River Tracing (Saturday)
Hualien is quite famous for its incredible scenery that includes mountains, beaches, rocks, and rivers but one thing that Hualien is also famous for is the sport “river tracing”. This is an activity that many people travel to Hualien to partake in because it is so stunningly beautiful and a great way to cool off on a hot day. I had tried very hard to partake in this sport several times but weather or last minute cancelling of plans had barred me from trying river tracing. As time began ticking down, I knew I had to make one final attempt to go river tracing. Thankfully, my friend Jenna was on top of it and helped us to arrange a time and place. When our guide requested a change to our original date because it was his son’s graduation, we panicked but luckily the day he rescheduled our trip to ended up working for us all. And… coincidentally was also the same day and trip that a group of ETAs from Taitung had chosen!
Our guides met us in Hualien city and drove us first to breakfast, and then to the start of our hike. When we arrived I was surprised to see that we were at none other than instagram falls (the place that I had visited in my previous blog post)! But we didn’t stop at the falls and instead headed further upstream. There, we jumped into the water in our life jackets, helmets, and shoes. Our guides told us that this was going to be the practice section so we slowly began to walk up and tried to get used to our shoes. It was pretty difficult to walk on slippery rocks in rushing water and we struggled a bit at first. But the shoes that the company had given us were amazing! They material on the bottom was felt-like and gripped the rocks well.
After a trial run, we made our way back to the path to avoid a large group of people who were also doing their training run. After passing them we came out at a large pool with a rock jump. We were the first people there but our guide informed us that shortly it would be mobbed with groups. In the meantime, we should enjoy the peaceful break. We had a blast jumping off the rock and splashing into the large pool below. However, our guides weren’t wrong about the crowds and before we knew what was happening, people began spilling out of the river and into the pool. We took this as our cue to keep moving and headed up the path a bit more before we climbed out into the river.
From here we were the only group. We took several pictures in a cavernous area of the river and then began our ascent. It was tough going but we were a strong and determined group of women and we made good time. Several times I banged by knees on the rocks in the river because it was difficult to see them under the frothing water. One time, I banged my knee so hard that in shock I let go of the rocks I was holding onto and fell backwards, off of a small waterfall cliff. I completely submerged in the water and although I was slightly overwhelmed by the fall I was luckily fine!
We hiked upstream for a while until we reached a waterfall. Here our guides told us we would stop for lunch. There was a smaller waterfall we could climb and jump off so we did that too. While we were swimming, our guides layed out bread, cheese, pineapple, mango, hard boiled eggs, and some dessert bread for lunch. It was delicious!
After lunch, we hiked back down the trail. Our guides told us that this area was previously settled by the Toroko peoples and showed us the remains of some of their houses. He explained that many of the surrounding trees were also unique to the area because they were planted for by the Toroko peoples for harvest. I know that this is still the homeland of the Toroko people that live in the Tongmen community.
My overall take on river tracing is that it is a really fun sport that can be a great way to cool off in the summer and see some pretty incredible places off of the beaten path. Although I know I won’t have time to go again while I’m in Taiwan, I hope to come back one day and explore a different river!
Biking to Taitung (Sunday)
A popular activity in Taiwan is biking around the island. Although I wanted to do this, I knew it was not feasible during my time at school and in the summer it would be too hot and uncomfortable for me to ride. However, an ETA from Changhua came up with an incredible plan to create an ETA around-the-island relay. An ETA (or several) would travel from one county to another and transport a small postcard. Since there are ETAs in most counties, we figured it would be possible to carry out this adventure! Taipei was supposed to be the first leg but they took so long to figure out a time that we eventually decided to start elsewhere. I volunteered to complete the first leg from Hualien to Taitung.
The route from Hualien to Taitung is one of the most beautiful sections of the route. There are two options, to go along the coast or to travel in the valley between the mountains. I decided to travel the inside route because it was easier (less elevation and more stores to stop at) and I had planned to complete the trip in one day. I considered taking my bike on the adventure but I decided that it would be best to rent one. Giant bikes has a special arrangement that allows people to rent a bike from either Hualien or from Taitung and return the bike in the opposite city. The bikes are nice road bikes with large side bags to store things in.
When I went to pick up a bike, they practically laughed off my idea. They told me that I needed to reserve my bike at least two weeks in advance and that I wouldn’t be able to do the ride in one day. I was frustrated by this, but thankfully after checking inventory they found a bike that would work for me. The setup was a bit short but the seat was high and it worked out well. They were still quite skeptical that I could make it in one day but I assured them otherwise. Besides, I would only need to bike about 75 miles. I figured this wouldn’t be too difficult given that I was already in pretty decent shape.
I tried to convince my friends to join me on the adventure but they laughed me off and told me I was somewhat crazy. Nevertheless, I was determined. I took off early Sunday morning and I was on my way. The first section of the ride I was quite familiar with because I had rode this route several times before to Zhi Xue. After about an hour I strayed from the route I had traveled before and I was off on my own adventure.
