Friday, December 25, 2015

Formosa 900 - 2015

There is a saying among the Taiwanese, and that is to be a True Taiwanese, 3 feats must be accomplished
  • To climb the tallest mountain in Taiwan (Jade Mountain)
  • To cycle round the Island of Taiwan
  • To swim across the Sun Moon Lake
(玉山 環島 日月潭 )
And apparently, there are many True Taiwanese (foreginers included)!

Actually, I heard  this saying on day One of our 2015 Round Island cycling tour, at the Flagging Off Ceremony being held at the City Hall.

This round island Formosa 900 cycling tour is in the 4th year running. Those of us who were privileged to start from Taipei, attended the Flagging Off ceremony held at the City Hall where various government officials, Corporate Management staff and representatives from various NGO gave speech on this event.  

Apparently, cycling is one very prominent activity, not in terms of the number of cyclists, but in terms of infrastructure that has been build to make Taiwan a very cyclists friendly nation. There are dedicated lane for cyclists almost in all major roads. And like the highway with dedicated number, the same can be said for the cycling route.

The brown sign says "Round Island Route 1"
And these ubiquitous signages, telling us we were heading in the right direction.
For this occasion, not to crowd Taipei, there were various groups that started from different locations around Taiwan.  For in the days to come, we would met  different groups who have started from Xinchu and KaoHsiung.

Attempting to cycle 912 km in 9 days is not going to be an easy feat for us. One definitely has to train. But doubt filled my mind, for I was wondering how are we going to complete the journey, considering the facts that
  • We were not seasoned cyclists
  • Have never cycle long distance nor duration
  • Lack of training, no thanks to the haze caused by Indonesia, in particular to those days running up to the actual day of departure, where the PSI and PM2.5 were always hovering at the unhealthy range!
Mitigating our doubt and fear,  this event was very well organized.  Giant the primary sponsor for this event, placed very experienced staff in organizing the event. In each group, there will be 5 Giants representatives. 2 in support vehicles and 3 on bikes.  The leader of this group was a very experience guide who was also an avid cyclist. He will gauge our stamina and monitor our condition, will adjust rest point accordingly.  In another word, the longest we rode was about 30 km per stretch, and shortest was 12 km.  And on average, we clocked 100 km per day over the period of 9 days.

Beside their experience, these Giant riders and guide were very dedicated to their works.  They ensured we were constantly replenished with food, water, fruits and mineral nutrients.  And whenever we reached certain destination (be it a pit stop, lunch, dinner, lodging), they will ensure our comfort, before theirs.  At no time, did they lose their cool over some of our unreasonable behavior or demand!  

Also, they placed our safety and our well being as top priorities. For in such event, there will be uphill and downhill; adverse weather condition; spills and falls.; bike ramming bike; falls from downhill run; and when the inevitable happened, we will always receive prompt attention, and if they were not able to cope, it will be a trip to the hospital A&E.

Listing down in chronology our 9 days of adventure will help to encourage more  adventurous souls for the next Formosa 900.

These 9 days, took us
Day 1 Taipei to Jiaoxi 台北→礁溪
Day 2 Jiaoxi to HuaLian (by train) and then cycled to Ruisui 礁溪→瑞穗
Day 3 Ruisui to Zhiben 瑞穗→知本
Day 4 Zhiben to Checheng 知本→車城
Day 5 Checheng to Kaohsiung 車城→高雄
Day 6 Kaohsiung to Chiayi 高雄→嘉義
Day 7 Chiayi to Taichung 嘉義→台中
Day 8 Taichung to HsinChu 台中→新竹
Day 9 HsinChu to Taipei 新竹→台北

Kudos to the Giant Team for making this adventure possible and fun.

For me and my friend, we are thinking of starting in a anti-clockwise route, as this trip we did the clockwise, covering the eastern side before heading for the west.

This is a production from the Giant Team, covering Day 1 to Day 5.
Not only they have to take care of the various logistics, but also double up as cameraman and producer of these great videos. (2nd one is at Day 6)

Day 1 Taipei to Jiaoxi 台北→礁溪

We attended the meeting the day earlier, and then we were showed the terrain that we were going to cover, and this was it. First day, and we have to cycle up 500+ m! Our jaws dropped!

