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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Some Days You Get It Wrong: Rainy Day Hill Climbing

Route 95 to Chung Ho Village

All week I had been watching the progress of a nasty looking typhoon out in the Pacific and wondered what it would mean for my weekend riding. I had missed my mid-week rides due to circumstances beyond my control and I really had to get out on the bike.

Based on experience, I figured Saturday would be the better day with the rains coming after the typhoon had passed Taiwan with the majority of the wet stuff falling on Taipei. The Central Weather Bureau and TV news meteorologists tend to have a Taipei-centric view of the weather, so it is easy to disregard their predictions. I also figured that if it did rain, the rain would fall in the afternoon... after 1:00pm. This seems to be the summer pattern.

So with this in mind I planned an ambitious day of climbing that I could accomplish before noon and be safely on my way back to Taichung if and when the rains hit. It sounded like a great plan and I set my sights on the Hui Sun Forest (惠蓀林場).

Hoping Township

My legs were feeling really good and I made short work of the Route 129 to Hsin She. I thought I would stop at the 7-11 along the Route 93 for breakfast and to stock up on extras for a foray into the mountains.

I spent a little time chatting up some riders from Warehouse 185 and another group of guys who were doing the 136 to 129 loop. They all took off to beat the rain, but quickly returned as no sooner had they left then some fat, juicy raindrops filled the air. It was time for another coffee.

After half and hour it looked like the clouds were rained out and so I made my climb over to the Highway 21. Along the way I passed Glenn from Primavera Cycles hacking his way up the switchbacks out of Chung Hsing Village.

Highway 21

It looked like the weather might hold and I was optimistic, but the wet roads made descents slow. Furthermore, it appears Taiwan offers a big bike license in exchange for a deposit of brain cells. Note to Big Bike Riders: It is probably not a good idea to pass me on a blind corner on wet roads at high speeds. You might not see that blue truck. Dumb!

I didn't really need anything, but I thought I would stop at the Family Mart at the bottom of the descent off Baimao Shan. It would be the last stop before going into the mountains. Then, after a few minutes, the skies opened up again. I waited in the store with a bunch of families from Miaoli who did not think I looked like an American because I am too short. I had to point out that Americans can look like anybody... like the Children of the KMT Central Standing Committee and possibly Ma Ying-jiu. I figured as a bunch of moneyed guys from Miaoli, they would not be amused. The rain stopped and I made full speed for the Route 136.

Sunshine on 99 Peaks

I thought I might stop at the Hi Life at the base for a few moments and assess the weather before heading up the hill. Again, it started raining. As I walked around the store I noticed a group of boys on kid bikes had arrived to buy candy. As they came in, one of them noticed me and exclaimed, "Foreigner!"

I went into my well rehearsed pantomime of confusion in which I crane my neck in every direction as if to get a better look, "Where?!"

I convinced him I was not a "Foreigner" and he seemed satisfied with my answer, enough to tell one of the other boys I was not a foreigner when he asked. Then, as fellow cyclists, we then got down to business of talking bikes.

The boys enthusiastically waved me off as the rain stopped and I seized the opportunity to make time up the Route 136.

Gimme Shelter

For most of the ascent spots of sunshine managed to slip through the clouds to create a steamy warmth on the blacktop. I was feeling great and ate up the 8% grades. I was able to reserve my 27 tooth cog for the ramps and that one bastard of a spot 3/4 of the way up by the little farm. I stopped a couple times to take pictures, but they were not strategic photos, just nice pictures with the sunshine casting odd highlights on the 99 peaks in the distance against a dark curtain of rain. I thought I might make it over the 136 without getting rained on and pushed past the last little shelter before the peak.

If you've ridden a road enough times you become familiar with the points along the way to take shelter in a rain squall... and I had just passed the last one before the exposed stretch along the highest point and the treacherous descent to Toubienkeng.

I had been playing a game of Cat and Mouse all day with the weather and this mouse got caught at the worst possible moment.

Rain on 136

The rains started as a light mist, but soon turned into thick drops that instantly soaked into my socks. I couldn't think of any suitable place to sit out the rain except for the possibility of a temple gate up ahead with the possibility of a roof.

Sure enough, it was just wide enough to stand under and wait out the rain. I paced around taking pictures and wondering how long I would have to wait. I also considered the wet descent down the other side.

I watched one ant save another from a raindrop

After 30 minutes the rain held off long enough to get a start on the descent. I just modulated the brakes, kept the speed down, and avoided any of the paint on the road for a slow yet uneventful descent.

As I rolled into Toubienkeng the rains started again forcing me to take shelter under the aluminum covering of a roadside temple.

The rain didn't last more than 20 minutes and soon I was again making good time back to Taichung City... where the roads were dry and the sun was happily poking through the clouds.

Some days you just get it wrong.

Distance: 100km
Climbing: 5151ft.
Weather: Wet

Praying For Good Weather?