From December 24 to January 1, I partook in a 9 day 900K+ bicycle trip around the island of Taiwan. It's hosted by a wonderful company called 鐵馬家庭. It costs $25,000 NT and includes lodging, food, snacks, bicycle, helmet, gloves, gps, insurance, medical follow vehicle and any repairs necessary. I ended up still needing an extra bike shirt, rain gear, padded bike pants (highly recommended) and other extra materials. You start from Taipei and ride for about 8 hours a day with 5-6 checkpoints (rest periods). You end up riding on average 100+ km a day. I chose to join this at the last minute and had minimal training time. But my father was in town and I don't know when the next opportunity for quality time like this is going to happen now that we're living continents apart. In the end, it was an experience and a challenge, but something I never regret.
The scenery. If you have the time to join in on this journey, I'd highly suggest it. It is by far the best way to fully experience the many sceneries of Taiwan. Speeding by in a train or whizzing by in a car is not the best way. Via bicycle, you get to experience the smells and climate too. You take it slower and have more time to take in the sights and sounds. You have the freedom to stop whenever you want. Finally you get to visit far more towns and country roads that you ever could using a car. We must have passed through and stopped at over 40 towns in 9 days. Each unique in their own way. Some of the major towns that we had the pleasure of visiting, were Taichung, Tainan, Taidong, Chiayi, Pingtung, Taitung, Miaoli, Taoyuan, Hualien, Yilan.
The food. Arriving at most checkpoints, we were greeted by friendly faces and rare local snacks. Sometimes it was fruits, sometimes it was candies. But throughout the trip, 鐵馬家庭 has it well planned to introduce some of the local snacks that can't be found elsewhere in major cities. It's not just a biking experience, it's a food experience too. Some of the members were locally raised and help introduce the local snacks, which is something I think you can't get out of a road trip.
The experience. I joined into this activity thinking it'd be a huge physical challenge. While it is no doubt a physical challenge, you do not have to be a tri-athlete or marathon runner to attend. We had members that may not have been in the best physical health, but had a strong heart and a strong mind. And that sums it up right there. You have to have a strong heart and a strong mind. Through the arduous 24km lengths of open road, through the grueling cold, windy and rainy stretches of road on the east coast, through the torturous up mountain climbs...you have to have a strong heart and a determined mind. There were so many times I wanted to rest and curse myself with regret, but it's all just a mind game. You don't have to be fast, just take your time. Mind over matter and that's what I experienced!
The camaraderie. Our group had over 60 riders. Through the trials and tribulations of this 9 day trek, you have no choice but to form friendships and bonds with your fellow rider. We watch out for each other and encourage each other. We laugh together and cry out in pain with each other. We do everything as a group, from waking up early in the morning and doing morning stretches to lunch time naps to evening dinner together. They are there for you cheering you on up that hill, across the day's final stretch. And it is so well organized, there's aways a hot bowl of soup or cup of water for you as soon as your off your bike. I won't forget these steadfast group of rider's for the rest of my life.
I encourage anyone with the time and heart to spare, to definitely join this activity. 鐵馬家庭 holds about 11 of these activities throughout the year. December being one of the better months to choose, as summer would be too hot. I experience more of Taiwanese scenery, food, snacks, people, culture and challenged myself more physically and mentally than I have in the past 18 months in Taiwan. It's an experience I will never forget! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year Everyone!!!