around taiwan on 2 wheels 01: the short take

a cyclist’s dream come true 

Riding a bicycle is about getting back to basics. It’s good for the waistline and it’s good for the wallet, is what I’m saying. – phil keoghan, presenter (the amazing race)

9 days of sitting in a bicycle saddle didn’t do anything for my waistline, is what i’m saying. notwithstanding the almost 900 km worth of tarmac covered.

muscle expansion? water retention? or the heat?

maybe it was the beers.

how could anyone resist the beers in taiwan? the metallic cans gleaming brightly from inside convenient store chillers, beckoning to us. and the prices. the prices – let’s just say they were very affordable compared to ones back home. thus, drink them we must! on top of that, there were ample choices: wide selections of local beers, japanese beers, western beers and there’s upsized versions.

good thing we had separate bellies, just for the beers.

beery good!

beery good!

those convenience stores were superbly convenient just like their japanese counterparts. it was so convenient i’m sure the supermarkets were feeling the heat. that every convenience store came with attached bathroom/toilet was a big plus, especially for us cyclists.

besides stocking up on beer and answering nature’s calls, you could get almost anything from the convenience store. for example, super glue for a detached shoe sole. and the best part – they were friendly and always open. they wouldn’t bat an eye if you decided to take a nap or just chill there for the air-con. in fact, i’m quite sure their convenience stores was one of the deciding factors that earned taiwan the accolade of being one the world’s most cycling-friendly country.

our day wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t stop at one of them.

pit stop @ convenience store

pit stop @ convenience store

so, the sole stayed intact till the end and more. which was the best ending i could hope for. naturally, i was relieved that i didn’t need to cycle with my flip flops. i’m sure the flip flops would have flipped and flopped thoroughly, long before the ending point. there was no way they could handle the rain and hills especially on days 6, 7 and 9. and those were some long-lived hills.

the last one had us climbing for 12 km from sea level up to 550m (that nearly broke my back). going down wasn’t that fun either if you didn’t enjoy speeding down a windy mountain road at 40+km/hour.

the hills

the hill that stood between us and the last stop – taipei!

thankfully, the organiser, giant, equipped us with decent road bikes. and there were 3 support vans following us: a lead van (with a snack bar), a luggage van and a repair van. the route was well-thought out, the food were delicious (we got to try some yummy local specialities) and some of the hotels were really cool. we stuck to a strict schedule everyday. breakfast at 630am, warm-up at 710am, set-off by 730am, and wrap up for the day by 6pm. my group was well paced, so we had ample rest stops along the way and could still arrive early.

here’s our hardworking crew.

young, energy crew

young and energetic crew

this must be the most stress-free cycling trip ever. for once, i didn’t have to handle the logistics. or carry my bag. or know where i was headed. all i had to do was made sure i didn’t knock down anyone and dutifully hand-wash my clothes every evening. between the 2, i’m not sure which one was worse. there were 43 of us so steering clear of one another was a real test of skill and concentration. hand-washing clothes within a rationed time was an entirely different kind of stress. maybe the hand washing was worse …

that said, would-be participants ought to be comfortable cycling in a big group and in big cities with busy (sometimes reckless) traffic.

here's how cycling with 42 other people looked like

here’s how cycling with 42 other people looked like

one other challenge was – making out who’s who in the group because all i ever saw were their backs. when i thought i’d nailed it, they would change their getup the next day. so, there were days when i wasn’t sure whether the guy whom i thought he was, was the guy or some other guy. come dinner time, when all the helmets were off and the hair was let down, it was another scene altogether. i could walk into the restaurant, on the streets and not recognise them at all.

the fault’s entirely mine of course.

when all helmets are off

when all helmets are off

the tour was pretty fun but it certainly wasn’t easy or pain-free (counterpain was my best friend, 9 nights in a row) and there were days (or times of the day) when I wished i could just veg out in the cool convenience stores and not go back under the sun. but, we’ve got to do our part for the cameras yah?

here’s how you pose.

on good days

on good days 

the reality: when no one’s looking.

but sometimes we need a break

crashed and burnt

this was a very well organised cycling trip. i think after this, i’d be too pampered for anything else. now, if only the hotel rooms come with en suite washing machines…

to be continued: next blog – a boring blow by blow account of the cycling tour.

 

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