We submit our height prior to the event, and we were assigned bikes that met our height!  Now to test run, and ensure all is in good working condition before we start.
Starting point at the City Hall, with the renowned Taipei 101 as a backdrop
Everything is provided... Waterbottle, helmet, jersey ......
The Opening Ceremony

After the flagging off.
Picture courtesy of Loh CH
And into the busy Taipei Street...
1st Pit Stop - toilet, banana, and isotonic powder.  Soon these will become part of the routine
Once we were away from the bustling Taipei, traffic lessen, the joy of riding began.

The 8 degree gradient uphill.  And the sign said - 2 km long.....
Meandering river and villages. 
Uphill once more.....
Picture courtesy of Loh CH
Finally, Lunch Point
Finally, we were at the final hill, and it was time to descend. But then it was getting dark and the rain has fallen. Our first day, and we were filled with so much "challenges".

After replenishing our waterbottle and ourselves from the mobile larder.
Overseas Cyclists Group - Singapore/Malaysia Team
Picture courtesy of Loh CH
As road will be slippery, and as it was getting dark.  We were paced out as we started our downhill ride.  This is to prevent collision.
See the 360 degree turn...
And finally, we reached the base of the hill.  What a relief to all of us, alas, a member of our team fell from the bike.  Thankfully, the knock that was sustained during the fall,the helmet absorbed much of the impact, though the helmet cracked, the rider suffered laceration and cut.

Pit stop after the downhill ride
Our hotel for tonight
A very exhilarating Day 1, uphill, downhill, rain, slippery road, darkness.  We can consider this to be our baptism into cycling.

Day 1 Route, can see the winding road that make up this route

Day 2 Jiaoxi to HuaLian (by train) and then cycled to Ruisui 礁溪→瑞穗

The day began with a short walk to the railway station.
The stretch of road from Jiaoxi to HuaLIan is simply too dangerous for cyclists, as this is a coastal road, with many fast moving cars and trucks.

As Giant has emphasized to us many times, safety is the utmost importance to the company, and this stretch of road will place many of us into harm ways.
A ride on motorized vehicles along this stretch of road will give any potential cyclists the right perspective!

Walking to JiaoXi Station.  Single File.
At the platform, we have to wait where the last carriage entry area, for bikes are only allowed in that carriage.
35 bikes in the last carriage
The train ride though fast was long, and when we looked at the map, we realised the distance that we have traveled.

HuaLian is famous for their Mochi, and the Giant Team introduced us to the famous Mochi by getting this delicacy for us to try.

Picture courtesy of Loh CH
Pit stop, and we replenished our water and energy.
Banana, Isotonic powder, biscuits, apples ...... Stocks from the Mobile Larder
Picture courtesy of Loh CH
Pit stop, wheel changed for those who has punctured tyres.  Like mine!
And onward to RuiSui
Picture courtesy of Loh CH
The many bridges that we have to cross
With beautiful mountainous backdrop
Whenever we come to a crossroad, one of the Giant Rider will be there to guide.
Another long bridge to cross

And finally we arrived at our lunch point.
In this area, most of the aborigines live here.  And this restaurant architecture design incorporate the local design.
A group photo before we set off for RuiSui
Picture courtesy of Loh CH
Along the way, we stop here for more picture taking.

Thankfully, we don't have to cycle to the mountain...
Our Hotel for Day 2
HuaLian to RuiSui

Thankfully, for Day 2, the distance was shorter and not much high hill to climb.

Day 3 Ruisui to Zhiben 瑞穗→知本

Every morning, we will be told of the route we are taking.
The terrain, the distance etc.

And of course before we set off, it will be the warming up exercise.

Warming up before we set off
Picture courtesy of Loh CH
One of the Giant Rider, who is now also our friend, leading the pack to RuiSui
Getting to be very hot.  A funny weather condition for month of November in Taiwan.
Rice Field ready for harvest
Which is also our pit stop
Usually our pit stop is in a convenient location.  With good toilet facilities and shelters.  And of course Coffee and Tea...and sometimes beer.
In this place, again we were introduced to the famous Lunch Set of this area.

