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Monday, June 11, 2012

I Am Wet For Taiwan's Northern Cross Island Highway


Despite the revised forecast for rain showers, this weekend saw another successful completion of the Northern Cross Island Highway Ride sponsored by The View From Taiwan and Michael Turton (His post on the trip here). 

A couple times every year, Michael will organize a crossing of Taiwan's Central Mountain Range via the magnificent Highway 7. I have had to pass every time... until now. I can finally understand why this route is such a favorite. 


We started our trip in Tucheng, at the Yongning station. The group consisted of Michael, Jeff, Dom and Myself. Along the way we were joined by Patrick, a loyal TiC reader who was eager to test out his new bike that is made for just about every type of riding Taiwan has to offer. One of the great things about Michael's Northern Cross Island Highway (NCIH) rides is the mix of people. You never know who will show up as it is an open invitation for just about anyone, and we were pleased to have Patrick join the fun. 

The heat and humidity had passed bearable long before we started climbing out of Sanxia. The best anyone could do was to deep moving in the vain hope of generating some airflow over the body. To make matters worse, I had left my water bottles at home and had to stuff a couple plastic bottles of H2O on my backpack. If I wanted a drink I would have to stop. 

The scenery is lush and in about every shade of green. The hillsides below Little Wulai are now covered in plumes of bamboo.

We fought through weekend traffic out to the less visited areas. 

We stopped in Little Wulai for a bite to eat before making the transition from the foothills to mountains. 

The road soon narrowed and we slithered our way along every contour of each hidden river valley. 

In mountaineering, new routes or technical innovations are often named after the first to claim them. Although the NCIH is not new, it might very well be named the Turton Route. Michael has taken so many groups over that stretch of road he has become a fixture among the locals. 

His connections were excellent in securing icy mango slushees for each rider at a particular rest stop. 

We all pushed higher and higher. The imminent rain had held off all day. I was hoping we could all make it to Bailing dry. My hopes were dashed when large splatters of rain started coating the steaming tarmac. 

It was about at that point I turned things up a notch and hammered ahead toward Bailing. 

By the time our soggy group had all managed to drain the puddles from our shoes, it was exactly beer o'clock. 

The place we were staying at billed itself as a "Bicycle Hostel". The only indication aside from the sign that this place catered to cyclists, was the space on the first floor that was made available to rest our bikes. 

Later that evening we managed to find a nice meal with some fresh rice to fuel the climbs of the second day. 

The entire neighborhood was awakened by an earthquaked measuring 6.5 on the Richter Scale, located about 70km off of Iilan. Seeing as the mountain hadn't buried us under 40 meters of clay, I went on trying to catch my beauty sleep. 

Bright and early the next morning we were back on the bikes. 

I hadn't been riding in about 4 or 5 weeks and I was feeling it in my tender bits. It takes a little time to get used to the saddle again. 

Just up the road I turned around the catch a glimpse of Bailing before we stopped for "breakfast" on the bridge below La La Shan resort. 

The weather was clear and it looked promising for a good day of riding. 

The road pitches upward for about 10km and it really saps the life out of you because it never feels very steep. 

I was suffering a little dehydration as well from a dose of Benadryl I had taken the night before. 

For a lot of this section Dom and I rode as the "escapees". 

By the time we arrived at Mingchih, we were again met by the NTU eMBA group. They keeps claiming to have ridden the entire way, they also claimed to have taken off later than we did, but at no point did they ever pass us. Several support vehicles loaded with bikes lurking nearby seemed to hint at their cycling strategy. 

After a refill on fluids, we were again darting through the coolness of the shady cedars. 

I had been expecting more of a climb, but before I knew it we were skimming along the rocky cliffsides high above the Iilan plain. 

The scene called for the Guns of Navarone theme. 

After some heroics in passing some stragglers from the eMBA group we hit the foggy descent. 

I don't remember much about the descent other than that I was focused in "the zone". With sloppy conditions and a road full of unsure cyclists, I pushed clear of the hazards and rode at a comfortable fast pace toward the bottom. 

I felt plenty of tack in the tires, so I kept the speed up to stay ahead of the BMW that had been following me earlier, but failed to pass me when I gave him the chance. It was just an incredible descent until a roadblock where a landslide made it impossible for two cars to pass. 

Just as I reached the bottom of the mountain, a heavy rain began to fall. We took shelter under the nearest tree, but it was of little use. 

Eventually we all made it to a restaurant where we hoped to wait out the rain. The rain never really let up and we were soon at the mercy of the elements. I decided to Time Trial it back to Iilan and was surprised when the rain let up after about 10 minutes. It drizzled a little while later, but nothing serious. I realized I had only been rained on for about a half-hour during the entire trip. It was enough to get soaked, but not too bad. 

In Iilan Dom and I had coffee and waited for the rest of the bunch. Soon everyone was going their separate ways home. 

It was an excellent trip. The weather was there to add character. 

This is definitely worth doing again... and again. 


  1. I second your closing sentiments. I'll chip in my shot of those emba guys when I get the chance.

  2. I really love the opening photo of this post: lone rider vs. the mountains. I especially like the way the diagonal lines in the rock make a trajectory line for what you imagine the precipice must be lurking over the guard rail. Great stuff.

  3. Really enjoyed this post and the photos! On your return in "sloppy" conditions, your tires still gave good "tack" to allow a descent at speed. Besides your technical skill, what kind of tires were you running and/or other that gave you such good purchase? Jim Duncan

  4. Thanks Jim! I use Continental 4000 GP. I have heard the 4 seasons are better, but I really felt confident and stable going through every corner. I used to ride 25c, but they are too hard to find in Taiwan, so I am using 23c. They last forever unless you get a real deep chunk taken out of them.