Taroko is gorge-ous

Cycling into Taroko (back in Taiwan for one last entry) last week was really a fantastic trip. Colin, Megan, and I rented super cool bikes in Hualien, and we rode north along the coast for about 20 minutes before it started to rain. Rain turned into a downpour, and we pulled over to eat lunch at a roadside chicken restaurant.

The rain refused to let up even after we dawdled for maybe an hour. With few options, we decided to press on to find a school Colin had found for us to camp at that night.

Unwittingly, we pedaled right past it and found ourselves right near the entrance to Taroko. There was too little light left for us to continue on to the park’s campgrounds, so after much confusion, a convenience store clerk directed us to a nearby police station where we knew we could ask for lodgings. It never came to that, though, as we happened upon a daycare with an outdoor stage that could protect us from the rain.

Morning workout woke Megan and I on Friday (Colin had long since gotten up). I was afraid it would be dozens of curious 5-year-olds dancing to Lady Gaga, but it was actually just the cleaning staff getting pumped up.

We saddled up and climbed into the gorge. It was a really pleasant ride with plenty of opportunities to pull off and rest. The elevation gain was about 400 meters over 15 km–enough to get me into the lowest gear at some points, but not so terrible because it didn’t last that long.

Taroko is famous because of its marble. The cliffs, capped with bushy green trees and split by an azure river, are really spectacular. (I wish I could upload pictures.) Unfortunately, rockslides, earthquakes, and typhoons had damaged a few areas of the park, so at points it felt like arriving at Disneyland to find Splash Mountain closed.

That ultimately aided our decision to stay only one night in the park. We stayed at a campground with elevated wooden platforms within earshot of the river and played cards before an early bedtime.

Zooming out of Taroko was way faster and way more fun than climbing in. There wasn’t even the threat of rain and resulting slick roads. The same 15 km that had taken some four of five hours of riding took less than 45 minutes including stops for photos on the way out.

We went back to find the area with the school that we’d missed on the trip in because there was a river good for swimming in right there. As we rolled into the town of Sanzhan, a couple of guys in vests waved us down. The town was hosting a fair celebrating their aboriginal roots. In addition to an impressive display of animal traps and an archery range, there was a stage for karaoke. We had the most fun with the archery, and Colin had a bruise that lasted six days from the string hitting his bicep.

Jared joined us there, and we immediately set off for the swimming area. The sun was hidden behind coastal clouds, but the cold water was still inviting. When hunger kicked in, we returned to Sanzhan for some local fare, including cheese-filled mochi with tangy tangy mayo dipping sauce.

We rode to the beach and set up camp. Jared and Megan returned to the chicken place for a take-out dinner and got back just as the sky opened. With the bikes, a tent, and a tarp Colin had brought along, we McGyvered a splendid fort for eating under.

And then of course the rain let up.

It was sweltering before 9 the next morning, so I took the opportunity to swimm on the Western side of the Pacific Ocean. Pretty spiffy, eh?

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