The last leg

Posted by on 22, Mar 2020 in 2020 - Winter in Taiwan, Taiwan, Tilly the Tandem

The last leg

Having navigated the hills we were now on the easy final fairly flat straight, though it would be better to describe it as the final wiggle and the coast continued its remarkable beauty as we headed back over the Tropic of Cancer posing for a few photos at the marker.

Along the route we passed the Water Running Uphill park, where a stream appears to flow uphill. It was so convincing that Linda almost was convinced that physics was all wrong but it was an optical illusion. The hills ran steeply down toward the sea and the stream ran apparently uphill on these slopes. But the steepness of the slope made you feel that the water was in fact flowing uphill when it wasn’t. You could sense this better when walking by the stream as it felt like you were going downhill. The park was a nice stop though.

The coast has many viewing points and a few islands one of which was joined by a lovely bridge that looked like the Loch Ness Monster had done a selfie.

We’d had a long cycle by the time we got there and decided that the dark clouds on the mountains were a good enough excuse to have a look at it but not walk over it and instead plod on to our hotel for the night rather than get soaked. The hotel had a nice pagoda to sit in that gave us a good view of Nessy as she slipped into cloud and disappeared as we sat in the shelter and watched the rain engulf it.

The road up the coast is busy but has for the most part a nice shoulder to hide in. On the bits where this disappears we have become adept at waiting for a gap in the traffic then peddling like mad to reach the next bit of shoulder before a lorry hurtles past us. So as we arrived at Hualien we had a choice to make about whether we should continue on up the coast for the next 100km where the road becomes a lot more wiggly and narrow with few shoulders or sit back and enjoy the luxury of a train ride.

You know us so you will have guessed we went for the Tilly on the Train option which in itself proved an experience.

Before we arrived in Taiwan I checked that we could take Tilly on the train on the English language page of the Taiwan Railways and yes you could.

At the station the answer was a resounding no you can’t. So in true Reed fashion I just kept asking people until someone eventually gave in and said yes you can but she has to go on her own and takes 36 hours to get there. On one of our US cycles Tilly had flown home via Paris and New York having left Boston for Stansted so we reckoned she could look after herself and arranged to leave her with the baggage room staff for onward transportation the next day.

In the meantime we took her off to the Taroko Gorge, one of the wonders of Taiwan. We arranged for a cab to take us to the top of the gorge for us to roll down (of course) and then spent a few hours rolling gently down a fabulous gorge carved over millions of years by the river below. It really is incredible cycling on the road that was originally hand dug across from one side of Taiwan to the other through dozens of tunnels, and probably some of the easiest cycling we’ve ever done too!

Having completed that we cycled back to the station and said farewell to Tilly and took the train to Ylin where we had booked a spa room in this spa town. We had to carry our panniers 400m to the hotel from the station and had to stop numerous times to get our breath back, how on earth do we cycle this lot! Ridiculous.

The spas here are natural hot springs and our hotel had private spas in each room the size of a large hot tub which we throughly enjoyed and refreshed the next morning collected Tilly from the station platform where she was left unlocked and unguarded by the staff (it really is that safe here) and set off again northward to Keelung.

The weather forecast was not good but we set off in bright sunshine but as we reached the coast the clouds descended, the winds picked up and rain started to do serious impressions of monsoons. Naturally enough the traffic increased with lots of trucks and the road had narrower shoulders and shoulderless tunnels.

The coast itself was again breathtaking with the waves crashing against the shore and the wind howling and I thoroughly enjoyed the cycle despite getting drenched.

Linda on the back was less impressed. Its much worse on the back of a tandem in traffic as you can’t see anything and have no control so when we were half way through a tunnel and lorry hooted us to get out of the way it’s clean pants time!

Why hoot us? Did he somehow think that I didn’t hear a 40 tonne articulated lorry coming up behind me and anyway, where did he expect us to go?

There was absolutely no shoulder and no where to get out of the way to, so as I’d carelessly forgotten to bring my portable tunneling gear to make a coffin sized hole in the wall in the 3 seconds I had before he was closely examing the paint on the rear bumper, I waved my arm vigorously to show I wasn’t going anywhere and stuck in the lane and the truck just had to wait until we got out of the tunnel before he past us.

This is the only thing to do in situations like these.

To be fair though most of the trucks are really good. The rest of the traffic is mad, but again mostly pretty courteous to us and its the BMW and Merc car drivers who seem the least courteous. Whether they are just selfish morons or they don’t know how wide their big 4×4 cars are I have no idea.

The thing that irritates us the most is that some drivers seem to think the centre line on the road must not be crossed even if you can see for miles that there’s nothing coming the other way and they will squeeze past you making sure their wheels don’t touch the white line like a 5 year old avoiding the cracks on paving slabs! Why? Don’t be an idiot, give bikes the whole lane if you can.

But not all tunnels are created equal and we had the pleasure of cutting the end off a headland by nipping though the old Caoling rail tunnel which is now a cycle tunnel (sans trucks). Its been done very nicely and there is a faint echo of haunting music throughout the tunnel that can only be heard when you stop and listen hard. Whether the system was broken or whether it was to make the tunnel a bit spooky I don’t know, but it was very atmospheric.

We eventually rolled into Keelung and arrived at the hotel looking like a pair of drowned rats. We stood at the door way and asked if they minded us coming in and they made us wheel Tilly into the foyer and wouldn’t let us wipe her down outside or take our wet gear off before messing up their spotless entrance hall. ‘we will clean it up’ they happily said. Which reminded me of a cafe in Germany we once arrived at with our friends the Du Randts in a similar conditon where we were turned away!

The room was excellent and we had to wash the panniers before we could unpack them. My fingers looked like I’d be in a bath all day and my water proof socks (socks and sandals – classy eh?) had so much water in them I’m not sure how my foot fitted I them as well. The shower floor was black with mud and dirt.

But, a hot shower (after we’d cleaned it) and clean dry clothes and we were all sorted and ready to go off for dinner, a Chinese vegetarian stall at the near by Street Night Market.

We decided to stay an extra night as the rain was hanging around the next day before competing the circumnavigation of Taiwan and arriving back in Taipei to be greeted like long lost friends by the same hotel we left 5 weeks ago.

Taipei 101 is a wonderful oriental style skyscraper in the centre of a new business and leisure district in Taipei. Linda doesn’t like heights but was happy to take the fastest lift in the world which went at 66.6kph upwards taking 34 floors to reach top speed and had us to the 89th floor observatory in about 30 seconds. It was quick!

The view as usual from any tall building is amazing and you often think you can feel the building swaying in the wind when standing there. Taiwan is on a fault zone and in the monsoon path so this building has a 60 tonne stabilising ball in the centre at the top which counter balances the wind and earthquakes. It’s the only one in the world open to the public and there are some disturbing videos of it swaying in winds and earthquakes whilst the public happily get the phones out to video the earthquake as it happens with them at the top of 9th tallest building in the world. I know its safe but I’d be pooping myself not getting my phone out! Kudos to them!

We had a couple of nights here so we could get some bubble wrap to pack up Tilly and then set off for the airport Hotel fully loaded with packing material, for our last night in Taiwan.

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