Operation Escape to Nantou

As great as Taipei is (kinda-sorta-sometimes-maybe) Pat and I needed to escape, and what better way to do that than a motorcycle ride over the river and through the mountains in search of tea fields, fresh air, and a sense of adventure?

We set off with nothing but the clothes on our back, my travel ChaXi + JetBoil , and a google map in Chinese; our plan was to head down to Sansia, cut into highway 7 – the Northern Cross Taiwan Highway which turns into the Central Taiwan Highway and take it all the way down to LiShan, then cut back across the island nation on Highway 8 through Taroko Gorge and head back up on the Coastal Highway over 3 and a half days. Now don’t let the word Highway fool you; Motorcycles aren’t allowed on raised highways or “freeways”, so the roads we were taking are fairly backwater… the locals thought we were a bit crazy, and if we were, I blame it on the Taipei air.

We made it to BanCiao quite easily before getting completely lost, and saved by an unknown local and his son riding a sweet 250cc. That’s another story (post coming soon). once back on track, it was smooth riding, with us hugging the road up the mountains, making it to 1140m (our highest altitude this trip was around 1400m)! We road past flowing streams and waterfalls with huge vistas spread out before us. It was a breathtaking ride, and finally in a place where I could actually breath.

It rained intermittently as we road, the sky changing with every ridge we crossed, and though the clouds followed us, they only served to increase the beauty of the mountains they shrouded. Nothing could stop the soaring wings of our 125cc, gliding gently over the wet mountain passes. Except for gasoline; gasoline would be a problem.

After a quick ChaXi stop (another post!), I realized we were precariously low on gas. In the middle of no where. We coasted as often as we could, the silence a strange break from the roaring (closer to whining really) engine; we found that the clouds, no longer raining made great idle conversation partners when you could hear them.

With almost nothing in the tank I pulled into the near deserted resort of MingChih. It took us a bit to find anyone there! When we did, I told them of our situation (asking directions for the nearest gas station)  and that was the first time I had heard of the approaching typhoon. The closest station was over 40k away, but they sold us 5L of gasoline from the resorts; that’s good because the tank is only about 5L total and it swallowed it all!

We were told, as always when we stop for food, directions, gas, etc, that we should go back to Taipei; the reasons varied, but the approaching typhoon kept coming up… that was strange because I was quite sure the typhoon had already passed….  We kept riding, coming out of the mountains and to a huge valley that cut across from coast to coast. It divides the Nantou range into north and south and I believe it use to be an inland sea. We had a brief 1 and a half hour detour due to some bad directions, and then had to ride back the right way, this time up the southern side of the range. By that time we had been riding from 9am to 7pm and were getting low on gas again. We road through what seemed like deserted farm towns, finally coming to NanShan, about an hour north of LiShan. We stopped for dinner, and (thankfully) they had rooms for rent. It was raining, and dark, and surprisingly cold.

It turned out that there were actually 2 typhoons; the first one (the one I knew of) had just missed Taiwan and was in the process of attacking Japan; while the 2nd one, the one everyone was warning us about, was approaching and set to make land fall on the south west side of the Island at 8pm, day 2 of our trip. We had little choice but to turn around. At least now everyone would stop telling us to go back to Taipei.

We road along the valley, and finally out onto the coast; an entirely different world than the mountains, but beautiful in its own way. A seaside ChaXi (another post!) and a quick seafood lunch in FuLong; it was raining much harder now, throughout most of the ride. We were soaked by the time we got back to Taipei, and once we were in the 50k radius we could feel the rain “acid washing” our skin. There is nothing more miserable than riding through Taipei in the rain, and only our elation at having completed the ride, even cut short, stopped us from selling the bike to the first chop-shop we saw and taking the dry-and-easy metro.

Nothing but a quick soak in the Beitou Hotsprings could sooth our sore and tired muscles; we made it back to our apartment, dropped the bike, and jumped into those springs in record time. And with that, operation Escape to Nantou was over.

Though we didn’t meet all of our goals (any of them really), the ride was beautiful, the wind in our faces and the fresh air made us feel alive, and we had some wicked ChaXi’s, but this ranks relatively low on the ‘extreme scale’; that’s right, riding a motorcycle through backwater mountain roads with an approaching typhoon is not that extreme. This would not be good training for when I airdrop into the D.R. Congo bush looking for kosher okapi meat. Yet, I wouldn’t have traded this time out of Taipei for anything. Particularly not for more time in Taipei.

– Jason

*quick note of thanks to Pat for being an awesome travel partner and taking all of these photos while on the back of a moving motorcycle.

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