I’m writing this from the current Crust Bikes world HQ — which happens to be a tarp-and-bamboo shack on a beach somewhere on the east coast of Tiawan. Matt is out surfing shitty waves on a broken board found in a trash pile, while I hide from the rain and try to poach wifi. We may still get some riding in today — but that remains to be seen. This time around the trip is short, and we are attempting to cram several seemingly incompatible endeavors into our allotted two weeks. The first and most unusual (for both of us) being business. We’re starting a bike company (or rather Matt is, and I’m doing what I can to help) and Tiawan is where bikes are made. This trip is ostensibly to tour factories and meet with ‘our’ people in Taiwan. But multitasking seemed like the way to go, and we decided to bike tour around the island, and it being a coastal ride, get as much surfing in as possible. Telecommuting while bike/surf touring is not a recipe for speed or distance — nor I suppose, particularly effective for coordinating our various business endeavors.
We wander from coffee shop to cafe in search of wifi and electricity to feed our devices,taking meandering coastal routes and stopping to swim/surf whenever the water seems inviting. And that’s best case scenario. Because if we end up in a city (and this is a rather populous island) its a good bet we won’t make it out for at least a day — not because there is anything to keep us is the city — but because we cant find our way out. The chaos of Taiwanese cities coupled with our lack of Chinese (I can still barely say ‘thank you’) means we have spent rather a lot more time than we would like riding in circles. Often looking for ‘hostels’ which are generally someone’s house in a random neighborhood — and accordingly lacks signs or any kind of identifying markers. According to the internet these hostels exist — and other travelers stay in them… how exactly that works we have yet to figure out.
Our inability to find lodging, while frustrating, is no big deal. We are equipped to camp, and indeed prefer it — as long as we can find power and wifi frequently enough. As such we are more or less constantly “war biking” — making use of any unsecured signal we come across. Indeed part of this entry was written thanks to an exceedingly weak signal which appeared to come from the cave like assemblage of beachcomber flotsam in the foundation of a ruined/never completed building; which served as home for one of the very few homeless people we have encountered in this seemingly prosperous nation. He didn’t have electricity (or at least lights) but he did have wifi… So while Matt surfed on a noseless whale, selected out of the pile of broken surf boards someone (perhaps the same benevolent bum?) had assembled in a different corner of the same structure — I managed to connect to the world wide web and do some (surely very important) work.
Our tour round the island got off to a suitably lackadaisical start — the it took us a day to traverse the 30km between the airport and capital city. Then when we were set to leave Taipei, we discovered that there was a big bike industry tradeshow happening in Tai Chung. So we left our bikes and took the High Speed Train the the hub of the global bicycle industry and spent the day wandering around fancy hotel convention centers, collecting piles of literature from a wide range of distributors/manufacturers — politely explaining that we had run out of business cards, when of course we had neglected to even consider bringing such things (not to mention having no plan to visit the tradeshow in the first place) — and generally played at being businessmen/learned a lot about how this whole thing works.
Rather quickly we decided to split up — to avoid overwhelming the vendors with our inexperience and eccentric looks. When not obviously paired with me, Matt stood a much better chance of blending in with the buisness casual crowd — none of whom were sporting tophats or foot-gloves (thats right, l went so far as to wear shoes — though naturaly l was the only person at the crowed event with articulated toes built into my foot-wear).
While in Tai Chung we picked up a sample frame and fork; and spent most of the next day assembling them into a working bike. Finally ready to leave sometime around dark we spent the next several hours riding in increasingly frustrating circles trying to find our way out of the sprawling metropolis, and then searching for nonexistent hostels — finally camping in a park somewhere in the north part of the city. Awakening to a parade of mostly older folks out for morning constitutionals and or tai chi in the park, paying no mind to the increasingly heavy drizzle. All rather interested in our hammocks/bikes/reality — but lacking any words in common to to express anything more than our respective nationalities and general good will. Eventually we made it out of the city, through the lushly forested mountains and to the coast, where we’ve been meandering south, surfing and searching for unsecured wifi.