Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Now that I am back on the bike, I can now fully devote my spare moments to suffering on the saddle of a bicycle all in the name of health, sanity and fun.
This past Sunday I started out early to get a jump on the heat in the hopes of returning in the early afternoon with enough kilometers to feel like I did something to improve my lowly, lowly state. I set my sights on the foothills between Jhuolan and Dahu in Miaoli County.
Specifically, I wanted to carve into some of the side roads that mesh their way around the areas off the fantastic Pinglin Rd.
Just a few kilometers into my ride I could feel it was going to be a rough day. It was simply one of those off-days when your legs never seem to arrive, no matter how much caffeine you throw down along the ride.
I approached my target, which was the Feng-kong Rd. a.k.a. Local Route 18. If you are coming up Pinglin Rd. counter clockwise from Jhuolan, the road starts in the village after the first hill. If you get to the sign for Pinglin Elementary School, you've gone too far.
As soon as I turned up the road I felt the dampness of the jungle. The Feng-kong Rd. zags along tree covered ravines toward the top of a ridge where plots of fruit farms are scattered about in the flatter areas.
I paused for a while to take in the openness along the ridge to try to get my bearings. I had left my phone at home and therefore I was exploring new roads with nothing but experience and intuition.
As I gazed out into the haze, I caught the glimpse of a Formosan Crested Serpent Eagle as it unfolded its wings just above my head. It rode the thermals above the hill just over my head for several minutes, making low and measured glides just beyond my reach. It was a magnificent experience to have a front row seat to a sight we city dwellers are too often denied.
I continued down the road, passing the road I really wish I had taken (and had intended to take).
One panorama after another and then I was again bombing through narrow gullies with no real idea where I might end up.
Despite the views, I felt a pang of disappointment that my only remaining options led back down to Jhuolan on the 54-1.
My energy was simply absent. A chill had blown in with a low pressure front and I was struggling against a nasty headwind. I decided to take Dongchi Rd. through the hills to Dongshih to avoid moving at a snail's pace out in full public view. The indignity of having strangers see me like that was more than I could bear.
As I grimaced my way up an incline I used to eat in the big ring, I ran into Michael Turton and Scott E. They were also returning from a shorter ride in the area and I needed to company. We ate lunch in Dongshih before going our separate ways home. I tried climbing Hsin She to embarrass myself on another "easy" hill. I finally made it home feeling cooked and well-done. It was the longest ride I have done in a very long while at 120km, but I paid dearly.
Hopefully next time my legs will show up for the party.
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
This weekend we took the show on the road and drove down to Meinong, a small farming community in Kaohsiung County. With the Southern Cross-Island Highway open after years of closure due to Typhoon damage, the Meinong area was ripe for riding. I hadn't been in the area for several years, so I was due.
Michael and I parked on the outskirts of Meinong and headed up the Kaohsiung Route 181to connect to the Highway 20. The area is a beautiful basin that once grew tobacco and rice. In the late 1990's Meinong served as the location for one of the civic protests that would become a model for others to emulate as local residents successfully blocked a massive dam project to preserve the character of the town and its environment. Now Meinong is regularly cited for its work on sustainable infrastructure.
The Route 181 heads directly into a mountain and down into the river valley on the other side where it meets up with the Highway 21.
The route is relatively flat and was a bit busier than I expected. The haze from China made the scenery a bit less thrilling than I think it might be otherwise.
The road dips and ducks through bamboo covered hills all the way to Jiaxian township. This is a village that was devastated in 2010 by Typhoon Morakot. It was nice to see how the village of former Siraya people has recovered.
From Jiaxian we took the Highway 20 over the hills to Liugui. This is a marvelous little road that is never too painful to climb, yet offers the illusion of ascending much higher peaks.
We connected to the Highway 27 to Liugui where we had lunch.
The Highway 27 splits and the southern route is a cycling dream. There is little traffic, long stretches of scenery. and the view of the river, which looks like it leapt out of an Orientalist's wet dream.
A spine of towering peaks sit like stonehenge blocks above the river.
This was the reason I really wanted to bike this route. It is a fabulous display of Taiwan's diverse topography. Then, all too soon, the ride was over and we were back in Meinong to enjoy a post-ride ice cream bar before a freeway trip home where Michael was subjected to two hours of aural insult to the sound of my musical tastes.
A nice day of just under 90k. This is a good route for riders who are still building up to the harder rides or recovering from an injury.
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Last weekend was a dreary one, with chills and fog blanketing much of central Taiwan. Therefore, I was happy to have another chance to cover some pavement in Miaoli County under slightly different circumstances.
