several of our activities- including the unfortunate cancellation if The Taiwan Cup Pro Race. Avoiding mud slides, washed out roads, stuck trains and Buddhist temples collapsing, we had an easy trip. More blog entry's to come including interviews with Pro riders and factory visits.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Day 5 to day 6 at Taroko National Park

The Leader Hotel is off of the main Taroko Gorge road. You leave the winding miracle of tunnels, overhangs and waterfalls to steeply drive up to an oasis run by the Aboriginal tribe "Bruwan", that are the true Natives of Taiwan.

The stunning view is breathtaking. Steep walls of greenery and waterfalls surround you.

The next day we were shuttled up to the "top" - or 22km from the Giant Bicycle Rental facility outside the bottom of the canyon near the entry gate. The fitter and hardcore of the group rode up, and Niamh and myself were shuttled to the "top" - and waiting near the Yellow bridge. I decided to ride down a few tunnels and switchbacks to meet the group for a short ascent before the full descent. Wow! Puddles splashing or the waterfalls were the only rain this time. I held my camera at all times, and rode with the extra large smile that I can't wipe off my face.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Didn't bring enough swimsuits

Remnants of a Typhoon (Meg?!) in Philippines are making this soaked adventure. Only 2 sports bras in my luggage are like soaked wash rags, I'm down to my one swimsuit for under garments. Seriously!

HUALIEN (yesterday - day 4)
Arrived late at night, after several u-turns, 2 instruction queries and driving along dizzying narrow roads with troughs of water like flumes that line every street - in Hualien. Dinner was on a hillside before that - and apparently it was hard to navigate to and from. But a stunning view, and family style food that was very very good, and like most other cultures than our own, with heads and feet still attached. I'm eating vegetarian on the trip - with some fish sprinkled in. This is apparently unusual - at least for my guide, and every day he asks and points towards me... "shall I order a special Vegetarian meal for you?" For some reason it's not as complicated for Mark Blacknell - who is a vegetarian... but for me, since it was a surprise, our guide hasn't gotten used to the idea that I TOO need to stay away from mystery meat.

Anyhow... I digress... that drive was long but fun w/ my comrades. The hotel is obviously new and geared towards cycling tourism, and has an Aegan theme with marble and white walls. A beautiful place to lay our heads after a brief walk to the sea... which is yards away.

Well yards like maybe 50 yards? Anyhow... the waves ARE HUGE, and it's a shore break that would warn the craziest of surfers. I make the mistake in the morning of opening up the wind tunnel causing window... and while skyping my husband a rainstorm comes through... and I notice later that all things within a yard of said window... have puddles in or on or around them.

I'm making this a long story... so here is the nutshell while I have some wireless connection to tell it. A "GIANT SHOP" - like they all are - is nearby. It's raining hard, and we go there to get bikes. Then we ride in torrential rain along the seashore into the city of Hualien and back This is what we saw, and it was photographed between heavy heavy rain and wind gusts that made me feel I was riding at 14% grade up a hill. We were all smiles - as it was funny, fun, and beautiful in many parts, the ocean was seriously... I'm going to use George's word from Seinfield... FIERCE!
Checking out the merchandising of Topeak and Cateye on the walls of the shop. Making sure I represent Cupertino in my jersey from Vance.
(the owner... and yes I know him :-) which is a local joke btw.)

Self portrait - the rain is super hard, and it's difficult to catch this.
I'm so stoked I have a water proof camera!

Took a side trip up a paver/tile strewn path
to an abandoned who-knows-what (old military spot or former park)

Path diverts thru a shanty town of traditional housing
and narrow ally's along the ocean briefly.

Pathway leaves seawall to cut under a huge factory - perhaps cement plant,
lined with Escalade sized granite chunks - and flooding low spots.
Here Mark Blacknell is riding through stream of runoff.

Sure - why not?! Sign points to ugly construction and industry.

Now that I've ridden several of these paths, and attended the opening ceremony with the officials that are driven to create these recreational paradises, some opinions have come to mind. It's a paradox of the tourism bureau promoting this and photo opportunities, parks and paths that have finished areas with marble... and signage - are right next to under construction, ugly, third world Country looking areas that stink of the city dump. Saw a rat running across the street and into my path just as I was pondering this contrast. Beautiful "Giant Cycling Stations" juxtapositioned (is that a word?), to enormous debri. The main constant is friendly people, and perfect temperatures.

The beautiful parts of the path are paradisal.

Shanty homes right on the path are still shining with creative pride in their collected junk.

Well we scurried off from the Bay View Hotel - to drive to Taroko Gorge. This is truly the most beautiful breath taking place I have ever seen in my life. And it deserves it's own blog entry. This picture shows where I'm typing from right now. I'm the center cabin- the room on the right.

