(Excerpted from Eastern Taiwan by Eleven and Nine, originally run in Bicycle Times Issue 17.)
Day One – Along the Coast
Route 11 stretches like a lazy python along Taiwan’s eastern flank. From north to south it’s roughly 300 miles of small towns, sheer-drop cliffs, dynamite-blasted tunnels, and many spectacular rip-tide heavy beaches. It’s a road for drivers with strong stomachs who are in no particularly hurry. For cyclists, it’s paradise. With only a few days in Taiwan between guidebook gigs, I intend to ride a chunk of it before heading over the mountains and back up the rift valley road to my starting point, the east coast city of Hualien.
I ride southward along a road rising and dipping into long stretches of sheer jaw-dropping beauty, the sun playing peek-a-boo with puffy white clouds. It’s beautiful riding, punctuated only occasionally by passing cars and waving motorcyclists. Though western faces are no longer a novelty in Taiwan, folks on the east coast seem especially happy to see a bicyclist from afar enjoying their scenery.
Between Hualien and Taitung there are no other cities, just small towns and even smaller villages offering small restaurants, 7-11s or family-run convenience stores. All stores large or small have a crock pot of simmering tea eggs, hard boiled eggs cooked in a broth of tea. The tea egg travels well, making them a good snack for long stretches between towns.
At Niu Shan, a rest stop overlooking a brilliant section of coast I come across another excellent – and far less ubiquitous – caloric companion. Zhu tong fan; rice cooked in a bamboo stalk. Ostensibly an aboriginal dish (though tribal folk would have used millet, rice being a Han import), zhu tong fan may be the ultimate cycling food, high in carbohydrates and easy to carry. I crack the stalk on a rock, eating the sticky rice inside before tossing the biodegradable bamboo into the grass.
Passing the phallic Tropic of Cancer monument, I note that I am officially in The Tropics. Pulling past Sansiantai (a scenic area that’s home to one of the east coast’s prettier human-created tourist attractions, the aptly named eight arches bridge,) I realize that my legs are in danger of seizing up after my first 120 kilometer ride in months. After an amazing meal of fresh fish, stir fried pork and noodles and various local vegetables, It’s time for bed.
Come back tomorrow for Day Two: Over the mountains and into the rift
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