Off The Alternate Route 6
As I start rebuilding my strength and stamina, I keep looking for rides that will stress my body to the point of adapting and improving. I have been working in my regular weekday rides and doing some weekend rides that are deliberate in that they focus on jump-starting my fitness without wasting time or inducing another injury.
Of course, working these rides into my schedule is becoming more and more of a challenge. I had a bunch of family obligations this weekend, so I planned two shorter morning rides for Saturday and Sunday. Sadly, this weekend we had a passing typhoon dump a bunch of rain on Saturday and so I moved that ride over to Sunday as it was the more challenging of the two.
I decided to ride the storied Route 136 from Taichung to Caotun and back... over the hills.
The ride is a magnet for area riders as it is known for its unforgiving ramps and grades in the high teens. It is also a beautiful ride.
The Route 136 leads out of Taichung City through Taiping, where not a soul has ever taken a driving lesson. The High Life at the edge of town acts as the official point of departure where Terry from Caffe Terry starts his Route 136 Time Trial.
The road then undulates up through Toubienkeng and into the hillsides, which are covered in fruit farms and Long Yen (Dragon Eye Fruit) trees. Dogs lazily smother fleas on the hot tarmac and in the summer the sound of cicadas can be deafening.
Who Is A Ga Ga Fan?
I headed out of the city near Warner Village Mall, where I found a student waiting in line for the Lady Ga Ga ticket give away. Rumor has it that Lady Ga Ga will be performing in Taichung, Taiwan's third largest city... for free. If this is true it smacks of politics, I swear!
The highest point of the Route 136 sits over 2300ft and it is often referred to by local cyclists as "The Fence", for its vertical nature and its ability to create a natural division between Taichung and Nantou County. A cyclist can either climb the fence or go around.
I had my coffee at the 7-11 near the High Life and pushed myself up the fence. I saw Team Caffe Terry pass while I was sipping my drink, but I had no intention of trying to catch them. I wanted everything in the tank for my ascent. I was actually making pretty good time on the lower sections. The bike felt perfect.
Near the notorious and poorly named Bat Hole, I slowed for a rolling picture and a couple riders came up from below. I deferred and they gave me space to join them. I stayed for a few minutes, but then I felt strong enough to push off the front and they disappeared into the jungle below.
I burned a lot of matches on the way up. The ramps 3/4 of the way up, combined with the steamy conditions following a night of rain, made it rough going. I was pushing a 39 to 27 cog and the extra torque was really making me work for it.
Then, I was at the top. I had remembered one more climb ahead, but it wasn't there. It had taken 55 minutes, but not over an hour as I had feared.
At the top there were several cyclists hanging out, chatting and hydrating. I saw several more descend as I was climbing. There would be waves of riders arriving all morning. Vendors will drive up to the top and sell drinks and snacks to thirsty riders. The place is like a hang-out.
About 10 minutes later my riding parter from the lower reaches of the hill was making his final push to the top. He had jettisoned the fellow he had been riding with and made the ascent solo.
Jimmy is an engineer for Astro Engineering, a bicycle company, and he was trying out their gear.
I didn't stay long as I already had a full day planned with an Anti-Drooling Ceremony for my nephew, so I headed down the back side toward Caotun.
The descent was a a thrill ride. The roads on the eastern side of the hill were mainly dry, save for several of the juicy corners that were wet and covered in slippery betel pulp, which took some of the thrill out of the ride.
All too soon it was over and I was making good time back to Taichung on the Highway 14.
I decided to take the prettier detour on the Route 6, which is the alternate from the Highway 14.
As I entered Taichung on the Highway 3, a fire was raging in Nantun. The last thing I needed was to breathe a bunch of smoke. I tried to duck under the plume by getting nearer to its source. Before long I was rolling back home. My legs were tired and I know I have a long way to go. But I felt like I had made a giant step to getting back to riding the way I want to be riding.
The 136 is a challenge every cyclist in Taichung should do at least once. I know I will be doing it more regularly as I regain my form and fitness.