Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Fifth Edition Cycling Cruise To Taiwan and Okinawa 2015

Group picture in Ishigaki on first day of ride 

It has been my pleasure to co-organise this event with Star Cruises once again.  It was our fifth edition and our second to Taiwan and Okinawa on Superstar Aquarius following our first trip in September last year where we had an unusual date with typhoon "Fung-Wong" then.  This time we did not get to meet any 'typhoon of sorts' but it was the hot weather that we had to contend with in Taiwan and Okinawa.

Briefing on board before our ride

The cycling cruise trip was scheduled on 7 June over 6 days duration.  This time we had a motley group of some 50, from the leisure PCN cyclists to the hardcore cyclists and surprisingly, quite a number of them are senior citizens.  There were non-cyclists among them, mainly the accompanying wives of the cyclists. Much to our delight, we saw those who were with us last year and they were Andrew Lum (Star Cruises' staunch supporter who came 4 out of 5 times), Hong Choon and the 'forever young' Murphy and his three regular cycling kakis.  Added to that, some 40 cyclists from Taiwan also joined us for the 2 days ride in Ishigaki and Naha respectively.  In all, we had about 90 cyclists.  The ride was supported by a team from Giant Adventure led by gregarious Frank Hou.  Once again, their efficiency and professionalism did impress all of us at the end of the cycling tour.

Final preparation at Ishigaki port before rolling off 

It was an early departure on 7 June, Sunday by SQ876 leaving at 0820 hours.  My two kakis, Tan and Jane had arrived few days prior on their own and they will then join us at Keelung port on 7 June.  It was a pleasant and hassle-free onboard SQ flight.  And upon our arrival, we had to rush a little so that we can arrive at Keelung port by 1500 hrs.  Frank was already at the arrival hall to greet us and when everyone was out from customs, we were well on the way to the port - an hour drive needed.      

Couple Tan and Jane in Ishigaki

We arrived at Keelung port at about 1500 hrs.  We were among the last group to embark.  While onboard, Frank took the opportunity to introduce his team to us during the briefing.  For the second time, chatty Hong Choon shared the cabin with me.  He came alone, enjoyed the last trip and was hoping to know more friends in this trip.  Save for the time we met at our cabin, I largely left him to mingle with the rest.  I was mostly with Tan, Jane and Andrew.  There was this group comprising senior citizens, Sunriders and Long and Doris whom I know from other events are among their members.  They even took the trouble to design a special cycling jersey for their own group.  There were other couples and friends who signed up separately and it was just a matter of time they will warm up to each other.

Cyclists cycling in single file in Ishigaki

The first ride was in Ishigaki and for some, it was our second trip there.  On our first day of ride, we worn the 5th edition all yellow cycling jerseys.  It was almost the same route we had for last year.     There were some climbs but not particularly steep save for the last part where the highest point stands at about 100-metre high.  The road is nicely paved throughout. not a single pothole can be seen and the motorists generally gave us wide berth.  From the port where we rolled off, we cycled along the scenic coast to the popular Kabira Bay and we then made a u-turn back to the town centre.  Ishigaki is a small island which attracts throngs of tourists mostly from Taiwan.  There are not many modern buildings and corns are a common sight.  The support team from Giant Adventure made sure that there was a support crew at every turn so that no one will be left behind.   The weather was generally hot but compared to our humid weather here, I can't say for more though.  First day ride clocked about 45 km.  We had late lunch in town before heading back to the port for our re-boarding.

Bikes waiting for customs clearance at Naha port on day two of ride

We missed our ride in Naha last year due to typhoon but this time, I was looking forward to it.  Naha is the capital city of Okinawa Prefecture.  We were supposed to cover some 70 km but the stringent customs procedures at Naha port did delay our roll-off somewhat.  Naha seemed to be hotter than Ishigaki.  The place is definitely much developed than Ishigaki.  There are more buildings and nice flyovers.  For the large part, we were mostly cycling in the city area and traffic movement was quite heavy.  Every 200-metre, there is always a traffic light and it changes quite fast too.  Much to my delight, I have not heard a single horn from the motorists while alongside the cars and trucks.  We were cycling in single file and obediently observed all traffic rules.  They have nice park connector too.  It is still an island and the breeze from the sea did cool us down despite the hot weather.  We did not clock 70 km and had to stop around 50 km.  We had our lunch before heading back to the port. This capped our second day of ride.

