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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Chiayi Foothills and Hua Shan

Traditional Tea Picking

Today Michael T. and I were joined by the new fellow in town, Darren R., who has just landed in the central city of Feng Yuan all the way from Portsmouth, England. It was great to have another excellent rider in the crew and he was also great conversation. Welcome to the neighborhood!

The initial plan the team from the welcome wagon had prepared was a serious day of climbing all the way out to the Alishan Train Station. Unfortunately due to a problem with the navigational equipment... of course... the navigational equipment... we missed the turn-off that would have taken us on a grueling day of climbing and forearm busting descents. Instead, we meandered around the beautiful tea areas of Chia yi county.

The Foothills

We drove down to Gukeng, in Chiayi County and parked near to 228 Memorial Park right off the highway 3. After loading up at the Gukeng 7-11, we hit the Chiayi Local Route 158 into the hills.

Darren Starts His Ride

The 158 was a nice little rural road through farms and up hills. This seems to be a popular place for weekend cyclists. We were passed by several groups on their way down the mountain. Even the low views are spectacular.

Farms of Chiayi

The green cliffs of the foothills loom in the distance and tease you for a descent picture; a call that can never be answered with any justice or accuracy using a simple camera. I wish my pictures could convey the beauty of this area, but your imagination will have to suffice.

The Cover of A Million Tea Boxes

The 158 connects to the 149/149甲. These are the same road for a while so be careful when they split. We saw a few riders making good time on these hills and wondered how they could have the energy to maintain that type of energy after so much climbing. I wondered where they had been coming from on the other side.

Meet The Central Mountain Range

Just on the back of the first hill the road comes to an abrupt crossroads and smashes into a wall of mountains as it splits with a fantastic peek at the Central Mountain Range.

Giving the Bike A Rest

We took the 149 toward Meishan and began a nice climb into the high mountain tea farms. The area around Changhu 樟湖 was spectacular. I stopped at one corner along the rim of the valley to watch the old women picking tea by hand and a couple eagles play a game of tag above the tea farms. It was a magnificent scene.

The View From The Summit

Just as I could feel my legs getting into the idea of a long day of climbing I realized I was on the summit of a hill... on the front side of the range. Below me was the plain with Douliu in the distance. I couldn't imagine how this road could ever get back into the mountains to go up to Alishan. After a brief discussion, we discovered we had overshot the turn-off onto the 149甲 and were too far to make it back and finish the ride in a day. We had to commit to taking the 145 to the end.

Debris Flow Mitigation Demonstration Area in Hua Shan
Fun For The Whole Family

Sadly, the end came up rather swiftly at the bottom of a screaming descent. I was able to hold 62.kph down several stretches and used the opportunity to practice cornering. I am still gun-shy of cornering as cars tend to over shoot their lanes and a few close calls can stay with you for a long time.

We stopped in Hua Shan in Taiwan's coffee growing area and had a bite to eat before heading down to the car. Due to the region's new distinction as a "coffee area", it is impossible to find anything that is not coffee related and we went thirsty for far too long.

We finally made it back to Gukeng with much fresher legs than anticipated, but a fantastic ride in the bag.

Total: 35 mi/56km

Michael has a write-up and pictures here.

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