Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cycling around Taiwan: Day 7: Nan-ao to Fulong

Start day 7: February 15.
Location: Nan-ao Township (南澳鄉), Yilan County (宜蘭縣).
Remarks: Awoke at 5:30am. After packing up and making the routine preparations we sat down in the restaurant of the guesthouse to receive the complimentary "western style" breakfast we had been promised the night before.  I would describe our reaction to breakfast as bemusement: 1 fried egg, 2 pieces of sliced brown bread, one 7-11 coffee, and 1 tiny pudding dessert. The owner didn't know where his wife had put the new jam they had just bought so we used our remaining bananas to make banana sandwiches. Started cycling at 7:15am.

A quick stop for refreshments in a small town.

More beautiful east coast vistas.

Before getting to Su-ao we had to overcome a particularly big hill referred to by someone else as the "six-kilometer hill".  The wind blew against us as we fought our way up and around the road that clung to the side of the ascent and every time we reached a bend in the road that allowed us to see the lay of the road ahead we saw it continuing to climb.  By the time we reached the top we were well up above the coast down below.  Andrea and John had pulled ahead of me out of sight at some point so that when I saw two trucks parked in a carpark by the side of the road selling hot drinks I took the opportunity to revitalize myself with a strong hot chocolate.

By the time we got to Su-ao we were ready for lunch and found a nice breakfast shop.  After lunch we left town by way of the no.2 highway which kept us close to the coast.

Long days of toil in the rain and sun take their toll and the effort of the journey starts to play tricks on the mind.  We were all stunned momentarily by this apparition, a yellow specter that appeared and then disappeared as quickly.  Spooky mountains.  Spooky wind.

Something strange happened shortly after we left Su-ao.  We had stopped for some reason and then Andrea and I rode on ahead of John.  The last thing we heard him say was that he was just going to put his jacket on.  Andrea and I sped off down the road and pedaled for a while before pausing to wait for John to catch up.  Our wait for John dragged on and on and we became increasingly concerned.  Inevitably we returned to where we had last seen him and, not finding him there, racked our brains thinking of the best course of action.  We thought that perhaps he had taken the special no.2 road which diverged from highway no.2 and then rejoined it later on, effectively bypassing the spot where we had been waiting the first time we waited for him.  We began to reproach ourselves for not planning for this kind of problem and for not having a plan B.  Ultimately we decided to cycle on in the hope that we would bump into each other along the way.

By the time Andrea and I reached the town of Toucheng we had been riding without John for a couple of hours.  Our anxiety had been increasing slowly as our inquiries at police stations along the way produced no news of a tall foreigner on a bicycle.  We had decided to give up the search temporarily; we both badly needed a rest.  I went off to a pharmacy to buy some medication for my sinus troubles, agreeing to meet Andrea at the 7-Eleven down the road.  I procured my salve and as I approached the 7-Eleven I saw... John sitting down with Andrea.  My relief was incredible.  I had been through all sorts of disaster scenarios in my head in the last two hours: John attacked by stray dogs and dragged off the highway into a ditch where he lay bleeding, dying alone; John abducted by desperate people who needed money and thought that John was rich because he could afford such a nice bicycle; and other such horror-fantasies.  Over refreshments John told us that he had been cycling up and down the main road of Toucheng hoping to bump into us and was just about to give up and take a rest at the 7-Eleven when he found Andrea already there.  We couldn't work out how we had failed to meet up along the way and how John had managed to cycle ahead of us without us seeing him.  After a good rest and a meal in a cardboard box, we all got on our bicycles again and set off once more.

Guishan Island or Turtle Island.  Andrea was getting a bit cold at this point which explains the less-than-thrilled expression on her face.

She warmed up as John donned his space-beast suit.  He really reminds me of something or someone else in that raincoat.

We were wet and close to the village of Dali when we stopped at a promising-looking viewing area/coffee shop for information and a hot drink.  John and Andrea were talking to the staff in the coffee shop for a couple of minutes.  I was hanging around outside letting the water drip from my raincoat.  All of a sudden John and Andrea were back ranting about a tunnel that would take us under the mountains on the north-east cape and save us from cycling a good number of kilometers but this tunnel was closing in about ten minutes and the entrance was somewhere just back down the road we had come along and so we had to get on our bikes quickly and find the entrance to the tunnel before the gates were shut because we didn't want to be trapped in the tunnel if both sets of gates were closed and we would have to spend the night in there but we couldn't see any signs indicating any kind of tunnel and it was supposed to be some kind of old rail tunnel and we didn't really know what to look for but it must be reasonably big so it couldn't be the sealed-up hole in the mountain-side I saw and we rode our bikes down a steep little road off the main road and John hurriedly tried to ask some random people if they knew of the tunnel but they didn't and now it was getting late and what if the tunnel was about to close and we didn't have enough time to get through or, worse, got locked in overnight and we desperately looked for another road and saw one and followed it down and saw what had to be THE ENTRANCE TO THE TUNNEL but if we entered then we had to get through quickly before the other end was shut and I heard Andrea say that we needed to cycle as fast as we could and I thought that I would cycle super-fast and get to the other end of the tunnel to prevent the gate-man from locking us in and the tunnel was really nice and there was pleasant music playing inside but I couldn't focus on that because I was pedaling as fast as I could despite being tired and having ridden my bicycle all day and then... I was out and breathing heavily but knowing that if anyone showed up to lock the gate for the night then I could tell them that my friends were still inside and please don't close the door yet!?!

As it turned out we were absolutely fine and Andrea couldn't stop laughing at me for killing myself cycling as fast as I could through the tunnel.

Here's a map of the Caoling Tunnel as it appears on one of the interpretive signboards at the northern end.  You can see that it really does cut the cape out of the journey.

We cycled into the town of Fulong to which the Caoling Tunnel had delivered us.  We checked in to a damp hotel close to the train station.  The door of the shower turned out to be a bit transparent and if the hotel-room light was turned off the bathroom light showed quite a lot through the transparent door.  After cleaning ourselves up we dined at a seafood place on the main street: fish soup, squid, big clams, and rice.  And then we went back to the hotel and slept with fervor.

Lanterns in the local park brightened up the dark wet night.


End of day 7: February 15.
Location: Fulong Township (福隆鄉), Taipei County (台北縣).
Distance on my electronic odometer: 689km.
Accommodation: a very damp hotel a block away from the train station.
Remarks: After an intense ride through the Old Caoling Rail Tunnel from Dali to Fulong (very cool) we found a cheap hotel close to the train station. It had rained during the day and we were quite damp and dirty. We rejoiced in being able to have hot showers although we discovered that the glass door was a little transparent. After a rest we dined at a seafood restaurant on the main street. It was a great hearty meal of squid, big clams, vegetables, fish soup, and rice that made us feel alright.

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