One of the greatest things about cycling in central Taiwan, is the proximity to the foothills and the dozens of fantastic roads that snake through the fruit farms and along jungle streams in an innumerable combination of routes that offer exactly what the doctor ordered.
I had passed by an area that obviously had several small roads feeding into the North/South Highway 3. For some reason or another I had never tried to venture onto this blank spot on my cycling map.
This was an excellent opportunity for a look.
I joined up with Michael Turton, who supplies a nice commentary of the ride (here), and we rolled the familiar strips of asphalt to Jhuolan Township, where this ride was to officially begin.
Sometimes it is not the distances or the places visited in a ride that make it special, but rather the style points of how you choose to traverse the terrain that really elevates a ride to one that is among the best.
This is one of those routes.
We pushed off along the familiar and majestic Pinglin Rd. out of Jhuolan and loped along through tranquil citrus farms. The Pinglin Rd. is an excellent choice and I was a little reticent to tamper with a proven formula, but that is where the draw of the adventure comes from.
Google was not very helpful as it had the road mislabeled and we initially took the wrong turn into an area that provided nothing but pleasant views and a pack of semi-domesticated dogs that wished for nothing more than to rip the flesh from my bones. Unfortunately, over the past few months of inactivity,I have become a far more tempting morsel.
After escaping Cerberus and his minions, we consumed every significant climb on the Pinglin Rd. At the top of the final climb, there is the junction with the Miaoli Rte. 54. This is not marked clearly on Google, so be aware.
With just a few punchy climbs, the Route 54 delivers the rider into a well paved slithering track along the dips and ridges of the Miaoli foothills. Without any real traffic to speak of, the area was the picture of tranquility in central Taiwan.
The scenery gave the false sense of topographic vastness that made the route such a great little gem.
The Miaoli Rte 54 drops off the hill and back onto the Highway 3. From there we headed south to the 140km post and embarked on the Miaoli Route 52-3.
The Route 52-3 is in excellent shape for most of the way as it hugs the northern contours of the Liyu Reservoir. The views have been better, but there was virtually no traffic to contend with making it a great continuation of the Route 54.
As the smooth pavement runs out, the road makes an abrupt leap into the heavens at about a 30% grade. I can't believe there was a time I would eat this road in one sitting. It isn't simply the incline, but also the length of each ramp.
Looking down at the road and the reservoir can be mesmerizing.
After cresting the hill, it is a zippy descent through bamboo tunnels along hidden marshes and tributaries far below. The roads can be dirty and slick after a rain, so ride with care.
We popped out below the reservoir and made it back via the Highway 13 through Houli.
I highly recommend this route for anyone looking for something new, beautiful and challenging that is less that 100km round trip.
Monday, March 10, 2014
A Different Day on the Miaoli 130
Taichung as Taiwan's Recreational Cycling Base: Michael Turton picks up this blogger's slack and provides an informative and detailed accounting of Taichung's best local cycling routes. Michael's observations are pure gold as his insights reflect the needs of the recreational cyclist who is not in training for competition, only for fitness and experience. Still, the only thing that really separates these routes from the hard and boring training loops, is the speed in which they are accomplished. Please bookmark this page if your are new to cycling in Taichung.
Tour de Tai-yawn is upon us: With all due respect to the athletes, I do not feel this event does cycling in Taiwan justice with its annual selection of boredom and blight. They have pared the TdT down to a mere five stages of touring Taiwan's worst cycling environments. Even today's Changhua County stage misses the best roads available. I doubt I will comment much more about this race until I have a reason to get excited.
Taipei Cycle: In the hopes of shoring up a a soft market for bicycle exports, Taipei Cycle kicked off with optimism. I missed the show this year to be on a bike instead. It is okay, I think they survived without me. The one thing we can be sure of is that despite a soft market, this year's bikes will be more laterally stiff and less vertically compliant than last year's. Colnago used the event to unveil their flagship C60, which meets the stiffness and compliance requirements of a bike that wishes the stay current.
Monday, March 3, 2014
I have been in a bad way for far too long and it was high time I put myself back on the road. My body has been feeling adequate. My bike still works. I have a couple of coins in my pocket. I decided I had spent far too long on the sidelines and deserved to get out and enjoy cycling in Taiwan on my own terms. With a long weekend and an invite from the redoubtable Michael Turton and Jeff Miller. I threw my hat in for a ride down Taiwan's Rift Valley.
After a last minute attempt to get the logistics nailed down to circumvent Taiwan and be back for work on Monday morning, I made a mad dash across Taichung to hop the Ju Guang Train (a.k.a. the slower than shitting molasses train) to Hualien. The weather was already wet when I arrived and it didn't get any better when we pushed off the next morning into a steady drizzle.
