The Spoked Traveller | Boots and Bikes: Conquering Taiwan’s Trails
Trails and advice cycling around the world as solo female cyclist and adventurer
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Boots and Bikes: Conquering Taiwan’s Trails

Boots and Bikes: Conquering Taiwan’s Trails

Story for Ensemble Magazine. 2017

At an incredibly steep 20 percent grade, even walking up Hehuan

Mountain would be difficult. I’m cycling. Have been for two hours. It’s

also one of the hottest days since arriving in Taiwan – the 35-degree heat

bounces off the asphalt of the island’s cross-country highway. Lifting my

head, it’s got to be a mirage ahead: a farmer with a wooden fruit cart.

Sensing my anticipation, he grabs my hand and places five plums into my

palm. Cold, tart, and juicy – my body temperature turns from red hot to

cool. It’s like jumping into a stream.

Taiwan is about 70 percent mountains; it’s bisected by a ridgeline of about

200 peaks. With coastal road riding, and 20 percent of the island designated

as national park and protected land, it’s a hiking and biking wonderland.

My adventure starts with one of the world’s longest climbs in the cycling

world: the King of the Mountain race starts at sea level in Hualien and

reaches an astounding 3,275 metres. The entire race is approximately 100

kilometres. Finishing at Wuling Pass, I absorb the view: a ribbon of road

cuts through a mixed forest of evergreens, ferns, and bamboo; the road

ploughs through tunnels carved into the rocky mountainside and traverses

across suspension bridges draped over gaping gorges.


For my final days, I trade in my bicycle for hiking boots and

head to the middle of the island. About an hour east from

Taichung City, the Seven Heroes of Guguan are a group of

mountains in an isolated old growth forest with natural hot

springs; the forest was one of three logging regions during

the Japanese colonialization.

My taxi driver leaves me in a parking lot at the foot of the

Guguan Taoist temple. I’m alone, except for the red dragons

perched over the temple steps that seem to ascend to infinity,

much like Dongmao Mountain, which I’m about to hike.

For hours I walk, breathing myself into a meditative rhythm,

taking in the soft green moss that carpets the rocks and fallen

trees; it’s paradise. Near the peak, I hoist myself to the top, hand

over hand. I’m resting at the top eating pork rice wrapped in a

banana leaf as the fog rolls in over the forest below. Time to go.

A few days later, I’m ready to tackle the highest point of the

Guguan Mountains: Ba Xian; the trail guide estimates eight

hours return. The moss covered wooden steps feel as natural

as the forest, like they’ve always been there. Conifer trees so

large you cannot hug them, root systems so expansive and

entwined, they might curl around the globe.

Back at my hotel later that day, the hot spring water flows

directly into the indoor pools. Lowering myself into the steam,

tense muscles melt but I want more. Staying only two weeks,

it wasn’t enough to explore the endless trails made for boots

and bikes.

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