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Sunday, September 3, 2017

Back Roads: Nantou San Ceng Lane to Nantou Lane 12...I Think

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The hills of Nantou are alive with the sound of cyclists screaming down gnarly grades and I wanted to get in on the action. The area around Jiufen Er Shan is covered with small lanes and farming roads that can lead to euphoric adventures or a long day of grumbling in the saddle over humidity and climbs to no betel nut farm in particular.

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I chose San Ceng Lane (三層巷) to climb and then I thought I could explore the neighborhood or loop on to the Caotun side of the mountain and coast back on Nantou Route 14 a.k.a. Gukeng Ln. (股坑巷).

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A funny thing happened as I followed a tourist trap to the God Tree of Ping Ding (坪頂神木). I sat around with no real inspiration and then got bored and left. I was slow rolling down and passed a small road that disappeared from my periphery in a flash. Inspiration had suddenly struck and I was soon climbing back to the little road. It had a white sign that I think was marked the "12", but I can't recall. It all happened so fast.

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Soon  I was surfing some of the finest switchbacks in Nantou. I am not sure what the map shows, but this thing is nasty. A pretty road with some flowers and okay pavement... but NASTY!

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Eventually the road settles down into some smooth, shaded one-vehicle paths that are alive with the chirping of insects and the clatter of birds in the trees. It was all quite serene.

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Eventually the road glides into some pretty agricultural area of the kind that is disappearing from Taiwan all too quickly.

This is definitely a road I would like to try biking in the opposite direction after a dry spell.
It just looked painfully delicious going down.

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Friday, September 1, 2017

Coffee and Tea Ride Through Namaxia

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A little while back, a small group of riders of varying degrees of experience and fitness hit the open road for a two day trip to Namaxia village in Kaohsiung. As many readers may recall, I did a similar route last year in a bid to make a long-time friend jealous enough to want to come back to Taiwan.

It worked. He arrived earlier this year and we hauled him out to Namaxia as a bit of a reintroduction to everything he was missing in a part of the United States where the hills and the landscape lack a certain...idiom. You can read about the first trip HERE.

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This time we made it southward along the hilly and beautiful "Tainan Coffee Road" that snakes southward in the foothills surrounding the reservoir district in Tainan. The first stretches were quite expected, but then the undulations of the hills gave the day a touch of surprise and excitement.

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After a few too many fuel stops, we waited for the slower guys and fought our way up river into Namaxia, making it into town as night fell. The whole cabin experience was not ideal, but it was firefly season and the college students were all on break looking for a romantic getaway chasing fireflies in the privacy of their hostel quarters.

On a quest for liquid carbs, I managed to see a lone firefly in the dark.

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Bright and early we inhaled our breakfast sandwiches and made tracks for Chiayi...the hard way. One of our riders had destroyed a bike that was in need of destruction and had to pack his belongings and the carcass of an ex-bike into one of the few local busses and evacuate to Kaohsiung city. I was having trouble with a shifter grip and eventually ripped it to keep my shifts from sticking. Another rider had gone into one of Taichung's finest cycling shops--despite his 400 other bad experiences--and asked for an easier chainring with some kind of granny gear. The 185 Warehouse (oops, did I name names?) went the other direction and somehow installed a standard 53/36 front set and rendered our intrepid fellow incapable of coping with the climbs without blowing up his knees. He trudged on over the hill, but would exit just beyond.

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The roads are in amazing shape. The scenery is a dazzling palette of earth tones.

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As we topped the lip of the highest ridge, we soon found a cool descent into tea country. The mountain is fittingly called 茶山, or "Tea Mountain". And while the area is in the greater Alishan area, it is not really what you would consider Alishan tea.

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We stopped for the scenery and hoped to possibly get some caffeine as well. We were in luck as we sampled the locale tea and left with enough of a buzz to get us another kilometer down the road to where the coffee was.

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It was a second breakfast where the bicycle made fruit, coffee and snacks all gratis. Nobody was complaining. We needed all the fuel we could find for the final leg.

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Michael left down the Highway 3, the rest of us plodded upward. For a main highway, it is still a beautiful road with challenging climbs that never seem to abate until the top. It is simply one gradient stacked atop another for several kilometers.

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Eventually we reached the concession stand at the peak and then launched a junk food crazed descent into Chiayi along the Highway 18 to put a cap on the trip.

