[Day 1] At The Beginning

Distance Today: 99km
Total Distance: 99km
Maximum Speed: 43kph
Average Speed: 15kph
Time in Saddle: 6hrs 26min
Journey: Hua’lien – Yu’li (via Provincial Highway No. 9)
Accommodation: Hsin’hsin Hotel
Money Used Today: NT$484

AT THE BEGINNING of the first day of my dream come true Taiwan cycling trip, I was excited but exhausted by the lack of sleep with all the frantic bag-packing duties the day before. We started the day with a happy smile on our faces, all prepared for the physically demanding trip for the following 11 days.

Our journey starts off with us leaving our school, which is located in Hua’Lien (花蓮), a Taiwanese county at the eastern part of the island. Hua’Lien is best known for its stunning tourist attractions, from the Taroko Gorge to the Ching’Shui Cliff (清水斷涯), and not forgetting its rich aboriginal culture. Yet, most of the members of the cycling team had the chance to explore Hua’Lien many times, and are more than happy to pass it by to gain more time for the other parts of Taiwan.

AT THE BEGINNING of the trip, we stopped by a typical breakfast stall near our school for a quick morning fill. I ordered Dan’Ping (蛋餅), which is a kind of fried pancake with eggs and other ingredients of your choice in it. I chose the assorted vegetables kind, thinking that this would give me a healthy kick-start that I needed desperately. After our first group photo in front of the stall, we were all determined to start cycling for our lives, but would also make time to stop for short rests along the way,

AT THE BEGINNING of the road of our choice, which is the Provincial Highway No. 9 (台9線), the journey was smooth and uneventful. We traveled south bound on this highway, hoping to reach Yu’Li (玉里) town before sunset. All is well, other than the hot sun that is, until we started feeling breathless while we pedal. What happened was that the roads got steeper and it was an uphill climb for us, the first challenge in our trip. We crawled pass mountain ridges by our sides, and dried riverbanks that reminded us of global warming. Although the climbs are torturing our leg muscles, and the seat made our butts suffer, we were always in a happy mood, especially when motorists came out of nowhere to shout their cheers.

We arrived at the Kuang’Fu sugar factory (光復糖廠) before noon for our lunch break and nap. This sugar factory turned tourist attraction offers tourists a place to rest before continuing their trips and an opportunity to taste its famous ice cream cones. The ice cream was wonderful, refreshing but not too sweet. We ate our lunches here, and spent the remaining two hours loafing around and sleeping at the corridors. The locals didn’t seem bothered so we continued our nap until it was time for us to continue our cycling.

AT THE BEGINNING of the road from Kuang’Fu to Yu’Li, it was even much steeper than what we had this morning. But fortunately, it became somewhat effortless when we arrived at the plains of Hua’Lien, a fertile piece of land between the Central Mountainous Ridges of Taiwan (also called ‘The Backbone’) (中央山脈) and the Coastal Mountainous Ridges of the East Coast (海岸山脈). With rice fields on our sides and dramatic high hills on both ends, the pedaling became much easier and worthy. Eventually we arrived at another rest stop, the Jui’Sui ranch (瑞穗牧場) with its crisp unpolluted air and ostriches and cows. We drank milk, and sat down in its cafeteria for some chatting and photo taking.

AT THE BEGINNING of the day, I doubted if we can survive the 90km but I proved myself wrong, and that with persistency, anything could be possible. We reached Yu’Li just before dusk and the only thing on my mind that I can think of is food… So, without any delays, we rushed into a Chih’Shang Rice Shop (池上便當) (Chih’Shang is a place famous for its delicious rice, and the franchising industry took great advantage of it by placing its shops all around the island), and ordered a vegetarian version of the rice dish. It came with some vegetables on top of the rice and in a traditional wooden box. After finishing our meals, we set off for another delicacy, fermented tofu. Although most locals love this dish, some foreigners cannot stand its stinking smell, which resembles two-day-old garbage. However, I loved it, and you can see that we enjoyed ourselves that night.

We found a hotel near the railway station offering a six-bed room charging NT$250 per person and immediately accepted this Hsin’Hsin Hotel (新新大旅社) as our place to stay for the night. Although its furnishing is quite old and the shower isn’t warm enough, we all agreed that it was still a good deal because we can do our laundry for free, and they gave us an empty room to lock our bicycles in.

AT THE BEGINNING of the end of the day, I was lying on my bed thinking of the first day of my journey. My legs were aching but my mind was wandering, recalling the things that happened. While I closed my eyes, officially ending this ‘FIRST’ day, I know that I would greet the beginning of the ‘SECOND’  day with much more faith that I had the previous day, and that this journey would never end.

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