Taiwan - Moto-tour - Taroko Gorge National Park - Day 3 / by Mark Boyd

I set off in the direction of Taroko Gorge at 6.30am.  The sky was heavy and dark and within 5 minutes I was donning my poncho to take shelter from the rain.  The air was cold.  A little over half an hour later I was motoring through the deep cliffs of Taroko Gorge.  

It was going to be some time before the sun was high enough to warm my bones, maybe I would find the sun before it found me.  As I pushed on through the shade I tucked my arms in tight to retain a modicum of warmth.  I was riding slowly taking in my surroundings.  There was no traffic whatsoever.  The first buses enter the gorge around 8.30am, so I doubted I'd see any buses at all.

Each time I hit a down hill I'd turn the scooter engine off.... This way I could hear the birds singing.  At one point I came round a corner and the trees were full of a great variety of beautiful little birds.... I sat and watched them for 10 minutes then continued my journey.

As I came around the next corner I spotted a woman in a day-glow vest.  She blew a whistle, which was directed at me.  She performed a series of charades which led me to the conclusion that up ahead there'd been a landslide and I'd need to wait half an hour or so until it was cleared.  It was cold in the shade, so I turned the scooter and headed back along the road to the previous corner which was bathed in the warm morning sunlight.  The temperature was still low.  Certainly no higher than 12 degrees.  Before long I was on my way and the road eventually started to climb higher and higher.  I was unsure as to what altitude this road actually reached, but one thing was certain, I was already cold, and with every thousand metres there would be a fall of between 6 and 9 degrees celcius.... Brrrrrrr....

I'd climbed to around 2,000 metres.  The temperature felt around 9 to 10 degrees when I stopped, but a lot cooler when I was creating my own 30mph wind.  Once again I chose a sunbathed area to rest.  The time was around 8.30am so it was still fairly early.  I'd kept the poncho on to work as a wind break.... But then I had an even better idea.  I removed it, scrunched it up and stuffed it up my hooded top to create a thick insulating layer, and it worked a treat.  

The road continued to climb... I was getting ever colder.  The tight winding road helped me maintain my focus, as I found myself going slightly faster in an attempt to shorten my suffering.  The irony was that the faster I went the colder I got.  The heavy mist was coating everything.  My face was frozen and my eyes were streaming...  I'd just reached the Bilyu Tree.  This tree is 3,200 years old and almost 50m high with a diameter of 3.5m. This tree is the largest oldest tree along the Central Cross-Island Highway, and wherever there's a specific viewpoint in Asia there's nearly always a cafe.  I dismounted and wandered up the wooden steps and into the cafe.  I was freeeeeeeeeeeezing!  The young guy asked if I needed a coffee.  I replied with an enthusiastic and shivery 'YES PLEASE'.  Would you like two he asked?  Hmmmm why would I need two massive mugs of coffee?  Well it was 90NTD for one or 100NTD for two.... I'll be having two then!  They were just sorting out their dried peaches, packaging the most recent harvest.  He added organic peach honey to my coffee which was a real treat.  Then he got me to taste the dried peaches.  They were amazing!!!  We continued chatting, he continued feeding.  Then he took out some dehydrated mushrooms, and they were incredible too.... Then another type of braised mushroom feast, which gave a chewy delicious texture.  This guy was great, and his cafe was great!  He could see I was still cold as I ordered my second coffee.... 'You know the temperature out there?'  He asked.  I didn't want to sound overly sensitive, so I threw 12 degrees celcius at him.  He then showed me the barometer... It was 8 degrees celcius.  This meant when I was doing 30 mph the wind chill factor was bringing the temperature down to -6.6 degrees celcius, no wonder I was feeling baltic!  He told me I still had another 1000 metres in altitude to climb.  This worried me!  He went on to say that I'd be on the sunny side of the mountain so I shouldn't feel as cold.    I enquired as to the whereabouts of the next petrol station as I noticed I had only a 5th of a tank remaining.  It was a mere 6 miles.  Perfect.

After fuelling up I desperately needed a pee.  Seeing as the road was so quiet I'd took to relieving myself at the side of the road without actually dismounting the scooter.  A necessary skill in these cold climes I feel.  The road continued to climb, but the mid morning sun began to bathe me on a more frequent basis.  The road was amazing.....

Somewhere around midday, maybe just before I reached the highest section of the road... The skies were blue and the sun was bright.... I'd be hanging around 3,000m+ for a little while now.

It was only in the shaded areas where one could really appreciate the temperature.  Ice hung from the rocks and little pockets of snow clung to the steps that lead to viewing areas.  The sun was warm.  Having said that I was wearing a lot of clothes!

It was only when I spotted my shadow that I realised that yet again I had walked 15 minutes to the top of a view point whilst still wearing my motorcycle helmet.  What a helmet!!!

It was only when I spotted my shadow that I realised that yet again I had walked 15 minutes to the top of a view point whilst still wearing my motorcycle helmet.  What a helmet!!!

I free wheeled down, down, down for almost half an hour.  There were now a vehicles about, but still not many.  

I'd ridden through sub-tropical, to what was known as the 'frigid zone' and I was slowly but surely on my way back down again....

It wasn't until 2pm that I really encountered any real volume of tourists.  I pulled over at a cafe.  Ordered soft noodles and vegetables.  'Taroko gorged' myself and then continued down hill and followed the road all the way to Sun Moon Lake.  I arrived at around 3.30pm.  All in all I'd been from sea level to just over 3,500m/11,483 feet and covered over 200km/125miles since 6.30am.... Temperatures had varied a lot... It had been a tough but thoroughly enjoyable day.  

Sun Moon Lake was a bit of a tourist trap at best.  A well laid out town, but it wasn't really what I was looking for.  

Tiger heron at the back of the temple....

Tiger heron at the back of the temple....

I headed to the other side of the lake to see if I could find a secret camp spot.  It wasn't long before I found my campsite, and seeing as I had no waterproof fly sheet for my tent I had ensured there was a 'shelter' nearby.

At 2am the soft rain woke me during the night.  I lifted my tent and clambered in the darkness up on to the wooden jetty.  The shelter wasn't ideal, the roof was a little high and a little small.  The breeze needed to be taken in to consideration to maintain a modicum of dryness from the heavy drizzle.  At 4am I realised I was getting wet, for how long I'd been getting wet I didn't know.  The wind had changed direction.  I moved my tent again.... It was cold, I was damp.  

5.45am.... The line of wet ground marked the 'discomfort area'.

5.45am.... The line of wet ground marked the 'discomfort area'.

This hadn't been the best of nights.  I awoke at 6am and decided to hit the road at 7am..... I was a tad tired, but thought with a good push I could possible reach Henchung the town above Kenting National Park on the South point of Taiwan by evening... maybe... it was a long ride.... almost 300km/185 miles... We'll see.