Old Caoling Tunnel 舊草嶺隧道

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Inside the old tunnel. Those are mock railroad tracks you see on the ground.

Old Caoling Tunnel 舊草嶺隧道 was built in the 1920s to connect northern Taiwan with the eastern coast by rail. A new tunnel was built in the 1980s and the old tunnel was closed until 2008 when it reopened as a tourist-friendly bikeway. The main point of entry is Fúlóng 福隆, a beach town in New Taipei City about an hour outside of by train. Riding through the old tunnel makes for a great day trip from —as long as you don’t go on a weekend.

Surfing at the black sand beaches of Waiao

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The gorgeous black sand beach at Wai’ao.

While living in I have made a habit of saying “yes” to most things that come my way. At times this has gotten me into trouble—but most of the time the outcome has been positive. When a friend asked me to try surfing I said “sure, why not?” One lazy afternoon in August we were off to the black sand beaches of eastern Taiwan.

Surfing at Wài’ào 外澳 in was a mix of both good and bad. First, the good: since it was way outside of my experience I was gripped by an hourlong series of epiphanies as my consciousness rapidly adapted to the task at hand. Every new attempt to ride the waves brought a flash of insight, of physical knowledge and abstract thought linked into motion. Everything is happening so quickly—but there is a rhythmic, hypnotic quality to it all.

I am more used to climbing mountains than surfing the waves. Mountain climbing requires the individual to work to escape gravity, to move the body over the solid earth eternal. On human time scales the mountains are effectively fixed and immovable. The ocean, however, is constant change, a process of endless renewal and ephemerality. No wonder we use surfing as the metaphor of choice to describe the Information Age. It has always made a superficial kind of sense but it wasn’t until I actually went and surfed that I truly understood.

Now, for the bad: I injured myself rather badly about an hour after heading out into the water. To surf you need to wait for the right moment and then slide onto the surfboard and start paddling. On one occasion I went to slide and the board dropped out from beneath me—so I fell, hard, and bruised a rib. Being the stubborn jerk that I am, I kept going until I stood up and properly rode at least one wave into shore. I suppose on some level I knew that I was doing something stupid—but I wasn’t about to head home without having managed that tricky balancing act at least once.

I spent the rest of the month recovering before embarking on my round-the-island bicycle tour.