Cycling Around Taiwan Part 1 - The Northern Cross

Posted on Aug 01, 2013

Cycling Around Taiwan

Part 1 - The Northern Cross

Taiwan is roughly an oval shaped island with a major mountain range forming a spiny backbone along its length. There are only three roads that connect the east and west coast through the mountain ranges: The Northern Cross, the Central Cross and the Southern Cross highways. Most of the time when people cycle around Taiwan, they will avoid these roads and stick to the flatter coastline, but we decided to kick off our round-island bike tour with a climb over the legendary Northern Cross.

I tracked the route for our entire trip with Strava on my iPhone, and exported the tracks to .gpx so that I could plot the route on google maps. Overall, the iPhone worked great, and I listened to lots of music during some stretches of riding. That said, the GPS obviously gets very inaccurate in the mountains. If you follow the track closely, it has us 100m from the road sometime, and the elevation data is very off.

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Day 1: Hsinchu to Guanxi, 58 km.

This was supposed to be the easy day. We would pack up, say our goodbyes, and ride out of the hot and traffic-filled city toward cool mountain air. We had planned an easy 50km over a few foothills to the bottom of where the real climbing began. We had reserved a room at a small cold spring minsu along Luoma Rd a few kilometers past Guanxi. The idea was that we'd have a short day and get an early start at the beginning of the northern cross highway before the heat really set in.

Sadly, when we were cycling across the bridge between the ZhuDong and Cyonglin, I heard a "ping" sound from my rear wheel. I pulled over to discover that one of the spokes on my rear wheel had blown out. The spoke was severely bent and whatever was left of the spoke nipple was rattling around inside the rim. I didn't have a spare spoke, but the wheel still spinned well enough to ride out of there. Still, we didn't want to start the trip with a broken spoke, so we set course for the nearest Giant shop, which was about 10-12km away on highway 1 in Jhubei.

The guys at the Giant shop in Jhubei on highway 1 were amazing. They had the spoke fixed in 10 minutes, and when we told the owner that we were going to ride the Northern Cross, he even gave me a spare spoke to take with me just in case. They filled up our water bottles and sent us on our way - all for 200NT (~$6 CDN/USD). The friendliness and efficiency of the folks at the shop made me completely forget about the frustration of the problems my bike has had with broken spokes. I suppose the air conditioning in their shop helped as well.

We made a quick escape from the busy traffic in Jhubei and made it up the long gentle incline to Guanxi, where we stopped for a Coco drink and some lunch. We followed the winding Luoma Road over a few rolling hills before we passed the public school, which was our marker to start looking for signs for the resort we were looking for.

When we finally found the resort, we were quite impressed. It had beautiful pools which were fed with crystal clear cold water from the mountain river. We had our own little bungalow there. It cooled down significantly at night, especially with a little splash around in the pool.

The dinner they served was also fantastic, and they were very patient with our poor Chinese skills and helped with some key English words they knew as well.

Day 2: Guanxi to Baling, 52 km

On day 2 we started the climb in earnest, and it was immediately evident. We went up and up for some time on Luoma Road, before eventually descending for a long while. We caught glimpses of the Shimen Reservoir through the trees and saw some of the destruction from the recent typhoon. The heat was catching up with us, but luckily we found a little road side restaurant with a great view of the reservoir and we stopped to get a cool drink.

After lunch we got on the highway 7 and started climbing more and more. There was a lot more traffic on highway 7, probably because it was Sunday and a lot of people were driving back from popular weekend spots in the area, like Baling and Lalashan. Still, we did get moments of peace, and lots of great views along the way.

The work the Taiwanese have done to build huge dams and control the water flow coming from the mountains is amazing.

Just as we were starting to feel a little too hot, we found a beautiful waterfall to cool off in.

After about 50km of riding and 1000m of climbing, we saw the famous red Baling bridge, and we knew we were almost at our hotel. We stayed at a hotel in lower baling.

That night we got some great rice and meat for dinner and a few beers to wash it down on the patio across the street from the hotel. Later we wandered 500m back down the road to see the famous bridges lit up at night and sip a beer. It was an amazing experience to be so deep in a valley with the mountains rising above us on all sides at night.

Day 3: Baling to Luodong, 85 km

The next day was a big contrast from the previous one. Instead of having a few rollers to warm up on, we started climbing immediately and would double our elevation over the next few km. The hill was unrelating, but reasonably graded the whole way. The road was also very quiet and since we had started at around 8 am, the sun had not risen over the mountain yet, and it was really nice to be in the shade for a big part of the climb.

You could see hotels high up above the road.

Eventually we though we had passed the highest point as we started a long and very fun descent. We thought we might see the flood plain of LuoDong soon, but the climbing was far from done. We climbed another few hundred meters back up to a very beautiful coniferous forest.

After coming out of the forest conservation area we could now see we were clearly on the other side of the mountain. We could see the valley below and the views were impressive as the road snaked along the side of the mountain. We eventually started the ripping downhill to the valley below. This one was actually a bit too fast, and by the end my hands were quite tired from braking. The switch backs were tight, and some buses were coming up around them as well. On roads like this, one mistake could easily have big consequences.

We were actually a little surprised by how much riding we had left after the hill before we got to Luodong. It had seemed like it would be all downhill coasting into town along the river side, but it was more like rolling hills, and a challenging headwind. In addition, we were now in full sun at the hottest part of the day, and for once there wasn't a 7-11 until we got much closer to Luodong. But, we powered through it and got to the hotel.

We stayed at City Corner B & B which was run by a fantastic guy named Miles who is a cycling enthusiast himself. He gladly took our bikes inside and put them next to his own very impressive time trial bike. He took us out for soup at the look beef noodle soup at the local shop and gave us advice about what to see in Luodong.

Mile's arranged for a private taxi to take us to Luodong night market for the night, where we enjoyed some tasty snacks. I think our favourite find was a stand making fresh fruit drinks - a fresh watermelon juice was just what we needed after a long hot day on the bikes.

Day 4: "Rest day", cycling around Luodong, 36 km

The next day, Miles provided advice about what we might go to see in Luodong by bicycle, and we headed out for a day of casual site-seeing. We lucked out and found a great spot for breakfast and were enjoying our meal when I noticed there was a hair cutting place across the street. My scraggily hair had been annoying me in the heat so I resolved that after breakfast I would go across for a hair cut. It turned into a very funny experience because my Chinese vocabulary does not cover the subtleties of hair styles and none of the hair dressers knew English. But in the end, I came out of there with less hair and looking like I was ready to be in a Taiwanese boy band.

From there we proceeded to a park in the center of the city where there was a collection of old trains.

Day 5: Train to Hualien, cycling to and from train stations, ~10 km

On Miles' advice we decided to take the train from Luodong to Hualien instead of riding along the coastal road. Apparently that section of road is very narrow and there are several very long tunnels that. Guys back in the Hsinchu cycling club also recommended skipping that section to me, explaining that with all the big trucks driving along the only road on the east coast, it is very unsafe. Luckily, the train only cost a few bucks, and they didn't make us put them in bags this time, although we did have to buy an extra 50% fare ticket for them (again, only a few dollars though).

Part 2 >>

Cycling Around Taiwan

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Mike at Chance Cove, NL - photo by Angelina Friskney,