What a ride! Sunday's ride was really something special for me. It marked my first significant ride without knee pain in almost four months. Things had been looking up for the better part of two weeks and I had been itching to get out of Taichung. Before, I would simply hop on the bike and ride 200km or more to put some distance between myself and my city. Lately, I have simply been stuck, sitting at home, while everyone else was out sketching Taiwan's rugged topography by bike.
After last weekend's success I concocted a plan to go further afield, while building back into shape. The last thing I want is another three weeks off the bike.
The plan was to loop from Shuili Township in Nantou County, up the Nantou Route 131 to Sun Moon Lake, and then exit the lake at Dehua Village on the southeastern shore along the adjective defying Route 63, and then back to Shuili on the Highway 16. The entire route was only around 50k, similar to last weekend's distance, but with the addition of a climb up to 800m.
Michael Turton was game for the adventure as he had never biked some of those roads, and we were joined by Andrew B. from Feng Yuan. (You can check out Michael's write-up HERE)
I was feeling pretty anxious about things as a day of climbing could potentially lead to another flare-up with the knee. I imagined the possibility of getting to the furthest point and having to bail or continue forward in pain, each turn of the crank helping to degrade the knee even more. Since early March I have ridden with the fear that any real effort might contribute to making things worse. Still, I have ridden on these roads before as part of much longer rides, and I couldn't wait to finally take my new bike further afield.
The ride was simply inspiring.
Michael had the courtesy to drive us all down to Shuili in his van, otherwise I would have had to cancel, and we all unloaded our gear for a day of riding.
Shuili is a pretty little town near the source of the Choushui River that was once a logging and agricultural hub, but it is now cashing in more from felling tourists than timber.
We quickly headed up the Route 131, a route I have only taken downhill, and made pretty good time over the low rollers toward the lake. Andrew B. spun his way along on his mountain bike as we tested the terrain. I felt pretty good pushing a 39-27 gearing combination, but I was not about to over do it. The grades were between 2%-4%, so totally fine.
Several groups of cyclists came careening out of Sun Moon Lake as they had obviously had a much earlier start than our little "coffee and cake" ride.
The balmy heat was tempered by intermittent cloud cover and it made for some good cyclign weather... at least good for Taiwan in June. The temps were in the 30s (90s) and the humidity was otherworldly, but not bad at all.
The roads soon plopped us down on the welcoming banks of Sun Moon Lake, where we joined caravans of tourists jockeying for their own unique glimpse of the cloudy blue waters lapping upon placid shores.
It was easy to keep pace with the traffic as we inhaled petrol fumes from tour busses that threatened to push us into the guardrails at every turn. Visitors in passing cars cheered us onward past the cable cars to Dehua Village.
We stopped for lunch amid tourist-lined streets and pushy vendors scrapping for their restaurant traffic.
As the grey skies closed in we decided to make the hill climb out of the lake before the rain could make the descent on the other side any trickier.
I was really happy with my climb. I felt comfortable and steady with a good pedal stroke and it was here that I really realized that my knee would be ok.
As I waited at the top of the hill for Michael and Andrew, a light blanket of drizzle began to cover the entire basin below. Within minutes it was covering me as well. The descent would be far more technical than I had anticipated.
We turned the corner just over the peak of Route 63 to reveal the rippling ramparts of Taiwan's Central Mountain Range. My pictures just don't do justice to this scene. The interplay between the light, clouds, shadows and scenery, punctuated by a weaving plunge through hillside farms and betel nut groves was a treat for the senses.
The rain tapered off as I reached the bottom of the descent, just in time for a high speed assault on a ribbon of smooth pavement leading to the base of the valley.
With mountains on all sides, we rolled smoothly along the valley floor. My legs were getting a little tired after so much time off, but with the entire scene spread out before me and the thrill of that descent, I was stoked on enough adrenaline to keep moving rapidly with a smile on my face.
Suddenly, without warning, the skies opened up into a torrent of pounding rain. The air was filled with the deafening sound of thick raindrops pummeling the valley.
We took shelter under an aluminum garage/betel nut stand and waited for the rain to abate. Within minutes we were back on the road.
We were soon exiting the valley and headed back into Shuili. My legs were in great shape, albeit tired. We had had a great ride through great country. With good spirits all around we drove back under the sun drenched skies of Taichung.
With this ride I was able to regain the confidence I had lost after so many disappointing false starts on my road to recovery. Now I feel I can start to really enjoy riding again.
What a great ride!