Tuesday, May 21, 2019

LTF E-Adventure Day 2. The Climb starts. SML to CJ, 70km

Siew Leng beginning the climb in complete ease and ultra cool style!

Goodbye unearthly starts! The wonderful advantage of having an Ebike is the luxury of starting a tour later. KC woke up at 6am for sunrise photos while we rose 8-ish to a cool 18c. Our spirits soared when we saw the blue-est of sky - a nice contrast to yesterday's dreadful weather, another blessing to give thanks for.

We took our time to enjoy a lovely Taiwanese breakkie put out by our hotel and eating just by the lake was quite special. There were other guests as well and these delightful Seniors were on a local church outing. Total distance to Cingjing was just about 70km, first 20km largely downhill to Puli, then a gradual climb to CJ. Doing this on a regular bicycle would be a challenge but no, not us! We were not daunted as we had "assistance".

We left at about 10am and made our way to the huge Giant Bikeshop on the other side of the lake first. The 10km ride to Giant was most scenic as it skirted around beautiful SML. Frank's Ebike was having some issues with the rear wheel, mine had a loose headset and others had niggles that needed to be sorted. After all, we were going to be climbing up the very challenging Wulin and then descending at high speeds for 100km into Hualien. Better to make sure our bikes were tip-top.

The bike mechanics of Giant must be commended as they were so friendly and helpful to us and treated our Ebikes like gold. While waiting for about an hour or so, we had fun clowning around as always!

Our stomachs were rumbling when we finally could leave SML at noon but Puli was a mere 20km away. The downhill did not disappoint as we flew at speeds in excess of 50kmh and the porky 20+ kg weight of our bikes certainly contributed to the fun. I had stayed in Puli before and to me, it is just a very ordinary town but an important gateway to Taroko National Park from the West. We found a local eatery selling Mee Sua (a soupy thick gooey noodle dish) which was a favourite for many but fussy me had "adequate sufficiency" after a couple of mouthfuls.

Our team of 8 E-Cowboys and Cowgirls left at 2pm whirling away from Puli along Highway 14 and enjoyed a somewhat flattish ride for about 12km. The climb really starts after the 711 at 12km and although we were still full from lunch, we raided the 711. 

There was a hose at the carpark and some of us could not resist washing our bikes. After all, getting it a bit lighter is important, as every gram saved counts! Out of nowhere, a rather gruffy chap appeared and scolded us for using the hose and that was the signal for the climb to begin.

With 2 batteries, we had ample reserves and I wasted no time to tackle the hills with ease on "Sport" mode. It made light work of the climbs, especially the steepest portions. Memories of each hairpin climb came back clearly to me and I remembered one particular section that nearly all of us in 2012 suffered from leg cramps as we painfully pedaled and pushed our way up. Dr Mike and Dr Celia were administering First Aid in a café then to those grimmiscing in pain.

This time however, I climbed up with a big grin permanently plastered on my painless face. The 350w motor really made easy work and averaging 20kmh was not a problem. At one stage, we could even overtake slower trucks who were struggling to inch up those steep slopes. All the climbing on full power meant we were running low on power but that was quickly solved with a quick change to a new battery.

This climb is not just beautiful in terms of scenery as we ascended but it also has a historical place of significance. We passed by the Wushe Incident Memorial Park where in 1930, the Japanese Army killed over 1000 Seediq Aborigines in response to an uprising where 130 Japanese died. This is marked by the Mona Rudo Resistance Monument.

On a side note, though both Korea and Taiwan were colonized by the Japanese, Taiwan enjoys a better relationship because Japan sought to prove to the world that they could be good occupiers by really building the country with sound infrastructure. Also when the KMT took over Taiwan after WW2, the terror they reigned upon Taiwan known as the 228 incident from 1949 to 1987 made the 1915 Tapani and 1930 Wushe incidents seem very small. More here in this excellent article - The Unusual Case for Taiwan.

Cingjing is a major tourist attraction in this part of Taiwan and for good reason. Some parts look like the rolling hills of New Zealand with sheep and all. As a result, there are lots of hotels and very European looking ones too. It does not take a lot to imagine we have somewhat landed in Switzerland or some alps in Europe.

We regrouped at the first 711 (there are 3 up in CJ) and waited for KC whose curiosity got the better of him as he went to explore some hotel in search of Harry Potter. It was nice to arrive here without feeling totally knackered and this place is special because it was where I met Ying Chang in 2012. He cycled all the way from Taichung to meet us here then!

Our hotel was the Ailiga Villa which is 3 mins walk to the Town Centre. Truly we were blown away by the warm reception we received and gratefully impressed that they allowed us to park our Ebikes in their office for safety. Moreover, they welcomed us to charge our batteries with their ample power sockets. Super bike friendly!

Frank on guard duty!

KJ and Frank were absolutely delighted to be in their very special Hobbit Villas and this was later voted as one of the best value for money accommodation for our entire trip -  at less than 1000NT.

The rest of us 6 shared a double story huge family accommodation which resembled a Swiss Ski Chalet with wooden floors, walls and a special ceiling with an overhead window. Gary and SW took the honeymoon suite while the 4 of us were upstairs. We were all so happy to be here at Ailiga Villa and our room boasted of the most scenic view ever of the mountains right in front of us. One small snag was 6 of us sharing one bathroom! But we survived and still remained great friends which said a lot.

We enjoyed a piping hot steamboat dinner which was perfect in light of the cooler weather up here in CJ. The servings were huge but no one complained as everyone was hungry. We ate lots of fresh veggies, pork, beef and mutton and the soup just kept getting better and better as the dinner went on.

We had had to go for an after dinner walk after all the feasting and visited the Swiss Garden area and the 711 for coffee and dessert. It was wonderful to be on our feet without our bicycles for a change, in the cool pleasant surroundings.

