The Grand Riders

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Peter Stаrг Returns to Taiwan, This Time Bringing Friends When I first rode with Taiwan’s Grand Riders the mostly octogenarian motorcyclists celebrated in TC Bank’s “Dream Rangers” commercial that was a viral YouTube sensation, I had such spirit-elevating experience I did not t ink it could possibly be improved upon. I was wrong. When I returned to Taiwan for the next Grand Riders event in October 2012, this time with nine other Americans accompanying me, the experience exceeded all expectations.

After my story “Taiwan’s Grand Riders” appeared (Apr. 2012 MC), I was approached by many readers to organize an American group to share in my adventure. The result was a diverse group of age-appropriate motorcyclists, including an AirForce Major General, the president of a motorcycle parts manufacturer, the owner of a major motorcycle dealership, two scooter dealers, a motorcycle designer/engineer (with his girlfriend), and more, joining me to ride 250cc SYM scooters throughout Taiwan. Before our ride began, we assembled at the headquarters of the sponsoring Hondao Foundation charity for a meet and greet with the original Grand Riders. This was an emotionally charged moment for my new American friends, just like it was for me a year earlier. We had no common language, but we had a common purpose: two-wheeled fun, a passion that can last a lifetime. Unlike many enthusiast “rides,” this was not an endurance event. This was a cultural exchange between two peoples facing similar challenges, where the joy of riding is the glue that holds the experience together.

The 2012 ride started with the mayor of Taichung distributing T-shirts and well wishes to the original Grand Riders and their new American friends in a huge civic ceremony. Our seven-day ride began beneath waving fags, with a parade escorted by the Cruiser Riders Club (CRC) of Taipei. Ten original Grand Riders, now frail with age, rode a short way to a Buddhist temple where we stopped and “highfived” our goodbyes. This was an emotional moment—in many respects, we were riding in their stead.

Motorcycles and scooters are not allowed on Taiwan’s freeways, so the first day’s ride was no different than riding through any other metropolis—except, due to advance publicity, people lined up and waved as we passed through their communities. The riding really started the next day, when we headed east from Chiayi on twisty two-lane roads that lead into the mountains forming the backbone of this island. Passing villages, farms, and temples, we really started to enjoy and appreciate the athleticism of the 250cc SYM scooters.

During yet another civic ceremony and souvenir exchange near the 10,000-foot-high Alishan mountain resort, I began to appreciate how we were continuing the Grand Riders’ legacy, with the population of Taiwan honoring their own through us. Everything was different this year, and much bigger. Our activities were reported in all the Chinese and English language newspapers, and shown on television news every evening. Heady stuff!

The next day we traveled north along the mountain ridge toward Sun Moon Lake, escorted by a group of Harley-Davidson riders. The mountains opened into a broad, tropical valley, with widening roads allowing some “spirited” riding before the quiet of the lake, almost 2500 feet above sea level and surrounded by hills that create a wonderful environment for contemplation. Visiting the nearby Wenwu Temple, I reflected on CatStevens’ “Father and Son” lyrics: “For you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not.” Live your dreams today.

Day four was the longest, and in many ways, the most stunning. Entertainment included a senior dance troupe performing traditional and not-so-traditional group dances, while gifts included beautiful, handmade charms from an 82-year-old woman wishing us safe passage though Taroko Gorge. We were teary-eyed as we donned helmets and left, heading east toward the 10,500-foot peaks surrounding the Gorge.

Typhoon damage had closed the roads surrounding the Gorge last year, so I was doubly insistent on taking this route to Hualien on the east coast. I was rewarded in spades. Think Tail of the Dragon at DealsGap, but from sea level to 10,000 feet and back. To use an old Britphrase, we were “gobsmacked” by vistas featuring hillside castles and terraced tea plantations, all the while speeding along a narrow, twisty, two-lane road.

Three more days of gorgeous riding and many more gala celebrations—including one in Hualien where our own Grand Rider Jerry Larson celebrated his 80th birthday, followed the next day by 250 riders gathering for a 30-mile ride to visit a Hondao-supported senior home—put us back in Taipei all too soon. There we attended the premier screening of “Go Grandriders,” a feature-length documentary about the original 17 who rode around the island in 2007. Then we headed back to America, sad to leave our newfound friends, but inspired at the same time. It takes extraordinary courage to face the inevitable challenge of getting old, but Grand Riders really live every day like it may be their last.

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