So, to recap…I went to Taiwan a couple months ago, got back, and then got too distracted to post the entire story. But I’m up to the really cool part in the story where the riding and the scenery is beautiful, and I get to visit bike factories in Taichung county!
This entry is just two days of the trip, but there’s a lot of photos and content. Read on.
We wake up for breakfast at the Victoria Hotel. This hotel offers some standard western fare, and my comrades and I are all enamoured with the mash potatoes with cheese. Is this a sign that our travel resolve is weakening? I don’t know, but I am pretty tired off changing hotels every night. Also, I’m tired of the rain. That’s when our Taiwanese guide John broke the news that the Taiwan Cup was cancelled due to severe weather. In fact, the road to Hualien we were to take has collapsed, killing nearly 2 dozen people. The train carrying the pro riders stopped well before Hualien and the organizers were working hard to come up with a way to get them to another part of Taiwan. As for us, John tells us that the Taiwan Tourism Bureau has seen fit to send us to SunMoon Lake in Nantou county in central Taiwan. Nestled in the mountains, Sun Moon Lake is largely protected by the coastal mountain ridge from the effects of the typhoon. More importantly, it was my favourite part of Taiwan from last year’s trip. Kate and I can hardly contain our excitement.
I can’t help but wonder about how well the tourism bureau is taking care of us. I love this place!
We jump board the bus for a long ride to through several counties to Nantou, but things just keep getting better. Beverly’s contacts with Giant Bicycles in the US pay off as John brokers a guided tour of Giant’s factory in Dachia, Taichung county. It just happens to be on the way, and luck is on our side!
Taichung is known in the cycling industry as the center of quality, mass-produced bicycles. Whether they want to admit it or not, most of the big name brands in the US and Europe get some portion of their production from this western county of Taiwan. Giant Bicycles started out as a manufacturing facility to supplying western brands and has since morphed into a brand synonymous with Taiwan.
“Zach”, an English-speaking employee will be our guide through the Taichung facility. He tells us that he can only show us some parts of the factory and that he’ll let us know which areas are okay to take pictures in. We are in the heart of Giant’s high-end factory, the other four factories in mainland China produce lower end product for the Giant brand as well as OEM customers. We walk past pallets of shaped aluminium tubes, vast rows machinery. There is an overhead track conveyer of hooks, spaced about a half meter apart, each carrying a painted frame. The conveyer track winds above in from some point unseen and out another. And the frames carried are amazing. Our guide asks us to not disclose the brands produced here other than Giant, but let me just hint to you that several top US and European brands have Giant make their bikes. I said TOP-END BRANDS, beeyotch! With my own eyes, I see racks of carbon time trial frames destined for a Wisconsin-based bike brand as well as frames bearing an Italian name and a playing card symbol, and it doesn’t stop there.
Our guide takes us to what I think is a QC room, and pulls a Giant carbon frame off a rack to demonstrate how lightweight it is. Well, my hands reach out for it first, and I’m a bit jaded when it comes to lightness. I turn the frame over in my hands to see that it is a Giant Defy….not the competition model. My eyes scan the room for what I really want.
“Can I pick up that TCR Advanced SL (ISP) frame?”
I’m turning the frame over in my hands, casually pointing out all the technical details to my group whether or not they have interest or understanding. Zach is surprised that my technical knowledge of the product exceeds his. I look him right in the eye and ask:
“Can I have one?”
Unable to decide whether I’m joking or not, he blurts out “Uh…NO!”
After watching and photographing the assembly and boxing line, we thank our host and head off to lunch at another bento-type eatery in the adjacent town, visting a Buddhist temple along the way. Next door to the eatery there is this tiny yippy dog outside a shop, and Kate tells this story of a friend back home who went hiking in the mountains with a pet Chihuahua. A hawk swooped in and grabbed the miniature dog, whose panicked barking could be heard could be heard as the carnivorous bird flew away. Maybe I have mental issues, but I just find this story unbearably funny.
The driver of the “Purple Pony” bus, who shuttled all around Taitung and Hualien, calls our guide John on his mobile, just to ask if we are safe from the typhoon. In fact, almost every Taiwanese we’ve met on this trip has been warm and friendly. I’ve been around the world, and I don’t get this impression in every country.
After lunch we head to Mekkem, a factory specializing in the manufacture of carbon fibre components. Much like Giant, a large portion of their business consists of supplying components to be branded by other companies. Tony Wang the factory manager shows us how they make seatposts and cranks from handwrapped forms, bottle cages from sheets of carbon. It was really cool…but I think I have to save a more complete description for a separate article, because I still need to talk about the rest of the Taiwan trip.
