Friday, December 17, 2010

Taiwan -- Day 6 Taroko Gorge and The Descent

We had a nice light breakfast the next morning before returning to Hualien, and the GIANT store to pick up new bikes.  The plan was to ride 22KM UP THE GORGE to Tianxiang before cycling back down the 22KM again.  I have to say that I was quite terrified about the prospect of riding up the gorge.  I certainly didn’t think that I had the muscle power to complete such a ride.  Even if by some miracle I were able to do it, it would never take place in the time constraint that we had. I asked John to arrange if possible, that the bike and I would be dropped off in Tianxiang and wait for the others to join me and I would then ride down with them. As with everything else that was requested of John, he was amazing and set it up.   Beverly had recently had surgery on her knee and she also decided to join me in the deviation.

Hualien GIANT Store

GIANT Store, Hualien

Unbelievably to me it only took an hour or so for John, Cola Mark, Wireless Mark and Kate to reach us.  I honestly couldn’t believe that they rode up the inclines, through the tunnels and across the bridges that fast. 

Tianxiang, Taroko Gorge

Tianxiang, Taroko Gorge

Me getting ready to ride

I was really psyched to ride down the gorge as I thought it would be the easiest ride of the trip.  Not a lot of hard pedaling, beautiful views and best of all, downhill.  Turns out I was wrong.  It was the most fear inducing, heart-stopping ride of the entire trip.  About 30 feet after we started to ride we entered one of the many tunnels along the road. Unfortunately this one was very long and BLACK! Not a single light in the tunnel. I was absolutely scared to the bone. I wasn’t sure if I should stop or turn back or keep going.  I slowed down but then realized that I couldn’t hear or see anything behind me.

Really, do most cyclists need this?
It really makes me think why this needed to be added.

Riding through the tunnel seemed to last forever.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to ride smack into a wall, or ride over a rock and bail or be hit from behind by a giant bus full of tourists.  When I finally reached the light I sent a thankful prayer to God.  This ride was now officially named White-Knuckle-Death-Ride-Down-Taroko-Gorge. I had been mentally set for a lovely easy ride and the first 10 minutes had aged me 10 years. I would definitely recommend to anyone thinking of walking or riding down the gorge to wear the brightest most reflective clothing they own.  It also wouldn’t hurt to have a powerful light and horn/bell on your bike so that you could alert people that you were in the tunnel.  If you have no time limits the ride up and down the Gorge can be completed by even the most novice of riders, although some walking may be involved.

Taroko Gorge

Taroko Gorge

The next twenty kilometers or so down the Gorge and back to the bike shop were breath taking.  The scenery is unbelievable and words just don’t do it justice.  When the sun hits the gorge’s marble walls they light up. I stopped many times on the way down to take pictures. Waterfalls and trails abound, the river(s) rush by like thundering liquid cement and through it all you’re having the most thrilling ride. There are more tunnels and bridges to negotiate but none as scary as the first one outside of Tianxiang.  At one point we hit a single lane stretch of road and had to keep riding while the largest tour bus I’d ever seen passed by us. Kate of Global Soul Adventures had set up a helmet camera and she took an amazing six-minute clip of some of our ride.

The amount of rainfall in the Taroko Gorge

More rainfall from Typhoon Megi, Taroko Gorge

As usual I was lagging behind the group, even on the descent. These people are crazy (in the nicest possible way). Cola Mark clocked himself doing 41-MILES PER HOUR on the way down and I was freaked out if I hit 30 KILOMETRES.  They tore down the road having great fun, taking photos and teasing each other.  I rode like it was a Sunday afternoon in the country and I was 100 years old.  Kate was my savior this time and had me follow her, as I didn’t remember the way to the bike shop once we left the Gorge.  As we rode down the main street I saw Wireless Mark and Beverly at an intersection and Mark was holding out his hand.  Kate was riding ahead of me and yelled, “It’s for you, Niamh”. As I came upon them, I saw that Mark was holding out a can of Taiwan Beer for me.  What a lovely, lovely group I was traveling with. Bev and Mark had bought me a present for completing the ride in one piece. 

Taroko Gorge

Taroko Gorge

Once the bikes were returned we all boarded the Pony Bus and headed back up the Gorge to Tianxiang and The Silks Hotel. It was amazing to ride up the gorge again but this time with the intimate knowledge of what it was like riding in on a bicycle.  This day was a memory of a lifetime and a definite bucket-list item.

I was warned beforehand to be very visible and wear lots of reflectors, bright clothes and have lights on the bike but I had no mirrors on my bike and my front light only shed dim coverage about 3-4 feet in front of me.  On the rear of the bike I only had a red flashing strobe type light. Very helpful though, was the fact that the bike had a sticker on the handlebars with “Riding Direction” written in English and Chinese and a big red arrow facing outwards.  I wonder how I would have gotten along without that.


MB said...

So, to review, you went from having not ridden in years to taking a beer-handup in a matter of days. Well done.

VancouverBanshee said...

Hey you had the idea :) I was just following through. Fantastic though!!