From under a little red roof at the top of a remote mountain, one trail builder’s philosophy is shaping not only the forest floor, but the entire community that’s growing around it.
Right at the edge of the front of the porch, directly outside the double-door entrance, is a window-like gap in the thick green tangle of untamed jungle that seems to smother almost every inch of the mountain. The gap opens between two trees, each growing away from each other at an angle to form an almost perfect V-shape lookout over the forest that drops off down the mountainside below the porch. At the bottom of the V lies the smouldering coals from last night’s braai, and through the widening gap Turtle Island rises up from the waters of the Pacific Ocean. The sun is breaking through and the dark blue water beyond the waves of Wai'ao Beach is looking crisp. It’s one of those all-cleansing views - capable of clearing your head no matter how little sleep you’ve had - and it’s the first thing you see as you step out.
To the left is Java, Luke's tugou cross bloodhound, still deep asleep on the outside sofa - legs spread wide and definitely not dreaming about the wild pigs she’s supposed to be keeping off the trails. Past her is the post-ride dipping pool, the outdoor bamboo shower, and a 1-metre gap to the entrance of the Bosvark line. Records were made to be broken, but as far as the quickest possible transitions from brushing your teeth to sending a trail go, this has to be up there.
On the right is a line of muddy shoes and freshly cleaned bikes. The iconic blue truck is backed up and ready to start doing shuttles. There is nobody else for miles, just the sound of birds and insects and an endless amount of gravity on every side of the mountain. Above the door is a wooden plaque with the word ‘Yetopia’ burned onto it and the horns of a barking deer mounted on top, and that is all you need to see to know that it’s going to be a very, very good day.
Today we’re riding with Duane, a tall expat from South Africa who will throw himself down a mountain any time of day, Dan, Asia-Pacific's current downhill champion, and Yu Lun, the next in line to give Dan a run for his money. But it’s Luke who’s out first to ask “which one of you ous wants coffee?” If there’s two things that cannot be separated from this man, it’s his love for trails and his South African accent.
A coffee later and we’re on the truck - Luke behind the wheel, bikes stacked, coolerbox packed, and on the way to ride Mu’d line. This is how it goes at Yetopia. All grins and no groan. It’s what the combination of mountains and mountain bikes has always given us, but there’s something about doing it together that is just different. Yetopia is a melting pot of different kinds of people, no matter their age, background, or skill level, who just want to ride bikes in the forest. It’s a simple recipe, but it took two very special people to make it happen. And now that it exists, it’s quickly becoming the catalyst of a growing MTB community in Taiwan looking to get out the city and into the mountains.
The Yetopia experience can only be described as the ultimate escape for any MTB rider. It’s the brainchild of two passionate riders giving MTB fans, old and new, exactly what they want in the purist form. The MTB community worldwide is one of the best there is - a welcoming collection of fun-loving misfits connected by a love for bikes and trails - and Yetopia, at least in Taiwan, has given those misfits a place to be themselves.
"This is how it goes at Yetopia. All grins and no groan."
The drive to the top is a series of mountainside hairpin turns that take you deeper into the thick of the jungle and, with every terrifying turn, further away from regular life. The little convenience store at the bottom of the mountain is a must for last minute supplies. It’s also the last time you’ll check in with the outside world for a while.
Knuckles white, you wind up the narrow road in first gear, desperately hoping to not get one of your wheels caught in the trench-like gutters on one side or slip off the edge of the mountain on the other. But you’re flanked by the kind of forest that speaks directly to the heart of any sort of trail enthusiast, and a passing glimpse into Frikky’s Freeway as it crosses over the road and immediately into a set of doubles is a tease for what’s to come.
We make it to the top, arriving early morning, and almost no time is wasted getting into it. Bags are quickly thrown into the dorms built on the side of the trail house, a quick discussion about tyre pressure is had, and bikes are loaded onto the truck. The summer in Taiwan takes no prisoners, so the best riding is in the early morning and late afternoon.
We opt to hit the downhill trails in the morning session. Luke has built all the trails by himself, by hand and by spade, and comes along as a guide, a coach, and to ensure the level of good times never drops below those stated in the Yetopia t’s & c’s. We bounce from one trail to the next, Luke and Serena taking turns on shuttle duty to navigate the truck back up the windy road while we stand on the back with schoolboy-like grins plastered across our faces.
Inside the trails, it’s as much a treat for the ears as it is for the eyes. A series of drops, jumps and berms, the red-dirt trails wind beneath the dark green canopy of the trees, cutting a line through the thick carpet of shrubs and rocks on the forest floor before spitting you out the other side, ready to go again. But it’s the sound inside that hits even harder - a silence so seldom experienced in the city, broken only by the sounds of birds chirping and MTB hubs carving their way through. It’s a sound that is almost spiritual in this community, the MTB version of whale calls.