Nantou county (from Wikipedia.org)
We get on the bus to continue the ride to Sun Moon Lake. John tells us that we’ll be staying in the newest, most luxurious hotel on the lake. I asked if it was the one where Kate and I had lunch during last year’s trip; though we were just there for a meal, it looked pretty swank. No, John said…this one was BETTER…and we’ll spend two nights there. Hell to the yeah!
The Wen Wan Resort is indeed the newest and best in the area. Atop a hill, it has a superb view of the lake, and I can see the nine-roofed pagoda across the lake and the Lalu Island in the middle of lake, sacred to the Thao aboriginal people of this area. Each of our hotel rooms has hot springs water plumbed to a brilliant sandstone tile tub with a huge bay window. The room has a flatscreen tv, but how can that compare to the view?
John takes us to another hotel for dinner, and yet again I am at a loss for words. Imagine that you had a kooky aunt and uncle who had a lake cottage stuffed with artwork that they had collected, and then they served you dinner outdoors under a canopy. Kinda like that. If my digital SLR had lived this long, I would be shooting away like mad.
I can’t believe our luck in getting the Wen Wan hotel plus dinner at this hotel, but tomorrow could be even cooler. The tourism bureau has arranged for the pro riders to stay here in Sun Moon Lake and tomorrow we will meet them for a ride around the lake.
Somehow I still manage to get up early, so I use the time to assemble my bike before breakfast. I meet my posse downstairs for breakfast on the veranda, looking out onto the lake and the sun barely above the mountains. I order the Japanese style breakfast and fresh kiwi juice. If it sounds like I am living the life, it’s because I am.
After breakfast my posse goes on ahead to the Giant store in the town down the hill to rent bikes. I meet them outside where a growing contingent of pro riders is gathering. Rabobank isn’t there, but all the other international teams are. We’re gonna ride around the lake with the pro riders at an “easy pace”. Vicky Liu, one of the organizers of the Taiwan Cup and coincidentally the daughter of Giant Bicycles founder King Liu, is there as well. She’s really fun to talk with, however we are getting ready to roll out.
I have my suspicions as to what this “easy” pace is really going to be, and the riders prove me right as soon as we hit the first steep incline at about 1.5km into the 32km loop. Instantly, all but the most serious of the non-pro riders are blasted off the back. In for a penny, in for a pound, I match their speed on the climb and then hold on for all I’m worth. We are smoking this road with a lead car, two photog cars and a chase van. I feel like a rockstar by association with these guys. There’s national champions and TdF stage winners in this group. These guys are just rocking these descending turns like it’s nothing while I’m on the rivet. I get dropped along with the only other amateur rider left in the bunch, only to chase back on after a few descents. We are almost back into town when we hit a long climb followed by another. I’m off the back in short order, but I notice that that chase van isn’t passing me. Heeeheee, I have an idea. I wave the van up to me, and when they get close, I grab the door sill and nod my head. The van accelerates and tows me right past some Taiwanese pro riders desperately chasing; I can’t help but chuckle at my utter lack of honour.
I catch back onto the group as we enter town. To my chagrin, a girl waves us on for another, slightly more serious lap around the lake. We hit that first climb again, and I got nothing to do but wave those guys goodbye. Oh, I do try to soldier on but I am watching those guys disappear with no realistic hope of catching them. The chase van gives me another death defying tow, but I have to concede defeat. Luckily my cleat breaks and I can complete the second lap in the back of the van without loss of face. THANK GOD!
Back outside the Giant store I chat with Vicky Liu, telling her about my visit to the Giant factory. I tell her about asking the factory guide if I could have a TCR Advanced SL for free, and she laughs.
My reasoning: “I thought they’d be like complimentary cookies…you get one just for visiting, right?”
After a shower and a beer, John arranges for us to take a boat ride across the lake. There the bus meets us and takes up to that nine-roof pagoda. The posse had been to the top of the smaller pagoda at Taroko, so this view is different yet complimentary to the earlier. Whereas the Taroko pagoda looked down into the gorge while simultaneously being dwarfed by the peaks above, the vantage from the top of this pagoda seemed more regal without any nearby peaks to surpass it. I had stood here last year, thinking I’d be lucky to ever see something so beautiful, yet here I am again.
That night we go into the town below the Wen Wan for dinner. From our restaurant we get a view of dance performance near the tour boat docks and some fireworks. I love Sun Moon Lake. Tomorrow we will have to return by bus to Taipei, but we have certainly enjoyed our stay here in Nantou county, though the Taiwan Cup was cancelled and we won’t return to Hualien nor Taitung.
Next time: ….getting home is not so easy.