This is a marvelous set of roads that are completely doable for most cyclists with enough time. The ride into Namaxia can be done by a novice, but an expert can still enjoy the road. Lots of possibilities in this area.

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Another post with a map can be found HERE.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Shark of Messina Eyes the Highway to the Danger Zone: Taiwan KOM

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I am sorry! I could not help myself.

When I heard the news that a current GC favorite in Vincenzo Nibali (The Shark of Messina), had registered for the Taiwan KOM race this October 20th, I was pleasantly shocked that our little local race has been attracting top shelf talent. First Pooley, then Cuddles and now Nibbles.

Nibali has won the three big grand tours and is a fierce competitor. It will be fun to see what this new level of talent will do to our backyard climb.

Bravo!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Miaoli 34-2 to 28

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It would seem 130km is a long way to travel to knock off a couple of roads. It is. And as I plugged my way northward on the Highway 13 through Sanyi, I wondered if I had made more trouble for myself than it was worth.

The thing is, whenever I travel on the HSR, I look out and see a bunch of cool looking roads and struggle to find them on the GPS before the internet dies in but another tunnel.

Just at the top of Miaoli are a series of HSR tunnels that flip through narrow valleys like an old zoetrope to flash an instant image of cycling of intrigue. I needed to find and ride those roads.

I have already attacked the ridge lines longitudinally, but there are still several roads that criss cross those hills I have yet to ride. I have since ticked several off my map. The Route 34-2 looked interesting along with the Route 28. I was on my way.

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I thought the Route 51-1 out of Houli would be a great start... and it was serene as usual.

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The 34-2 starts behind the Da Chien General Hospital (My map below is inaccurate at this point...sorry). You can pick it up just behind the parking area on the southern end of the hospital grounds.

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The descent is a lovely drop through fields and along twisty roads that pass beneath the HSR tracks.
When I got to the bottom I realized I had been to that spot several times on the Route 119. Personally, I prefer the Route 119 off the Highway 13 to get to this point.

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The Route 28 goes back up the hill above Miaoli City. It is one of those special littler roads that can feature as a satisfying leg to any adventure.

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The climb is never too much, but offers lovely views of the surrounding forest and out to the coast.

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Moreover, the roads are smooth, sweeping swaths of unused pavement. The experience was really pleasant as I huffed away over a river valley...thinking of incorporating this into more demanding rides.

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After a strange trip through an old railway town, I popped out behind a cemetery over Miaoli City. The view made Miaoli City look almost not repulsive.

The Route 28 is a keeper. The 34-2... meh!

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Cuddles Coming to KOM: Retirement Insufferable, 2011 TdF Champ Embraces Suffering

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A quick note from the Taiwan KOM Facebook Page: Cadel Evans, the cyclist who won the 2011 TdF, which was probably the most exciting and entertaining Tour de France in recent years, has announced he will be coming up from Australia to get a taste of a real climb. Dubbed "The Lung" for having a higher lung capacity will get an opportunity to throw his 40yo. to the top of 3275m. in 90k.

It has been a pleasure to watch this race grow in stature.

Registration is still open: Register Here!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

How's that China Market Thing Coming Along? Giant Feels the Pinch

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Bicycle Retailer has a little article to rub salt in Giant's wounds. 
TAICHUNG, Taiwan (BRAIN) — Giant Manufacturing, a bellwether company within the industry's manufacturing sector, reported a 7.4 percent decline in revenue to $887.9 million through the first half of the year.
And net after-tax income also posted a significant drop to $39.3 million, a 29.5 percent decline, due primarily to unfavorable exchange rates, Giant said in a statement. For example, over the first half of the year the U.S. dollar had strengthened against the NT, up about 7.5 percent as of June 30.
Giant's first half report follows on a weak 2016, when it posted annual revenue of NT$57.09 billion, a 5.5 percent decline from 2015.
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The weak link in global sales for Taiwanese companies, including Giant, remains China. "Giant China's performance continues to suffer from soft demand and the popularity of bike sharing, which affected sales recovery in the first half," Giant said.
In 2016 I wrote to some degree of commotion on the trouble for Taiwan's largest bicycle manufacturer. (Read the whole thing. Some people agree... others think I am a nincompoop) Giant has long seen China as the land of 2 billion toothbrushes. In 2000, just after the inauguration of Chen Shui-bian, former Giant Chairman, Anthony Lo, was quoted in the Washington Post:
"Whoever is president," Lo said, "is going to have to face reality. And the reality is: China is there, it won't go away, and it has a huge market that we are uniquely positioned to exploit."
Remember in 2012, Giant was a major pre-election cheerleader for Ma Ying-jiu and his ECFA, the cross strait economic framework that was supposed to latch Taiwan's economy to China and money would rain from the skies. Bicycle Retailer wrote in 2012:
Taiwan’s manufacturers will benefit from a stable cross-strait relationship, said Tony Lo, chairman of the Taiwan Bicycle Exporters Association and CEO of Giant, the island and the industry’s leading frame maker.
“Taiwan’s high-end bike export to China has grown 87 percent in 2011. It could double again in 2012. This will have a positive influence of the transformation of the Chinese bike market toward recreational and sport in the future,” Lo said in an e-mail.
Lo cited Ma’s ECFA, or Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, which eliminated duties on bikes shipped between Taiwan and China as of January 1. Since Ma signed the ECFA in June 2010—gradually reducing duties on bicycles and other consumer goods exported from Taiwan—the trade pact has already boosted business in China for Taiwan manufacturers like Giant, Merida and rim maker Alex Global.
So, here we are in 2017....

