Taiwan’s Central Mountain Range and the East Coast offer some of the best cycling on this sub-tropical island. Each year a group of friends arrange a tour to Hualien from Taipei City, and at the end of August, five of us left Xindian, a suburb south of Taipei City, for a two-day, 300 km. adventure. From Hualien, three of us continued south to Dulan, 190 km. to the south, a coastal village in Taitung County and the center of Taiwan’s surfing community. After a day at the beach, Urs and I spent a day exploring remote roads above Zhiben, a hot spring resort south of Taitung City. Then I headed back to Hualien along the coast, spending an evening there. Finally, I cycled north to Taipei, along the Suhua Highway, skirting the Qingshui cliffs that plunge nearly 2,000 meters to the azure Pacific.
Day 1 started at 6 a.m. with two climbs along Highway 9 to the pass above Toucheng 42 km. away, and then a descent into Yilan County.
Then we headed up the Lanyang River for 70 km. to the village of Nanshan, elevation 1200 meters, where massive heads of cabbage fill the stony fields.
The next challenge was the 15 km. climb up to Nanshan Pass, at 2000 meters above sea level. By this time, a light rain was falling, but the road was smooth and the views were awesome once we got above the low clouds.
We reached the pagoda at the top before sunset, and we were cold and eager to reach Huanshan, a fruit farming village 15 km. away. As the sky darkened, we raced down the two lane road, and soon arrived at the hostel where we’d spend the night, in a building shared with a police station and a temple. In all, we covered 165 km. in distance and climbed a total of 3250 meters.
Day 2 began with breakfast at a 7-11 with a dining room and fantastic view of the village on the hillsides below our hostel.
We then climbed 500 meters over 13 km. up to Lishan Village and paused for photos of the nearby mountains before beginning to ascend to the tunnel that leads to Dayuling Village, 30 km. away at an elevation of 2500 meters. Unfortunately, we were held up by a 2-hour road closure a few km. before the tunnel, forcing an unplanned break on the side of the road from 10 a.m. to noon.
The scenery was some consolation, with majestic cypress trees rising far above us on the steep mountains to either side, but the delay led us to forfeit the opportunity to climb up to Wuling Pass, Taiwan’s highest road, at 3275 meters in elevation and 8 km. above Dayuling.
We had read on the Internet that there were further road closures on the road down to Hualien, through the mountains to Taroko Gorge, so we elected to start immediately on the 80 km. ride down to the coast.
On the way down, just an hour below Dayulilng, after the only climb on the descent, we crossed paths with a friend who planned to ride up to Wuling Pass. After giving us road information (no closures!), he continued his ascent while we rolled down Highway 8 into Taroko Gorge. Heavy fog was encountered, but everyone descended safely. (He later informed us he didn't make it to the top, and came all the way down in the dark, without a light!)
After passing through the numerous tunnels in the lower sections of the gorge, we reached Highway 9, the road to Hualien. A sprint to the hotel was called for, and the five of us wrung out the final power in our legs over the 6 km. to our guesthouse. Several friends were waiting there for us, and a large barbecue was soon laid out on the tables set up in the tropical garden around which our comfortable rooms were arrayed.
Over the day, we covered 123 km. and climbed nearly 1500 meters, but the major part of the ride was occupied with the 80-km. descent into Taroko Gorge.
On Day 3, after two hard days on the bikes, we were ready for relaxing on the beach. The guesthouse owner, Ah-guei, an old friend and expert rock-stacker among other talents, set up tables under a large tent on the stony beach just across the road.
The beach and surrounding area is undeveloped, with views of the mountains rising to the west and Hualien City 20 km. distant. A couple of sea kayaks were available for us to use, and Ah-guei stacked rocks.
Some college students couldn’t believe the rocks were standing on end without support and proceeded to push one over. We watched as they spent an hour forcing the rock to stand once again by carving a notch in its bottom, a thoroughly unsatisfying attempt (in our opinion) at replicating Ah-guei’s deft touch.
In the evening, we retired to the guesthouse for another barbecue and cold beverages before sacking out in our rooms.
Day 4 started early after a breakfast at the guesthouse, and three of us headed south along narrow, twisting highway 193 to Hualien City. Soon we had passed through city, and we crossed a bridge just south of the city. Most vehicles continued along Highway 11, turning left, but we turned right onto Highway 193. Our goal was to reach the town of Juisui, 60 km. to the south in the middle of Taiwan’s East Rift Valley, for lunch.
The road hugs the western foothills of the Coastal Mountain Range, rising and falling as it passes through villages inhabited by Taiwan’s indigenous peoples. The floor of the valley to the west was carpeted in green, as rice farms and fruit orchards stretched nearly to the horizon to the north and south of us.
We had lunch at a Japanese restaurant on the main street in Juisui, a small town with hot spring resorts on its western edge, below the mountains, and then started on the second half of the day’s journey.
Highway 193 eventually led us onto Highway 9, where there was more traffic, but we we steamed south at a good pace. By this time, rain had begun falling, but it was a welcome respite from the heat.
Reaching the town of Fuli, 45 km. from Juisui, we turned onto Highway 23. We left the rain behind as the the road led us into remote valleys with a few small farms and finally to a pass at 500 meters above sea level, 15 km. from Fuli. Then we descended a further 30 km., first to the town of Taoyuan, and then along the Donghe River to the coast.
For the final push, we rolled along Highway 11 for 13 km. to our destination, a friend’s home in the coastal village of Dulan. Over the day, we rode 192 km. and climbed approximately 1500 meters.
Day 5 was the second rest day of the trip, and it was spent relaxing on the beach and swimming in the warm water. This ocean canoe had washed ashore on the beach.
