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North Cross-Island Highway

North Cross-Island Highway 001

Monday January 31, 2011 Awesome Restaurant in the mountains of Taiwan 3:30 p.m. Chinese New Year is this Wednesday, and many companies, including mine, also gave us Monday and Tuesday off, so we don’t have to be back at work until the following Tuesday. That gave me a total of 10 days. I’d normally have booked a flight out of Taiwan to the Philippines or someplace sunny like that. Taiwan tends to be cloudy and cold and rainy at this time of year. However, I decided to stay in Taiwan. I didn’t make any definite plans about where to go. My only thought was that I’d pack up my tent and sleeping bag and leave on my scooter. It being Chinese New Year, trains and buses will be full and hotels could be full, too. The best thing to do is have my own transportation (bike or scooter) and bring a tent so that I can sleep outside if I can’t find a hotel. I brought a tent on some previous trips, but I never ...
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North Cross-Island Highway 002 – Fushing and Green Light Sheep Farm

Tuesday February 1, 2011 7:35 a.m. Fushing Youth Activity Center Life simply doesn’t get any better than this. The skies are blue, the air is crisp and cold, I have a hot cup of coffee, and I am sitting at a floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall window with a beautiful view of mountains and lakes. I also have a tremendous room with an equally wonderful view. It’s a western style room with two beds, a big bathroom, and all the trimmings. All this for NT$1,000 ($33 Canadian) and that includes breakfast. I discovered this place a long time ago on a bike trip. I had been intending to ride a lot further that day, but I turned down a side road to visit this village called Fushing. I rode to the end of the main road and found a large set of white buildings called the Fushing Youth Activity Center. I went inside and the second I popped out the back and saw the tremendous view, I asked if there was a room available. There was, and ...
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North Cross-Island Highway 003 – Scootering

Wednesday February 2, 2011 11:45 a.m. Roadside Coffee Shop (sort of) I haven’t covered much distance so far today. I keep heading off down mountain roads to the left and the right and seeing where they lead. There is so much to see right around here, that there isn’t much point racing off to points south for hours and hours. My first side trip was off to the left. Before I’d gone a hundred meters, I spotted a large wooden building down beside a river and near a small waterfall. It was a fairly typical sight here in Taiwan – a bunch of broken-down buildings with lots of signs everywhere. It looks like a place that wants your business, but it is impossible to tell what that business is or whether it’s open. On impulse, I pulled over and went down a very steep concrete driveway to check it out. A bunch of friendly dogs and a couple of puppies ran up to greet me. I’m open to greeting these dogs, but I do keep ...
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North Cross-Island Highway 004 – Foggy Paradise

Thursday February 3, 2011 7:20 a.m. Cottage in the Mountains Where to begin this latest adventure? I’m writing inside a beautiful wooden cottage high up in the mountains. I don’t really have any idea where I am because I came up here in a fog as thick as soup. It’s cold up here, and without any kind of heating, the thermometer reads 7 degrees Celsius inside the cottage. Luckily, this is a very modern cottage and it has an electric blanket on the bed. I was toasty warm all night. I’ve never been a fan of electric blankets, but this one is on the bed itself, like a fitted sheet. So you lay on it. That seems to work better, and I had a toasty space underneath the down comforter. And the comforter is not your typical small Taiwanese slippery nylon thing. It is big and made of soft cotton. I got to this cottage through a chance encounter. After I finished my coffee at the roadside coffee shop, I hit the road. I didn’t ...
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North Cross-Island Highway 005 – Meeting Travellers

Friday February 4, 2011 8:00 a.m. Having a coffee in Baling I had a very interesting evening in Baling because of all the people I met. The first was a Taiwanese man in his forties named Carlson. He sat down in this restaurant where all the girls had asked me to sign their magazine. He looked over at me and asked if I was traveling alone, too. He sat at my table and introduced himself. He was Taiwanese, but he had recently been living in Montreal and had just moved back to Taiwan. He was very unusual for a Taiwanese, and he was on a scooter, too. He was stuck in Baling for a couple of hours because the brake line on his scooter broke. They had to order parts from Taipei to be brought in by bus. He was driving up to a town in the mountains and then going on a six-hour hike. He used to own a juice bar franchise in Canada. He sold that, and now he worked as a freelance ...
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North Cross-Island Highway 006 – Lalashan and the Giant Trees

Saturday February 5, 2011 7:50 a.m I’m back at my favorite spot in Baling and about to have what has become my traditional café latte. They make a very good cup of café latte here. It’s got lots of coffee flavor and is very hot. I haven’t written very much the last couple of days despite a lot happening. That’s because it has been so cold both inside and outside. My fingers have gotten so cold that I haven’t been able to type. It feels a bit warmer this morning, though. And it feels a bit warmer inside this restaurant. I was in here last night having a café late, and all the children and adults gathered around my table again to talk to me. They were intensely curious about everything about me and hit me with dozens and dozens of questions. It was fun if a bit tiring. I’ve gone through many, many of those sessions in my life and they are always exhausting. For them, this happens rarely – a chance to talk ...
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North Cross-Island Highway 007 – HsingHsing

Sunday February 6, 2011 8:00 a.m. Still in Baling My goal for yesterday was to drive my scooter into the mountains southwest of Baling. When I drove to Upper baling, I could look across the valley and see other mountain roads climbing and climbing higher into those mountains. It was impossible to tell from my maps where those roads went or what was over there, but that didn’t matter. I’d find out by driving there. The garage wasn’t open, so I couldn’t top up the gas tank on my scooter. I just had to hope I had enough gas. And I figured that if there were villages up in those mountains, there would have to be gas there, too. I quickly got completely lost. There are an extraordinary number of roads in Taiwan, far more than you’d think were possible or worth building. Luckily, being lost on a trip like this doesn’t matter. I was lost in the sense that I had no idea where I was or where I was going. However, I didn’t ...
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North Cross-Island Highway 008 – Pingling and the Indy 500

Monday February 7, 2011 8:30 a.m. Pingling Welcome to the Indy 500. Pingling is a small and traditional tea-growing village in the cool mountains south of Taipei. It is on twisty route 9, and the local motorcycle racing enthusiasts have claimed it for their own. That the police haven’t clamped down on these guys racing at unbelievably high speeds is typical of Taiwan. One pretty much never sees police. The ones that do exist don’t enforce traffic laws. Route 9 is kind of fun actually (assuming you don’t get killed). I don’t know where these young guys get the money, but they ride the most tricked-out motorcycles I’ve ever seen, and they dress from head to toe in racing leather and the latest high-tech gear. Some of the motorcycles are pretty ridiculous for Taiwan. The older guys tend to buy the big Honda GoldWings and similar bikes. They look more like small cars than motorcycles. They’re meant for driving across countries like Canada and the United States and Australia, not tiny places like Taiwan. There ...
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North Cross-Island Highway 009 – Epilogue

Wednesday February 9, 2011 Taipei – Epilogue I’ve been back in Taipei for a couple of days already. I got back on Monday evening and I went to work on Tuesday. Today is my second day of work, and it isn’t very exciting. As I expected, it felt very strange to arrive back in Taipei after my 8 days off. My apartment felt very small and dark and unpleasant after all the open spaces of the mountains. And sitting at my desk at work seems rather boring. I spent a very pleasant day in Pingling on the last day of my holidays. I hung out in downtown Pingling in the morning drinking coffee and checking out all the big motorcycles. Then I had to check out of my hotel. I packed up everything and then drove the short distance to the tea museum. I left my big backpack at the front office and went through the museum. It was much nicer than I expected. It wasn’t large, but it had a lot of good information ...
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