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Friday, February 19, 2010

SiMa XianShan (100 Miles of Pain)

SiMa XianShan

The hardest single hill climb I have ever done was this route up the Da An River. I had been thinking about this trip for a while as it is one of my favorite places in Taiwan. Just outside of Juolan in central Taiwan there is a road that parallels the Da An River. It is a gorgeous ride up into some Atayal villages.
The first time I went up there I was looking for the route a group of Pazih (Pazeh) speaking people used to cross into the Puli basin in the 19th Century. One of my 96 year-old Pazih contacts recalled the story of how her great grandfather packed up the family from near the Nei She area below the Long Teng Broken Bridge to join other Pazih speakers in Ailan. Some of the family remained in the area and have since forgotten their Pazih ancestry and have become "Ex-Aborigines". My Pazih friend knew her family had hiked into Puli, but didn't know from where. I figured the Da An river was a good candidate for the route out of Juolan.

Up the Da An river there are a handful of villages primarily inhabited by Atayal speakers. The mountains rise up right out of the river and the sense of "wow!" can quickly overtake you. You can pass Elephant Nose village and go on to the bridge under Sky Dog village. What might not be apparent is that you are sitting right in the line of fire of Japanese light artillery.

During the first 40 years of the Japanese colonial period in Taiwan (1895-1935), the Japanese administration set out to "pacify and subdue" the highland indigenes who inhabited the mountains of
central Taiwan. Much of the impetus for this was colonial in nature, in the repetitive cycle of the government continually seeking to exploit the resources the indigenous people seek to retain. We are seeing this phenomenon again in the aftermath of Typhoon Morikot as the Ma administration seeks to remove indigenous peoples from their current homes and move them into new homes outside their traditional and commercially viable locations.

After several years of combat the Japanese succeeded in installing several artillery pieces on several strategic mountainsides to better control the indigenous peoples. From the installation on the mountain above, the Japanese had control over the three valleys below. The remains of the base are not entirely visible at first, but if you inspect the site a little more the trench works, barracks, and gun emplacements come into view. It wasn't quite The Guns of Navarone, but it is easy to imagine the area as a military outpost on a colonial frontier.

When I did this ride I arrived at the base of SiMa XianShan and started my climb. The road keeps rising up with some serious sections of steep ascents. There are a few mellow areas where you can catch your legs, but then the road takes off again. Sky Dog (Tian Gou) village makes a good place to hydrate. They seem to be trying to turn it into a tourist village, but there is still a lot to do. It was a rough, rough climb. I finally got to the top to find a bunch of mountain bike riders playing on the trails. They had all driven up the back side in cars. Bastards! I chatted them up for a while until the idea to continue up hill another 300 meters to the Japanese base. It would have made for great pictures, but I wanted to start my descent.

For this ride I put on my 32c fast dirty tires because the roads had been washed out on prior trips. The descent goes alog a cliffside road through tall cedars before going back to the jungle. The road is a little slick with light debris over the pavement and some steep descents where the braking gets technical. The rule of thumb is to stay right at every intersection if it is unmarked. It will spit you out into Dahu. The climb takes you 1640ft. from the river to the peak.

I hit the Highway 3 home, but I forgot about all the long, rolling hills on the way back. I rode embarrassingly slow as I lost time and hours of daylight. At the top of the hill over Juolan I took the LiYu Tan Rd. over the south side of the reservoir. I love this road, but I was too beat to enjoy it. I finally limped back to Feng Yuan on the 13, which has one last annoying hill at the end. It took me way too long, but not a bad ride at all.

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Hill Century

Taichung-Guoxing-Puli-Sun Moon Lake and Home.

One fantastic route through the foothills of central Taiwan starts in Taichung. The #129 starts you off with a wake up hill climb up the "Death Spiral", a curving narrow road that rapidly snakes up 200 meters from the base to peak. From the top you can spin out the acids on the flat XieZhong Rd. to the Fengpu Industry Rd. I would suggest loading up on liquids and food at one of the 7-11 stores here. There isn't much to eat or drink until Puli or Guoxing if you are lucky to pass through on a busy day. This is a real relaxing back way through valleys and descents to the base of Highway 21.

The 21 starts as a nice even climb along a wide, smooth road along a shady set of switchbacks up the mountain. It is not too hard to get some speed through the middle sections before a long, straight climb to the 3000ft. peak. There are no switchbacks for relief. Luckily there is a store with water
and toilet at the top. The descent into Guoxing is a fast set of switchbacks on good roads. This is one of the only places I wish I had a better descending bike. The curves are delicious and there are several opportunities to break well past 30mph (48kph). There is a betel nut stand at the bottom of the descent where you can get water.
From Guoxing you can go straight on the Highway 14 all the way out to Caotun or stick with the Highway 21. The 21 takes you up a moderate ascent and then into a long, flat valley past the old bridge that was entirely held together with sugar paste. I kid you not. The joy ride ends at the base of another tough climb. Maybe it is not that tough. I don't know. It was really hot when I did it and wasn't carrying enough water or food. The hill is about 1000ft. from lowest to highest point and levels off in flat, red farmland. You can wind up a lot of speed before a very fast descent into Puli city.

