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Monday, November 29, 2010

Epic Fail!: Misadventures On Nantou's Sweet 16

With my birthday on Saturday, I decided to spend the day with my wife. Sunday was to be a selfish day to myself-- a day to rise to a new challenge and explore places I have never been. I really wanted to punish my body for turning another year older. I also needed a little solitary riding to just let the thought flow.

The plan was to do something approximately 160 to 200km... with lots of climbing.

My route of choice was the Highway 16 that starts in Nantou and climbs up to the base of Yushan, the highest mountain in East Asia. From looking at the map it was long enough, high enough, and in the right location.

I figured I could make good time out to Shuili, just at the base of the Highway 16, and then climb until 12:30pm or maybe 1:00pm if I was feeling good. The return would be down hill, thus saving energy, and once I returned to Shuili it would be an easy and familiar shot home along the Highway 3.

That was the plan.

I woke up early, but was pretty tired from some solid rides during the week and the hours of saddle time the day before. On my saturday ride I tried not to exert much energy, but I still wasn't resting.

In preparation for this epic ride I calculated my birthday dinner into the equation and pigged out at Chili's in Tiger City. Lots of good food and a rare dessert to pack in the carbs.

I put myself together and eased out onto the early morning road with a head full of music and some kind of plan for my day.

By the time I rolled into Ming-jian, I could tell my legs were not 100% and worries a little about my day's forecast. I hoped to rally through it and push the sluggishness aside. Part of the plan was to stop in Ming-jian for a coffee and a little more nutrition before entering the mountains. I chose McDonalds for their Sausage McMuffin with Egg meal although I wasn't hungry. After a few bites, I wrapped up half the muffin and stuffed it in my jersey pocket for later.

I hit the road once more to Shuili, where I took in a sport drink, filled up my mounted water bottle, drank enough water out of another bottle to squeeze the air out and flatten it into something pocketable, then I was off into unknown territory.

I highly recommend Shuili for its access to several locations in the foothills and central mountain range. From Shuili you can access Sun Moon Lake, Lugu, Hsitou, Sanlinxi, Alishan, Yushan and several other places.

The road out was surprisingly easy and I spun past a few easy-going cyclists on expensive road bikes. The burst of adrenaline had brought new energy into my legs and I felt unstoppable.

Then, just after the junction with the Highway 21, which goes to Alishan, the Highway 16 shoots up high above the beginnings of the Zhoushui River. The Zhoushui carves an impressive grey rift between the mountains, where the gravel trucks owned by the infamous Yen Ching-biao could be seen working non-stop to dredge out the riverbeds.

The road quickly narrows into a cliff-hugging ribbon of concrete. I expected the climbing to continue ever higher. Surprisingly, it leveled off. There were even a few downhill sections that emptied me out into a fantastic valley of green farms.

The feeling was surreal. I was surrounded on all sides by towering cliffs and dark, shadowy mountains, but I was cruising along flats drenched in sunlight. In the not so distant distance I could make out the silhouette of Yu Shan towering above the other mountains drenched in mist and sunlight. It was such a powerful image... too bad non of my shots could capture it through the light.

The flats suddenly rise up a steep slope to Dili Village, a Bunun town nestled into the side of a mountain. I made a standing assault on the hill until it flattened out into some very charming corners. If not for the debris that littered the road it would have been a cyclists dream.

I finally made it back to where I could get a proper view of the Zhoushui and it was an amazing sight as it eddies and curls in separate tendril-like streams that split and converge.

At one point the road overlooks a tight bend in the river where the vertical cliffs drop straight down into the valley.

After several pictures I continued up the road. It was nearing 11:30 and I still wanted to ride for another hour and a half.

I rounded a bend that revealed a treelined "boulevard" that zig-zaged toward the river. There were a few fern farms in there and more views than I could capture on my camera.

I was jamming down the hill, when I rolled over a gutter grate. The grate was loose and popped up as I passed with just enough speed to catch the raised lip with my rear tire. I knew in an instant I had a flat.

I attempted to change the tube, but as I filled the new tube with CO2, the tire remained soft. A faulty valve on the tube had cost me my last cartridge of CO2. Now I was really stuck and made the mental preparations to walk the bike out.

