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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Nantou 149: Climbing Through The Foothills

Over the past month I have hardly done any riding. Last weekend was a 60km reintroduction to my bike at a leisurely pace. November looks like another month with some limits on my free rides. I will do the Merida Cup next weekend, and then the weekend after that I will be forced to participate in a bit of disguised electioneering for a detestable candidate who happens to be our chairperson.

Therefore, I wanted to make this trip count. I wanted to go some place I had never ridden before.

I had been eyeing this route for a long time as it looked like it went right up a river valley, which, in Taiwan, can often mean some amazing scenery. Michael Turton was keen on the idea and we made a go of it. We decided to roll from Taichung up the 149 out of Zhu Shan in Nantou County.

It was pretty easy going the entire way down to Zhushan, but the traffic on Highway 3 always sucks. You can just see the start of the 149 on a little road off one of the major intersections. The road is also where the 49投 empties out off the Sanlinxi, beyond Lugu. That is a climb for anther day.

The 149 is light on traffic and heavy on scenery. Unfortunately I am still using my Nokia camera while the battle damaged Canon gets repaired.

Another nice thing about the lower end of the 149, is that it has not been transformed into another tourist hole, as it does closer to Gukeng and Meishan. People along the lower 149 are just living and working and doing their thing.

We passed the gate of the Deshan Temple (德山寺), which traces its genealogy to a temple constructed in 1765, has only been based in its current location within recent memory.

At the base of the temple we noticed a strange set of Christian and Han style graves scattered about at odd angles adjacent to another odd collection of graves and memorials. These little discoveries make the long rides worth every long hour of pedaling. I will save my commentary for another post.

What was really noticeable was the economy at work in the foothills. As we rode along the 149, the local economy shifted from rice farming, poultry and light industrial, to forestry products.
By forestry products I mean tea, coffee, fern, palm, betel, timber and other products that can not be easily manufactured on the plain or through wet farming. I think this has as much to do with Taiwan's social history as it does with the natural environment. I might seed the thought a little bit with the question, "How did these people get here to do what they are doing?"

After working our way higher into the foothills that lead up to Alishan, we took a right onto the gorgeous 158甲. The road is a steady incline, but not too steep... persistent. The climb had almost no traffic and was just peaceful climbing bliss... save for the dude in an excavator playing with dirt on the side of a cliff.

We screamed down the other side into Douliu in time for lunch before making our way back up the Highway 3. A nice alternate route is to take the 141 at the base of Bagua Shan and then the 152 to Ming Jian. This is a beautiful, tree-lined route that avoids the cement truck routes.

Unfortunately, in Mingjian we were approached by a pair of Mormon missionaries, who attempted to introduce us to their program and it cast a pall over the afternoon.

I am sure some of my readers will be offended, but in writing about Taiwan and matters that are cultural, I need to point out that missionary work, no matter who is conducting it, IS a colonial enterprise that can not be conducted without casting its object in a pejorative light. You can not seek someone's "transformation" without first determining that that person needs to be transformed or is lacking. It also implies the project of the missionary is capable of transforming their object into something subjectively "better". Furthermore, these projects do not just seek to transform the hearts and minds (souls), but they also contain a political component that seeks to motivate citizens to act on behalf of a larger organization and the goals of that organization. Proposition 8 in California was a very clear expression of that political motivation and it hurt lots of families. Religion is fine. The missionary enterprise is wrong. We should not seek to transform different cultures, but accept their difference.

It took some good hard riding with a group of Taiwanese riders to lift my spirits again.

To Be Continued...

Total distance: Just shy of a Century. 97mi.

*Be sure to check Michael's Ride Report.

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