Monday, February 2, 2009

Day 8: ZhiBen to Hualien

Hualien: 175Km

Let's start this post with a math equation. 180km + 13hours + mountains + darkness = The worst day of my life. This was the exact formula that made the ride from Zhiben to Hualien my darkest day yet. I awoke at 9:30 in the morning to drizzling and grey skies. I was in no mood to be riding in the rain, but wasn't totally stoked about staying in this no nothing town either. I was axious to get going, but waited for the rain to stop. I sat and turned on the TV. I happened upon the Superbowl. After not watching a single game the entire season, I flip to the Superbowl in the middle of my trip around Taiwan. I sat and watched the first half while I packed and prepared for my inevitable journey. The rain slowed and stopped so I mentally got myself together and headed on the road. It was about 11:00AM; I knew it was going to be a long trip, but for some odd reason, I thought it would be easy.

A sunflower valley

The first half was easy. Flat and gradual rolling hills made it a pleasant ride. The weather was sunny but not hot. I'd stop and rest. I wasn't totally sure where I would be staying that night, so I called Kai, a friends former girlfriend and a friend to me, to see about hotels. Again, I was offered to stay at her place, which was really cool of her. I told her I would call her again as I neared Hualien. I called my parents to tell them I was okay and was in the middle of a long day. It was comforting to talk to them. I pressed on, thinking, "How much longer is it?"

A landmark restaurant

At about 5 or 6PM the sun faded to a dull glow near the horizon. The temperature dropped, but I was continually moving and so didn't feel it much. I was riding along cliffs that dropped off 50 or more feet into water or onto sand and rocks. Sometimes there was little to prevent a devastating fall except a few concrete blocks and will. Cars would drive by slowly, almost sensing my nerves.
It got dark fast, and really dark. I had a headlamp that I fastened to the back of my bike to alert cars that I existed, and I had a front light that dimly lit the way. For what I thought were the most dangerous parts, there were no lights, pure blackness. I kept on telling myself, "Just keep going. If you stop, you won't get there."
I was fatigued, hungry, beginning to get cold, and feared the mysteries of the dark. The road never ended.
At about 9PM I stopped at a 7-11 to gather myself and eat. Dinner consisted of two hot dogs, an ovaltine, and bread. I see a sign that says Hualien is about 50km away. I rested for 30 minutes and as I was readying to go, a car stops. A guy gets out and starts to talk about riding and tells me that he also has ridden around the island. I ask him if it is much further from this point to Hualien. He laughs and says I should get a room here. "But I have a friend waiting for me in Hualien," I say. I then ask him if the road is mountainous. Again he laughs. "How do you measure this?" he says. His friend says it flattens out after about 30km.
These 30km would turn out to be the worst of the entire trip, and were gyrated into my memory forever.
Up until this point, I haven't needed to go to the smallest gear on my 27-speed bike. For many parts of this last leg, I was spinning on this smallest of gears, moving my legs fast, but barely moving at all laterally. Uphills so steep I thought I would fall backwards in blinding darkness. Fortunately the moon, in her shining glory, aided my trek. My cognition was beginning to become blurry, no longer able to think clearly, but knowing to just follow the road. I thought to myself, "This is the greatest challenge I have ever faced, and with no end in sight, I must keep on going."
At about 11:30PM I stopped at a Police station to ask where I was. they told me I wasn't too far from Hualien and the remaining road was fairly flat. I called Kai to get directions to her place, and it didn't seem to hard to find. I got back on the road and looked for the landmarks she mentioned. Ocean Park: check. Long bridge: check. Turn left at Smile gas station: check. Go until I get to a 7-11: check. Look for ZhongZheng road: ? Where is it? I spent a good hour asking for directions and finally talking to a wise man that could direct me where to go. I should have known that in Kai's directions, turn left actually meant turn right. Silly me. So after the longest day of my life and getting lost, I finally met up with Kai, at 1AM. Thats 13hrs on the road. I was in such a supernatural state that although I knew I was tired, I couldn't sleep. I called Taurus and he told me that I should take a walk to ease the transition of exercise to rest. Shortly after, I passed out.

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