Our Bento Lunch
Here we met a group that has cycled from HuaLian
This group (on the right) waved us off after we have eaten and rested.
Picture courtesy of Loh CH
Rice Harvest along the way
Picture courtesy of Loh CH
Cycling into town
Picture courtesy of Loh CH
Some attraction of this little town
Picture courtesy of Loh CH
And after each day, at the end of our ride, it is warming down time.
Picture courtesy of Loh CH
F for fantastic Hotel
Welcoming us is this sign at F Hotel
Day 3 Route

Day 4 Zhiben to Checheng 知本→車城

Since day 1 until now, we have been on the eastern side of Taiwan, where we can see the magnificent Pacific Ocean.
Today, we will be crossing the spine of Taiwan towards the West, which also mean another arduous climb across the ridge.

Every morning, before we start, the side of the van became our notice board.
Highlighting once again the terrain, distance and expectation for this morning ride.
There is going to be 3 small hills to climb before the final big one at 450 m.
We console ourselves that we have already done such a one on Day 1, and our muscles should be quite condition for this climb. We hope!

Going to be an exciting ride
Warming up....
To the first hill...
And this is the first hill.  Hmmmm doable
Along the way, these flowers were in bloom.
and Custard Apple too
Another pit stop, before we tackle the next hill
Some photo of the hill that we are about to climb, and this is not the final one
Last view of the Pacific Ocean before we crossed to the West
Our Lunch Point
After lunch, the final assault.  I doubt many of us ate too much.  We don't want to have unnecessary load.
The climb before the actual climb
How consoling, we are still so near to the Eastern side
And finally, we reached the destination.  SoKa Stop
And we were met by the GM of Giant.  She has come all the way here to greet us, and brought with her icy cold sugar water, hot steaming coffee, and words of encouragement.
A view from SoKa before we descend.  Our consolation, it will be 14 km of downhill.
And at the base, will be Mudan.  In this place, the local aborigines stood their ground and fought with the Japanese during the 2nd World War
Mudan Pit Stop

Alas, in a downhill ride, dangers abound.
And here another one of the rider had a bad fall, and from this point onward, she was incapacitated and was not able to ride further but enjoy the ride with us while sitting in the backup van.

The plaque commemorating the history and bravery of these aborigines.
Aborigine Art as depicted on this bridge and gateway
And thus end Day 4, the most gruelling climb of all.
And in perspective, the profile and route that we took today.

Beside the climb, the distance was above 100 km. Of course the downhill 14 km was part of it.

We have crossed to the West to CheCheng
Day 5 Checheng to Kaohsiung 車城→高雄

From here onward, the scenery changed. The Western part is more populous and less scenic.
Plenty of vehicles on the road, and now we have to be extremely careful as we rode.

Morning View from hotel - facing West
Here, where 3 different groups met, though we may not know each other, it seems that we were bonded with a common purpose.
Picture courtesy of Loh CH
On this day, 3 different groups from Giant have congregate the night before, and soon it will be dispersal time. We are going clockwise, and they anti-clockwise round the island.  Here we can see the All Ladies team doing their warm-up before the start of their ride.  We will see them again, when we met up again in Taipei on the last day.
The profile for today, little "bumpy"
And away we go, the little bumpy ride for Day 5
Pit Stop - At a Wholesaler Centre
We passed this place, a very interesting sign advertising "wealth"
Traffic was heavy, as the Bike Lane get encroached by other slow moving vehicles.
For Lunch, it is this special place where all parts of the bovine are being served.  It was good!
On the way to KaoHsiung, we came across this Duck Farm.  Reminds me of the delicious Salted Duck Egg
Entering KaoHsiung City, bustling of activities. 
After dinner, we were on our own.

Given a map, we head for the famous night market of KaoHsiung.
Underground Subway Station, the best way to get around
Night Market
Picture courtesy of Loh CH
Tainan specialty
Picture courtesy of Loh CH
Indeed it was pretty flat terain

Day 6 Kaohsiung to Chiayi 高雄→嘉義

Heading North, we depart from Kaohsiung for ChiaYi.
It is going to be a very flat terrain, that suit us very much.
We were told that we are going to try a traditional Taiwanese delicacy for lunch.
But the main highlight will be the crossing of the Tropic of Cancer.

