Thankfully, it finally happened, I got back on the bike for a serious ride in late October after being convalescent for three weeks due to too much work and surgery. Of course, a little wimpy ride would be no good. A major, hard pulling ride would be needed to get my enthusiasm and juices flowing again.
So, where in Taiwan could a tough ride be found? Of course, Taiwan’s Central Cross-Island Highway going from sea level to 3,275 meters, 10,744 feet, is an excellent choice.
Despite the Taipei and northern Taiwan weather being less than cooperative, we were pretty certain that we’d have a chance Saturday morning at 5 AM that the skies would be clear in Sincheng of Hualian County. Sure enough it was.
In an impressive display of coordination, we pulled out of Sincheng-新城 only a minute behind schedule at 5:46 AM. Sadly, the Michaels’ and Drew hadn’t told me it was orange shirt day. Therefore, I was feeling left out wearing my black and white riding shirt.
Despite this lack of cohesion amongst our group, our early morning banter was easy and often interrupted by out bursts of ‘oh wow’ and ‘did you see that’.
I’ve been around the world and seen many beautiful places. Taroko-太魯閣 now ranks highly among my top places to must see in life. It’s a spectacular display of 200 million year-old limestone still thrusting ever upwards today. Highway 8 through Taroko Gorge is especially amazing by being hand-carved out out of the hillside in the 1950′s.
If you like riding through tunnels, you’ll not be depressed whatsoever on this ride. We easily rode through 5 kilometers worth with some being over a kilometer long. A few tunnels lacked lighting making good quality, bright headlights and rear blinkers valuable for avoiding large, cold puddles and fellow riders.
Having bike lighting really is a safety issue for fellow riders and oncoming vehicles. In one particular tunnel, before I turned on my headlight, I couldn’t even see Michael Turton riding less than 3 feet away.
While passing the 20 kilometers through Taroko Gorge, we steadily climbed upwards from sea-level to 470 meters by Tianxiang-天祥. Up to here, the riding was pretty casual and slow paced. Additionally, we picked up our 5th group rider, Chris MacDonald who had come up Friday afternoon.
After eating breakfast again and waiting for the next road opening time, due to a massive land slide a few weeks ago, the road ahead starts climbing up much harder. We’ll be hitting 953 meters altitude within 7 kilometers, more than doubling our climb up in almost a 1/3 of the distance.
As we come out of the valley, views into the distance grow greatly and they too are spectacular. A few of us are reminded of the French Alps and Olympic Mountains in Washington State. Taiwan’s central cross mountains are that beautiful.
Despite having ridden the Northern Cross Highway a couple of times before, none of us were quite prepared for the constant pressure of climbing combined with reduced oxygen. Some of us had headaches starting around 2,000 meters that lasted till mid-morning Sunday.
Still, we could keep smiling as our hostel in Guanyuan-關原 came ever closer. However, those last 500 meters up and 15 kilometers were tough after the previous 2,000 meters up and 60 kilometers ridden.
Come Sunday morning, the skies were even clearer than Saturday and in the shade, extra clothes were needed to keep body parts from stiffening in place. Our bodies after riding up Saturday were sore and we didn’t pull out till 8 AM for Dayuling-大禹嶺, 100 meters and 4 kilometers away.
Once in Dayuling, my craving for soy milk-豆漿 came on strong and surprisingly, none was to be found. I had to be content with an apple and sweet tea. Thankfully a happy pig and bathing cat soothed and kept me company while snacking and waiting for the others.
At this point in our group ride, we split up into a go high and low group. Of course, being not the brightest person around, I joined Drew in going up another 600 meters and 11 kilometers to Mt. Wuling-武陵山 at 3,275 meters above sea-level.
Impressively, Drew and I knocked out the Guanyuan to Wuling route at 7.5 kph over two hours. Not bad for a 700 plus meter rise with a couple of hundred meter descents.
After people watching atop Wuling pass and complaining about cheaters who drive up and bike down, bike up from half-way and drive down or just take a taxi; Drew and I went flying down towards Wushe, almost literally. Within a couple of minutes of leaving Wuling pass, I was hitting 63 kph, 39 mph, downhill.
Talk about an exciting ride with scooters, fellow bikers, slow buses and corner cutting tourists all along the way down. This was definitely one of my funnest downhill rides ever. Thank goodness none of the 3 later on front tire flats happened during this downhill blast.
Whew, that made for my longest bike pace push yet, 30+ kph with only the city stop lights forcing us to slow down the last 45 minutes.
Overall, this was a fantastic 2-day hard ride over 200 kilometers and 9,950 meters of climbing, through some of the most amazing terrain I’ve ever experienced.
Now I wonder, when can I go again?
Guanyun Shanzhuang (10-person dorm)
救國團觀雲山莊 花蓮縣秀林鄉富世村關原22號 TEL: (04)2599-1173
Wushe China Youth Corp Hostel (12-person dorm)
救國團霧社山莊 南投縣仁愛鄉大同村忠孝巷22號 TEL: (049)285-0070
Courtesy of Michael Fahey