Group picture in Naha

In the evening while cruising back to Keelung, Frank and I organised some fun and games for the cyclists.  As the Taiwanese cyclists will not be joining us for the ride in Taiwan, we had a simple certificate presentation for them.  We had great time with the Taiwanese cyclists.  One particular group called the "Taichung Apple Bike Club" (ABC) and among them, there are two senior cyclists who are 75-year old.  The two gentlemen were given the highest applaud when their names were announced.

Warming up and getting ready at Naha port

When we arrived at Keelung port in the afternoon, we were transferred to Yilan where we will start our 91 km ride to Taipei.  We stayed one night at Yilan Shangrila Boutique Hotel.  Yilan is a rustic country side surrounded by a range of mountain.  There are many padi fields in this countryside.  In the evening, we went to the famous Luodong Night Market where we just hopped from one stall to another to fill up our tummy.

Taiwanese cyclists taking a break in Naha

It was our final day of ride on 11 June, Thursday and we were expected to cover about 91 km and ending at our hotel in Taipei.  We got up early and by 0730 hrs, everyone was already out. Mentally we were prepared to overcome two mountains and at its highest point, it stands at 500 metres.  The route is famous for its '9 turns and 18 curves' during the climb.  The first 30 km was mostly flat before we start our climb.  We stopped for lunch first.  Along the way, we even made pit stops at a discarded brick kiln and Gin Tung Chuen waterway.  We also visited a fruit factory, toured around the premises where prunes are produced.

Idyllic Yilan countryside 

After lunch, we then started the climb.  It was a gradual climb for a good 14 km, not very steep.  For the regular cyclists, it should not pose any major challenge.  The road is curvy and I understand it is very heavily used during the weekend by cyclists and motor cyclists. Fortunately for us, it was a weekday when we rode save for trucks that send deliveries to Taipei on a daily basis.  The trees that line on both sides did provide shelter on a otherwise hot day.  As we climbed the countryside and the mountain range appearing on the background provides a picturesque sight.  After reaching the highest point, the downhill is some 8 km.

Model couple Lung & Doris 

The second climb is less demanding than the first climb, about 400 metres.  This will lead us all the way to the city.  I was mostly with Tan and Jane on the second climb.  Tan enjoying away and he actually was singing away and when it came to the chorus part, I backed him up.  Jane was somewhat tired as she had not been doing much climbing in Singapore of late but the songs did provide reprieve of sorts to her (I hope).  The downhill is about 12 km.  I was going down quite fast when I noticed my handle was shaking that rendered my bike unstable.  I then decided to pull a stop when I found a flat section.  I realised my front tyre was punctured.  Phew, it was a close shave and had I continued on the downhill, I may be thrown off from my bike.  It was certainly a wise decision to pull a full stop. A quick change of wheel by the sweeper when the rear support vehicle arrived and off I went again to re-join the group at the foot of the hill.

Climbing up and still looking cheerful

Another 8 km ride on the road and we finally reached our hotel by 1800 hrs.  Everyone had arrived safely and that is key.  Kudos to all of us, we clocked 91 km on our last ride of ride to Taipei city. In the evening, we roamed the street for dinner before retiring to bed.

From the top looking down in Yilan

On our last day before we flew back, we had a simple certificate presentation to all.  After that, we gave three big bows to Frank and his team for their excellent support throughout.  This ended another successive cycling cruise, our fifth edition.  Hip, hip, hip...hooray! (3 x)

Me giving thumbs up when the ride is finally over

1 comment:

saabaero69 said...

Nice write up Collin! My wife and myself enjoyed this trip very much and is a personal challenge for me on a single 53T crank on the first 13km uphill....���� Lawrence.