Back for lunch, Luke and Serena serve home made burgers - patties made from scratch - while everybody else jumps in the pool. Turtle Island is looking clearer than ever, and the water of the Pacific is calling. But that can wait until tomorrow. There is still an XC trail to explore.
It’s often been said that the best way to see a place is by bike, but they never specified which kind of bike. Roadies might say otherwise, but the XC course is arguably one of the best ways to experience the wild jungle that fills the spaces between Taiwan’s northern cities. The course winds up, down and around multiple mountains, mixing forest trails with ocean views. Every climb is worth the push, and every corner seems to pull you deeper into the mystery that these largely unexplored forests hold.
"Every climb is worth the push, and every corner seems to pull you deeper into the mystery that these largely unexplored forests hold."
The sun is just going down as we arrive back, and while most of us head straight for the pool, the fire is lit and the music starts. The rest of the night is all about the braai and stories from the day, knowing that tomorrow we do it all again.
But there is something extra that makes this different from any other trail house experience. There’s a purity and authenticity to it. It’s a communal respect for something that has been built with only the best intentions - for riders, the forest, and the local community. It’s the fact that every single thing, apart from the four walls that once stood empty and unused, has been made by hand. From the trails we rode, to the wors we’re about to eat, to the beds we’ll sleep in later, Yetopia is the realisation of a dream, hard work, and doing things the right way. And that is something that money cannot buy.
Luke is one one of those people you meet that are exactly where they need to be, and you couldn’t imagine them doing anything else. At his core he is a natural born trail builder - that special breed of human sent from above to put smiles on the faces of riders. If you ride, you’ll know the kind. But he also carries the wisdom of somebody that has been through life, slowly tuning out the noise to define what happiness truly means to him.
He has ridden bikes since the age of 6, even going on to compete in the UCI World Cup, but he has also done just as much time in the 9-5 office grind. Yet ever since the idea of Yetopia came to him and Serena and a new way of life presented itself, nothing else has mattered.
What began as just an idea quickly became tangible as they secured a vacant warehouse at the top of a mountain. The two quit their jobs and moved in, sometimes taking baths beneath the waterfall in the absence of a shower and running water. Between just the two of them, on the top of a remote mountain, an abandoned warehouse became a home, a shower was added, a kitchen was built, and Luke still recalls the joy of successfully installing a working toilet on a mountain that is miles from the nearest form of civilization.
From there, Luke got to work on the trails, speaking to local landowners and farmers to get their blessing and waking up before dawn to open trails before the Taiwanese heat and humidity would make it impossible. Not a single section of trail goes against the flow of the forest, instead making use of natural features to guide the direction of the trail; and in the few instances we did ride past some locals, it was nothing but smiles and waves. There is a feeling of community here that goes beyond just the riders, and that comes from an understanding that happiness is not something we should only seek for ourselves.
"There’s a purity and authenticity to it. It’s a communal respect for something that has been built with only the best intentions - for riders, the forest, and the local community."
There is now a large dorm, a camping area, a bar and a pump track in the works. Every weekend sees a different crowd, from pro riders to friends to colleagues to parents with kids, and the effect that Yetopia is having on the community as a whole is infectious.
“The world needs more happy people.” These are the words uttered by Luke when discussing his journey to this point, and in just a short time here it becomes so clear that this is the foundation Yetopia is built on. Like any hostel and trail centre there is a fee, but not once do you feel there is a commercial aspect to it. To every rider that comes here, it feels like home. And in a way, for the MTB community of northern Taiwan, it is.
Every weekend, and even on some weekdays, Luke and Serena host a different group of riders. Some are young guns looking to shred, some are in their 50’s and 60’s looking to take it all in at any speed they choose, and some are little kids getting their first taste for trail. But no matter who it is, the takeaway is always the same - there is simply no substitute for nature, community, and kindness. It’s a message that every rider takes with them on their next ride, slowly resonating throughout the island to set a welcoming tone for newcomers to a sport that offers so much.
“A lot of people in life, they shouldn’t just get up in the morning, you should wake up in the morning. A lot of people just get up [and] go to work; they’re not aware. I would say, wake up in the morning and be aware. Take cognizance of being awake. Make sure that you are kind to people. Make sure that you love people. Make sure that you listen to people. It is important to do that.” - Luke Borg
"Make sure that you are kind to people. Make sure that you love people. Make sure that you listen to people."
There is a theory that it is the ratio of trail builders to riders that determines the strength of any given MTB community, but a strong argument could be made that it is also the philosophy and outlook of those shaping the trails that will ripple through the community and ultimately shape the riding experience for generations of riders to come.
Watching the sun rise along with Turtle Island through the V-shaped gap in the trees, the smell of brewing coffee drifts through the air again. Head clear, heart content, we slowly make our way back down the mountain we briefly called home.
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