Five Reasons to Ride North on the Pacific Coast Highway

It seems that almost everyone we’ve met along the way has had a different reason against riding north on the CA-1. Some say it’s the wind or the weather, others say it’s the traffic or the lack of shoulder; others simply laugh and say, “You’re going the wrong way!” It is true; guidebooks generally advise against travelling north due to the strong headwinds that northbound travelers face. We’ve experienced these winds a bit, but it’s all been manageable. We think there are just as many reasons to travel north as there are not to do so. Before you knock a Mexico to Canada trip (or anything in between) consider these:

1. The scenery becomes more and more beautiful. Southern California is nice and all, but it doesn’t even compare to Northern California and Oregon. Travelling north gives you something to look forward to as you move up the coast. We started in dry desert-y beaches, and are now staying in campgrounds surrounded by lush pine forests (Big Sur!). I’d say the increasing beauty up the coast definitely overshadows the wind.

2. It gets cheaper! Campsites get cheaper. Food gets cheaper. Laundromats get cheaper. Everything gets cheaper the closer we get to Oregon. It was definitely a blow paying $10 per person at some of the Southern California campgrounds, but Northern California’s $5 per person is pretty nice. We also hear that showers are free at state parks in Oregon. (Apparently Washington is a little spendy for camping, but smoked salmon – a.k.a pure, non-perishable muscle power and energy – is cheap, so it all evens out).

3. You will have a constant stream of information. At the start of this trip, we didn’t buy a book; we didn’t even plan past our first two campsites. We just thought we’d figure it out as we went along. Luckily for us, we didn’t have to because almost everyone we’ve met has been heading south. This means they’ve already scoped out the best (and the worst) campsites, restaurants, and sights. Because of friendly southbound travelers we found out that the central coast had absolutely no water, something they all had to find out the hard way, and we were able to plan accordingly. Let me tell you, living is pretty easy when you don’t have to stress about planning.

4. Learn killer relaxation techniques. Okay, so sometimes we get headwinds, and they really aren’t that fun. However, being stuck in strong winds gives us a chance to practice complete relaxation and acceptance of our surroundings. Get zen with it and ride against the wind. (Also, you’re gonna get wind no matter what direction you ride. We even got some killer tailwinds the other day!).

5.  Riding north automatically makes you a complete bad ass. You can totally boost your confidence by doing it because everyone you meet will be like, “Wow that’s so hardcore. You are awesome.” You will feel incredibly cool and strong.

So as Tim likes to say to the ragged old ladies on the backs of tandems who call us crazy for riding north, “Don’t knock it till you try it!”

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They don’t make ’em like this in Southern California. Also, we learned about this incredible campsite (Kirk Creek) from some southbound travelers. Double whammy!

What goes up…

There is a well known rule of physics (that is more casually known as common sense) which states that what goes up must come down. I’m sure you’re all familiar. In cycling, it’s a mantra to help get us through those super steep climbs.  Well, most of us. I think I’m one of the only cyclists on this planet who may prefer the climb to the descent. I know it seems crazy, but I have my reasons.

We just passed through Big Sur, CA. If you know the Pacific Coast, you know that means steep hills. The views were amazing, as is usually the case from lofty elevations, and let me tell you I worked for those views. I earned them. Then in an instant I’m flying down, and the hill that took forty minutes to summit is overwith in less than five. It’s a little bit disappointing. It’s like putting 3 hours into preparing a meal that’s devoured in 20 minutes. Even if the end result is worth all of the effort, it’s a little sad to see it disappear so quickly.

Of course, barreling down the 1 on a four-inch shoulder is slightly terrifying. It’s little bit difficult to put total faith in a bicycle, and very difficult to put total faith in the drivers behind me. I’m trying to take it as a lesson in control and to just go with it (and hopefully by the end of this trip my hands won’t be numb at the end of each day from squeezing my handle bars in terror every time I go down a steep hill).

IMG_1113A view worth climbing for

As if we needed another reason to ride bikes…

It’s official, the best way to make new friends is by riding a bike. 

It seems like everyone we come across wants to know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. We have already met so many friendly people, and we’re only a week in! People are super keen on giving us directions, cheering us on, and helping us find the cheapest places to stay. 

We met this jovial restaurateur in Lompoc, CA. He made us feel really special because he was so interested in our story!Image 

 

Show Me a Sign!

Everyone has seen poorly worded signage. Although, living in a Chinese speaking country you are surrounded by poorly translated, strangely co-opted and awkwardly phrased signs, ads, and warnings.

I have seen so many that I haven’t taken pictures of for one reason or another but here are a few of my favorites.

ImageI don’t think I really need to tell you why this is funny.Image“WooHooo!!! Lets have some FUNG!!!”Image“Some one already used KFC…What about KLG?”ImageAll I can think is how awesome that flying baby is.ImageI don’t know, maybe it’s a PSA, like “look out for that shit!”ImageWhat a wholesome toy!ImageThe shamrock really ties this one together.ImageNothing like smelling of spam all day.

If you look online there are so many more hilarious signage mistakes and odd translations, but it really makes me think how bad our signs must be in the states or in Europe for that matter, that have been translated into Chinese, Korean, Japanese or really any other language other than our own native tongue.

I Survived Yue Mei Kang: Bear Grylls’s Got Nothing On Me

 “I don’t think we’re going the right way” is how our real adventure started.

Mal and I had heard about a river trace in Jiaoxi and though it would be a great Sunday trip. We didn’t really know what to expect, or honestly, where we were going, but found a promising trail.

