ALONE is my style of adventure, as I try to cycle from Hua’ Lien southwards and then back again with me, myself and I. As any lone traveler would, I tried my best to keep myself alive and out of danger by packing some unnecessary stuff that serves its purpose only during those ‘just in case’ situations. Need a band-aid for your scratch? Or maybe some tissue paper for wiping your ass? Cough syrup for your sore throat? You don’t even need to go to your friendly neighborhood store, I have it all in my bulky trunk bag, along with all my clothing and water supply etc.
You may think that I’m overreacting (I can see the contemptuous smirks on your faces as you read this), but actually I am not. This is my very first time traveling Into The Wild style, and I hope not to end up frozen and dead just like the main character in the movie. I remember how my mum used to nag me about how I should take care of myself so that my loved ones do not have to be worried, to think of it, I really do know the feeling of losing someone whom you care for. As adventurous as I may seem, safety is still my main concern. Now you know I did everything I can to protect myself, I can start with my misguided two-day trip filled with fun and excitement.
MY DAY STARTED OFF with me cycling past Hua’ Lien city in an early Saturday morning, when most people are still dreaming in their beds about the Taiwanese dramas they watched the other night. I soon left the city into Hua’ Lien County Road No. 193, the same one I took during a group biking excursion in summer, which is famous for its splendid views of the rift valley. The road is at an elevated part near the Coastal Mountain Ranges, where one can look down at the vast never ending valleys of fertile land, some more productive than others that is.
The road was slightly steep but bearable, and the views, breathtakingly superb. I had to stop more than once in a while to snap the various different landscapes of the valley and the greeneries by my sides, not forgetting myself of course. Taking in all that beauty makes me happy, and when I’m happy my heart does not remember that we are all alone.
WHILE I WAS ENJOYING MY SOLITUDE, embracing nature by taking photos of its beautiful creations and of myself, a man came by and greeted me. I was shocked at first, as I was so used to being alone, with the MP3 as my sole companion, that I actually forgot what to say. But I eventually came back to my senses and introduced myself as a lone cyclist wandering the world in search of wisdom and enlightment (I made that last part up). As I soon found out, Mr. Weng, was a middle aged man from Hsin’ Chu, with plans to cycle halfway around Taiwan, from Hua’ Lien to Kao’ Hsiung. Meeting with travelers can be heartwarming and we continued to chat for a moment or so about our experiences while we exchanged details of our real lives. We then bid our goodbyes because I was just about to turn into the Kuang’ Feng highway, and was forced to split ways with him. I admired his courage though, because traveling solo isn’t that easy for a first timer.
The Kuang’ Feng highway links the rift valleys to the beach, making a zig zag, twist and turn cross over the Coastal Mountain Ridges. It started to rain, although not too hard, it was enough to make my jacket and pants uncomfortably wet. Among all the things I brought, I particularly forgot to bring a raincoat. Damp and cold, I decided to stop for a chocolate treat, while enjoying all the generous moisture our friendly rain fairy brought.
As I ascend higher, it became misty. Everything I see is a blur. Blurry here on the road. Blurry there on the mountains. Everything is so blur that I thought I was on the clouds. The road brought me approximately 8 km uphill, and then it was payback time when there was a 10 km slide all the way to the beach. I wee-ed all the way (I hope no one heard me), bringing my bike to its maximum 47 km/hr speed. There was this odd-looking old house down by the river bank, and here’s a typical view of the green green rice/vegetable/plant fields.
SOONER THAN I THOUGHT, I was already in ocean heaven. My surroundings are not fields anymore, it was palm trees and sand instead. Here I am, now on the Provincial Highway No. 11, on my way southwards. Yet, I was in no time to celebrate my journey so far because the rain started to get nastier. Unlike the other Provincial Highway No. 9 on the other side of the mountains, where convenience stores are in abundant, there are no shops or eateries of any kind here. Neighborhood houses are also a rarity. Fortunately, I manage to find an abandoned house which I let myself into for shelter. While waiting for the rain to stop, out of boredom, I started to record the number of vehicles passing by. I got my camera ready, and as soon as I hear any vehicle approaching, I will snap a photo of it. OK, I know this sounds retarded, but imagine yourself alone with nothing to do on a rainy day, and do remember that your legs are aching and your clothes unbearably wet. Now you know why people sometimes do things that are so out of this world.
THERE ARE CYCLIST LANES at some parts of the highway, and for once, I can stop when I want to for photo shoots. Shih’ Ti’ Ping is one of the many fishing harbors along the East Coast of Taiwan. Yet, what sets it apart from its other counterparts is that it is also the port where tourist go for whale sighting cruises on ferries. It is said that these whales can easily be sighted during the summer months while dolphins on the other hand, can be found almost at any time of the year. The local authorities constructed a huge area of touristy recreational area, where people can camp, barbecue, and have fun. They have this long wooden paths where you can walk (or cycle) on to see for yourself the different views of the sea. There are also trails which lead to rocky beaches which can be extremely beautiful and dangerous at the same time. I spent lots of time wandering around the area, admiring the ever changing waves splashing onto the pitiful rocks (that must hurt a lot).
EVENING CAME and its time for me to find my place to sleep. I brought a sleeping bag along so that I can sleep wherever I feel like to, and it does not have to cost me anything. I would have opted to sleep at the recreational park, but I would have to pay for the huts and all the free pavilions face the sea, where the cold ocean winds blow into mercilessly. I remember spotting a secluded pavilion not far from here, and so I cycled back in search of it. Alas, I found that place, the surrounding trees blocked the winds alright, but it was so dark that I couldn’t even see where my hands were. I ended up sleeping in a random public toilet (a fairly clean one, mind you) because I realized I need water for survival and it is convenient enough for me whenever ‘the need to go’ comes. This place is virtually out of nowhere so no one comes here in the night. I unloaded my stuff as if I were checking into a hotel, and started cleaning up. I was all alone, there was no one else, and so I did all the cleaning military style within the privacy of my own public toilet.
It was only 8pm but there was nothing else I can do but to tuck in and try to sleep. For the next two hours, I laid in my sleeping bag doing nothing. The rain got heavier, and it was then that I noticed that there was several leaks on the roof of my personal public toilet. I had to reposition myself constantly to avoid the leaks while getting the ultimate experience of being lonely in a dark stormy night, listening to the waves and trying hard to act brave. Suddenly, I heard voices coming from afar. Then there were footsteps nearing me. OMG OMG OMG… Who or what was that? Maybe it’s a security guard. Maybe it’s just some tourist looking for a toilet. Act brave Frankie, do not panic. I hid under my covers with my eyes peeping for a clue. I heard laughters. OK at least they are not monsters. They came nearer and nearer. I can see four of them… OMG please do not do anything to me, I am innocent! I can give you the toilet back. It IS nice but I can give it back. Please… To my surprise, I saw my four friends right in front of me. My sister connie, my roommate Kian Hwee, my junior Khai Jing and funny pal Shin Yee. It was shocking I must admit, but a pleasant surprise indeed. They drove all the way down to see me and brought me hot soup. I was prepared for the worse, but I never figured out that a night at the toilet can turn out to be good. We chatted for a while, and they headed back contented, knowing that I’m safe, at least for now.
BEING ALONE is scary at times, but there can be unexpected discoveries along the way. I would never realize how lucky I am to have such wonderful friends and to know that there are people going on similar journeys as I am. It is then when I realize that although I am alone, I will never be lonely, because as long as our hearts are connected, alone is merely physical, never spiritual.