There is something about riding a bike and taking an excellent road that makes the puddle sloshing between your heel and your toe a less than unpleasant experience. I was in luck as we would be taking the Route 193 southward.
The Route 193 is the cyclist's friend when biking the Rift Valley, as it is scenic, with little traffic, few difficult bumps, and plenty of places to find provisions.
As we sloshed along the base of the hillside kicking up spray and grit from the roadway, I kept looking out at the opposite bank imagining the mountains that lay obscured by clouds and mist. It was just that kind of day.
There were a few other cyclists out, but not many. Michael was having trouble with a spoke piercing through the rim tape and was slowed by punctures during the first day.
We plodded along past one Amis village after another to the occasional greeting shouted from the shadows of some roadside shelter or another. If Taiwan is regarded as a friendly country, the ester portion has to be the friendliest.
Jeff engaged in conversation with a local over one of the old wells in the area. We were informed that the quality of the wells has deteriorated since tourists started arriving and throwing cigarettes and betel nut into the wells. As we were leaving I noticed the town was busy preparing to accommodate more tourists.
With the weather growing colder and nastier with every turn of the crank, and Michael suffering from mechanical difficulties, we decided to end our day at the farming town on Yuli. I tested my legs for the final 30km, mainly just to keep myself warm, and was quickly waiting for Michael and Jeff on the outskirts of Yuli where we arrived at a hostel that offered showers with the most instantaneously scalding hot showers I have been fortunate enough to witness first hand. I was relieved to be out of the wet and settling in for the night.
It was most fortuitous that we never made it any further than Yuli as the next morning was simply glorious. The rain had cleared, so we decided to head out toward the coast on the Route 23.
As we headed onto the roads the sun was already pushing through holes in the clouds. The valley was simply glowing between light reflecting off the rice fields or passing through filters of various greens. I beg you will forgive my gratuitous selection of pictured from that day that me seem redundant or doing little to advance this narrative, but I am choosing to revel in the sights of that morning as they were being words.
Alas, it was time to say farewell to the Yuli valley and embark on the Route 23, which is one road my friend and fellow cyclist, Nathan Miller, refers to as a road that, "drops right off the edge of the earth."
Nathan isn't too far off the mark. The Route 23 dips down through some tiny farms and then as if passing through some strangle portal in space and time, you are transported directly into the central mountain range.
The area beyond the hole in the rock echoes of a vast wilderness. It feels like you are caught in the gravity of a much larger area.
Before long the road launches skyward. A periodic road sign advertises an imminent village outpost 15, 7, 3, 1 kilometer ahead. Behind every false top you expect to find the elusive village of Donghe.
I took the climb as if I still had the legs to do it. I scrapped and heaved myself upward on my first significant climb since September and my legs knew all about it.
I reached the true peak and let myself fall over the ridge toward Central Donghe, a sight that had just passed overhead.
As I plummeted downward, the kilometers started adding up without anything remotely passing as a "Central Donghe". I wondered if I had been mistaken.
A few buildings here and there. A farm or two beneath an ancient cliff face. No Donghe.
We arrived at a bridge where roaming packs of idiots have been tamed by the local monkeys to deliver food to them.
Finally, after a few more kilometers of pedaling, we arrived at the ocean, where the little town of Donghe bustled with happy tourists.
We pointed our handlebars northward, and with the gentle push of a tailwind, we made a steady pace to Cheng-gong.
The Bikeway took a brief scenic route along the ocean for a wealth of views and photo ops.
On the the third day we were greeted by wind and drizzle to go with our morning coffee. It looked like it might be another rough day. Fortunately, the wind had shifted during the night and we had another tailwind going the other direction to carry us to Taidong.
I looked out into the ocean and saw a solid sheet of rain a few kilometers off shore and decided to go for broke the rest of the way to Taidong.
As I neared our destination, it became clear the rain would remain off shore and I slowed the pace to better enjoy the scenery.
The monstrosity of the Miramar Hotel, the defunct ecological disaster and eyesore, sat decaying along the beach. It serves as a stark warning for what Taiwan's eagerness to court tourism can unleash.
We were in Taidong well before 11:00am and had plenty of time to adjust our train tickets for an early return home.
It is amazing country out there. Just stay off the Highway 9 and eastern Taiwan is an absolute gem.
Monday, February 24, 2014
As I creak into shape after a lengthy (and hopefully long lasting) rehab, I am pleased to know Michael Turton over at The View From Taiwan has been busy combing the roads of Taiwan and keeping things up to date.