The Highway 21 just goes right through Puli City out to Sun Moon Lake. I hate Sun Moon Lake. It is an eyesore with over development. So after a long 200 meter climb out of Puli I just took the Local 131 out to Shui li. This is a fantastic road after all that climbing. It just seems to go down. There are a couple little rollers in there, but it just makes adding kilometers easy. Shui li is a great place to fuel up, hydrate and then beat the Highway 16 to the Highway 3 for the long haul through Nantou, Caotun, Wufeng, Dali and into Taichung. 100 hilly miles never felt so good.

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Mapping 5 Centuries

Digging Out

After 5 days of virtually non-stop rain, the sun is out and the roads are ridable.

January Cycling: 5 Centuries in 14 Days

January Cycling: 5 Centuries in 14 Days

The first weekend of January passed uneventfully. I thought I didn't have anything going on.
Then I got it in my fool head to do 5 century rides before the month was out.

My good friend Michael started out as a casual cyclist a year ago with new Carrefour specials for the whole family. Then the bug hit. As everyone who rides regularly knows, when the bug bites... it bites hard. He was soon putting a few kilometers together at a time, huffing and puffing about how he'd never make 20 miles. 20 miles came and went. Before his first anniversary in the saddle was through he was ready for his first century. Michael is 46 years young and... got a little heavy for a the amount of dedication he has exhibited is inspiring to all. He has trimmed up and is a lesson for anyone sitting on the fence. Most people lack the courage to get started and so I am very proud of Michael and I gladly volunteered to accompany him for his first 100 miler. Numbers are just numbers, but somehow 100 anything is worthy of a little extra attention. It is the welcome mat to the triple digit club. From there on out 100 can easily become 200 and then you simply get bogged down into the physical limitations of the human body and the dangers of riding in the dark.

Century 1:

My first century for January was a warm up for Michael's the following week. I wanted to make sure he could do 75 miles to best pace his endurance and calorie intake. The additional distance to and from my house made it over 100 miles.

We Took off up the Highway 3 through Feng Yuan and into the foothills of Miaoli County. We passed through the strawberry chaos of Dahu and took the Highway 6 and a couple other roads to Tongluo and down through Tongxiao, Dajia and then someone had the wonderful suggestion to climb the back side of the hill before Chingshui. We then hit the most dangerous stretch of roadway in Taiwan: The bike path. Bike paths are a swarm of slow moving, weaving amateur cyclists who make it a shooting gallery for anyone riding straight. I then took a creative way home to round out the 100 miles.

Century 2:
The second century was done with Michael from Taichung along the nasty Highway 1 to
the #145 across the Great Xiluo Bridge. We took in some calories at a Breakfast place and then stayed on the 145 to the Highway 19 past Tuku. That area is a fascinating area to pass through as many of the
people are relatively recent converts from being Plains Aborigines. I often look at grave markers on my rides to get a sense of the ethnic composition in the area. A little roadside ethnology to keep the ride interesting. If you check many of the graves down past Tuku, you will notice the place of origin is often local. It is common to find the ancestral home being "Deer Field" or the name of the locality.

We stayed on the 19 until getting a little lost near Madou as we tried to take a short cut. We finally rolled into Tainan before sundown. I powered into Tainan at about 30mph in an adrenaline fueled flat sprint across the final bridge. We finally found some kind of flop house near the train station where I was attacked by mosquitoes all night and we fueled up for the next day.

Century 3:
The next day our distance was uncertain. The plan was pretty much to go as far as we could and then take the train out from there. We were both on one gear easier than the day before, but felt pretty good. We managed to make good time all the way up to Chia yi. We ate at the only restaurant in Chia yi that doesn't sell Ji Rou Fan. It was just after leaving that place that I tweaked my knee and continued on in pain. I would ride out ahead and michael just thundered along at a good pace. We were getting close enough to home that we both thought we could make it back to Taichung... at some point. I gritted it out and we rolled along into Wufeng at sundown. We finally parted ways after 7:00pm having done back to back centuries.

Century 4:
I decided that since I had done two centuries in two days, I could easily pull off two more before the month was out. I also had a day off coming up. I decided to head back through Nantou and Mingjian, Zhushan and into Douliu. From there I had a rough idea of where to go and quickly got lost going through Huwei. I kept second guessing myself and ended up heading through Tuku. For the first time in Taiwan I was totally turned around and had no idea which way was North. I asked a gas station attendant... and he had no idea. I asked a 7-11 clerk and she hadn't a clue. In Taiwan people have no abstract clue of directions. Seriously. Nobody really knows where in the hell they are. I finally figured it out and went back to Huwei and up to Xiluo along the 145. I had originally hoped to take the Highway 19, but nobody could confirm where it was or that it was actually quite close, so I went back to an old road I had been getting quite bored with and made it to Xiluo where I meandered home against the wind and still feeling a growing pain in my knee. It sucked, really.

