“It is the unknown around the corner that turns my wheels.” – Heinz Stucke
No pun intended. It was something similar to the idea expressed in the line above that made me click the link on the StudentUniverse website and apply for a 9-day trip cycling in Taiwan. Even though I thought it sounded like a great opportunity, I have to admit that I was far from even dreaming I would win. I didn’t even know where Taiwan was on the map! My sister convinced me to do it.
June 19, 2017
An email subject line in my inbox read: “You are going to Taiwan!” As a bike-loving college student and adventure seeker, I was beyond ecstatic. I was heading to experience all that Taiwan has to offer while riding along the Formosa 900 Route which circulates the island of Taiwan.
I believe that traveling via bike is by far the best means to explore a new country. You get where you need to go in reasonable time. It’s not so fast that you miss analyzing the water systems for the long West Coast flats of rice paddy fields that we cycled through, but not too slow, so that you can make it from one black bean and sweet potato ice cream shop to the next in the perfect amount of time. Once you’re out on that bike for 30 or 40 minutes your heart rate increases. Your mind is able to expand and relax, leaving you open to absorb the special culture of the place.
Taiwan seemed like a magical island, colored by green mountains, morning fog, rolling vineyards, dramatic ocean cliffs and rice paddies that reflect the sun. It’s an island spotted with hidden hot springs and neighborhood markets filled with yam ice cream, tea eggs and almond milk. It’s a place where cyclists cheer each other on through rainy rides and take cover in local cafes with owners proud to host us and communicate through laughter and excited hand motions. Cycling in Taiwan was a dream.
A favorite saying among cyclists is “whatever goes down comes back up”. I love to compare the simple pleasure of cycling to the cycle of life. We traverse all kinds of terrains as we ride through the journey of life: some flat, some uphill or downhill, some rocky or smooth, some as narrow as the width of a handlebar. My expertise is downhill. It is super exhilarating, it goes fast, and I just have the biggest smile on my face.
While cycling in Taiwan, one of my favorite descents was our ride down from Wuling. Wuling is the highest point in Taiwan that can be reached by bicycle, 3275M high. While I was riding down those sharp turns, people from the other groups that we cycled with were concerned. They hollered at me to slow down and to be more careful. I just couldn’t help myself. I was having too much fun! And then the uphill comes right back at you. For most people this is the toughest, yet I find that when we have the right mindset, the right jam on, the right pace, the right tools and the right support group of people who are going through what we are going through, all we are doing is strengthening muscles. Besides, there is no darn better feeling than conquering and getting to the top of that hill.
One of my favorite rides of the trip was not on my bike, but on a motorbike. A beautiful Taiwanese grandmother took me under her wing. It was a cold, rainy day and we set out in search of a local hot spring. Because she didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Mandarin, I was so touched when she motioned me to sit behind her on her motorbike and hold onto her waist. As she proceeded up the hill to drop me off, I noticed we were also sharing the small leather seat with several pots of rice. Mmmmm. I was so enchanted by the moment that I forgot to get a picture. Although, I don’t think I will ever forget those five minutes of my time in Ruisui, Taiwan.
Taiwan Tourism sure does know how to host! We stayed in different 5-star hotels each night while cycling in Taiwan. I could have stayed in each room without coming out for days! But why stay in your own room with a personal hot tub while you can share a large, wood-paneled hot spring, or ride down the hotels’ pool water slides? All this while drinking the perfect pint of Taiwanese beer with my cyclist family?
Admittedly, I sometimes dreaded that 5:30am wake up call, but the thought of that 5-star breakfast got me out of bed. And I mean 5-star breakfast. After our luggage was loaded, our tires filled and our chains lubed, we were treated to a nutritious gourmet breakfast. Be it vegan, kosher, halal, gluten-free, or waffles and bacon, we were spoiled. After eating, we always felt ready for the 9 hour-day of cycling ahead of us.
Our days always started off with Chouchou’s morning stretch, then off with the #phishtrain (Phish is the name of our cycling leader). Our tour guide, Shin, always had the greatest day in store for us. The sites, and our experiences, were memorable, from ancient temples with the most magnificent architecture and design, to dope lighthouses on the ocean, to the previous house of a Taiwanese president, to trying the local foods of the towns we rode through. My favorites were fresh sugar cane and the Annona fruit. I am thankful to now find Annonas at my local market in Jerusalem. I sometimes even bump into Taiwanese people buying them too!
These dreamy 10 days cycling in Taiwan would not be complete without our most knowledgeable, organized and efficient tour guides and bike leaders who took care of us and the exceptionally hospitable staff at StudentUniverse and the Taiwan Tourism Bureau.
My #TimeforTaiwan family will forever have a special place in my heart. Malia, Matthew, Alexis, Juliet, Leland, Choco, Sperro, Stuart, Laura, Dale, Kirsten, Peter, Jan, Emily, Jason, Shin, Johnjohn, Phish, Judy, Chouchou, you all are some of the most sensitive, thoughtful, and supportive people I know, with a pretty good sense of humor too. My heart feels full when I think about the most unbelievable time I had while cycling in Taiwan with all of you. <3
“Whoever invented the bicycle deserves the thanks of humanity.” – Lord Charles Beresford
This saying is especially true for the team who created Formosa 900, Taiwan!