Thursday, July 31, 2014

Not XTR but STR. Our upcoming adventure...

Thanks YC for this map!

Its just a few days before we set off to yet another adventure. This time, it will be our ride to Southern Thailand, exploring the region surrounding the Isthmus of Kra. We will fly to Phuket and make our way northwards to Khao Lak, then Ranong. We hope to make a day trip into Kawthaung, Burma just for the heck of it.

Then its a 140km ride to Chumphon on the East Coast, where we will hop on a ferry to snorkeling paradise of Ko Tao island for a few nights. We will either train or bus our way to Hat Yai, where we may meet a friend and ride across the border into Malaysia. Destination - Penang where we will meet up with our wives,  friends and 3000 other cyclists who will participate in the yearly Campaign for a Lane CFAL event.

What is interesting about this part of Thailand has been the idea of carving a canal for shipping through this narrow stretch of 44km land like the Suez Canal. This has been mooted as early as 1677 by the Thai King Narai as it would bypass the Straits of Malacca. Various initiatives have come and gone due to a myriad of economic and political factors. China who now harbors ambitions have expressed interest in funding this and it would be interesting to see how far this goes,  especially geopolitically.

Khao Lak, a renown beach resort, is also intriguing as it was the most affected area of the 2004 Tsunami. Sadly, it swept away a few thousand lives and caused unbelievable damage. There still lies a big naval boat stranded way inland, and it will be interesting to see that on this trip.

My weapon of choice will be my ultra comfortable Bike Friday Expedition touring foldie. Weather wise, it is the wet and rainy season. A most perfect time actually to beat the tropical humidity. All in, it should be a fun 500 or 700km ride with the Magnificent 7.

Stay tune on our STR Adventure with Lovethefold!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Taiwan Spring Ride 2014 in Videos

If a picture paints a thousand words, then a video splashes a million! Trust the ever talented Joeel Lee to put together an amazing video of our recent April trip to Taiwan. Nothing captures it better than this! It details the fun and adventure we had together so well, and do enjoy it on full screen.

And not to be outdone, Esther his wife took a collection of selfies too and that also became another hilarious video. Love how this video starts and ends so naturally! Truly a very gifted couple that I'm so blessed and privileged to know.

Thank you so very much Joeel and Esther!

Spring Ride in Taiwan Day 7 - Chishang to Taitung. 55km. Saving the best for last!

Pic Roland Lee

Pic Roland Lee

  Paparazzia everywhere!  Pic Siew Ling

It's usually not my thing to enjoy breakfast with hordes of Chinese senior citizens all talking loudly and slurping nosily in the same restaurant but this morning somehow was delightfully different. The Taiwanese seniors were very sweet, friendly and inquisitive about us "youngsters" all dressed up in tight, colourful attire. I found out in my limited Mandarin that they were on a conducted tour of Taiwan and I was very glad to see them having a whale of a time. Once again, eating Taiwanese porridge for breakfast was absolutely delicious and I felt sad gobbling it down as this was our last day of riding.

The plan was to cycle 55km from Chishang to Guanshan and catch the 330pm train at Taitung all the way back to Taipei. But first, we had to have a special warm up session with none other than the famous Choo Choo cycle train. This is what the Dapochi Hotel is renown for. Basically, this is a special tri-cycle that can hook up together to form as long a train as possible. The Senior Citizens have the advantage of having an "├źngine" that pulled them around the beautiful cycle circuits but for us youngsters, there was no such thing. The hotel staff divided us into 3 groups and with our rice farmer hats all donned up, we soon were pedalling furiously, tearing down the bike paths at a paltry 15km/h! Boy, they were so heavy.

Pic Roland Lee

We soon figured that if we were to join all 16 tri-cycles together, we had one long road train and that would be real fun. Of course we made sure we did this far away from the hotel as they would not have approved of such a long train. However, with some folks cycling and some goofing off taking pictures and what not, our train was really crawling. Which is a practical lesson in communism actually - why it does not work. After all, why pedal when there is someone else who is doing the pedalling? You still get the same reward... So those who pedalled eventually gave up as it was too difficult and the whole train just stopped!!! Here is what I mean...  :)

Someone sleeping!  Pic Roland Lee
Another clowning! :)

As the morning was getting on, it was soon time to hop on our real bikes and ride south towards Taitung. After slogging on the choo choo cycle, our foldies felt like fighter jets, nimble and fast even with fully loaded panniers. As we rode through the lovely green rice fields, our destination is the famous spot where there is a huge picture frame a short ride away. It was pretty crowded with other tourists but we soon got our chance to take the obligatory group photo. Esther of course managed to get all of us on a selfie and that was incredible. I was pleased to have a nice framed portrait of myself too.

