A winner of the Fly N’ Bike Contest reflects on his cycling travels throughout all of Taiwan.

I could not believe it when I received the email that I had won StudentUniverse’s Fly N’ Bike Taiwan contest. Without any hesitation, I accepted! Six months later, I hopped on a thirteen hour flight headed for Taiwan. I had done very little research about the country. Friends told me what to eat while I was there, and that was about all I knew upon arrival! I had no concept of what the cycling would entail. Every moment was a surprise! I experienced a constant sensory overload that I’ve never experienced anywhere else in the world.

Arrival

The plane finally landed after I traveled for a day and a half. I didn’t sleep much because of the excitement for the trip so I was exhausted. I shuffled through the crowded customs line without knowing where I was supposed to meet my guide. After grabbing my bicycle from the carousel I looked around to find my host. He was waiting to shuttle me off to the hotel in Taipei. The hotel was incredible! I definitely got the luck of the draw and had a room with an incredible view of Taipei 101. I began assembling the bicycle that I brought to the other side of the world.

Putting off sleep, I explored a nearby night market to grab some late night snacks. The sweet potato balls and grilled squid were amazing! I was already enthralled. With the last of my energy gone I headed back to my cozy room to finish packing and prepare for day one.

Day One

I met everyone as we gathered our wits and met our tour guides in the early hours of the morning. The sun was just rising, and a slight drizzle fell. We started on a counterclockwise path away from Taipei and through the suburbs. The bike paths were superior to the ones back home! The wide, well defined, and well maintained roads made for some great early morning mileage. The group quickly settled into a comfortable and clique-less team. Everyone was equally enthusiastic about the future adventure!

The rain picked up throughout the day as we brushed along the coast hugging highway shoulders and riding alongside semis. Back home, I would have been nervous, but in Taiwan there is an obvious respect for cyclists. It was refreshing and comforting to know that drivers were willing to share the road. With a steady tailwind, we made good time to lunch and stopped in a small village to eat at a restaurant. The tour organizers did an incredible job picking some of the best spots in the area for us to eat. The servers brought food in droves to us hungry cyclists. They served us fresh, whole fish on burners and copious amounts of chicken and pork. Seasonal melons topped off most meals. We all carried on like we had been friends for years prior.

Another 30+ miles put us in Hsinchu, and we set up in our hotel rooms. Again, the accommodations blew me away. They were more than comforting, and much needed after a windy, rainy day on the bike. I put my plans of staying up late and hanging out on hold when I hit the bed at 8 PM after dinner. Most nights were the same. At the same time everyday, I was completely exhausted.

leland-student-cycling-taiwan

Day Two

Day two of riding, like most days, started at daybreak with a large buffet breakfast and a group stretch. Following one of our cycling guides, we rode through the city single file to make our way to the outskirts and onto the highways briefly touching the coast and then cutting inland. There was still a nice steady tailwind to help us really stretch our legs and get our hearts pumping. On the long stretches of highway we cycled past beautiful countrysides and some massive industrial parks. We broke up the rigorous riding pace that we maintained with well supplied snack breaks. As I said, food was never in short supply, and the snacks were replenished daily and swapped so we were able to constantly try new things.

On the road from Hsinchu to Lukang, we stopped off in a temple to watch locals pray. These temples were everywhere in Taiwan. They never failed to capture all of my attention, regardless of what we had just been doing. They were incredibly sculpted and well maintained.

taiwan-temple-cycling-tour

I knew it wasn’t going to be this forgiving in future days when we would eventually reach steeper terrain. But for now I enjoyed the cycling on long, flat stretches of smooth road that Taiwan very clearly put a lot of thought into. Everyone in the group agreed these were some of the best roads that they had ever ridden on in terms of safety and quality. It just continued to amaze us how accommodating the island was to cyclists!

Day Three and Four

By day three my knees were starting to give me issues. Constant pain made me look forward to the brief water and snack breaks that were peppered throughout the day. First, I would search for the ibuprofen to get quick relief and then sit as much as possible before taking off down the next 20 mile stretch. Temperatures during the third and fourth days reached 100 F and made for some nasty sunburn lines, even with the thick, humid fog. Knee pain was remedied at night by two 7/11 ice packs and a large Taiwanese beer that I never was able to finish due to absolute exhaustion. The days wrung every ounce of energy out of us, but was immensely rewarding due to the physical feat. And the fact that I was sleeping in 5 star accommodations didn’t hurt!

Final Days of Cycling

The week went on and our path turned into a more tropical climate. We neared the bottom of the island and began our turn into the mountains, and the dreaded day five started. Rumors had been circulating about the riding ahead of us. 65,000 feet in four miles? 26% grade? Hurricane force winds and constant rain? We left the hotel on the start of day five and started up into the mountains. The roads never lost their quality, and the sights were beyond incredible. We zig zagged up to the Shoka bike station, and the treeline gave way to views of surrounding mountains and the Pacific ocean. They call it a bucket list ride for a reason! I don’t know if anything will ever come close to that experience in my life.

A sweeping, rainy descent alongside tour buses became one of the most terrifying cycling experiences of my life, but I never stopped smiling and laughing. I could not have been happier.

The rides continued to be hilly throughout the rest of the week. We cut through the sides of hills alongside the Pacific. The weather was unforgiving. More often than not during the last four days the constant wheel spray covered me in mud, but spirits were never dampened! How could they be? I was arguably in the cycling mecca of the world with some of the best people I have had the honor of riding alongside. On the final day we made our last push into Taipei. We went through mountains and down tunnels that put us into incredible descents. It was hard to believe that I wasn’t still in the jungle and that I was going into a major city.

leland-muddy-cycling-tour

The Finish

We all reached the 0Km mark and cheered and posed for photos, joking that we were going to take off cycling for another go around the island. As happy as we were to have finished, I don’t think a single one of us wanted it to end. We spent the last day in Taipei swapping stories of what we had seen and experienced during the trip. There was endless and constant support for every rider. As proud as we were of ourselves, we were more proud of one another.  

group-photo-cycling-tour

If this trip is appealing to you, be sure to be on the lookout for future giveaways and contests offered by StudentUniverse! But if you can’t wait you are still guaranteed cheap and discounted student flight options no matter where you want your next adventure to be!

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    About Leland Foster