After about 15 miles, I stopped at a 711 for a quick bathroom break and snack. There were several 711s on the route and this was just the first of many stops! I vowed that my next stop wouldn’t be until the tropic of cancer landmark which was about 45 miles into my journey. The day would just get hotter and I wanted to make sure that I didn’t waste these last few cool morning hours. The route to the landmark was rather unremarkable. There was road construction for most of the way. Just as I was starting to get quite hot and thirsty (I as I had already finished one water bottle) I arrived at a steep ascent. I knew I was only about 3 km from the landmark, but it was a tough climb. When I arrived I hopped off my bike and headed to the store to grab a bottle of water. Then I settled for a quick snack, admiring the landmark. Thankfully there was also a public restroom and I took some time to wash my face and attempted to cool down a bit.
Before too long I was back in the saddle, heading to the next stop which I decided would be the Yufu bike path. When an old railroad track went out of service, the town of Yuli converted the route into a 10 km biking path. I pushed on and arrived there around 11:30. The path was stunningly beautiful. I stopped for a bit to enjoy some views and passed many bikers leisurely making their way down the route. When I got off my bike to take photos, I realized just how exhausted and hungry I was. I decided it would be best to take a lunch break at the next 711 and mapped it out. Even though it was only about 10 km away from the bike path, it felt like a long journey. The route was gradually ascending the entire way there and the midday sun was beating down on me.
When I finally rolled up, I was soaked in sweat and exhausted. The people working at the 711 looked at me with concern, but didn’t say anything. I grabbed some snacks and settled down in the air-conditioned seating area. While I was there, I started to map out the rest of my route. To my dismay, I realized that when I first calculated the distance, I had made a mistake and had only mapped to a Giant Bike shop in Guanshan near the border of Taitung and Hualien. I needed to return the bike to Taitung City which was at least another 30 miles! I calculated out the time and realized if I kept a good pace I could arrive by 4 pm so time wasn’t a problem. However, the longest distance I had ever biked before this adventure was 50 miles. I was more than doubling this distance and I hoped that I would be able to make it.
After cooling down, I bought a few snacks and drank another bottle of water. Then I left 711 and headed on for the next leg of my journey. Leaving the air-conditioned 711 was painful and I was instantly blasted with the heat of the day. It was at least 90 degrees and very high humidity. But I was refueled and ready to roll. The route to Guanshan was a nice, gradual decent and I peeled off the miles quickly. In Guanshan, I took a slight detour for Brown Boulevard, a famous bike path and “the most scenic road in Taiwan” according to google maps. It was pretty amazing. The green fields led straight up to the mountains and the light clouds and blue skies created one of the most picturesque scenes I’ve ever seen.
I hopped on my bike with a plan to take no more breaks before arriving in Taitung. It was already 1:30 and I still had several miles to go before I arrived in the city and I wanted to get there by 4 pm. My butt was feeling pretty tender at this point and I was pretty sure I was starting to develop a sunburn despite reapplying sunscreen many times (unfortunately it all kept sweating off!) I started off at a comfortable pace, pleased with how quickly I was traveling. I felt that I was descending and wondered if I would just coast all the way back to the city. However, upon further inspection, I discovered that I was completely surrounded by mountains. I began to fear that a steep ascent was coming up soon.
I was not wrong… I soon found myself at a steep uphill climb. The was the steepest part so far and I quickly switched to granny gear. As I crawled up I contemplated hitchhiking. Perhaps a kind soul would take pity on me when they saw my beet red face and the sweat dripping from every pore of my body. But I was determined to carry on. As I rounded the corner I saw to my dismay that the road just continued to climb. The next corner revealed more uphill until I was convinced that I would be going up forever. Luckily, the road finally finished climbing. Since Taitung City is at sea level, I was relieved to find myself on a looooong, gradual decent. I practically flew into the city, grateful for the rush of breeze in my face. I stopped at a 711 near the city to wipe of the grime, sweat, and the thousands of bugs glued to my skin and grab one last bottle of water. I had arranged to meet Peter and Michael, two Taitung ETAs, in the city at a smoothie shop. When I arrived they cheered for me and I happily cruised up to the shop. They too had spent the weekend biking from Hualien to Taitung, but they took the coastal route and spent 2 days traveling. We swapped stories and stopped for some delicious spring rolls. They showed me a beautiful outlook of the city and walked me back to the train station. I was so grateful for their company and I passed along the Hualien postcards to them. Hopefully I’ll have the chance to meet up with them again!
After saying goodbye, I jumped on a train back home. I instantly fell asleep and had to be woken up by someone who had bought a ticket for the seat I had been squatting in. I was exhausted but proud of myself and happy for the adventure. In total, I biked 112 miles in 8.5 hours. I passed many cities, saw some incredible views, and swallowed too many bugs to think about. It was a rather spontaneous and fun adventure and I’m happy to have had the opportunity and encouragement from other ETAs!