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Sunday, February 21, 2010

To Gu Guan and Beyond... (just barely) :

On Saturday Michael and I took the opportunity between the days of drizzle to explore the mythical Central Passage, a rumored short cut to the base of Li Shan along the dirt track formerly known as the Central Cross Island Highway. According to some sources, the route is passable with dirt tires despite the continued construction and frequent avalanches. It sounded a bit dangerous and perfect for some high adventure.

I had taken the Central Cross in about 2000 on a motorcycle after they had cleared it following the great 921 earthquake in 1999. At that time the road was terrible. There were long tunnels filled with deep potholes and debris. I arrived in Hua Lien in 8 hours unable to sleep with visions of "road" in my head.

The road was later buried again in subsequent earthquakes and storms, but it seemed passable by light vehicle. I guess not. The danger of avalanche is currently too great to allow bicycles to pass through.

On this particular trip we left Tanzi and followed the Highway 3 to Dong Shih. Several of the buildings in Dong Shih were built following the 921 quake. I still have vivid memories of the town just days after the quake when over 500 residents lost their lives. Every time I pass through the memories come back. In Dong Shih we connected the to Highway 8 and headed East.

The Highway 8 is a four lane road with very little in the way of a shoulder, so at times the traffic can be a little annoying. Some assholes really don't know how close to pass a cyclist, some don't care, and some delight in seeing how close they can get.

The scenery of the Da Jia river valley is gorgeous. Most of the road is quite smooth. We saw a half dozen pace lines go by at high speeds. Cycling clubs seem to enjoy fast group rides down the river valley due to the slight grade which allows even the novice to reach impressive speeds. I never did see any groups going up river.

There are a few places to eat and hydrate along the way. Lots of sweet sausage stands.

I strapped on a new set of knobbies for the trip and didn't get to use them. It was such a shame too, considering how baddass they make a bike look.

We eventually arrived at Gu Guan after about 2.5 hours or so. Gu Guan is a little like a Kenting in the mountains. Taiwanese like to come here for romantic trysts at the hotels with natural hot spring water piped into the rooms. Going out for a hot spring just sounds better than going to a motel. Funny how nobody has trouble telling friends and coworkers about going to the hot spring, but they would never announce going to a motel for some "wham bam".

After dodging tourists in Gu Guan we wound up the virtually abandoned road to a check point. The betelnut eater at the checkpoint told us there was no possibility of entering the area so we turned tail in retreat. All in all it was a great ride. From my house in Taichung City to Gu Guan and back, it was about 75-80 miles total. Our maximum elevation was slightly under 3000ft. A lot of fun.

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