This particular road just after the Frame is perhaps the most beautiful road for photography as it is straight as an arrow, surrounded both sides by rice paddies and right in front are mountains. Many commercials were shot here and I felt very privileged to be riding on this famous Mr Brown Ave.

Riding out of Chishang, the roads soon became less scenic and the hills started appearing. We were leaving dreamland and facing touring reality once again as we headed south on Highway 9. Still, we savored every kilometer as we knew that the long ride was soon coming to an end. We did a pit stop at Guanshan at our favorite 7/11 to fuel up and that was really appreciated by all.

To make things interesting, YC had a very nice detour planned for us so that instead of waiting for the slower riders, we could take this scenic 3km detour and rejoin the gang at the highway. This is an old section of Highway 9 and is a lovely side road into the woods, passing the Taitung Drug Rehab Centre along the Wulin Green Belt. It is traffic free and it was fun crossing a scenic bridge. I had a blast just cruising along at a fast pace with Carolen and Chor Kooi on our foldies. 

What goes down must go up and as we rejoin the highway, it was a gradual climb. Only 30km to Taitung! What is intriguing were the many signs informing the cyclists how many calories were burnt off and that was supposed to serve as a motivator as we cranked our way up slowly. At this stage, some newbies were really feeling worn out but with constant encouragement, everyone got up those hills.

The reward was a beautiful long downhill towards the Luye River and we had a blast spinning our small wheels at top speed. As we approach Taitung outskirts, I was drafting KL Mike and Carolen. Mike was really flying at 45-50km/h and we were covering ground like that was no tomorrow! We went so fast that we forgot to stop for Custard Apples unlike the rest who did. It was providence that when we stopped at the Family Mart to regroup, there were a couple of Custard Apple shops and we bought heaps and got them delivered to Taipei.

It was fortunate that one of the vendors looked rather familiar so we felt very comfortable buying from him. He showed us the best ones and we were very pleased with our purchase.

Lunch was at a simple local eatery and the poor seller was running out of food with 16 of us hungry cyclists swarming around. Roland was kind enough to sacrifice the last bowl of Lu Rou Fan (braised pork rice) to me which was my favorite. I really appreciated that so much and many a times, Roland and May extended such kindness to us all.

Pic from

Our timing was clockwork and we made it to the Taitung Train Station with 30 mins to spare. It was great to have all our tickets sorted out early and this was to be a long 5 hour train journey. After all, we will be boarding nearly at the southern tip of Taiwan Island and would make our way all the way north. As usual, a group selfie was in order!

It was amazing to know that we actually made it! A great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment filled our hearts. We owed it to Ying Chang who put so much thought and planning for every detail of this trip, and to everyone for their contribution big or small.

As we boarded the train, we were booked in a special compartment where half of it was solely dedicated to bicycles and the rest for passengers. This is another shining example of how bicycle friendly Taiwan is. 

Although we were all visibly happy, in our hearts we were somehow sad that this great ride has come to an end. The last week has been like a dream and how I wish we do not need to wake up from this beautiful dream on our foldies together!

Our hearts have indeed been touched by Taiwan...

Spring Riders 2014 are - Ying Chang, Papa Mike, KL Mike, Oreo, Chor Kooi, Siew Ling, Carolen, Elaine, Joeel, Esther, Roland, May, Benny, Pru, Celia and I.  

And not forgetting Doreen, Wayne and Mark!

Spring Ride in Taiwan Day 6 - Yuli to Chishang, 60km with a steep steep detour

It was to be an easy 60km ride to Chishang so we took a leisurely breakfast at our Kagaya Hot Springs Hotel. There was a good reason why we had to climb so hard last night, and that was the splendid views that were on offer. The morning sun lighted the magnificent surroundings for us and it was too amazing to describe. We could see the township of Yuli from where we are, 10km away. This is certainly a place worth staying a few nights, and why o why do we have to leave?

Once again, the wet ride yesterday really took a toll on our bikes as rust started to form on our chains and everything was creaking away. So we took some time to lube the bikes and do the necessary before  taking forever to assemble for a group picture. Mornings somehow can get a bit messy but nobody minded one bit.

