Yilan City - A Month in Taiwan - CycleBlaze

December 23, 2018

Yilan City

Walking back to our hotel after breakfast, we chuckled a bit on seeing a few umbrellas pop out in the lightest of sprinkles. An hour later, packed and checked out for departure, we were less amused to see a steady drizzle hit the streets. Hours later, soaked senseless in the worst drenching in at least a decade, we would have killed to find ourselves in merely a light drizzle again. I don't think we've been this wet since our tour of Scotland, and maybe not since our epic drowning in New Zealand over 20 years ago. This is a day that will live long in our memories, and that we will measure against awful rainstorms yet to come.   Taiwan 2014: Toucheng

True story.  That day has lived long in our memories, and still ranks high on our life list of awful rides in the rain.  This was the same epic day in which we drowned and eventually destroyed my iPad and Rachael’s laptop by leaving them underprotected while we were hiding out from the rain for a bit in Pinglin.

We’re riding basically the same route today, following Highway 9 once more through Pinglin on our way to the east coast.  After four days of sunshine, the forecast has changed drastically.  Showers are predicted for the morning hours followed by rain for the remains of the day.  Coincidentally, we’re again riding on a Sunday, the same as last time, so hopefully traffic heading our direction to the coast won’t be bad this time either.  Wish us luck.

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Well, now that we’ve completed this ride I have to say that Rachael and I feel just a bit let down.  Some of you apparently didn’t wish hard enough, because the weather was pretty awful again.  It wasn’t as bad as the first time, so we can’t say this was the worst rain experience in the last ten years - that ‘honor’ still belongs to the first time through.  Today was merely the second worst rain day in the last decade.  Still, awful enough.

The day began by offering us a bit of hope because it wasn’t raining yet when we left the hotel - already, an improvement over the first time.  We got an early start, after first walking to a nearby 7-11 to pick up breakfast to take back to our room - coffee; bananas, yogurt, dried nuts (Scott), or a sweet bun and a half and half tuna/egg salad sandwich (Rachael).  Before that, we went down to check out the buffet breakfast at our hotel, but quickly rejected it - quite expensive, almost nothing on the buffet looked like breakfast food to me, and the environment made us squirmy - the place was already crowded with an early departure tour group, and seating was at eight person round tables in a fancy banquet hall.  At $13 each, this didn’t make much sense to us so we walked over to the 7-11 instead.

Packed up and ready to leave, I couldn’t find my glasses (and here would be a good time for you to congratulate me for being four months into the tour without losing them yet - an above average performance that I’m quite proud of).  There was only one place they could be - the banquet hall.  I went down and looked around the table we had briefly sat at, and not seeing them I asked those at the table if they had - pantomiming by rimming my eyes with my fingers.  They somehow interpreted this as meaning I wanted to join them, so they smiled and gestured to the empty seat.  I shook my head, and repeated my pantomime, eliciting the same response.  After a third attempt I finally gave up and left the table, only to see them on the ground beneath the adjacent table.  Luckily enough, no one had stepped on them yet.

So, out the door finally, to enjoy a dry three miles along the river and back to Bitan where we had dinner last night.

It’s not sunny this morning, but even in these dark conditions the Sunshine Bridge is still strikingly attractive.
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On the Sunshine Bridge, still with hopes that we might get lucky with today’s weather.
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Looking east up the Xindian River, from the Sunshine Bridge. We’ll be crossing that ridge today, but further south and higher up than you can see from this angle.
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Beneath the Sunshine Bridge, we see a large mass cycling event getting underway.
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At about the time we pass The Shack, the rains commence.  Not bad at first, giving us some hope that we’ll just be facing scattered light showers throughout the day.  We bike through the remaining few miles of Taipei’s sprawling suburbs before reaching the hills in a light drizzle.  As soon as we start gaining elevation though, conditions predictably quickly worsen.  Soon it is obvious that we need to take this seriously, so we stop at a bus shelter to layer up a bit and put our rain boots on.  

Yes, I remember this road. It looks much as it did last time. After sitting here for about ten minutes hoping conditions would improve, we resigned ourselves and started off again.
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Today’s ride consists of two lengthy hill climbs, each topping out at about 1800’.  Neither is too steep or strenuous, and I’m sure each would be stunning rides in fairer conditions.  We’re biking through what increasingly has the feeling of rain forest as we gain elevation, with huge tree ferns, colorful flowers, and exotic bird songs burbling from the canopy.

Unfortunately, these are far from fair conditions.  It’s hard to appreciate the ride that much when you’re focusing on grinding out the miles in a steady rainfall.  To be fair, this isn’t the terrible rainfall I recall from before; but it’s certainly bad enough.  Finally, seven miles into the climb we reach the first summit.