Just as I was putting everything back together, a caravan of three cars came by led by a pick-up truck. I thumbed a ride up the mountain back to Dili village. I had hardly seen anyone all day and just happened to be there when a guide and his customers were coming back from a little adventure. It was also fortuitous that they has a pick-up truck. You don't see many of those in Taiwan. Ever grateful was I. Still, in the back of my mind I was thinking about all those calories I took in the night before that I wasn't going to spend.

One of the best things about riding in Taiwan is how hospitable people are. I received so much help and it was so great.

Having imposed myself upon the group, I had to oblige the offer of food, which was freshly caught and cooked mountain shrimp. I couldn't refuse.

My wife finally arranged to have our friend from Lugu come down and save my ass. It was noon and our friend wouldn't be available until the afternoon. I whiled away my time at the hostel owned by Mr. Wu, who may give Trong Chai a run for his money in the category of "manliness". Mr. Wu is an older gentleman, but looks much younger. He was wonderful conversation and a very awesome fellow. I am so grateful for his hospitality. We just chatted and sipped tea into the afternoon. I highly recommend his hostel if you would like to spend a weekend exploring the area.

"Jacky", our friend finally arrived and brought me off the mountain. We stopped off in Shuili for some Bawan "Taiwanese meatball" at one of the famous vendors.

We finally located a bike shop in Shuili where, after about 10min. the owner was able to find a road tube.

I got myself all set up for my ride back to Taichung.

When I finally got back on the road I hit a blistering pace back to Taichung. My cruising speed generally ranged between 35-46kph. I was hammering home. My legs felt perfect running smooth as butter. Whoosh-whoosh-whoosh! Everything was clicking and I was eating up scooters all along the Highway 3.

I finally reached my front door in 2:23:31 from Shuili. I had still managed to ride 138km despite the premature end to my trip. It was a failed trip, but it was still very epic and in many ways a huge success.

I think it also served as a reminder to myself to not get so careless. There were a few things I should have done differently. I know where I screwed up:

  • I should have had one more tube with me.
  • I should have carried a spare CO2 cartridge.
  • I should have taken the Standard to Presta pump adapter off my kitchen table, where it has been for 6 weeks, and put it in my seat bag. These are very useful in Taiwan, where there are lots of standard pumps.
Anyways... I made it home safe.


The Hostel is the Yen Shi Hostel
Tel:電話:049-2741100 Cell:手機:0937-295570
Yenshi Hostel: #7-2 Dili Village, Xinyi Township, Nantou County.


  1. Glad you made it back safely! I checked out this road on google maps long ago and have been wanting to ride it since. It's definitely on my list of routes to tackle once I'm back in shape.

  2. Do it!

    The full road is perfect for your bike. Don't let the designation as a "Provincial Highway" fool you... I guess it turns into a dirt track that goes out to a helipad high in the mountains. on the East side of the mountains.

  3. Hey - where is the Garmin link!

    Flats happen. Darn.

    Good write up.

  4. Yeah, but for that kind of riding I should have over prepared.

  5. Here you go Nathan. I don't think the numbers are too accurate with the tire mess.

  6. What's the deal with co2 cartridges? Something to do with psi? I haven't even looked at them because they strike me as too high tech for cx mountain rides. Why not carry a pump with a patch kit? Park pre glued patches are a simple fix. Also recommend Fiber Fix for broken spokes. Small and easy to carry. Used it and it got me home once. Thanks for including the Hostel contact info.

  7. I have a mini-pump, but I could only get it up to 70psi. It could have been useful to limp back home or to a full sized pump. The CO2 is very light and compact, so it fits easily in a seat bag or jersey pocket. For these wild rides I will be bringing a few more redundant systems. I actually had a patch kit too, but no way to get air. Although a lot of police stations advertise pumps for cyclists, most are standard valves and not presta, so that little adapter could be useful. I saw one in Seattle for 97 cents and picked it up, but forgot to put it in my bag. doh!

    Thanks for the tip on the Fiber Fix. I'll look into that.

  8. Those "mountain shrimp" look amazing, but they also look a lot like crawfish (aka. crawydads, crayfish). Of course, the spare always has problems. On my road bike back in the US I always use schrader valves just in case. Good riding, cool pics.

  9. You know, they might be a type of crayfish. They don't have the large pinchers, but upon closer inspection they look like a small-pinchered species. I think in translating the word in my head I mentally turned them into shrimp. lol!

    When I was a kid we used to catch the North American variety on camping trips.


    They just eat 'em like popcorn. They'll eat the head, the tail, and the whole darn thing.