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It’s a hot and sticky Saturday morning on the coastal town of Hualien City, Taiwan. We’re on the start line of the “2017 The Road to Taiwan KOM – Summer”, a sportif event which follows the same route as the more competitive Taiwan KOM Challenge just with a more lenient cut off time limit. There seems to be lots of excitement coming over the loud speaker in Taiwanese which I don’t understand, but only I manage to catch a warm welcome to international participants in English. From the number of participants and high quality gear, Taiwanese Cycling looks to be in healthy state due to the efforts of organisations like the Taiwanese Cyclist Federation who run events to promote the sport. Riders of all shapes and sizes make last minute adjustments and then nervousness is superseded by adrenalin as the start siren sounds. Waves of that familiar clip in sound reverberate through the large bunch as we start to make our way inland, leaving a calm and cool Pacific Ocean behind.
Less than an hour later as the road starts to rise, fresh legs mixed with adrenalin causes our heart rates elevate to levels hardly seen in training and the bunch begins to break apart. As the legs to do the talking and there’s nowhere to hide, you can’t help your attention drift to our surroundings which change to looming cliffs, grey mist patches and rivers as the road narrows and starts to traverse this endless mountain pass.
1,000m of elevation in and we’ve found a more realistic rhythm. I’ve still got one more bailout gear if required, 3 more feed stations as reassurance and the conversation whilst brief is entertaining. Every time I look up, I am greeted by scenic views of tropical flora and majestic landforms.
2,000m of elevation in and dizziness has set in. I’ve managed to ignore its initial onset but my strength has now clearly dropped, the air is warm, every breath counts and my demons are pumping doubt through my mind and legs. I cannot pedal any faster and I am in my lowest gear. The infrequent dark and damp tunnel is a brief welcome escape from the relentless incline.
As the road rises to 3,000m the feeling of breathing through a straw is now the least of my worries. We stop for a coke with a “mere” 5km to go. At our pace combined with the sheer steepness, we still have nearly hour remaining. I see many local tourists enjoying the mountain, it’s a Saturday after all. We resume the grind now caffeinated but the gradient violently doubles and even triples in the last 5km. In order to stay upright I must give everything I have in the steep sections and try and maintain at least 5km/h between them to avoid zigzagging from side to side.
We spot the finish atop of Mount Hehuan (also called Joy Mountain) and elation sets in as we cross the much anticipated line. The well organised event support continues up top and we are rewarded with a hot noodle soup made from a fresh local vegetable (I wish I could recall its name). Everyone is friendly and smiles of relief accompany congratulations and respect for each other despite the language barrier.
HuaLien is one of those places you wouldn’t normally visit if it weren’t for cycling. I am grateful to have experienced the hospitality of the Taiwanese people, their colorful cuisine, remarkable terrain and climate all whilst cycling through magnificent scenery.
HuaLian is about a 4-5 hour drive from Taipei so ensure you arrive the day before the KOM. The easiest way to get there is by hiring a car, but there are bus and train options.
Where to stay
- Kadda Hotel, HuaLien – Cycling themed hotel with friendly serviceAstar Hotel HuaLien
Beigan (Matsu Island)
- Matsu Star Yang B&B (this place was fantastic)
I’m glad I took…
- Compact crankset and climbing cassette (mandatory).
- Sunscreen (it’s hot in July!)Rain jacket as HuaLien has a tropical rainforest climateElectrolyte mix or tabletsInternational roaming data pack, but there is plenty of free wifi at hotels and in Taipei cityCash as some remote 7-eleven ATMs do not accept foreign cards.
- You can drink the tap water if in trouble, but safest to drink bottled water
- Your own gels, bars if you’re sensitive. There are 4 feed stations along the KOM with bananas, cakes and water. There are plenty of 7-elevens in every town for food on the road but labels are all in Mandarin, so be prepared to try new things.
Top picks that we visited in Taiwan
- Taipei 101 :: a symbolic landmark modern skyscraper with an adjoining vibrant shopping mall.
- Chiang Kai shek Memorial Hall :: erected in memory of former president Chiang Kai-shek, a national monument which stands at the east end of Liberty Square.
- Maokong Gondola :: A 4.3km scenic cable car ride up the mountain to a quaint village with unique views of Taipei City. Once on top choose from a variety of quality tea houses and relax while taking in the peaceful surrounds. Accessible by MTR (Brown Line)
- Raohe Night Market :: One of the oldest night markets in Taipei, Raohe bustles with interesting stalls and snacks.Matsu Islands
- Beigan, one of the five major islands of the Matsu Islands, is remote and incredibly beautiful for a couple of days of relaxation. Accessible by air (domestic from Taipei) or ferry (depart from Keelung).
- Sun Moon Lake
- The largest body of water in Taiwan with many trails for hiking in the surrounds.
- Roads are good but narrow so take care when cycling in the area as it’s a popular tourist spot.
Thank you to Taiwanese Cyclist Federation and the Taiwan Tourism Board for having us as their guest, and Lee Rogers (aka Crankpunk) for being our gracious host. For more details on the Taiwan KOM Challenge or other similar events, visit www.taiwankom.org