What a glorious day this has turned out. Blue skies at SML and even bluer skies at CJ. Thank God indeed and we sing for joy at his great love for us! We felt extremely privileged to enjoy this first part of our climb in such glorious weather and in the company of great friends. Our happy spirits were of course also due to our rather effortless climb thanks to our Giant Fast XR Ebike (plus the blessing of the complimentary battery). Although tomorrow's hard climb to Wulin will cause many cyclists a sleepless night, we on the other hand had no such anxiety. We all slept well and with great joy!

This beautiful song probably captures the spirit of this beautiful day for me! Have a listen. 

Sunday, May 19, 2019

LTF E-Adventure Day 1 - Taichung to Sun Moon Lake. 57km

2 very different approaches to wet weather footwear!

Fermented Smelly Tofu - the "durian" of Taiwan. Delicious!

For those who know Taiwan, the East Coast is much much more attractive than the West Coast as the latter tends to be very industrial and even polluted. If you are thinking of doing a round island, the best way to traverse the West Coast is by High Speed Train at 280kmh/h and spend more time exploring the magnificent mountains, valleys, rice plains, endless coasts of the eastern part.

But we had to collect our bikes from Taichung so the plan was to get them and ride east to Sun Moon Lake asap. We chose to stay at the Mini Hotel near the Feng Chia Night Market. This hotel has a British theme based on the iconic Mini and as an incorrigible car fanatic, it resonates. Being near the night market meant great pickings for dinner but the main reason is that it is not far from the Giant Flagship Bike Store.

It was a very wet morning and we taxi-ed to collect our bikes after a sumptuous breakkie. The bikeshop boasts of an impressive showroom but unfortunately due to a misunderstanding, our 8 E-Bikes that we ordered were not ready for collection despite our telephone confirmation a few days earlier. The staff were apologetic and started to source racks and panniers for the majority of the bikes who were not tour ready. This meant a 2 hr delay but with the pouring rain, we didn't mind. It was great too to finally meet up with Alice who trained up from Chaozhou, some 3 hrs away. For all the trouble, the staff decided to compensate us with a spare battery each and this was truly a God sent blessing which saved us on more than one occasion.

We left at about 1pm and rode 5km to the central train station into the heart of town in the soaking rain. It was a strange but pleasant experience to be on these E-bikes which is a pedal-assist type. This meant that the power only kicks in when you cycle and the boost you get is rather addictive. I was quite worried if the water would affect the electric components of the Ebike but that proved unfounded. It was rather fun just getting completely soaked wet as we cycled through the streets of Taichung.

Note my most effective wet weather foot wear!

One unfortunate consequence of our later start meant that we missed the 130pm train to Ershui and we had to decide whether to cycle the 40km there and continue to SML or wait till 4pm to take the next train. For safety reasons, we decided on the train even though it meant riding to SML in the dark. This long wait enabled us to enjoy a lovely burger lunch at Freen Burger just across the Station. It was surprisingly good with super fresh ingredients and a tasty burger! Just wearing our shorts meant we got a discount as the tagline for this eatery was - "Be living in your shorts" - something that we would be doing for a week on our bike trip.

The train ride to Ershui was uneventful and it was only about an hour. However, it is always good to have our own in-house entertainment in Uncle KC for he never fails to bring the house down, or rather the train down.

Upon arrival at Ershui, Alice tried to talk to a conductor of a train heading in the direction of SML to allow us to board but to no avail. That train was not designated to take full-size bicycles unfortunately and we sorely missed the advantages of travelling with a foldy. 

The ride to SML was about 50km and we had only about an hour of sunlight left. The sky was already dark and cloudy with pregnant rain clouds but the kms flew by quickly as we put the Ebike advantage to good use. We were all cruising easily at 25-30km/h through quiet roads and it was magic to be gliding at such a quick pace with not much effort. The soft whirling sound of the motor was something we had to get used to and we did so quickly.

We stopped at 711 after about 30 km to refuel and then began the 20km plus climb up to SML Although the Giant Ebikes had lites as part of the rental package, they were rather dismal and it was a challenge to ride up the mountains in pitch dark roads. Only Gary brought proper lights and I nearly crashed into a low hanging branch, which added so much to the night adventure. We started the climb with 70% left in our battery but this was depleting at a faster pace than expected. That got me worried!

7km before the top, we stopped at a Police Station for a quick toilet stop and more importantly, to switch batteries as some of us were dangerously low. The Policeman came out wondering what mischief this mortley crew of 8 were up to in the dead of the night!  With a fresh battery, we powered our way up with confidence and I set it to Sport Power and literally flew. The all too familiar SML town centre soon appeared and we made our way through the back lanes to Shui Yang Boatel Hotel. This lovely place is situated just by the lakeside and is reasonably priced - another gem recommended by YC! The owner was expecting us and greeted us warmly, directing us where to park our bikes. This is one plus of travelling Taiwan, most hotels are so bike friendly.

Pic fm Booking.com  Shui Yang Boatel

Arriving at 9pm plus, most eateries were closed except for the life saving 711 but we were not fussy. After a quick shower, everyone was in high spirits and I had my absolutely delicious Jpn Curry Rice with Taiwan Grape Beer!

We had done a total of 57km on our first day and climbed a respectable 1470m. It was pleasantly effortless. I reckon we used only 30% of our strength to get here thanks to electric technology. If this was a sample of what's to come, we can't wait to enjoy the rest of our adventure.

Everyone slept very well that night and before I slipped into dreamland, I thought about the blessing of the very unplanned extra battery. We thought we could make do with one but someone up there knew better and was keeping a close watch over us.

*Photo credits - KC Auyeong