This isn’t the best photo, but you’ll get the idea. I stopped for very few photos, of course - you’re seeing all of them here - because it took too much time to stop and pull out my camera, stacked away in a dry spot for protection.
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Spain could learn a thing or two from Taiwan. How great is this, coming across a public facility in the middle of nowhere, by a rural bus stop?
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We’re in tea plantation country. This was right beside the road, close enough to compel me to stop and get out the camera. We passed some really beautiful teascapes in the valleys below us, but they were too cloud-bound and far off to be worth the stop for.
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Another stop to clear the eyes up a bit and put our raincoats on. Until now we’ve just been riding in our jerseys because it hasn’t been that cold. Do you think she’s smiling here? I can’t quite tell.
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Steve Miller/GrampiesMaybe less smiling and looking a wee bit shell shocked.
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4 weeks ago

From the first summit, it’s an eight mile gradual descent, dropping 1,200’, to Pinglin.  It’s nice that it’s a gradual descent and that there is very little traffic so it feels safe descending, although it’s not at all pleasant - it’s raining, you’ll recall.  The big issues, other than just the misery, are caloric - we’re both getting cold on the long descent, and Rachael at least is getting quite hungry.  It’s clear we need to find some place to stop, get off the road, and get some food into ourselves.

We find it when we bottom out, in Pinglin.  We find it at exactly the same spot we did last time - at the Vanilla Cafe, a nice spot with covered outdoor seating, a good overlook of the river, and a good bilingual menu. Over the next forty five minutes we do our best to warm up.  I replace my soaked bike shirt and raincoat with dry layers, while Rachael wraps herself in my woolen Pendleton shirt.  We clutch our hands around cups of hot tea, eat our meals, listen to the rain hammering on the plastic tarpaulin roof above our heads, and watch hopefully for conditions to improve.

At the first summit, beginning the long descent to Pinglin
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It’s a tradition! Whenever we bike through Pinglin we always stop at the Vanilla Cafe.
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Adding on my Pendleton for extra warmth, Rachael tries to hold herself together and control her shaking. Do you think she’s smiling here? I can’t quite tell.
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Bruce LellmanStill looking shell-shocked and not smiling.
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4 weeks ago
Chilling out (er, slowly warming up) at the Vanilla Cafe.
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Not the most interesting photo, but it’s here as a reminder of our first visit. Then, we placed our bikes badly, so that my pannier was directly beneath the edge of a canopy. Water dripped directly down from it into my pannier that I had carelessly left open, thereby drowning my iPad and Rachael’s Surface.
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Things actually do improve a bit.  The rain isn’t hammering on the roof quite as hard, and we conclude that this may be as good as it’s going to get so we may as well have at it.  We pack away our dry clothing, I gingerly pull back on my soaked, cold bike jersey, and we hit the road again.  The climbing begins immediately, the second summit 1,200’ up and twelve miles off.  With a few exceptions it’s a gentle, steady climb through dense, jungly forest.  It rains steadily but not as badly as before.  We bike nonstop, with me periodically calling back to Rachael to check in on her.  I’m relieved that she sounds just fine, and isn’t hypothermic.  The climb helps us to keep warm, even though the day itself has cooled down somewhat. 

At the second summit, which is also the boundary for Toucheng Township and Yilan County. I’m sure there must be a summit marker here too, so I’m posing for it.
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The descent from the summit, again, must be an awesome ride under better conditions.  Just look at it on the map: we drop 1,800’ in just five miles through a series of sharp elongated serpentines.  The drop is at an almost uniform grade of about 7 percent, so you can really let fly until you come to one of the sharp hairpins.  Except you really can’t, because it’s raining, the roads are slick, and as we descend we drop through a lower level cloud/fog bank so the visibility is bad to boot.

Once we finally bottom out, it’s a straight seven mile shot south to Yilan City following Highway 9, which here is also Taiwan Cycle Route 1 again.  Most of the time we’re biking through towns and commercial strips with their usual craziness of scooters, double parked cars and cross traffic.  It helps though to have the legitimacy of the cycle route designation - there’s a marked bike lane at least most of the way, so at least someone thinks this is a reasonable place to bike.

When we’re not in a town, we’re biking through the farmlands of ultraflat Yilan County.  Field after field is completely under water, so the only thing you see above them is their raised field boundaries.  I assume these are rice paddies, but can’t be sure because the fields are fully submerged.

A half mile from our hotel, we have a slight navigational mishap.  The quieter road we pick looks like it connects up ahead with our marked route - but when we get there, we’re at an underpass with no obvious way to get to the highway twenty feet above.  Looking at the map again, we find what looks like another way up, but it’s at the top of a riverside dike, up a steep set of stairs.  We carry my bike together up the stairs with difficulty, planning to go back down and get Rachael’s next.  Instead, we just carry mine back down again with difficulty, because there’s not actually a road there.

Ha, ha.

So we’re finally in our hotel, fed and a bit fed up, looking at a weather forecast of 15 straight days of rain ahead.  We have damp articles hanging from every hanger and shelf in the place.  I think I’m coming down with a cold.  Not good.  Wish us luck.  Try a little harder with those wishes this time, OK?

An excuse for a good laugh at ourselves. It was hard getting up here with a bike, and even harder getting down again.
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So, we arrived in Yilan City tonight without many photos to show for the day because I kept the camera under wraps for most of the time.  Since I’ve still got some free space available, I’ll toss in a few more photos that didn’t make the cut for yesterday’s post.

Some very stylish swans at the Bitan Scenic Area. You can’t help but be a bit charmed by swans with long eyelashes.
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Wulai is within the domain of the Atayal, one of the largest groups of Taiwan’s indigenous people.
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Another super summit shot
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I know many of you were disappointed to not get to see the picture of me hoisting a bike over my head, so here it is. Very impressive!
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Jen GrumbyImpressive, indeed!
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3 weeks ago
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