I spent Day 6 exploring some of the farm roads in the communities north of Dulan along the coast, with the intention of going on a serious ride the next day.
For Day 7, Urs and I drove over to Zhiben, a hot spring resort near Taitung City. From there we climbed up onto the mountains to the south.
Our goal on this and several earlier rides into the area had been to find a connecting road between Zhiben and Jincheng Mountain further to the south. Jincheng Mountain can be reached from both the town of Taimali and village of Beimali, but we discovered that a road which once connected the area with Zhiben has been destroyed by landslides.
On this attempt we climbed numerous farming roads to dead-ends on the steep hillsides before descending down to Highway 11 midway between Zhiben and Taimali along the coast south of Taitung City.
We continued south to the village of Beimali, replenished our water, and began the final ascent of the day, rising 700 meters over 9 km. We had done this route together once before, but we were still trying to learn whether it connected with any roads over the top of the ridge and down the other side.
Reaching the top, we followed a narrow farming road through the betel nuts to a pass above the Pacific. We began descending, but just a few hundred meters further, came to an abandoned temple where the road ended in a field of weeds.
Turning around, we retraced our route down the mountain to the coast, up Highway 11 to Zhiben, and then back to our vehicle. After cleaning up and having meal, we spent the evening at a local nightspot, Highway 11, enjoying craft beers, music, and conversation.
The day’s ride was just 58 km. in length, but the total ascent was 1910 meters. The next morning, I’d begin the return ride back to Taipei.
Day 8 began with an early breakfast in Dulan, followed by a packing session, jamming my clothes and limited supplies into my seatpack and framepack. I’d been sleeping in a tent, and days always began not long after dawn, when the sun rays heated the inside of the tent beyond comfortable temperatures.
Pedaling north along Highway 11, my legs felt good, but the slight headwind and rolling terrain kept my average speed at a moderate pace. Soon, I stopped at the Amis Cultural Center in Duli to have an ice coffee at a friend's cafe before continuing up the coast, passing the towns of Chengong and then Changbin.
The heat and humidity were pretty high, and I consumed a large volume of fluids, from the water bladder in my frame pack, and purchased at the convenience stores where I stopped to rest along the way.
Soon I passed Baxian Caves and the obelisk marking the Tropic of Cancer before reaching the mouth of the Siuguluan river at Jingpu. Then I continued up the breathtaking coast, with steep mountains plunging into the sea, until I reached the sole climb of the day, up to Niushan. I actually enjoyed the climbing after so many hours of riding on the largely flat coastline, but the heat and humidity remained the main obstacle to be overcome.
Once the summit was reached, giving a view of a secluded beach in the distance, I blasted down the descent on the other side, and then along the narrow coastal plain toward Hualien.
About 10 km. south of Hualien, I saw a rider approaching on a bicycle from the north. As we neared each other, he turned and began pedaling northward ahead of me. I accelerated to match his speed, 40 kph., and sucked his wheel for several minutes, racing along the highway before finally slowing and letting him pull away. The effort required to keep up with him was significant and not out of my range, but I didn’t want to take too much advantage of his power, nor was I in a real hurry to reach Hualien.
It had been a great day on the bike, despite the summertime conditions, and by the time I reached my hotel, I had cycled nearly 150 km. and climbed 1100 meters.
Day 9, the final day of my journey, was to be an extremely challenging leg, covering 195 km. in distance and climbing nearly 2500 meters in elevation. Leaving my hotel, I followed Highway 193 along the coast, passing behind the runway of the Air Force Base and through a cemetery in the sand dunes behind Qixing Beach.
Soon, I was at the 7-11 near the guesthouse where my friends and I had stayed a week earlier. After breakfast there, I pushed forward in the extreme heat, first passing the mouth of the river at Taroko before going northward along the rolling coastal plain below the mountains.
This is one of the most picturesque sections of the ride between Hualien and Yilan, 90 km. to the north. The road passes along narrow passages carved into the rocky cliffs, through tunnels bored though the mountains, and dips into valleys cut by streams racing down from the mountains towering above.
Several towns along the way have major cement industries, and I stopped at convenience stores in each of these for cool drinks and food.
North of the small town of Nanao is one of the day’s serious climbs, rising 300 meters over 5 km. to a tunnel that leads to a twisting descent to the town of Dongao. From there, a 6-km. climb to 530 meters in elevation beckons. Halfway to the top, a stop to get a photo of the amazing coastline is always in order.
A few minutes further, the town of Suao appeared on the coast below. It’s a major fishing port with a naval base at the southern edge of Yilan’s coastal Lanyang Plain.
From Suao, I rode northward along Highway 2 before cutting over to the hot spring town of Jiaoxi, which we had passed through on the first day of the tour. Next, I ascended the 10-km. climb up Highway 9 to the pass at 500 meters. By this time, the sun had set, and thick fog had rolled in.
Eager to get home, still 50 km. away, I quickly descended to the tea farming town of Pinglin. After a quick meal at a convenience store there, I began the penultimate climb of the entire journey, rising 300 meters over 10 km.
Then it was down the final descent to Xindian, where I crossed the river and cycled to the bottom of the hill on which I live. Nearly 15 hours after I had started the day's ride, I began the 2-km. climb to my house.
The 9-day journey covered 910 km. in distance (including the days spent exploring), with a total ascent of nearly 17000 meters. I enjoyed some amazing experiences with friends along the way, was treated to world-class mountain views, fantastic days in the saddle, relaxing hours at the beach, and suffered through the punishing heat and humid weather.
It had all been worth it, as fulfilling tours always turn out to be, and it reinforced my desire to share these rides with cyclists from around the world. Taiwan is truly a must-ride destination for cyclists keen to immerse themselves in a touring adventure where alpine mountains meet tropical beaches.