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The trail is steep and chalked with forks, so like any would-be Indiana Jones we started following the mysterious red arrows painted on rocks and trees. We had been meaning to get to the river but instead were climbing a mountain.

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That’s when we decided to back track and our story starts to get interesting. After winding our way back to the river, it was time to cool off. We split from the trail and found a great little fall to swim at. The water was fresh and cool and the perfect depth to do cannon balls off the fall.

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All of a sudden we were in the midst of forty Chinese tourists and the luxury of our secluded private pool was quickly lost.

They all headed back down on the path we had taken up, so we made the most obvious choice, leave the safety of the trail and follow the river all the way back down to the park entrance.

It started out easy enough with a few easy traverses down into shallow pools, but when we got to the third waterfall things got real. At this point it was still completely feasible to turn back and get back on the trail but being headstrong adventurers (idiots) we forded onward.

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This particular waterfall was beautiful but too high to safely leap, luckily for us there was a slippery mud soaked rope that went down, under a rock bridge and off a small overhanging boulder. While, this rappel wasn’t all that high, it was awkward and the rope was less than confidence inspiring.

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After that we were sure that we were on easy street…NO. Just past our treacherous abseil was an even gnarlier waterfall. Mallory uneasily pointed out that the rock bolts on the edge probably meant that it was going to be a rough climb down. She was right.

Getting down involved straddling the fall and then sidling up as close to the right side and jumping out as far as you possibly could, all the while hoping and praying that there wasn’t a hidden rock to break your fall.

I went first and to my great relief it was a deep pool with a relatively mild current.  Mal was getting ready for her leap of faith, and what do you know, her biggest jungle fear showed up to keep us company, a snake swam right down the fall and was wading in the pool.

There wasn’t a whole lot to do about it though and we splashed past it without getting bit (honestly it was probably harmless, but no sense in testing it out). After that we had a nice easy wade back to the trail to little the adrenaline settle.

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The main attraction, Yue Mei Kang Fall, is an awesome sight. It’s relatively tall with a wide, shallow pool at the bottom. This is a perfect summer time trek.

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If you go to the base of Wufengxi trail, instead of going up the stairs cross the river where all the kids swim and head up the dirt trail. Getting to the base of the fall and back down should take an hour or two. Safe travels!

This site has good instructions on getting up to the fall.

http://www.mandarintaiwan.com/2/post/2011/09/yang-mei-kang-waterfall-hike.html

Chung Tai Chan Monastery

Taiwan is a predominantly Taoist society, and it seems like Taoist temples are about as much of a commodity as 7-11s are. In fact, while driving down the east coast earlier this year, we saw a temple factory of sorts, where the intricate pillars and eaves seen in so many temples are manufactured. They are still beautiful, but it does take a bit of the magic away for me.

Although Taoism rules, there are still many practicing Buddhists, Buddhist temples, and Buddhist organizations. One of these is the Chung Tai Chan, whose monastery can be found in Puli, Nantou County on Taiwan’s East Coast. This beautiful temple and monastery are anything but factory manufactured. The monks at Chung Tai were kind enough to allow us to book a tour last minute.

The temple, which is over 16 stories tall, is nestled in the hills just outside of Puli and surrounded by trees. It’s shape is meant to represent a cultivator kneeling in prayer position. When we arrived, the parking lot was swarming with tour buses and tourists. Many people come to see the grounds, the museum, and the first two floors of the monastery, which are open to the public without needing to reserve a tour. We asked our hotel in Puli to help us call the monastery the morning of the day we wanted to go in the hopes we might be able to see a bit more of the temple. They agreed even though there would only be a Chinese language tour going on that day. Our guide was so nice and helpful and she took the extra time to explain everything in English to us as we went along the tour, although she did ask that if we ever wished to visit again that we book our tour at least three days in advance. Tour bookings can be made here.

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A temple guardian

At the entrance to the temple, guests are greeted by guards who sit out front protecting it. The first floor is called the Hall of the Four Heavenly Kings, which features four 12 meter-tall statues.

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Heavenly King

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Laughing Buddha to welcome guests

As you go up to the next floors, there are three Buddha Halls, which hold statues of the various Buddhas, and other intricate hand-made Buddhist artifacts. Each hall also has hand-painted ceilings, swimming with lotuses and mandalas of all colors. Our tour followed the path that the monks take every day on their way to the Chan Meditation Halls. The circular path instills calmness as you walk up.

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Transformation Buddha carved from red granite on the second floor

On the 16th floor, the Hall of 10,000 Buddhas is amazing. The wall is covered in Buddhas hand cast in bronze. In the center of the room, a 7-story teakwood pagoda was constructed without the use of a single nail. The tour ended here, and we were asked to share our feelings after visiting the temple while looking out across the valley. Many answers were similar, with people expressing feelings of peace and calm.

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Across the valley

Unfortunately photography is only allowed on the first  and second floors, so you’ll have to go see the rest of it for yourself. You can also check out the virtual tour, but seeing it in person is a really incredible experience.

We were given a taste of history, culture, and spirituality all in one visit. Not to mention the beautiful artwork and architecture that fills the temple. Just seeing the craftsmanship makes a visit well worthwhile. Apart from the temple, the Chung Tai also offers an art gallery, museum, and beautiful gardens.

gardenLotus pond in the gardens

I would definitely recommend a visit to anyone who is in the Nantou area. There is a frequent bus between Puli and the Sun Moon Lake visitor center, and the monastery is just a quick taxi ride from central Puli.