Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cycling around Taiwan: Days 10-11: Hsinchu to Tainan

Start day 10: March 20.
Location: Hsinchu City (新竹市).
Remarks: It had been almost a month since we stopped in Hsinchu. We woke up very early at home in Tainan and got ourselves ready and off to the train station. We caught the tze-chiang train at 6:54am and took our bikes with us onto the train. After a Subway lunch close to the central station in Hsinchu we started heading south on Provincial Highway no.1 at about 11:40am.

Early morning An-ping: We got up early and were out on the street outside our apartment buildings before the sun made a formal appearance in the sky.

Although the online train schedule showed a bicycle icon next to the 6:54am train, it wasn't until we attempted to purchase tickets at Tainan Station that we discovered that only folding bicycles and bicycles in bags were allowed on the train.  We had hoped to be able to pay a bit more to check our bikes in as luggage on the train we intended to travel on but were told that that service wasn't available on all trains and that we could wait a few hours for another train that did offer luggage service.  We knew what we had to do because we had done it before: go to the 7-Eleven near the station, purchase a roll of large black garbage bags, take our bikes apart, and bag them up.  And in the photo above you can see Andrea waiting on the platform in the morning sun with our three incognito bicycles.

On the 06:54 tze-chiang-class train to Hsinchu, eta 10:01.  We are hanging out with our bicycles in the nice dining car attached to the rear of the train.  Whenever we purchase tickets to travel with bicycles we seem to be allocated seats in car 12 which places us close by whatever other car has been attached to serve as a luggage storage area.  Our tickets from Tainan to Hsinchu cost us NT$561 per person and we were able to carry our bicycles aboard for free (because they were in bags).

Having arrived in Hsinchu we put our bicycles back together (which always takes a while) and rode them a short distance across the street from the station and then around the corner to a Subway sandwich shop where we had lunch before commencing our marathon ride.

Ah Hsinchu, how I love thee, let me count the ways: excessive noise, air pollution, congested streets, and people who delight in attempting to catch unwary cyclists as they open their car door out towards the street.  I've probably just painted Hsinchu with a palette tinted heavily with ignorance but I'm the one doing the writing.

We traveled southwards down Provincial Highway no.1 and then transferred onto the no.13.  By the coast we saw these giant wind turbines symbolizing Taiwan's commitment to harnessing natural sources of clean energy to serve the power needs of the nation.  Shame about the haze and air pollution that makes seeing the turbines more difficult.  To be fair, sometimes the sky in Taiwan is just naturally hazy.  With regard to air-movement in general, it had been moving against us since we started out from Hsinchu; the wind continued to blow against us until much later in the evening when it seemed to fade away entirely.

Andrea looks fairly unimpressed after suffering a puncture on the coastal freeway (no.61) near YuanLi.  We employed her spare tube, replaced the damaged one, and then got off the expressway, returning to Provincial Highway no.1, an altogether more cycle-friendly road than the monster expressway.

At abut 10pm we stopped in Changhua for a break, finding this great little shaved-ice place.  We shared a wonderful bowl of shaved frozen milk, honey, condensed milk, and fruit.  I remember thinking at the time that it was the highlight of the trip.  I love shaved ice and fruit.  Leaving Changhua we shifted onto Provincial Highway no.19.

John and Andrea take the opportunity to do some stretching on the forecourt of a gas station somewhere on a forgotten stretch of the no.19.  By the time we stopped at this gas-station for a break we had been cycling for more than twelve hours.  Exhaustion and fatigue slowly crept up on us throughout the long night as we made our way, one kilometer after another, down the west coast towards Tainan.  Just like John in the photo, some things shifted in and out of focus as we tried to stay awake.

Stopping at a roadside temple to let our legs recover, John struggles not to succumb to the biological imperative to sleep.  When you are this tired, lying down sits you squarely down on the slippery slope to the dreamy kingdom of many 'z's.

Finally the sun did appear above the horizon, but only dim and revealing a drab and dreary world.  Still, we were happy to have any kind of dawn to wash away the tiredness of the long night.

A legacy of our cycle through the night: my own personal collection of flying insects arranged artfully about my scalp.

Our first big stop of the new day: Yanshui, home of the Beehive Rocket Festival.  Our arrival in Yanshui was also significant in that it signalled our arrival back in our own Tainan County.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) our arrival in Yanshui did not coincide with the famous rocket festival so we had to content ourselves with breakfast at this nice, clean breakfast shop. 

Yet another stop at another police station to use the bathrooms and refill our water bottles; unremarkable but for one significant factor: this would be the last police station stop of our circumnavigation of Taiwan.  I think the smile on my face has more to do with fatigue-induced delirium than joy at nearing the end of our journey.

The obligatory "after" photo, taken outside our apartment building in Tainan City in celebration of the completion of our ride around Taiwan.  This photo gives very little indication of the exhaustion and fatigue that we were feeling at this moment.  We were also feeling jubilant at finishing our journey of over a thousand kilometers.  However, I think the thing we felt most strongly was a desire to shower.

End of day 10: March 21.
Location: An-ping district (安平區), Tainan City (台南市).
Total journey distance: 1135km
Accommodation: Home.
Remarks: From Hsinchu we cycled all day and through the night towards home. Things got a bit strange in the liminal hour of the morning before sunrise as we tried to stay awake and, at one point, found ourselves riding through a fog lurking in some quiet farmland. We arrived back in An-ping at 10:45 in the morning with thoughts only of hot showers and sleep, well-deserved after circumnavigating Taiwan by bicycle.


pumpkinslayer said...

I read through the whole series of you trip around Taiwan. Pretty awesome. I've been here for almost a decade and still haven't gone the whole way around.

This last leg through the night must have been awesome, there's that point where you just can't get any more tired and are just pushing through the exhaustion for every moment. Wonderful.

Well congrats on getting the whole thing done and the writeup about the whole journey was definitely worth the read.

pumpkinslayer said...

I'll be watching out for more adventures here.

Adrian Brown said...

Thanks very much for your feedback. I just looked through the photos from the over-night ride again and I wish we could do it all over again. What an adventure. Ah well, life intervenes and constrains us. Thank you again for your thoughts.