I apologize in advance for the poor quality of pictures - the light yesterday was bad and the rain made it even more difficult with water getting onto the lens of the camera.
Kipling once wrote: "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same..." Today I felt I had met both triumph and disaster and I tried to bear these words in mind so as not to get too anxious over the situations that arose. Today I went on this incredible ride from my home in Taipei to Keelung (基隆) and then along the North coast road to Tamsui (淡水), passing Yehliu (野柳), Jin Shan (金山), Bashaiwan (白沙灣), San Zhi (三芝 and finally to Tamsui (淡水). The trip was also meant to include riding back from Tamsui (淡水). to home, another 28km stretch along the river but disaster struck at the end as the gear assembly on the back wheel got completely ripped out and my rear wheel seized up. The triumph of course was the trip, the disaster was the weather and the broken bike.
Before I start I must comment that most of my riding here in Taiwan has been inspired by my mate Peter who has done much to dispel the misperceptions of distance in my head. When a person talks about going to Keelung from Taipei, many people think it is far away, when in fact it is pretty close (only about 25km). The same is true of Tamsui (28km along the river) and Wulai (28km). So after riding to Wulai last week (those damn mountain climbs are brutal for the unfit like me) I decided to head off to Keelung then swing North along the coastal road and head down to Tamsui and from there back home to Taipei. The road from Keelung to Tamsui is pretty simple, as is the road from Tamsui to Taipei. I was just confused about the road to Keelung until I read Keelung to Taipei in 01:03 (騎省道台五線輕鬆地打通基隆及台北的界線) by Jeff Miller. In the article he suggested taking Provincial Road 5 which connects to Provincial Road 2 that takes you up onto the North Coast Road.
To Keelung ((基隆)
So with the route planned, I got up early on Sunday morning and decided to get out the house by 7:30am to make sure I could make some good time and be home by 4:00pm. As it turned out, this was not to be. Leaving early was a good thing. There was no traffic on the road. There was one nearly critical incident when two taxis were racing and got a little too close to the side of the road for comfort, but other than that, the traffic all the way up to Xizhi was pretty quiet with no major complications. I figured the trip itself would be about 120km and my approach was not so much for speed, but more to be relaxed and enjoy an easy pace the whole way (which I mostly achieved).
I was surprised to find how good the signage was for most of the way, except in Keelung itself where the signs, I felt, were not as clear or frequent as they needed to be. As I was unsure of the way I stopped an old lady to ask her for directions to Tamsui. She looked at me, carefully measured me up and then with all the sincerity in the world said: "I think it would be better if you took the bus. It is very far from here." I explained to her that I was riding for fun and excercise and her reply was still the same: "I think the bus is better." In hindsight, maybe she was right!
Despite her insistence on the bus, I managed to figure out the road and started to head out towards Yehlio but up until now I had not eaten any thing. I quickly found a breakfast store on the side of the road, wolfed down a bacon egg roll and two cups of ice tea and was ready to roll within 15 minutes. By this time I knew exactly which road to take and that it would be more or less straight riding from there into Tamsui (which I figured would be about 55km).
The North Coast
After leaving the breakfast store I noticed a slight drizzle had started. I then rode for about another 10~15 minutes, climbed a hill and saw the Pacific Ocean in front of me. I then suddenly found myself humming Toad the Wet Sprocket lyrics gently to myself:
We spotted the ocean
At the head of the trail
Where are we goin'
So far away
And somebody told me
That this is the place
Where everything's better
And everything's safe
Of course the first view of the ocean was breath taking. It always is for me. I never get tired of seeing the ocean and it was especially special this time as I had had to work so hard to get there. I felt like I had earned the view. It was a good feeling. On the way down towards the ocean, I saw three other cyclists going the opposite way. Apart from them, and the riding team that passed me in Xizhi, I saw no other cyclists the whole day. I guess everyone else had seen the weather report and decided not to ride. But at this point I was blissfully unaware and really enjoying the view, the light drizzle and the coolness in the air.
I rode down the hill and started to enjoy the gentle ride along the coast. The ocean was beautiful and fairly calm. There were not too many cars on the road and even fewer motorocycles. Every few kilometers I would stop under a shelter (as the rain was getting progressively worse) to take in the view. Each time there were a few people enjoying the view and they were all fairly astonished at the sight of the lone cyclist hammering away along the North road in the rain. A few sheepish smiles were thrown my way but no comments or suggestions.
