Charl Pieterse’s Tip-to-Tip Trip Report From July 27-29, 2010 I had the privilege of experiencing something quite special. It involved a challenging, but breathtakingly beautiful journey on my bicycle… all along one of the most underrated coastlines in the world, the east coast of Taiwan. But let me start at the beginning. After my 2009 “Mission515”-involvement with Distance For Difference (D4D), a non-profit organization my brother, Stéphan, founded around 5 years ago, to brighten up the lives of children in need, through which I’d raised just under R15,000, I wanted to further my involvement in 2010, and commit myself yet again to a “mission” that would inspire and hopefully make a difference in the lives of a few kids. Seeing that I live in Taiwan at the moment, and regularly have the opportunity to explore its beautiful landscapes on my bicycle, the idea just popped into my head, in a moment of inspiration, I believe: cycle all the way along the east coast of Taiwan, from the most northerly point to the most southerly point – a distance of almost 600km. And from the beginning, to make it challenging enough, I wanted to do it in three days. Hence I dubbed my newly conceived mission “Tip-to-Tip through Taiwan in Three Days”, or “MissionT2T” in short. But as with anything in live, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. During my first attempt I started out with a slow puncture, and after only 40km realised that I’ll have to turn back, thanks to a problem I’d identified with the rim of my back wheel (photo right). I was disappointed, but actually came to see it as a blessing in disguise, considering I hadn’t slept at all the previous night (on a little beach, under the starry sky, BUT with humid temperatures of 30 degrees, huge, bloodthirsty mosquitoes, yapping little beach dogs and the flood lights of a squid-fishing boat keeping me awake all night!). And
because of the mosquito threat I thought it would be very wise to bring a tent along the second time around! The prospect of riding in a scorching and humid 35 degrees was also not very appetising, to say the least. So, a little gutted, but relieved at the same time I headed back to Taipei… and to the proverbial drawing board. (I also have to mention the sunrise that morning – it alone made the whole ordeal worth it! See photo left.) After doing my homework thoroughly, fixing my bike and obtaining a lekke tent, I embarked on my second attempt a week later (photo right). I rode my bicycle from my home in northern Taipei to a little harbor town, Danshuei, 15km away. There I put my bike in garbage bags, hopped onto the bus for a 25km journey to Fugueijiao – the most northerly tip of Taiwan. It was around 18:00. After a little scouting, I put up my tent under a tree in the park (photo below). At 19:00 I went for a dip in the nearby ocean, after which I had dinner. It started raining heavily, so at around 20:00 I was in my tent ready to sleep… seeing that tomorrow would be a looong day – I was planning to do around 180km. But how on earth do you sleep in a humid tent, in 30 degrees? As the hours ticked by, with me rolling around in my own sweat, I got a bit worried. How am I going to do 180km on my bike without a good night’s rest? Eventually I did fall asleep, but for only about 3 to 4 hours or so. I woke up just after 04:00, packed up my stuff, loaded my bike, and rode up the road for about 1km to the starting point of my journey – Fugueijiao lighthouse. Never mind the lack of sleep, the adrenalin was pumping, I was excited and ready for the big adventure that lies ahead! So, at exactly 05:45 I took a picture of myself and my bike in front of the lighthouse (photo right), jumped on my metal steed, and took to the road. Man, was I in good spirits! I had such a good feeling about this adventure… everything felt so right. And so it was… for about 5km! I quickly popped into a 7-11 to get some drinks. Ready to hit the road again, I gave my wheel the customary squeeze before getting on, and what a blow to the gut when I realised I had my first puncture… only 15 minutes into my journey! I thought “here we go again, dejavu.” Well, I did what I had to do,
fixed the tube (photo bottom left, page 2), hoped that it will be my first and last one, and got on with it after about 30 minutes (I had reason to be a bit worried, though, seeing that the puncture was caused by a tiny little stone that had penetrated my back tyre through a small cut. So I thought that it might be only a matter of time before something like that happens again. I had spare inner tubes, but no spare tyres). And I’m happy to report that that piece of bad luck was my share for the whole trip! I got my first and only puncture after 15 minutes, but pedaled for the next almost 30 hours without a glitch! I guess the “adventure gods” just tested my commitment during that first half hour. After that the first day went quite smoothly. And the weather played along very nicely too. The temperature hovered around 30 degrees, but the humidity was bearable, and a constant cloud cover neutralised the scorching punch of the sun. It even rained a bit at very welcoming times. For most of the day I was on Highway 2, hugging the coast all the
surrounded by impressive scenery, with lush green and imposing mountainous landscapes on my right and the outstretched Pacific Ocean on my left. Peaceful and quaint little fishing villages (photo above) also greeted me along the way, reminding me of the different world I found myself in – a world apart from the hustle and bustle that is Taipei. I stopped briefly in Keelung (40km) to buy some “fuel”. At 10:15 and after 73km I also pulled in for a pit stop at a local 7-11. Throughout I maintained an average of just above 20km/h (only taking into account my “time in the saddle”). At 11:55 I had reached the 100km mark, and rewarded myself with another 7-11 break. It was another 50km or so to the harbor town of Su-ao, with my end destination for day 1 another 30km farther south. At 14:00 141km were behind me and I had spent 6:30 hours “in the saddle”. I was starting to feel a little tired, so I made another fuel stop. And although I only had another 40km or so to go, I still had half of the day’s climbing to do. After a few km’s I hit Su-ao (photo left), and that’s where the fun started (it was also here that I left Highway nr.2 behind and continued my journey on Highway nr.9).
