I’m always up for a new adventure and am a firm believer that exploring any place on a scooter is the best way to get to know the area. So, when my friend James suggests a quick scooter trip from Hsinchu to Hualien, I jump at the chance to see more of the island. My Taiwanese friends think we’re crazy. “It’s so dangerous!”, they tell us. But we’re bold Americans and are determined to prove them wrong.
But…ummm…maybe they were right?
We plan this crazy adventure for a long, “Tomb-Sweeping Day” weekend and plot 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.
Scooter Trip to Hualien – First leg Hsinchu to Yilan
We depart Hsinchu early on a Friday morning after feasting on Egg McMuffins at the local McDonald’s (in true American style). Heading north through Jubei to Guanxi Township, we catch Highway 7 and cruise into the mountains.
With music blaring inside my helmet (70’s Classic Rock), we wind our way along the twisty mountain road, a fun and easy stretch. Passing a few cemeteries along the way, we notice the local people sweeping tombs of their ancestors – which is the whole purpose of the “Tomb-Sweeping Day” observance. Kind of cool to see such an ancient tradition in action.
We cruise along the challenging mountain roads, stop for breaks along the way and enjoy the amazing views. After a few hours, we begin the descent down the hill to the other side of the island, meeting a gang of bikers on road bikes struggling up the hill. At that point, I’m grateful for my scooter!
Yilan to Hualien
Pulling into Yilan around lunchtime, we find 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 nickname “Highway to Hell”. (Maybe THIS was the “danger” that my local friends and highly educated students were talking about?)
Since it’s a holiday weekend, the traffic heading south to Hualien is crawling slowly along the narrow coastal road. The road is narrow, with only two lanes and no shoulder, which also means no option for a scooter to pass. Instead of a shoulder, there is a deep ditch running along the right side.
For the next 65 miles, we play a game of “scooter chicken” with oncoming traffic – when the northbound lane is clear, it becomes our passing lane, scooting by the long line of cars in our lane. When oncoming traffic appears, we scoot back and sandwich ourselves in between the cars and big trucks in our lane. We play this game of “chicken” for almost 4 hours!
Finally arriving in Hualien, we pull into the first gas station we see. I stagger 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” rings in my head. Yeah, they may have a point.
We arrive in the tourist district of Hualien, check into our hotel and head 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 doesn’t allow much time to explore the town because the next morning we’re off again…to Taroko Gorge and then home.
Hualien through Taroko Gorge
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. Sadly, we don’t have time to explore all of the amazingness this area has to offer.
We’re on a mission to complete this crazy ride in 2 days!
Driving up the pass, we take time to stop for a few photos and admire the view and the clouds below us. Breathtaking!
Continuing on through the park, we climb over Hehuanshan pass at 11,207 feet, as my scooter chugs and spits in the thin, high altitude air. At this point, my head is kind of chugging and spinning too!
Winding down the other side of the hill, in the fog and mist with a long line of cars, the words echo in my head again “it’s so dangerous“! Brakes are smoking, the scooter is sputtering, and 70’s classic rock music is blaring, as I carefully navigate 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 is also at the intersection of the big question: “should we stay for the night or should we go home”? Decision time.
“How far to home?” I ask. “Oh, only about three hours” he lies.
So we continue on…
The road north from Puli heading toward home is twisty and very, very dark with the only lights coming from the stars and the occasional glare from an oncoming car. My night-blindness kicks in so I go very slowly and carefully on this dangerous stretch of road. The estimate of “three hours” stretches into four, and we finally approach our neighborhood at nearly 11 pm. Our Baoshan neighborhood is made up of dark and narrow farm roads. In our delirious state, we get lost trying to find our way through this maze in the pitch dark. Sadly, this adds another 30 minutes to our 11 hour day. Incredibly exhausted after a very long, very adventurous day, I laugh so I don’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!