I’m always up for a new adventure and am a firm believer that exploring anyplace on scooter is the best way to get to know the area. So, when my expat friend, James, suggested a quick scooter trip to Hualien, I jumped at the chance to see more of the island. My Taiwanese friends thought we were crazy (“It’s so dangerous!”) but we’re bold Americans and were determined to prove them wrong.
But…ummm…were they right?
We planned this crazy adventure for a long, “Tomb-Sweeping Day” weekend and plotted our course: east from Hsinchu through the mountains arriving in Yilan, and then south from there to Hualien. After spending a night in Hualien, we’d go slowly through Taroko Gorge, over the high mountain pass, cruise down the other side of the hill, and then a straight shot home from there. “Simple“, said James. Not really.
Hsinchu to Yilan
We departed Hsinchu early on a Friday morning after breakfasting on Egg McMuffins at the local McDonald’s (in true American style). Heading north through Jubei to Guanxi Township, we caught Highway 7 and cruised into the mountains.
With music blaring inside my helmet (70’s Classic Rock), we wound our way along the twisty mountain road, a fun and easy stretch. Passing a few cemeteries along the way, we noticed the local people sweeping tombs of their ancestors – which is the whole purpose of the “Tomb-Sweeping Day” observance. In addition to cleaning the tombs, people leave gifts, offerings, and money to make sure their deceased ancestors are happy in the afterlife, a very important Chinese tradition that dates back 2,500 years. Kind of cool to see such an ancient tradition in action.
We cruised along the challenging mountain roads, stopping for breaks along the way and enjoying the amazing views. After a few hours we began the descent down the hill to the other side of the island, meeting a gang of bikers struggling up the hill. They were on road bikes (isn’t that dangerous?), probably some kind of biker-gang on a triathlon training ride. Glad I was on a scooter!
Yilan to Hualien
Pulling into Yilan around lunchtime, we found a convenient restaurant along our route, the main highway which would take us south to Hualien. After a leisurely lunch, we hit the road, which I later nicknamed “Highway to Hell”. Maybe THIS was the “danger” that my local friends and highly educated students were talking about?
Since it was a holiday weekend, the traffic heading south to Hualien was crawling slowly along the narrow coastal road. This road is narrow, with two lanes and no shoulder, which means no scooters scooting by along the right side of the cars. The area where the shoulder should have been is a deep drop-off, kind of a culvert, and “very dangerous” for passing.
For the next 65 miles, we played a game of “scooter chicken” with oncoming traffic – when the northbound lane was clear, it became our passing lane, scooting by the long line of cars in our lane. When oncoming traffic appeared, we scooted back in between the cars and big trucks in our lane. We played this game of “chicken” for almost 4 hours!
Finally arriving in Hualien, we pulled into the first gas station we saw. I staggered off my scooter, legs wobbly and feeling drunk with exhaustion from all the focus and concentration required to avoid a grisly pavement death. “It’s so dangerous” rang in my head. Yeah, they may have a point. (If you choose to do this crazy ride, be smart and get a good Travel Insurance policy through World Nomads, my favorite!)
We arrived in the tourist district of Hualien, found a hotel on Agoda and headed in search of an ice cold Taiwan Beer. Hualien is a great town with a large aboriginal population and interesting food at the night market. Unfortunately, our schedule didn’t allow much time to explore the town because the next morning we were off…to Taroko Gorge and then home.
Hualien to the Mountain Pass
Taroko Gorge is what draws many visitors to the Hualien area and is similar to Zion National Park in Utah. This is a huge National Park (230,000 acres), with a road winding along the 19 km canyon offering incredible views and tons of great hiking trails.
Gorgeous views, great hiking and white water rafting, but we didn’t have time to explore all of that stuff! We were on a mission to complete this crazy ride in 2 days!
Driving up the pass, we did take time to stop for a few photos and admire the view and the clouds below us. Breathtaking!
Continuing on through the park, we climbed over Hehuanshan pass at 11,207 feet, with my scooter chugging and spitting in the thin, high altitude air. My head was kind of chugging and spinning too! It seems blondes don’t do well in high altitude!
Winding down the other side of the hill, in the fog and mist with a long line of cars, the words echoed in my head again “it’s so dangerous“! Brakes were smoking, scooter was sputtering, and 70’s classic rock music was blaring, as I carefully navigated the twisty curves on the steep, wet road, once again focusing on the task of staying alive.
On the other side of the pass is a small town called Puli. This town is conveniently located near Sun Moon Lake, another very popular tourist destination. This town was also at the intersection of “should we stay for the night or should we go home”? Decision time.
“How far to home?” I asked. “Oh, only about three hours” he lied. So we continued on…
The road north from Puli heading toward home was twisty and very, very dark with the only lights coming from the stars and the occasional glare from an oncoming car. My night-blindness kicked in so I went very slowly and carefully on this dangerous stretch of road. The “three hours” stretched into four, and we finally approached our neighborhood at nearly 11 pm. Our Baoshan neighborhood is made up of dark and narrow farm roads. In our delirious state, we got lost trying to find our way through this maze in the pitch dark, adding another 30 minutes to our 11 hour day. Incredibly exhausted after a very long, very adventurous day, I laughed so I didn’t cry!
“It’s so dangerous” they had warned.
Yeah, maybe they were right. Fun ride, amazing views, and I’m always up for an adventure…but they did have a point!
Next time I’m taking the train!