Friday, July 11, 2014

Spring Ride in Taiwan Day 3 - Jiaoxi to Hualien 70km. An easy train-ing ride.

Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride. ~John F. Kennedy


I am one person that does not like repeats, especially food wise. However the breakfast at Douai Hotel in Jiaoxi somehow tasted even better than yesterday and I couldn't figure out why. Perhaps it was my growing love for Taiwanese Porridge, piping hot rice soup eaten with all sorts of delightful condiments that makes it so easy to down. We were all somewhat relaxed this morning. After fueling up however, it was like a scene in the market where panniers of different colors, shapes and sizes were strewn everywhere outside the restaurant.

Having ridden naked yesterday, the weight of panniers on our bicycles today made the bike seem extra heavy and it didn't help that Ben and I were on mule duties. But then again, not all mules are the same in ability!

Hualien was our target and it is a hard 135km distance, and a bit more to our hotel. Fortunately Ying Chang had planned it well - we only have to hit Suao Station in Yilan, an easy 30km then train our way to Hualien. Which explained the bright smiles and happy mood. We rode across the beautiful Jiaoxi countryside, crossing many green rice fields through quiet country roads. This truly is as good as it gets with the good Lord granting us such superb cool, cloudy weather.

Ying Chang and I took the lead and had fun trying to tire out Carolen at 35km/h as she seemed to have so much energy to spent. She has after all, trained over 2000km before coming and was the fittest of us all. The rest of the team were just enjoying the ride, and soaking in everything that we could see, hear and smell. The fresh air seemed to have just been washed by the rain, and it was especially fragrant.

The 30km ride ended all too quickly and we were soon at Suao City. Time check 11am - way before the 1123am train departed. We had done well and we could breathe easy as we had already pre-booked our tickets thanks to YC's forward planning. Touring and training at the same time is truly a wonderful way to see any country. I have always been very impressed by Taiwan Railways as they are ever so bike friendly. True to their reputation, they opened a separate check in gate for our motley crew of 17 MAMILS & MAWILS.

The train ride was just over an hr and we all killed time creatively and fruitfully. Roland one of the resident mechanics was helping CK adjust his Dahon TR and teaching him how to tune a SRAM system. Legend Mike Khor was imparting his wisdom to his #1 fan, just with one index finger. I think it was about the intricacies of touring bike set up, gear ratios as well as Topography 101.

On the creative front, designer par excellent Joeel was keeping his camera busy exploring various angles and perspectives. If ever there is a genius and a design legend, it has to be good ole Joeel. 

When we disembarked from the train in Hualien, our stomachs were growling embarrassingly. This always seem to be the case when we are touring and satisfying the stomachs without guilt is certainly one of the joys in every one of our trips. Hualien has a plethora of amazing restaurants and for lunch, we all rode to a very renown dumpling restaurant. It was chokers with the usual lunch crowd but our patience paid off deliciously. We actually got seating for all of us and the feasting started. The dumplings were absolutely fantastic and I dare not count how many we had in total. Easily 3 figures I reckon!

Like an ancient religious tradition, we have to make offerings at the local bike shop whenever we enter a new city. Our excuse this time was to get Giant brand raincoats. The owner was pleased as punch as the locusts in lycra descended upon him and nearly cleared out his raincoat stock. Here, a poor soul left her iPhone behind but was fortunate enough to recover it later, kudos to the honesty of the Taiwanese.

Getting out of Hualien City was easy enough and traffic was very respectful to us cyclists. Still, it was a challenge for such a big group to stick together as there were traffic lights and intersections to cross. Our abode the Kanazawa House was in the country and a 10km + ride but we didn't mind it one bit. It was pleasant especially to ride through the bike scenic routes that ran parallel to the lovely gurgling river.

The scenery here was so stunning that it literally stopped us in our tracks. At least I stopped Mike Khor so that I could capture this portrait of him. We were all lost in wonder as we glided over this beautiful part of the bike path.

If we thought Daoai Hotel was great, we were blown away with the Kanazawa House. Set among rice fields and veggie farms, this splendid boutique hotel with only 8 exclusive rooms really got us excited. Designed by its architect owner, it reeks class. Our large group meant we took all the rooms too and had the whole place to ourselves! YC came here on his last trip and he and his family absolutely fell in love with the place. Serene, green, avant garde architecture, landscaping, cosy and spacious rooms, views to die for ...  Though it is quite a distance from Hualien City, we didn't mind that one bit as we had our own set of wheels. I will let the pictures do the talking...

We enjoyed a lovely afternoon just lazing around and enjoying the comfortable offerings of our boutique hotel. Hualien is also famous for sushi and we rode all the way to town to sample it for dinner. Putting the faster riders behind and the easy riders in front, we managed to stay tightly bunched up and arrived in the city in no time. 

The Sushi restaurant unfortunately was packed, as expected of all good eateries, and we had to wait for nearly an hour before getting a seat. But needless to say, it was worth every minute of waiting as the sashimi came in the thickest slabs I have ever seen and is fresh as fresh can be. You can say we were all sushied out that night!

Pic fm

There happened to be some TV show filming in the restaurant as well and some of the more illumined members of our team - show biz wise, took the opportunity to snap some pics with the main star. As the night was still young and our energy level still high, we went to a local amusement park to check it out and ended up playing baseball! Roland, Carolen, Celia, Benny, Oreo and CK had a go and the champion scorer was CK. We later learned that he is a very active competitive badminton player which explains his amazing hand eye co-ordination.

The ride back to Kanazawa House through the coolness of the night was most pleasant. We felt like kids who were not supposed to be out this late, but did so anyway.  This is one training ride that was easy enough and so memorable. Taroko Gorge tomorrow. It keeps getting better!

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