Up to that point (145km) the terrain was fairly flat, only one or two climbs of note. All in all it represented an elevation gain of around 1,900m. That meant I had another 1,900m to climb, but all of that in only about 30km! The first part entailed a 15km “up and down” into the river valley town of Dong-ao (photo right), with an elevation gain and drop of 1,200m.
That was followed by
another 13km “up and down” into Nan-ao, with an elevation gain and drop of over 700m. Along the way there were also a few tricky tunnels to negotiate, made even trickier by all the heavy duty gravel trucks passing you by on shoulderless roads! Well, I survived and at around 17:00 my trusty steed and I galloped into Nan-ao (photo left). I had clocked 172km and 8:30 hours “in the saddle” (my gat was lekke seer). After a good meal at the local 711, I had just a little more riding to do…while finding my overnight spot. It was a few km’s up the river valley. I wasn’t totally sure where it was, but luck was on my side, and at 17:45 I found it. A lovely little hotspring spot next to the river, with a convenient soft and sandy area for me to put up my tent (photo right). I washed myself in the cold river, and then moved on to my reward for a good day’s work… an hour’s soak in a natural hot spring pool… just what the doctor ordered. I was content.
Day 1 in numbers: 179 (km’s completed) – 3,800 (elevation gain in m’s) - 12 (hours “on the road”) - 9 (hours “in the saddle”) After another restless night I got up at 04:15 and hit the road just before 06:00. I had to get an early start, because if I had thought day 1 was a long day, I was in for a surprise on day 2! And as far as elevation gain goes, day 2 would be the mirror image of day 1. And that meant that I started with an “up and down” of 23km, with an elevation gain and drop of 1,500m! No chance of slowly easing into the day.
But it was all worth it, thanks to the
breathtaking views of the coastline – sometimes more than a hundred meters below me (one advantage of riding along the coast is the moral boost you get when you look back at the distant coastline, realizing that you came from there, you had covered all that distance… a concrete, visual confirmation of your progress).
I reached Heping at around 08:00 where I stopped for a quick break. Here I met a friendly Taiwanese guy-on-bike who was also on some crazy mission. He warned me about the long and dangerously narrow tunnels (photo right) I will encounter for the next 30km or so. And believe me: warning justified!
The 30km entailed more “ups and
downs” with an elevation gain of around 1,200m and countless hair-raising tunnels, overcrowded with overloaded trucks, all along a stunningly rugged coastline that looks like Chapman’s Peak on steroids (photo below)! It was hectic, but memorable, with some of the most impressive views I have ever witnessed. After the adventurous pedaling along the mountainous coastal road, I reached the turnoff to Taroko Gorge, after which I slogged it through grimy Hualien city for another 30km or so, with quite an acute pain in my hip, the first signs of discomfort so far on my journey - except of course for a “helse seer gat”. I tried not to focus too much on it, and stretched my muscles regularly. Luckily it didn’t bother me too much for the rest of my journey. With Hualien city thankfully behind me, I got onto Highway nr.11, excited about the prospect of eventually riding on a decent road with proper shoulders. It was 12:00, I had about 90km on the clock, but still had another 138km to go! I was a little worried, but had no option but to just keep going. And so I did, with one pedaling stroke at a time. At 14:00 I had 106km to go… at 16:00 74km to go… at 18:00 38km to go… at 20:00 5 km to go! It was a truly looong and grueling day on the bike. But it was a fantastic experience. I subjected my body to extremes I hadn’t known it was capable of. It was a challenge that stood in front of me like an unclimbable mountain, but what a feeling of achievement when I stood on top of the peak! For the last hour and a half I rode in the dark, before I eventually strolled into a little town called Dulan, where I would camp out for the night (photo below right), right next to a very friendly police station. Another highlight for the day was when I passed the “Tropic of Cancer” monument (photo left) (Onthou julle
nog die “Kreefskeerkring” waarvan ons destyds in Aardrykskunde geleer het?). It represents the most easterly point in the world through which the “Tropic of Cancer” runs (of course only on a “western world map” where Africa is in the middle. Here in Taiwan China is in the “middle of the world” - probably because a literal translation of China’s name in Chinese is “middle country”.) For those who want to freshen up further on their geography knowledge: the “Tropic of Cancer” represents the most northerly latitude on which the sun shines its rays exactly perpendicular to the surface of the earth during the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere… I think.
