taiwan, cycling,

HuanDao: Cycling around Taiwan

Daddy Jun 23, 2015 · 6-min read
HuanDao: Cycling around Taiwan

Distance: 860mi (1384km)
Days: 19
Days Wild Camped: 18
Armed with: Beach tent, hammock
Waves surfed: ½

 
Click the dots to read about my sleeping spots.

Taiwan is where I'd recommend most for a first big bike tour. The landscape and feel varies fairly quickly, it's cheap yet developed, the culture is exotic without the shock, it's clean, the people are nice and speak English, there's a clear start and stop to the trip, and you end up where you started without backtracking. You won't find things on a grand scale here, but there's a little bit of everything in an island-sized package. It's a world tour in miniature you can feel accomplished about (though you might want to take a train for one stretch).

I used to live across the strait on the mainland side, and came here for vacation. The other white guy on the ferry was a smelly, pot-bellied man who was traveling with a bike, a bob trailer, and a guitar. He looked like a bum. He said his plan was just to ride around. Where? He wasn't sure. He told me some people ride around the island, but wasn't sure if he was going to. This was known as huandao (circle the island), and it seemed like the right size for making a foray in to cycle touring. A few months later, I returned. I hadn’t ridden a bike in over two years but figured it’d come naturally along the way. My map and compass were the only things guiding me because GPS and auto navigation divides the fun in half. Instead of being told where you are and where you must go, it is more interesting to figure this stuff out and be the one in control. I bought most of my gear from Decathlon, like a tent used for shade at the beach, which was a foot too short.

My starting point is a bike rental shop just outside of Taipei who primarily deals with people wanting to ride around a nearby lake, not the island. They were still more than willing to rent out a new, high quality bike for 18 days for $85; that includes everything.

Circling the island isn’t super adventurous in-and-of-itself and people can do it in as little as 9 days (i.e. those fragile cycling groups who have a support car for all of their luggage). My route involved mountains and stopovers which doubled the number of days. In order to make things complicated, I decided to forego hotels and relied solely on a tent (the giant green saucer on the back of my bike) and hammock. Finding a spot to sleep was an art form never truly mastered because I often woke up itching, shivering, sweating, or disturbed by passerbys. The best places were just outside of the city in less developed areas like business parks and fields, and the worst were inside cities and towns. Nothing’s worse than starting your morning ride at six not having had a wink of sleep. A couple people mentioned that you can go to the police stations and ask to sleep there for the night, but it seemed shameful. It was embarrassing enough to ask them to shower, which I did once.

 

West Coast

There’s nothing to fear about doing a huandao; most of the roads have a special bike lane and everything is developed along the highways. One is never more than thirty minutes away from a 7-11 in Taiwan. There were so many near my hostel in Taipei, I could walk to four in under five minutes; it’s an infestation. Taiwan's major cities are all on the west coast: Taipei, Taichung, and Tainan, which mean north Tai, central Tai, and south Tai. Sleeping spots were usually in business parks or industrial areas. A detour to Sun Moon Lake was a break from the gristly cities.

Getting through this mountain range was one of the most excruciating events in my life for the longest time. Looking back, the climb only had an elevation of 1000ft (300m), which doesn't seem like much anymore.

Sun Moon Lake was so tranquil, I was that guy and set up a hammock along the bank.

 

A decorative train car at a factory-turned-boutique venue provided shelter from the rain... for the whole night.

 

Southern Point

Relaxed and tropical, Taiwan's southern tip is the go-to vacation spot for the island. Some places have even taken on the Hawaiian surf culture; I passed one long-haired guy pulling surf boards out of a Westphalia going out to his secret spot.

The southern most point of Taiwan

East Coast

The east side of Taiwan, is largely different from the developed west. It's more secluded, mountainous, and descendants of the island's natives are more common. For cycling, it's a whole new ball game. In the north-eastern part, a two-lane highway ribbons along the ocean cliffs, and the shoulder disappears entirely leaving little room for semi-trailers to maneuver. Coupled with all of the tight hills and curves, many huandao’ers just take the train for this section. I did not. Riding through 2 mile long tunnels at night, no one else on the road, was more fun that it looks, but still terrifying.

That "oh crap" moment when you just want these roads to be over, but then you see there's still more climbing.

 

My first ever bike tour was officially finished once I returned the bike to the rental place. It was sloppy, yet incredibly fun. It helped that I was only 23. I didn't know a thing about fixing bikes or the right gear, but it was all the rush of new experiences. This was the adventure I needed. Something to prove myself.

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Daddy
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Technophobe gracing tech companies in the Global 500, Fortune 500, a Kickstarter unicorn, and several little dinky places. Bike touring is my sanity factory.