If for any reason I die in the typhoon's torrential downpour that cause a flash flood today as we ride down the Gorge's canyon dangerously narrow roads and stunning tunnels. Just know that I'm so incredibly happy, and am in the most beautiful place in the world - and that I am lucky!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

70 kilometers of bike lanes and paths

For 35 km I rode out on Hwy 9 with my new friend Mark Blacknell escorting me and helping encourage me to go farther. The entire way there was a nice wide lane designated for us and scooters, not always with this median area - but on the long "Rainbow Bridge" crossing the wide Siouguluan River to the town of "Yuli" - we had extra elbow room. He continued on to the goal of most the group- a marker for where the Tropic of Cancer crosses the island. This ended up to be a total of 98 Kilometers when they returned. My ride was 70 - and I was wiped out, tired, happy, and a drowned rat with completely soaked clothes. Richard of Cyclelicous warned me of my clothes staying damp the entire trip. Damp versus Soaked are two different things!

My solo return started and while I was thinking of re-crossing the river - I notice a path to the right. Taiwan is littered with new bike paths and "cycling stations" to encourage recreational riding and tourism. I thought... "heck, I'm here for an adventure, and it looks like it parallels Hwy 9 - why not go explore". Sure... I have NO TOOLS or spare anything, but in Taiwan, a Country where I know not how to read the alphabet - nor say anything but HELLO or THANK YOU, I've never felt safer. I've travelled a good part of the world, and in Countries more developed - and with a language I speak, I would worry about getting stranded, especially as a woman.

After crossing a straight bridge for pedestrians/cyclists only - I continued on an amazingly empty and beautiful flat path that was clearly once a busy railroad track. Stunningly bright green rice fields flanked the path - and the rain let up for my peaceful exploration and photo ops. I came across a colorful building that was once a train station, a "Giant Cycling Station". Giant is the worlds largest bicycle manufacture and based in Taiwan - and here was a store, snacks, maintenance help. Pumps, water, rest.
Facilities at the bike station - men's and women's showers and lockers.

I briefly hesitated to pass the unknown message on the barriers - but if I didn't I would have had to back track all the way to the beginning and then return on the hwy. The construction is freshly happening along the path. Seemed like the Anasazi Indian's ruins... like they abandoned in mid project there. Strange place to stop with boards leaning and laying and unattached. I looked around wondering if the workers where hiding in the rice field or something. Ha!
The pathway was smooth and safe - as long as you kept your eyes forward and didn't accidentally roll into the exposed Rebar and fall off the raised levy into the rice field 10 feet below.
A new bike station to be was at the end of my Path journey. Just before I found my way back to hwy 9 - after about 12 km of path, this station was not very far along, But they already had racks installed. Can't help but feel they are so far ahead of us in their infrastructure to encourage sustainable transport, recreation. and tourism.
A close up from the pathway map - even let's you know how much fun you'll likely have!
The erie emptiness of being on this route alone, was surreal. I pondered the history of this very spot, and imagined the station in it's full glory - full of workers commuting to larger villages with industry and jobs.
Not long after I returned to Hwy 9 for the rest of the return, I was so fortunate to have the speedy Mark Villegas from come up on my left. He caught me in mid sentence of seriously talking out loud to myself, but that didn't stop me from locking onto this back wheel and picking up my pace to get the ride over with. Yes, I was that tired and needed to get back sooner than later. My slow pace was going to be the my nemesis - and his too fast a pace, was my challenge. My ill fitting Giant bike with not so great ergonomics was making my hands tingle with uncomfortable numbness, and my wider - slick but not pumped up well tires were feeling like lead weight. I owe this man his next cocktails for the next few days I'd say!
Our group made the paper! Strategically placed just behind the dignitaries - you can see Kate, an orange shoulder of Mark V, Pink with flipflops Niamh, then me in my SLaB jersey.

Front row: Giant Founder King Liu, Mr. Mao Taiwan Minister of Transportation, Chieh-Ting Magistrate of Taitung, Janice She Jen Lai -Director Taiwan Tourism.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Taiwan Cycling Festival Opening Ceremony!

(photo by Mark Blacknell
Ceremonial ride with the Transportation Minister of Taiwan and other Government and Cycling promoting dignitaries.
Mark Blacknell, Beverly Garrity -bevcycle.blogspot
spot, Mark Villegas, Kate LaCroix -Global Soul Adventures, Mr. Mao -Minster of Transportation, Chieh-Ting -Magistrate of Taitung, Janice She-Jen Lai -Director Taiwan Tourism Bureau, Niamh Kavanaugh -Adventures-abroad, King Liu -Cycling Lifestyle Foundation and Chairman of Giant (Bicycles) Manufacturing.

Kate has everybody's undivided attention explaining she is trying to put together an expedition on Taiwan for her touring company, along with her dual purpose of being here for cycling, and media PR for tourism.

Mark Blacknell knows how to interview - and dove right in asking about their ambitious plans to become a destination not just for manufacturing bikes, but for cycling the beautiful island as well.
The ceremony was full of photo ops and positive energy. They are so proud of their mission - as Taiwan should be. From what I've seen in 3 short - jammed packed days - they are setting the Country up with amazing lanes and bike paths and "Cycling Stations" to assist the tourist on bicycle.
Beverly Garrity and Taiwan Transportation Minister - Mr. Mao. Avid cyclist and fantastic mission for increasing tourism and sustainable living!

We were treated like VIP's in every way this day, acknowledged as the "English Speaking" media from Los Angeles - front row seats, and photographers everywhere.