Day 2 in numbers: 227 (km’s completed) – 3,900 (elevation in m’s) – 14.5 (hours “on the road”) – 11 (hours “in the saddle”) Day 3 also started at an early 04:30, after not sleeping well at all… again! Guess I was just too tired and excited about the whole thing to really let myself shut down for a good night’s rest. Packing up and getting ready for the last day was characterised by mother****ing huge mosquitos biting and sucking me to pieces! (photo left) Probably one of the most irritating 30 minutes of my life. Those bitches were beeeg! And everytime you swat one, you realise just how much of your blood these suckers… well, suck. You literally get blood on your hands. With all of that behind me I hit the road just before 06:00 (sunrise was at 05:15). This last day will be the shortest day of the three, weighing in at around 160km. It will take me through the coastal city of Taidong, all along the south-east coast of Taiwan, passing small fishing villages, over the southern central mountains of Taiwan to the west coast (on Highway nr.9 again), and ending with a nice gallop along the shoreline to Eluanbi, Kenting – the most southerly tip of Taiwan and the final destination on my T2T journey. It was another day of nice riding, and I was really amazed at how well my body was holding up – I experienced no pains or cramps in my legs, only some discomfort in my hip, lower back and in my neck/shoulder area.
The 85km from Dulan (day 3 starting point) to the point where I started going west over the mountains had an elevation gain of 820m, which included a few annoying climbs. So now what lay ahead was my last real hurdle to get over: a 800m elevation gain spread over only 12km. It represented a gradient of 8%. But I knew it was my last real challenge, so I approached it with good spirits and strong legs and reached the top in little over an hour (fittingly it started to rain lightly just when I started my ascent). On my way up I stopped to talk to two young Taiwanese guys who are on some kind of “around-Taiwan” journey on their bikes. I also took a break at the top and spent some time chatting with mormon missionaries, also on a bike trip of some sort. On the road again it was basically an 18km downhill, through a very lush river valley, all the way to the west coast. The rain started pouring down stronger with every passing km, while quite a busy headwind made my journey through the valley a little less pleasant. Around 14:00 I quickly stopped at a 7-11 on the west coast, and only had about 40km to go… the last 40km of my whole trip. I still felt strong and actually clocked an above average speed for that last stretch – the adrenalin pushing me all the way. I also remember being bombarded by pellets of rain during those last km’s. I mean, the heavens really opened up all its gates! I was totally drenched, and thought it was quite fitting to end my journey on such a dramatic note (photo right). As I came into Kenting (southern most town in Taiwan) I could see the Eluanbi lighthouse in the far distance… getting closer and closer. It was amazing to be able to actually see the finishing point for the first time. I passed the beautiful, sandy beaches of Kenting, and after a few more km’s I was “there”, at exactly 16:30 in the afternoon. With a spirit filled with elation and a great sense of achievement I took a picture of myself in front of my bicycle with the Eluanbi lighthouse in the background (photo left, look closely for the lighthouse
tower in top left corner)… 564km after the photo I took in front of the Fugueijiao lighthouse a little farther up north a few days back. Mission accomplished.
Day 3 in numbers: 158 (km’s completed) – 2,200 (elevation in m’s) – 10.5 (hours “on the road”) – 8 (hours “in the saddle”)
Trip in numbers: 564 (km’s completed) 9,900 (elevation in m’s) 37 (hours “on the road”) 28 (hours “in the saddle”)
Lessons learned: -
You are capable of way more than you think.
Acknowledge fear, but do it anyway.
Your body has an amazing ability to adapt; the real challenge is to make that switch in your head.
You can’t control all the elements, but you can control how you respond to them.
Adrenalin is a good substitute for sleep.
Taiwan’s east coast is something special.
Just keep going…
And keep the adventurous spirit alive!
Knowing that what you do will make a difference makes it easier.
THANKS TO EVERYONE WHO SUPPORTED ME!