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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Tracing The Route 139: The Foothills of Central Taiwan

The view from the water cooler at the Fengshan Temple, Bagua Shan

I guess the third time's a charm.

I have tried to explore the Route 139 from Nantou to Jiji on two prior occasions, both times as part of a rebuilding regimen while I try to reverse my state of physical decline. 

The Route 139 looked accessible within my target range of distance, while promising some hills to ease the legs back into climbing shape. The route was close enough to some major highways in case anything went wrong. 

Route 139

I plodded down the Highway 3 to Nantou, while cutting through an irritating crosswind. The breeze was enough to make me wonder it was the wind or simply my own suckage. 

Halfway through Nantou on the Highway 3 I took a left onto the Route 139, which drops on down into  Nantou city. There is a little black and white sign designating the Route 139 continuing diagonally to the right. The roads get tricky, but it is, in fact, the smaller diagonal road that goes out to the Route 139.

Taiwanese Weekend Fun

The 139 is a smooth, well maintained road that wends through small farming communities in the foothills above Nantou. The scenery is that spectacularly radiant green that so defines much of the Taiwanese rural landscape. 
A River Runs Through It

The road dips and climbs past some wonderfully free flowing rivers. In Taiwan our rivers are too often boxed in with concrete to really give the impression that they are a part of the natural landscape. 

There are a few pineapple farms that dot the areas surrounding the Route 139, and some impressive mountains hover in the background. 
Pineapple Fields

The Route 139 from Nantou to the tourist town of Jiji was less challenging that I would have liked, and it was a short 14km with only a couple halfway decent climbs. It was a pleasant road that might make an excellent and creative alternative to the Highway 3, but it was nothing to really challenge the legs. I might suggest it for a novice who might like to explore the area around Jiji. It might make a great, slow-paced day ride if combined with the shady Route 152
A Grave Man

Just before emptying out into Jiji, I stopped to snoop around Jiji's Second Cemetery located just on the outskirts of town. You can learn a lot about Taiwan from the stories written on the face of a grave stone (more on that in some other post).  
Over Jiji
End of the Route 139

After the 921 earthquake in 1999, Jiji's rustic train station and tourist district was nearly wiped out. From the rubble Jiji rebuilt itself as a bicycle destination where cyclists can arrive and rent bikes for a day or simply ride into town for some refreshments on a long team ride.  

Just out of Jiji I had another flat. I took some time to examine the wheel. Four flats in a week is getting to be a little much. Everything checked out as the hole was in a completely different spot than the prior three, so I aired up and continued back toward Taichung. 

I was still feeling like my desire for a challenging ride had not been satisfied and thus, when I arrived at the point where I embarked on the Route 139, I turned up the hill and charged up Bagua Shan. The 139  toward Changhua is not as much a road as it is a ramp that just vaults skyward out of the Nantou valley. There are no switchbacks to recover. It is just one long grind to the top of the hill. In the searing heat the climb becomes a mental exercise in concentration.  
Farmers Take 5

Once at the top, I took advantage of the slight decline to bring my speed up and make time on the way back home. Despite the slow grind to the top, the lack of traffic and stoplights makes a wonderful way to return to Taichung. The Route 139 atop Bagua Shan is such a great road and it was nice to take it in the opposite direction I am used to. There are a few short climbs and even more invigorating dips that draw out your remaining speed and power just to push the limits of speed. 

In the end, the entire ride was about 112km/70mi.

It was such a nice day for a ride.