Thursday, April 20, 2017

Yuli-Fuli Bikeway

Yuli (花蓮縣玉里鎮) in the southern part of Hualien County has long been a crossroads. It's here that 19th-century migrants from west Taiwan via the Batongguan Ancient Trail emerged from the Central Mountain Range. Some of these pioneers proceeded north or south within the East Rift Valley. Others continued eastward across the Xiuguluan River and Coastal Mountain Range to the Pacific coast, taking a route similar to what's now the Yuchang Highway (Highway 30).
Like much of the East Rift Valley National Scenic Area, Yuli is thinly populated and there’s never a lot of traffic. Cycling is therefore a fun (as well as eco-friendly) way of exploring the township, which sprawls over 252 square kilometers. The authorities have done their bit to make the area attractive to pedal-powered tourists by creating the Yufu Bikeway (玉富自行車道), a 9.8km-long bike path that starts in central Yuli. 
The history of the bikeway is, in fact, tied to the the history of the railway. In recent years, Taiwan’s government has upgraded and electrified the railroad in the east. In the process, the stretch immediately south of central Yuli was straightened. Instead of crossing the Xiuguluan River, it now takes a more direct route toward Taitung. One reason for this is that the rock-strewn bed of the Xiuguluan River - which empties into the Pacific 25km away as the crow flies - conceals an important geological boundary. 
The land east of the waterway, including the Coastal Mountain Range, is part of the Philippine Sea Plate. Everything to the west is part of the Eurasian Plate. East Taiwan’s hot springs and frequent tremors - not to mention much of its rugged beauty - can be attributed to the ongoing collision between these plates. 
Each year, tectonic forces drive a bit more of the Eurasian Plate under the Philippine Sea Plate. As a consequence, the Coastal Mountain Range grows a little higher. But this tectonic mismatch causes problems for humanity. The road bridge that crosses the river has to be fixed every three to five years. A tremendous inconvenience, of course, yet an interesting spot to stop, learn a bit about natural processes, and take a team photo!
As even minor distortion of the tracks could cause the derailment of a speeding locomotive, what used to be the railway bridge (and now serves as part of the bike path) had to be repaired and realigned approximately every two years. Enjoying the bikeway recently as guests of the scenic area, we barely noticed the gradient while pedaling across. But a little later, pausing for breath at the 3.2km marker and looking back at the bridge, the disparity was obvious. 
Antong (安通) Cycling Station is a former railway station supposedly repurposed for the benefit of bikers, but at the time of our visit there were no food, drink or repair services - not even a vending machine. Local folk make good use of the bikeway, and not just to reach their fields. One lady we came across was laying out Hakka-style dried pickled mustard greens (meigan cai, written 梅干菜 or 霉乾菜, shown above).
The bike path ends at Dongli (東里) Old Station, where you can get a cup of coffee, snacks and postcards. For cyclists eager to explore further, it's easy enough to continue southward on Highway 9 (the main north-south road in the East Rift Valley), although the traffic is sometimes quite heavy. We turned around so we could take in a few sights in the town center before boarding our trains home. One of these we would never have found but for the help of the local hotelier accompanying us: A section of creek at the corner of Heping Road and Minguo Road Section 1 where local housewives and grandmothers still hand-wash clothes in the traditional manner. 
In the parkland on the corner of Minquan Street and Zhonghua Road, there's a green-and-white bus bearing the logo of Taiwan’s postal service. This vehicle formerly provided Taiwan's only mobile postal (and post-office banking) services, regularly touring the township's remoter villages. A stone's throw away, local artists create and sell works at Pu-Shi Printing & Dyeing Art Workshop (璞石藝術館).
Upstairs, the emphasis is on stone art, created using tiny fragments of various stones, some of which are imported. Many of the works reflect indigenous themes:
This visit and blog post were sponsored by the East Rift Valley National Scenic Area Administration.

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