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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Climbing Taiwan's Northeast: Highway 9 to Route 42-North (9號線--北42--坪雙路)


With a little time over the Lunar New Year, we decided to head up to the Milan area for a little R&R. The weather in Taiwan for this winter has been really cold and damp. Some might say it is atypical for Lunar New Year in Taiwan, but actually, it has returned to something that used to be normal. When I first arrived almost twenty years ago, the winter vacations were always freezing and rainy.

For this particular vacation we had snow for the first time in a very long time and the mountain passes were a mess. Our original plan entailed climbing out of Yilan to Taiping Shan. Unfortunately, the roads were rendered too dangerous to ride by the recent snowfall and we were forced to choose an alternate route.

This was a good thing for me as a couple days before I had fallen asleep on the couch and when I awoke in the morning, my entire back was in knots. That never used to happen to me before....

We decided to climb out of Yilan on the Highway 9, which once served as one of the main highways between Taipei and Yilan, and then return on the North 42 to Fulong before hitting the coastal Highway 2.

I was a bit nervous as my back had not recovered and I had been hobbling around like an old man all morning. I figured I would give it a try and hopefully warm myself out of it.

As soon as my ass hit the seat I was gripped with a sense of fear...and the sense of excruciating pain as it felt like needles jammed up my backside and into my spine. I stood and pedalled for a few blocks before easing into the saddle for good.


We navigated our way through the mirrored fields of the Komalan plain to the opening ramps of the Highway 9. I could tell it was going to be a long day as my legs failed to entirely show up for the ride. It was just one of those unfortunate days when it feels as though the heart is circulating strawberry jelly and everything is turned to blah.

The opening switchbacks look a lot more formidable than they are. It is a suitable route for even the novice given enough time.

As we pressed up the hill, we passed a rider from Hong Kong who was on his final leg of a round-island trip. He complained that he had followed the government endorsed route, but there were too many sections that were clogged with traffic while a perfectly viable road lay parallel to the route.


Up and up we climbed. Each turn revealed more spectacle. The Highway 9 is a great route in that it feels very much like eastern Taiwan, while allowing a rider to shortly arrive in Taipei.

The hills are surrounded by jungle and green. It is every bit of the east coast a rider could hope to encounter.


The road was nearly empty, except for the occasional cement truck and a few cyclists. It was quite a pleasant trip.


In the distance, Taiwan's only active volcano, Guishandao, was on full display.


We traced the curves of the Highway 9 until we reached the old tea farming town of Pinglin.

Pinglin is generally known for its unrolled teas, but now it is becoming a haven for all those asshats on their big racing motorcycles that cocky their way up from Xindian to play F-1 on public roadways.

We stopped at a 7-11 for a coffee and some nutrition for the latter half of the journey. I had been anticipating a colder day, but I was actually feeling warm and peeled off the layers.


Our escape route would be the Northern Route 42 to Fulong. The road starts behind old Pinglin near the freeway and it quickly took us from the dense jungles of eastern Taiwan, to the rolling farms and deep valleys of the north.


This was such a wonderful route. There were no really killer climbs to drain the legs. It was just a series of rolling hills and tight descents.


Each corner threatened to spit us into a lost wilderness, but there was always something assuring nearby to remind us that we were not too far from somewhere.

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The road skirted along the Wenshan tea farming area with some of the choicest views from the northern hills.

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Finally, we reached the descent into Fulong. It was a beautiful10k hairpin drop. I kicked through each bend and gathered speed for the next. Bang Bang Bang!!! What a fantastic way to test your own tracking and cornering. It was like bicycle powered flight.

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We arrived in the beach community of Fulong and sliced a good chunk of time out of our trip with the Caoling Bike Tunnel--a repurposed train tunnel that allows a rider to simply pass through the mountain as opposed to having to circumvent the Sandiego Peninsula.

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After soaking up the views and losing my camera, we headed back to our hostel in Luodong.
I as really feeling tight and had to stop a few times to stretch the legs. I was really holding us back, but I needed to be sure I'd be okay and not experience any knee pain or any of the things that had been bothering me in the past.

No issues... just some fatigue.

It was a great way to wake the legs up for some vacation riding. 


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