He has just published this great article (here) for anyone interested in visiting Taiwan for cycling.
Please give it a read and I hope to put up something in the coming week about my trip with Michael down the coast of eastern Taiwan.
Thursday, January 16, 2014
My Spine (September, 2013)
That vacation was a lot longer than I had anticipated.
My cycling hiatus started back in July, about a week before my prior post; a post which has served as marvelous a place marker as any while I kept a safe distance from cycling and the insanity it can generate in a non-cycling cyclist.
Over the past couple of years I had been oscillating between cycling activity and inactivity largely due to a recurring bout of medial knee pain. I would treat the pain with R.I.C.E. as well as massage therapy, and then get back to training for some event or another. It has been very frustrating to gain a high level of fitness and then to throw away months of work with a few weeks off the bike due to soreness.
I had gone to great lengths and expense to diagnose and treat the knee issue, and each time I would have promising results… only to see my hopes dashed again by a new twinge in the knee.
With all this focus on the knee and little help from medical personnel, who would prescribe rest and shrug when I would ask for a possible cause, I had not paid too much attention to the "knot" I was feeling in my lower back.
I would chalk it up to lack of fitness after resting the knee and it would go away with increased riding.
Last July, after building back from another knee flare-up in preparation for the ride over the Central Mountain Range, I had been trying to stretch my back out a bit more and see if I could undo the knot. I was assuming I had a muscle that has gotten out of sorts and simply needed to be put back in a more relaxed position through stretching. I was in my office and I raised my arms toward the sky. Zap! A blazing bold of electric pain shot down my back and into my foot. I was totally unable to stand upright or put any weight on my right leg.
I had assumed I could massage the pain away and stretch myself into riding shape… and I did… I thought.
I completed that majestic ride through the mountains and then within a couple days I was on a plane to the United States, where I planned to spend a month off the bike to recover.
The pain persisted, but subsided somewhat with rest on an American box spring bed, and I was hopeful I would be able to return to Taiwan ready for some all-out, methodical, serious training.
By the time I returned in late August, the pain in my back had been reduced to a dull ache that would occasionally flare up if I tested it. I did what any cycling fool would do, and I got on the bike thinking a little strengthening work would pull the last bit of soreness right out.
I did one last ride with my old riding buddy, Dom, and stretched the back out all the way.
The next morning I could hardly get out of bed. I needed to roll onto my elbows and push my feet off the edge of the bed to even stand up. The second day was worse. I tried sleeping at the foot of the bed without the dip where I normally sleep hoping the firmness would help. I could hardly move. At work I could stand for no more than five minutes before grabbing the edge of a desk or cabinet for support. I was bent and hobbling and in agony.
A trip to the doctor revealed some very bad news.
A muscle imbalance had led to minor scoliosis and a herniated disk. The goo squirting from the disk had aggravated the sciatic nerve and thus I was in incredible, unrelenting pain, and would be for a number of weeks.
After six months of complete abstinence, I am finally cycling again.
I am not entirely sure and I can only guess. My theories are:
A: I had been stretching less while building strength in my muscles and my fit changed. I did not notice or adjust for the change and, as a result, I developed a muscle imbalance that was aggravating my sciatic nerve and thus triggering knee pain. I would treat the knee (symptom) and not the cause. I also allowed my core strength to deteriorate as I had less time to devote to training… forgetting the rule that much of cycling performance comes from training, diet, rest and preparation off the bike. Whoops! The prime suspect would be the Illiopsoas muscle group (hip flexors) in my right hip. I developed a slight dip in my stroke to compensate and, with the repetition over my notoriously long rides, my spine was pulled and disk deteriorated. That is one theory.
B: An over training injury in my left knee led to my favoring the right over the left. I am already prone to favoring the right side (I was a goofy foot skater back in the day), so it is a possibility. The over strengthening led to a wobble that led to a total breakdown of my stroke and disaster.
Chicken or Egg?
Now, as I start back up again I have:
1. A perfectly sized and custom fit bike.
2. A new mattress on the bed.
3. A body that has rested for six months so I will have no real base to speak of and must start from scratch.
4. I healthy fear of lapsing from good habits and some healthy added perspective.
5. Fat that needs to go.
6. A stretched spine and strengthened core.
Nothing is more debilitating that a serious back injury. It makes almost all types of exercise impossible.
Now, as I head back onto the roads… I think I may need to see where I can pick up some aero carbon fiber training wheels.
Cycle safe. Cycle smart.
Beware! Take care!
Take time for all the little things or it can lead to lots of time away from something you love.