At about 11:00am I finally made it into Yehliu (野柳). My plan was to get a good picture of me and the Queen's head. Unfortunately, as I approached Yehliu I could see an ocean of umbrellas on the rocks and I realized not even the rain could deter the tour buses. As I got into Yehliu I was shocked to see so many tour buses in the smallest of parking areas. I never bothered to count them but I would have to guess there were at least 30 buses there. That dispelled any notion of getting pictures taken. Instead I settled for a quick drink at the 7-11 and a picture by the sign and decided to take off and get away from the people.
Back on the road, the rain was starting to get harder but was still bearable. I had a couple of breaks along the way and took a couple of detours into some of the fishing villages where I saw life saver training on the ocean. At about the 55km mark the rain completely stopped and I thought the day would improve. I found this small, improvised mobile drinks store on the side of the road and stopped for some tea and a decent break. I called Queenie and enjoyed a rain free sky. I got on my bike and headed off towards Tamsui and of course that is when all hell broke loose.
The Weather Turns
Just before Shih Men (石門) I came round a corner straight into a wall of torrential rain and torrid winds. Within seconds I was drenched and the wind made riding damn difficult. The going got really tough from there on in but I realized then and there the only way out was to smile and ride out of the rain. I was later to learn this was the worst rain of the 2010 season to date. I was pedaling as hard as I could but unfortunately, due to the winds and uphills, progress was really slow. But I persevered. I took a couple of breaks in some of the undercover bus shelters but never once did I decide to stop. At this point I also realized the only way to approach this ride was by one meter at a time and to forget about the overall mileage. It was also becoming increasingly difficult to enjoy the view as it was just becoming very uncomfortable. Nevertherless I stubbornly persevered and just remembered to smile and enjoy as much as I could as there wasn't anything else to do.
The rain and the wind held up for quite some time but as I hit Baishawan (白沙灣) the rain and wind started to die down and the torrential rain and wind became intermittent and mostly bearable. The uphill from Baishawan (白沙灣)reminded of just how much further I had to go before I got to Tamsui but for every uphill there is a downhill so it was ok. I finally got into San Zhi (三芝) where I took a short break. I knew I was getting close to Tamsui but with the heavy, albeit intermittent, torrential rains and winds I knew it would be tough.
There were still a lot of fantastic views of the ocean and some greenery but the closer one gets to Tamsui, the more built up it becomes. At around 3:00pm I finally hit the outskirts of Tamsui (淡水) itself and knew I would soon be at the MRT. Stop which was my destination for this leg of the trip. At this point however I hadn't had anything to drink (except for the rain water that fell into my mouth when gasping for air) for about 20km and I hadn't eaten anything all day except for the bacon egg roll I had in Keelung. Of course I was famished. I found a KFC (yes I know) but I was drenched and thought no other restaurant would let me in. The cleaning lady in KFC did not look to impressed as she had to mop up the footprints from my soggy sandals. Ah well! I had lunch and then coasted down to Tamsui's Old Street to get to the MRT and start the final 28km stretch home along the river. And then disaster struck!
As I was pulling up on the bicycle path to leave Tamsui my rear wheel seized up and I nearly tumbled off the bike. I got off the bike to take a look at what happened and the entire rear gear assembly had been buckled and bent and there was no way it was going to be fixed on the road. I dragged the bike back into Tamsui and found a bike shop whose cheapest bike was NTD50,000. I started to think this was going to be an expensive fix. After discussing it with those guys I finally decided to pack it in for the day. I found a taxi (took a while and a few requests) to take me and my wrecked bike back into Taipei. So after battling the elements (torrential rain and wind) and cycling for 91km at a good pace for me, and while I had the fulles intention of cycling home, I was thwarted by mechanical failure! And that is when Kipling sprang to mind: "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same..." And in the taxi home, I had a good chuckle to myself!
It was a great ride and one I will never forget as it was so eventful. Everyone I met from fellow cyclists to concerned old ladies who suggested I take the bus were helpful and friendly. The views were spectacular and riding for the first half was cool and relaxing. I will do it again, and this time get to the end. Lesson's learned: ALWAYS CHECK THE WEATHER REPORT. Do I have any regrets? None! Taiwan has so much to offer in terms of natural beauty, and even the wind and rain in its own way has its own beauty. I have no regrets, and once the gear assembly is fixed, I will be back on the road.
More Pictures @ North Coast Ride