Interview: Sam Henderson solo bike packing in Taiwan
Recently we had a chat with Sam Henderson, a fellow chick who has been travelling the world. She shares with us her first experience solo bike packing in Taiwan.
CWRB: Hi Sam. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today. Where do you currently live?
SH: I am currently living just South of Christchurch, NZ but I have spent the last two years travelling and am due to head home to Birmingham, UK in March.
CWRB: What type of riding do you normally do?
SH: Road riding and Triathlons. I have recently started bike packing.
CWRB: Tell us a little about your first solo bike packing experience?
SH: I was in Taiwan which seemed to be a fantastic place to do some cycle touring and I was particularly interested in cycling the east coast. My ride was to start in Taitung city and take me up the dramatic east coast of Taiwan to finish in Hualien. Both cities are easy to get to and from with the train system that always seems to be running right on time.
CWRB: How prepared were you for the trip?
SH: It was my first time solo bike packing and after six months backpacking around Asia and only a few days cycling thrown in, it is fair to say I had not done much training. There wasn't much time to get nervous or excited about my plans (mainly because I didn’t really have any). However, with the small amount of research I had done I had discovered that Giant offer a cycle hire scheme where the bike doesn't have to be returned to the same shop where you collect it from. This was rather difficult to organise as I lack any ability to speak Mandarin and English isn't widely spoken over there. Luckily I had someone who was able to make the phone call for me and get it sorted. I wouldn't always be that lucky and sometimes smiling and pointing was the best I could do! On day one I headed to pick up my bike with no cycling clothes, no helmet and no water bottle! After buying the essentials, I was soon on my way with a rough route planned.
CWRB: What did you like about solo bike packing in Taiwan?
SH: Taiwan has wide roads for cycling which is excellent but my favourite thing is that all police stations welcome cyclists. They offer the use of a track pump, toilets and somewhere to fill up your water bottle, what an awesome idea!
CWRB: What was one of the highlights of the trip?
SH: On the first morning after following the stunning coastal road, it was time to stop for lunch. I found a very busy dumpling shop which just looked perfect. I joined the long queue and was trying to decide which one to point to and hope for the best, when I was handed a menu in English! I think this may have been one of the only places where I was given the luxury of a menu in English! I opted for some veggie dumplings which were yummy even the dog that ogled me until they were gone thought so!
CWRB: What was some of the challenges of the trip?
SH: After finishing my dumplings and a quick visit to a police station I headed inland over the mountains. The mountains were tough and I was very jealous of the cycling group I saw heading in the other direction on their unloaded road bikes! I just got my legs into a rhythm and kept going. I was very happy to see a tunnel as it meant that I got a rest from the climbing, if only temporarily! As I emerged from the tunnel I was rewarded with amazing views and some downhill. I enjoyed the downhills unsure of when my next climb was likely to be. I was now in hot springs country and was passing some rather nice looking resorts which were outside my budget! After consulting my map I decided to head to Ruisei where there was a budget hotel, complete with springs! I headed on my merry way hoping to make it before darkness struck. It soon became apparent that I was fighting a losing battle but luckily my bike came with lights so I pedalled on into the darkness. I finally made it to Ruisei and checked in after further language difficulties. I was getting good at miming! My bed tonight would be a mat on the floor but I had hot springs to help rejuvenate my legs, so I couldn't complain! After failing to find anyone that was willing to serve me in the restaurant, I headed to the family mart and had noodles and bread. They filled the hole that cycling 120km had made. The following day I woke up to rain. After delaying my start, I had no choice but to head out into it, with two rain ponchos protecting me and my panniers. I decided not to head through the mountains as it would just involve a lot of climbing and no views to reward my hard work. By the time I made it to the coastal road the rain had eased however it was cold and windy. Luckily that day was a rather short 70km. I had few problems with the language barrier that day, as all my food came from Seven Eleven which just happen to be my favourite shop (I truly miss them!).
CWRB: What other areas did you visit?
SH: After a rest day in Taroko Gorge, where I climbed halfway up a mountain, I was on my way again! It was another short day and I'm pleased to say that there was no rain. I had decided to make a few stops on the way with the first being Mugua Gorge, unfortunately I was unable to ride my bike here so after placing it behind the police station I headed off on foot. It was amazingly pretty and the water looked very inviting however as it wasn't that warm so I just admired from afar. After a couple of hours walking I got back on my bike and headed towards Hualien with just a quick stop at Liyu Lake. Arriving in Hualien, a reasonable sized city, meant that it was always possible to find someone that spoke English however this didn't mean I got an English menu! I was still handed a printed menu in Mandarin which I couldn't understand!
CWRB: How far did your solo bike packing trip take you?
SH: In total I completed 250km in 4 days. I was keen to continue but as my time in Taiwan was limited I had to leave that for a future trip!
CWRB: Would you recommend doing a solo bike packing in Taiwan?
SH: I would truly recommend a trip to Taiwan, the cycling is stunning and there is a very dramatic coastline to look at when the going gets tough. The people are amazing and would do anything to help. However, they do expect you to be able to speak Mandarin as most westerners who have settled in Taiwan can.