The second part of the video.

The route for today
Picture courtesy of Loh CH
The Guide telling us what we have covered in the last 5 days, and the next 3 to come
We start our journey from opposite our hotel, from this park
And into the bustling street once again
First pit stop of the day, KaoHsiung Stadium
Picture courtesy of Loh CH
A favourite haunt for the local, palms, water, a good place to work out
Close up of the roof lattice
Despite 6 days of cycling, we are still nimble for couple of difficult pose!

Arriving at our lunch place.  We parked our bikes opposite the restaurant along the canal.
Prawn noodle - yummy
And the famous delicacy - pudding.  you will have to queue for a long time to get your hand on this, yet we have them on our table.  Thanks to the good planning of the Giant Staff.
Picture courtesy of Loh CH
Our pit stop is usually in interesting location.  Here we stop in this historic site, where once sugar was being milled.
Interestingly, this is the largest 7-11 shop in Taiwan
It was getting dark as we near our destination, and these 2 aborigine figures seem to be motivating us to keep pushing.
Picture courtesy of Loh CH
That Red Arch, that represents the imaginary Tropic of Cancer

Day 7 Chiayi to Taichung 嘉義→台中

Today, our spirit is lifted for we are coming to an end of our journey.
The special event for today, was to cross the 2nd longest bridge in the world (during 2nd World War), the XiLo Bridge being rivaled by the Golden Gate Bridge.
And for lunch, specialty of XiLo area, the Rice Cake.

Not too far a journey to Taichung, and terrain was decently flat
As usual, Warming Up Exercise
And away we go
Entrance to the XiLo Bridge

This bridge spans across the river with 31 of such arches.

Another Sugar Mill for our weary muscles
Narrow, single lane one way.
Undivided View
Picture courtesy of Loh CH
And the delicacy for today - Rice Cake
XiLo is an old town, beside the Rice Cake, the famous thing to buy and bring home is fermented bean curd.
Being invaded by these cyclists, even to the point of taking over the counter.
Nearing to TaiChung City
Soon it will be dark
Winter time, though it was early, but the sky has turned dark.

Day 8 Taichung to HsinChu 台中→新竹

And for today, the ride will be rather flat with just a little bump. So we thought!

As usual, we need to charge up our "battery" though we may have already taken our breakfast.
Then it rained.
Then it stopped raining
But the weather was nice without the scorching sun
Picture courtesy of Loh CH
Arriving at the marsh area, at low tide.  Not too far away will be XinChu
And the seabed at low tide, where there were many people digging for their sea food.
Then it started to rain again...
Until we reached the city of "New Bamboo"
Our hotel is just opposite, and we have crossed the busy road. For safety, we pushed across the road.

And dinner we will be on our own. There is no lack in Taiwan when it comes to food.

Away to the night market, and we will be spoiled for choice.

Hmmmm, that is definitely not a cliff.  Must have stop and start the watch.

Day 9 HsinChu to Taipei 新竹→台北

Today, is Day 9, the last day of the journey round the island.
We were both happy and sad.
Soon we will be parting ways with our friends that we have
Today we are entering into Taipei, today we as a team will make it.
And Today we wear the same jersey
But it is not going to be easy, 2 hills and head wind before we see Taipei 101
And away we go in the busy street

It is nice to have green scenery once again
But as we near Taipei, soon it will be single file and in group, for there is safety in number in the busy street of Taipei
This way to Taipei said that Yellow Sign
And a dam
Our lunch place whee we have our seafood
Picture courtesy of Loh CH
No, we don't have such fish for lunch
Picture courtesy of Loh CH

Soon we will be back to where we started
And Taipei 101 is now in sight
We have made it....
And the medallion that goes with it
Picture courtesy of Loh CH
Giant spared no effort to make sure we remember this 9 days of fun, adventure, camaraderie.
Picture courtesy of Loh CH

This trip requires much logistics coordination, and dedication from the organiser. And they have done much to make sure our trip was a memorable one.
A big thank you to Giant for making this event enjoyable for us, and to the staff for making this a memorable trip.
Thank you note published in Giant official website

And a video production by one of our team member.