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Monday, August 25, 2014

A Wrinkle in Climbs: Nantou Route 68 and Route 64


After a week to recover from last week's physical implosion on Hohuan Mountain, I decided to limp back onto the pubic roadways and have a little adventure on some roads I had never ridden. Sometimes you just need to add a few wrinkles into a more direct route to make the ride worthwhile. That is what I set out to do.


Both of these routes offer new and more interesting pathways in and out of the Sun Moon Lake area, and may be a welcome change from the traffic clogged arteries of the Highways 21 and 14.


I lazily biked into Caotun and then lowered my shoulder as I pushed into a choppy crosswind along the Highway 14. I wasn't feeling too great and had no idea what my day would look like. As I eased my way onto the Route 147 that cuts a deep channel between Jiufen Er Shan and the foothills of the Sun Moon Lake area I decided that I would commit to a little adventure.


I stopped to double check my GPS and dribble sweat on a stainless steel table propped under the awning of an earth god temple. This was the beginning of the Nantou Route 68.


A couple of signs near the start of the road were advertising some sort of 玉門關谷. I had no idea what this Jade Gate Valley was, but the locals seemed to think it was something worth advertising. I was under the assumption that it was another "spectacular" tunnel of trees or some type of tourist temple site.


I lurched up into the mountains having left my climbing legs back on Wuling Pass. Within a few minutes I was high above the Route 147.

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The road was a slithering slab of seamless asphalt. Being an election year, no road is too smooth for a repaving job, and this area had not been overlooked.


After a couple of bends along a jungled cliffside, I finally discovered what the Jade Gate was all about. It was an enticing set of cliffs and waterfalls that rivalled the Fairy Falls in Taichung's Taiping area. I was close to calling off the ride for a leap into the bubbling water under the falls, but I carried on.


The Nantou Route 68 was not even close to as difficult as I had imagined as it mostly slung around the swampy tributaries of the former series of ponds that once made up the Sun Moon lake area before the Japanese hydroelectric project transformed the basin into the lake we see today,


After a few more dips and humps I was closing in on the Highway 21. This would be a great route for someone looking to add a little panache to a Sun Moon Lake trip without incurring too much of a climbing penalty. The lack of traffic was well worth the few climbs I did have to contend with.

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I almost hopped on the Highway 21 and went back home...almost.


Curiosity and improving legs got the better of me and I hooked an immediate right onto the Nantou Route 64. The Route 64 is a different animal all together. Within a kilometre the road rises high above the Puli Basin.

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I could look down across layers of hills and the betel covered mounds below. I had looked across this area many times before on the ascent into Sun Moon Lake and I always wondered what could possibly be out in the seeming vastness of the wilderness unfolded before me. I was about to find out.

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After a couple of 12% grades, the signs get more encouraging.


I followed along as the road became nothing but a strip-- a well paved strip, mind you-- but a strip nonetheless.

The coolness of the shady track was a dream in the summer heat as I zipped under the boughs of tall cedars. A troop of monkeys burst out of the bushed just in front of me and I was startled off my bike.


At one point the road was so lovely, I hiked for a hundred meters or so, just to take in the serenity of the mountain. Not a single car in sight.

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I passed the Taiwan Forestry Research Station amid the trees and tried to take it all in. This road was such a pleasant surprise. I couldn't live in the moment long enough.

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Finally, it was time to descend along the Route 64 to the Route 131, with is a long, wide downhill and enough speed over the distance to convince yourself that you are a much faster rider than you really are.


I passed through Shui-li and then beat a heavy rhythm back to Taichung, where I was stung by the smoke of a thousand prayer fires along the Highway 3 to close out Ghost Month.

It was a great day on the bike. I have missed these days.


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