Century 5:
I had one more to go and my knee had been bothering be for a couple days, but on two days rest I decided to see how a final century up toward Miaoli would work out. Michael joined me for the first 30 miles and then turned back. The pain in my knee was just a dull ache. I decided to grit it out and just go for it. It was only 14 days since the first century and I figured if I could do it it would be baddass and if not I would call Michael for help. I took the Highway 3 all the way to the #126 near the Ming De Reservoir. The rolling hills didn't seem to aggravate my knee anymore than regular riding. I actually felt stronger despite the knee pain. The Ming De Reservoir is a great ride. I got into the monochrome colored city of Miaoli and since I forgot how to get to the Highway 1 through an easier route I took the 13 all the way up the big hill to the 119 and then through "charming" Hakka farms to the industrial old Highway 1. I powered my way at speed all the way to Changhua to avoid any more hills. The pain in my knee was intense by that point. I had
actually been popping Tylenol all day. I limped through the door and took a week off.

Of course in post script I got a bad chest cold the week after my week off... and then I had a couple rides before the rains of New Year. So I am expecting to lose most of the gains I had made through all that riding. Typical.

Some Dry Posts

I have to apologize for some dry posting coming up. I want to go back into my pre-blog riding and publish some of my rides and routes. I promise to get better at this.

The bike I built for Taiwan riding

In 2007 I returned from a trip to the U.S. where I spent some time looking for a bike that would suit the type of riding I do in Taiwan. At the time I was really torn because I really didn't ride with anyone and most of the expats I knew were riding heavy mountain bikes or XC bikes. I really didn't like the idea, but kept the option open. I really liked road bikes, but after a dozen years in Taiwan I understood how the roads could get. I finally narrowed my search down to a Cyclocross bike. Cyclocross purists hate the idea of a CX bike in any condition other than a race, and roadies cry at the sight of drop bars and fat tires. I would be in a position I could deal with... hated by everyone. A CX bike would be perfect for Taiwan's mixed road conditions. I searched high and low in Taiwan and in the land of bikes I could not find a single cyclocross rig. None! I searched on line and could not find a manufacturer that could ship internationally. Things were looking bleak. I finally found a bike I could work with at a fire sale price. I took my frame to Rocky at T-Mosaic in Taichung and waited. In 2007 the world was going through a spike in oil prices and suddenly bikes became a more attractive form of transportation. There was a run on components. It took 6 months to get the components I wanted to build my bike. A painful 6 months.

--My Rig--

Frame: Salsa Las Cruces
The Salsa Las Cruces disc frame and fork was being discontinued and the prices were dropping, so I snapped one up and had it delivered to my friend's house in the USA. He then sent it to me... still $300 below MSRP. The frame is scandium alloyed aluminum and weighs in at 2.5lbs. It came with a matching carbon fork in "dreamsicle orange". I figured the orange would be a safety color on Taiwan's insane roads. A cyclocross frame offers a slightly upright geometry for better visibility and longer chainstays for 38c tire clearance and a smoother ride.

Drivetrain: I opted for the 10spd. Shimano Ultegra 6600
gruppo for the weight and reliability. I chose a typical compact crank 50/34 and a 12-27 cassette. This allows a good balance of speed on the road and steep climbing on Taiwan's hills and mountains without needing a triple.

Brakes: I really wanted the stopping power of disc brakes for riding in mixed conditions. I ended up going with the Shimano Br-505 R mechanical disc brakes. The nicest thing is that my rims look pristine.

Bars/Stem: Deda Elementi Newton Ergo bars.

Post: Selcoff Titanium. A lot of weight can hide unseen in a seat post. The titanium saved a
little weight there. I put a Selle Italia Flight seat on that.

Pedals: Crank Brothers Candy SL. I wanted some light and easy clipless pedals that would engage in muddy conditions.


I wanted light, durable wheels that would be strong enough to hit hidden gaps in the roads and trails. I chose DT Swiss RR 1.1 and 1.2 rims, spokes and brass DT nipples laced to Chris King disc hubs. The Kings are fantastic. Gotta love the "angry bee".

Tires: Ugh! I am always looking for the magic tire. I love my Conti 4000GP 25c road tires. They last forever. For dirty conditions I use Michelin Cyclocross Jets, Michelin Mud2, Ritchey Speedmax Pro tires.

Total Weight: 18.2 lbs. (8255.3 grams). Not bad for a CX bike.

The bike is fast and comfortable. I can sustain speeds at 20-25mph (35 to 40kph). I can spend up to 12 hours in the saddle without much fatigue. I feel agile in busy traffic and stable on 45mph (72kph) descents. It makes for a good all around Taiwan bike. That does not mean I don't have bike lust for other set-ups, but not bad for one do it all bike in Taiwan. If you can only have one bike, then a cyclocross bike fits the bill. I would eventually like to build a pure road bike and then reserve the cyclocross bike for dirtier riding, but just not now.