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Monday, July 16, 2012

Is this Taichung's Hardest Climb?: Route 100 to Jiu Tong Shan (酒桶山)

 After a week of commuting between Taichung and Yuanlin by bike in an effort to punish myself back into cycling shape, I felt I should do something on the weekend to test the legs.

The weather seemed typical of this time of year, with sunny mornings and rain in the afternoons and a stiff wind from the south. For me, there is nothing as demoralizing as a flat road and a headwind. It feels a lot like climbing, but without the accomplishment of actually making a summit. With this in mind I decided to keep the distance down and keep things local with one of Taichung's toughest climbs.

The Route 136 is often regarded as the local litmus test for a rider's climbing chops, but there are a few other local routes that rival the Route 136 in both difficulty and reward.

I was joined by Dom, who destroyed me on our last outing together as I was just starting my training regimen, but this time we were more evenly paired.

The plan was to take the Route 136 out past the famous Bat Hole and then fight our way up the Route 100 to Jiu Tong Shan, where we might have a coffee before returning through Chung-ho and Hsin She on the Route 95.

These are all very great roads, so it is nice to string them together in a single ride through the foothills above Taichung.

The morning started out according to plan. We were looking to use the ride out to where the hills begin in Taiping as a bit of a warm-up before a friendly coffee before the riding really started to get stiff.

Over coffee we were accosted by a very loud and enthusiastic man who seemed to believe both Dom and I were partially deaf and in need of his plumbing services. He bellowed every sentence in clear English so that the entire 7-11 could hear him. Some of the other customers giggled with embarrassment at the awkwardness of the situation.

The chap introduced himself as "Youkey.... YOUKEY!!!! YOU-KEY!!!!!!" as he dangled a couple bottles of rice wine by the necks. That was all the information we needed to know.

After playing dead until he lost interest and went away we continued enjoying a pre-climb coffee. Our new friend returned with a neatly torn piece of cigarette carton, upon which he wrote--no--composed the following:
"Hello, my English name is Youkey
So let me open your heart window.
I am (drunk?...illegible)."
With that he commented on how much he liked the stubble on my face because it was like his.... and then he turned around and rejoined his friends across the street for a picnic of cheap alcoholic liquids.

As a Foreigner in Taiwan, I am often approached by strangers who hope to satisfy their curiosity or assumptions regarding foreigners and their "likeness". Most of the time these encounters are just awkwardly benign, but sometimes they can be a bit frightening. Being a Foreigner can make you a magnet to drunks or the insane who pick you out as something "different" like a shiny object, and they can't resist a closer look.

With enough caffeine to fuel a ride up the hill, we took off along the lower climbs of the Route 136.

There were several riders out on their heavy mountain bikes looking for a shot at the Route 136. Many of the mountain bikes are equipped with triple cranks and enough granny gear to hoist anyone over the 136. It was great to see so many riders out for the morning.

We soon split off from the 136 and started up the Route 100. I was expecting to feel worse than I did, but the legs kept coming back to me. Just after a few short climbs we crossed the bridge to the road up to Jiu Tong Shan.

The first ramp is a real spitter that jumps up from the riverbed and reminds the legs of the delicate nature of managing energy for a climb.

The scenery is more of that lush green that we are used to in Taiwan.

Dom spun his way up the paved track that was just wide enough for a car and a half.

The ride up consists of ramp after ramp of sustained climbing. In the heat and humidity it can feel like your chest is about to overheat and explode.

The road carries you up to a little wooden pavilion that makes a great spot to rest the legs. The spot sits above a valley that carries the echoing sound of screaming legs all the way back to Taiping. 

There is a fork in the road and they can both lead to the coffee shops at the top of the mountain. Either way is hard, but I seem to believe the way we did not take has to be easier. The left fork also leads to a road that goes to Chung-ho Village. 

Upon leaving the pavilion we mashed gears all the way up to another fork in the road where we stopped to contemplate our options with a few other riders. 

From that vantage point we could look out over Taichung City all the way to Changhua, Dajia and the coast. It was incredibly clear, but the promise of rain was beginning to fill the darkening sky behind us. 

The right fork looked more like a wall. To the great pleasure of everyone below, I took a run at it and threw myself into the climb. I made great progress before my cleat popped out and killed my momentum. I probably could have made it another 20 meters before giving up. The easier points on the climb hovered around 30% grade. There was no hope of staying on the bike for the duration. It seemed like it would never stopped. 

We hiked the rest of the way to where the road evened out. In the back of my mind I thought about the return along the same road. 

The top of the climb boasts a couple coffee shops to pick up a celebratory refreshment and a chance to view the greater Taichung area as a beautiful cityscape rather than the blight of urban chaos we are so used to seeing from the city. Coffee was a sobering NT$140. I guess they figure you'll be willing to pay anything for a refreshment after getting to the top.

Returning down to the main road was just as difficult as going up. It is easy for gravity to take over and pull the bike beyond the limit of the best braking systems. People who think disc brakes are overkill on a road bike have never ridden Taiwan. 

The way down to Chung-ho is a bit bumpy as the concrete is not very smooth. At one point I had to slow down just to see straight with the vibrations rattling my eyeballs loose. 

The whole ride was a great exercise in climbing and technical descending. 

After the climb up to Jiu Tong Shan, the switchbacks up to Hsin She seemed easy. We passed a group of seniors on a vigorous ride before fighting the wind back into town. 

  The descent from Hsin She was slowed by a cement truck, and then I was buzzed by a guy on a scooter who was trying to impress his girlfriend with how close he could come to me without hitting me. I later discovered that he was not interested in impressing her with his English. 

The entire ride was only about 60km, but the work out felt like almost double that. 

It was nice to have a good, fulfilling ride in the books by lunch time before the clouds and rain moved in. 

A great ride to practice climbing. 


  1. Great post of the ride - looks like a solid climb - I still need to acquire climbing legs - that ride would be super tough for me - do you have a GPS map of the route? I would be interested to see the elevation.

  2. I think that it would be fair to dub this ride 'Taichung's Least Forgiving Climb'. It is, however, worth the struggle. Fantastic views. I would add the caveat: bring water up the hill with you!

  3. Enjoyed all your commentary - very entertaining. I've been riding my scooter around the area recently, so I know all the roads you've mentioned. I've also parked at one of those expensive cafes and hiked a forgotten trail to the top of the mountain. Took almost 2 hours from the highest cafe/resort. I'm still in the process of choosing/finding a good bicycle to buy for those kinds of climbs.

  4. Thanks, Mike!

    Years and years ago there was a road that went from Chung Ho to... some other place back there. It was great and I have no clue where it is anymore. Ha! A couple trails and roads are now gone.

    Keep exploring!

  5. Enjoyed all your commentary - very entertaining. I've been riding my scooter around the area recently, so I know all the roads you've mentioned. I've also parked at one of those expensive cafes and hiked a forgotten trail to the top of the mountain. Took almost 2 hours from the highest cafe/resort. I'm still in the process of choosing/finding a good bicycle to buy for those kinds of climbs.