On our second day of cycling we’d travel further down the west coast of the island to the southernmost tip and overland to the west coast at Pingtung county. This would be a long hard ride over some tough terrain to make up for time lost on the first day. It also allowed us to take in some fantastic views of the Taiwan countryside from seaside towns to blustery cliffs and jungle with a good climb at the end. Hard work, but well worth it.
It was an early start and most importantly dry. We planned to start cycling at first light to make the most of the day. But as we got downstairs to where our bikes were stored we had another piece of bad luck. Another flat, this time my back tyre. Cursed.
Everything was loaded onto the back of my bike so we struggled to turn the bike over and then to get the wheel off. No use, I didn’t have the tools to take the wheel off so we’d have to try and fix it while it was still on the bike. The sun was up now and I was aware that we were loosing daylight. I wondered how often we’d have to change tires on the trip. Every day? Twice a day? Maybe the bike was overloaded, or these weren’t even the right sort of bikes to be using. It wasn’t a pleasant thought.
I managed to pull the inner-tube off the tire and felt for the puncture. I couldn’t find it. I checked the inside of the tire and found the shard of metal that caused the puncture. I checked the inner-tube again, this time with water. I had to take a few loops around to find it. There was just a slight bit of effervescence when the tube was pumped up and soaked with water. There’s no way I could find it if we were outside. We needed to buy spare inner-tubes at the next opportunity, this was no good.
I pumped the tire back up, let it down accidental and had to pump it up again. It was too early for my brain to function properly and I was even struggling with the bicycle pump. We’d lost 40 minutes cycling time. This wasn’t too serious in itself, but I had concerns that bicycle problems could hold up up further going around the island. What the hell, we’d go as far as we could and put it down to experience. I convinced myself that I didn’t care and we set off.
We cycled on another 20km with some fantastic coastal views to cheer me up. There was some nice seaside on the coast and if it were a few degrees warmer I would’ve liked to have gone for a swim. Then sky was starting to clear just a little bit and it was starting to feel a lot more like a holiday. It was great to be feel warm again. I took my DSLR camera out of my saddle bags and tucked it into the front of my jacket to take some photos.
After 25 km we stopped in at Hengchun to visit the Giant shop and grab some breakfast. The Giant shop staff were really helpful. The sold us the inner tubes we needed and showed us how to pump up the tires to the right pressure. I grabbed a couple of double sausage McMuffins to fuel myself for the rest of the day’s journey. The old rule for unltra-marathon running tells us to eat even when you aren’t hungry and drink even when you’re not thirsty. I reckoned that the same rule should apply for long distance cycling and wolfed down my second burger with a vengeance. Nothing wrong with a bit of gluttony when you know you’re going to need the calories later on. We took the property to fill our water bottles with some hot water and were off on the road again.
The next part of the journey took us onto the south coast past the Kenting national park toward the southern tip of the island. The view here only got better and we stopped to take some photos with a grand rocky outcrop in the sea. The coast road was hilly but we were cycling with the wind at our back. It was like we were being pushed along and it felt great. Plenty of energy left in the legs for the remainder of the day’s cycling.
Just after 40k we reached a steep hill climbing 40 meters before turning off the main road to reach the southernmost tip of the island. I thought I might have had to use a map to find this place but there was no need. The place was mobbed with tourists and we had plenty of signs marking the way. It was great to arrive. We unfurled Ning’s bicycle club flag and my union jack and took some photos to mark the occasion. It wasn’t even lunch time and we’d made our first objective for the day. It felt good.
The next stage wouldn’t be so kind to us. Ning in particular would find this part tough. We’d planned to head north along the east coast then cut inland across the mountains to rejoin the east coast further north in Taitung county. But Ning was fading fast. The normal protocol was for me to forge ahead then wait for Ning at a turn or at the crest of a hill. Once she caught up we would push on together before I had to stop again. But I noticed that she was taking a bit longer to catch up and taking a bit more time to rest. I realized what had happened, she hadn’t eaten anything but a sandwich all day and it was close to 1pm. No energy.
I gave Ning a gel I had leftover from an ultra-race in Guizhou and told her we’d stop at the next place for food. “It’s not important, we need to make good time”, she protested. But it was important. On a long distance cycle you need food to keep going. Like petrol for a car, you can only run on fumes for so long. But we were pushing uphill against the wind and rain along the side of a cliff. It can’t have been easy for her.
We actually climbed quite high along the coast and the wind even made it tough on the downhill. I found a van selling sweet potatoes at the top but they weren’t cooked yet. Closer to the bottom we found a van selling hot-dog and potato wedges. We ate like hungry dogs taking delight in every morsel of food. The color came back to Ning’s face and we were ready to go again. Another 5 or 6 km to the next town then inland.
As we turned inland the scene changed drastically. The blustery wind dropped to nothing, the rain stopped and it was flat. Like another world, in a flat jungle with rice paddies. It’s what I’d imagine Vietnam to look like in John Rambo’s day. And it seemed so empty compared to the bustling coast. I kind of hoped to see some other cyclists so I could be re-assured that this was a good route to take. This stretch hadn’t been on the map I downloaded or any of the maps I’d been able to find online the night before.
I joked with Ning that cannibals lived in this part of Taiwan and we argued over who they would prefer to eat, a British national or a mainland Chinese. I had a bit more meat on me, so I guess I’d have to go in the pot first.
At this point of the journey I was using MAPS.ME on my phone to navigate. I have a nifty pouch that connects the phone to my handlebars. Quite convenient.
We followed the river inland and stopped at a store to buy some snacks. It was quite near to Chinese lunar new year and some of the locals were throwing liquid round a fire and burning fake money to celebrate. A lady approached us and gave us some sweet bean cakes. A local delicacy. I wrapped these and the other food into a plastic bag on my handlebars and we set off again. I also had a scarf tied to each handle to protect my hands and the front of my bike was starting to look about as loaded as the back. At least I’d be balanced.
As we forged on the hills came back, with a vengeance. Steeper and steeper, climbing deep into the jungle. The worry here was that if we had to stop here then we wouldn’t have enough flat ground to pitch the tent. We had to push on before it got too dark. We’d climbed about 150 meters and I knew we had to go downhill at some point. We should have been getting close to the sea.
Around 72 kilometers we first felt the breeze, then we could see it. We’d reached the ocean. It felt great, like we were explorers looking for a route across a fresh continent. We’d finally got to the sea. And the cycling got easier too. We dropped a hundred and fifty meters over four or five kilometers. After all the slow progress we were flying.
But although we’d finally caught site of the sea the hard graft wasn’t over yet. In fact, we had to climb another very steep hundred meters before finally reaching the coast. But the psychological effect of just knowing that we were so much closer to the sea made it so much easier. By the time we reached the coast it was already getting dark but we were buzzing. We’d made it. Another 8 or 9 kilometer up the flat coastline and we’d be at the campsite. And even if we didn’t make the campsite we could camp on the beach.
The wind was in our faces again cycling along the coast and my legs and backside were really starting to hurt, but the end was in sight and I knew we could rest soon. We even ran into some other cyclists who’d stopped to repair one of their party’s bikes. These guys were also heading for a campsite in Pingtung county so it seems we weren’t lost. A few more kilometers in the wet wind and we’d be there.
We had to ask about a bit to find the best campsite for our needs but it was worth it. The one we found had showers, electricity, access to the kitchen and a washing machine. We even had a mattress to lay the tent on. So, a bowl of hot noodles and an early night to prepare for the next day’s exertions.
We’d covered 92km and taken on our first serious hills. I felt good about the progress we’d made and confident about the next day’s cycle.