When Taiwanese hear that I am an avid cyclist, they often ask with excitement whether I have ridden around the island. Sadly, the answer is no. While riding in Taiwan's lush, precipitous central mountains is cycling heaven, the flat coastal plains are cycling hell. This is especially true on the west coast, where overloaded lorries rush through the ruins of Taiwan's industrial belt past foul-smelling, dioxin-tainted wetlands. But a remarkable new plan - to encircle Taiwan with a network of trails for walkers and cyclists - may make cycling around the island a more pleasant experience. Launched two weeks ago by mathematics professor and activist Huang Wu-hsiung, the Thousand League Trail plan calls for using private funds to link trails and back roads into one long path. Although the government immediately endorsed the plan and has made it a policy priority for this year, organisers say they do not want it involved - except to help them gain legal access to environmentally protected areas. In particular, they are concerned that the government will start developing previously undeveloped areas by using still more concrete for parking lots, visitor centres, rest stops and hotels. With almost breathtaking political naivety, the organisers hope to persuade landowners whose property will be crossed by the trail to commit themselves to a new 'public discourse' about zero development. The owners, they argue, will be compensated with new sources of income such as selling services and local products to the hikers and bikers using the trail. This distrust of government is striking because it points to a quiet flowering of civil society in Taiwan after a decade of democracy. During the democracy movement of the 1980s and early 1990s, the middle class believed that if it could subject the government to its democratic will, then the government would serve them as faithfully and effectively as it once served the authoritarian Kuomintang regime. So far, they have been disappointed: no radical reform of society is in sight. But, well below the political radar, activists like Professor Huang are hard at work wresting control of government functions, for projects like the trail. There is more than meets the eye with Professor Huang: he believes that when they dismantled the old authoritarian order, his revolutionary generation also inadvertently destroyed Taiwan's moral and aesthetic order. Now the island needs a new set of values to shore up its political revolution, and he hopes the trail can help do just that. It would create new values by reconnecting the Taiwanese with nature, the island's lost beauty, and with themselves - through time spent in contemplative walking or cycling along the byways of their native land.