The tarmac stretches out in front of me in a continuous gradient. The sky is a clear blue and although cool, my arms glisten with the effort of pushing my pedals. I’m part way up the 20km climb to Wuling, a peak of 3275m above sea level, and the rich Taiwanese landscape stretches out in front of me.
The switchbacks in the road afford me views of the valleys I rode through to get here. The towns I stopped in for a refreshing milk tea are but specks now. Although a seasoned cyclist, this climb is exhausting. Is it the altitude? The gradient? Or am I just more unfit than I thought?
The lactic acid screams in my legs, and my head goes into autopilot counting to 20 again and again. Despite the challenge, I am at ease knowing the Giant Adventure team is ahead with handy mechanics should anything go wrong, and plenty of snacks should everything go right. I am part of a cycling tour group getting a taste of the formidable Taiwanese mountains, and right now I can literally taste the elevation.
Over the last four days we have traversed valleys, crossed rivers on incredibly engineered Taiwanese bridges, passed through lovely towns and even ducked into a local tea house for a cuppa.
I’d been to Taiwan before for a solo bike exploration earlier in the year. I left smitten but curious about the mountains, which I was unable to penetrate in my two week, 1,400 kilometre dash around the coastline.
Before arriving to Taiwan, I had little understanding of the culture, the topography or the history. And even on this second trip, guided by expert locals, I feel I have a steep learning curve- much like the road that stretches out before me.
This climb marks the last day of riding. Tomorrow we will explore Rueifang and Shiding near Taipei with a local historical guide who will help frame so much of what we have seen over the last few days.
Although a wonderful cycling spot, Taiwan is very much a choose-your-own-adventure holiday destination. Just two days prior we rode alongside thousands of enthusiastic Taiwanese cyclists in a government organised ‘Come! Bike Day!’ event at the tourist hot spot of Sun Moon Lake. With an almost forgotten beach resort vibe, the lake clearly draws crowds for its beauty and unique position as the highest lake in Taiwan at 748 metres above sea level.
There are hotels, restaurants and ferries that criss cross the lake taking you to various temples or settlements with more tourist amenities. The bike event itself showcased the Taiwanese’s unencumbered love of cycling. There were thousands of people on all manner of bike, wearing every imaginable combination of cycling kit, excitedly preparing to ride the 30km around the lake.
Keeping the lake to your right, we zoomed around clockwise. Like everywhere else in Taiwan, the road quality is superior and the vehicles that shared the road courteous. From the roadside volunteers shout “jia-yo”, a commonly heard vocalisation when riding in Taiwan. It means “give you more petrol!” (as in energy, as in keep going!) and is always offered at the perfect moment when your calves want to give up.
Back to my climb. The final stretch looms before me. I can see the peak and a cluster of enthusiastic tourists. The clouds begin to move in and I reach the top in time to see the road I’ve just ridden get blanketed in mist. From here I can taste the sky and I feel my heart beating in my throat. Is it the altitude? The gradient I just rode up? Or is my heart singing because I am on top of a mountain in beautiful Taiwan?
The writer was a guest of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau Sydney.
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