Our first stop just a short ride from the foot of the hill was a converted train station. The Taiwanese Authorities have transformed this into a magnificent bike path right in the middle of green rice fields with splendid mountains at the edge. We were bowed over at what we saw! Joeel wanted us to ride in a long single file while he shot a video and we had fun playing choo choo train on our foldies, giggling excitedly like kindy kids.

Pic Roland Lee

We then crossed the famous bicycle bridge which had a detailed description of the geographic plates that Taiwan sits on and it was good to learn about fault lines and such.  With earthquakes, typhoons, landslides etc, there is never a dull moment living here weather wise. 

It was a quick stop at 7/11 to restock supplies especially for those who were going up the famous 60 stone mountain pass later. The ride to Chishang was through stunning green fields of rice and mainly flat. After so many days of riding, it was just fun to cruise happily with little effort just soaking in the scenery before us.

YC had organized the 60 stone (Liushidan san) mountain climb to make things interesting. 800m of nice climbs and hairpins with the promise of amazing scenery.There seem to be many stories on how the name came about but the one that makes the most sense seem to be that most rice fields can only yield 40-50 stones of rice.  However, this area is so fertile that it can yield 60 stones!

As my "contract" did not want to climb, and some of the group had had enough of hills, I had to lead this group of 5 to Chishang. We parted ways at the turn off and I volunteered to take a pannier for Elaine and Carolen as my BF Expedition had an empty front rack. On trips like this, we all need to help each other as much as possible and this is what makes touring fun! 

As I waved them goodbye and wish them all the very best, a part of me wished I was with them. Our ride to Chishang was uneventful except we got caught in some really heavy showers and had to take shelter in a small village. Our thoughts went to the 60 stone gang and we prayed that they would be safe up there.  Little did I realize the drama they had up there with the storms and all. They were successful in their climb up but coming down was a different experience. 

With slippery roads and steep curvy descends, 4 ladies came off their bikes at different parts of the descend. Fortunately, none of them had any serious injuries and the bikes were all relatively unscathed. It is through times like this that we can sense God's divine protection and care for us. I am grateful they all could still ride on in high spirits to Chishang.

Our team of 5 arrived early and the first thing we wanted was a nice hot meal. Chishang is famous for the Blue Train Bento and it was easy to spot this eatery. Just look out for an old blue train carriage parked at the start of town. There is nothing like a delicious Taiwanese Bento meal after a long ride. We were all famished but none more than Papa who ordered literally everything on the menu. I don't blame him because everything was so so good here and I would have done the same if I could!

We checked into Dapochi Vacation Centre Hotel, which is an apartment style tall tourist hotel with an outstanding brown brick facade. The rooms were comfortable enough and offered a stunning view of the rice fields and mountain ranges. It was nice to be able to have a bit of a shower and a rest while waiting for Team 60 to arrive. Judging from the number of senior citizen tourists here, this is obviously a very popular spot to stopover and for good reasons.

When the gang finally arrived just before the sun set, we were all very excited to welcome them and to hear their stories. I admired the resilience of those who had thrills and spills as they were all sharing enthusiastically of their adventures high up on 60 stones. Papa and Celia were busy attending to their injuries and we are very grateful to have such medical professionals with us on the team. 

Dinner was literally a steamy affair at a local hotpot restaurant and it was so good to tuck into fresh veggies and thinly cut slices of meat, eaten with hot rice and noodles. 

KL Mike and Oreo were enjoying themselves immensely but they wished they opted for glasses with built in demister!

We went for a short night bike tour of the small town of Chishang and ended the night with a briefing on the breezy roof top of the hotel. The energy level of everyone was still quite high and its amazing how fit we have become over the past 6 days of riding.

It was hard to believe that we have nearly come to the end of our ride of Eastern Taiwan and we have rode so far a distance. Tomorrow we shall start our last day with a different type of cycling and that promises to be buckets of fun!


Mini Product Review - 7/11 rain boots

They have everything and I mean everything for the cyclists in Taiwan. One product that we came across is the rain boots sold at 7/11. About US$5 a pair! We tried it during the heavy rain storm to Chishang. They are very effective in keeping your shoes dry but man, there is one small problem. It lacks ventilation and unless you can enjoy having a mini sauna attached on your feet while cycling in the rain, this product is not for me.

But then again, Celia seems to like it...