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Weir in Taiwan to Cycle?: Adventure Cyclist Finds Formosa

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This story starts with a dog....

A few years ago Tiva was one of the many strays roaming the streets of Taiwan. We have all seen them-- the disease ridden dogs that shed skin and fur in equal amounts as they scavenge trash from vacant lots, irrigation canals and construction sites. When I first moved to Taichung, it was not uncommon to see packs of these animals in all shapes and sizes roaming the now swanky seventh district like some kind of canine Road Warrior dystopian fantasy. But it wasn't fantasy. The problem was so bad that in the aftermath of the 921 earthquake, I actually witnessed a pack near Dakeng attempting to scavenge meat from a human victim along the roadside. Before the high rises...before Mitsukoshi...before Maserati and Aston Martin moved into the neighborhood...it was Dog Town. The area where Forest Park is now, was a large concrete and dust parade ground that would attract marauding packs of former pets. Chihuahuas leading gangs of Akita and Husky. It was as ridiculous as it was sad. Unwanted pets were just turned out onto the streets. Many of them had no business being pets in Taiwan in the first place. Who really needs an Alaskan Malamute locked up in an apartment for twenty-three hours a day?

Tiva was one of those street dogs and she would eventually be plucked from a garbage dump and later adopted by a dog loving couple far across the Pacific Ocean in Seattle...where this writer originally hails from. Not only would Tiva be adopted by a caring family in Seattle, but she would also find she had been adopted by a couple of touring cyclists from Seattle.

Willie Weir and Kat Marriner have made cycling a part of their lives. Kat is a freelance graphic designer (and also makes a mean blueberry pie) while Willie writes for Adventure Cyclist Magazine and engages in public speaking on the many aspects of cycling. Together they travel the world by bike and some of their adventures make it into print.

The catalyst for coming to Taiwan started with Tiva. Tiva is not only a rescue dog from Taiwan...she is also a Formosan Mountain Dong--a highly intelligent and athletic breed that had been used for millennia by Taiwanese indigenes for hunting wild game, like deer, boar and muntjac. Kat and Willie hoped to tour Taiwan while getting in touch with groups that rescue strays for adoption while learning  about the land of Tiva's birth.

In a chance encounter at an intersection in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Seattle, Willie and Kat ran into my cousin, Ryan, who is also a cyclist and cycling activist in the area. When discussion turned to a Taiwan trip, Ryan brought me into the mix where I did my best to offer any advice necessary to ensure the trip would be worth the air ticket. My greatest fear for any visiting cyclist is that they will ride the wretched Highway 1 all the way down to Linbian. It happens. I have a lot of pride in Taiwan and it would be a shame if people came all this way and never got to see what makes this country such a gem for cycling. A crying shame!

The resulting adventure made its way into the August issue of Adventure Cyclist Magazine and you can read excerpts from Willie and Kat's trip below:

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Mountain Dog? I thought Taiwan was just an overcrowded island overrun by industry. Oh, and I thought it was flat.  
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We were both on the verge of bonking, and the air at 8000 feet was enough to send shivers down our sweat-soaked bodies. Sunset approached. The area was described as a roiling cloud forest, and true to form, the breeze shifted and magnificent peaks appeared. The mist-filled valleys below us glowed orange with the setting sun. We jumped up on some boulders and watched the most incredible sunset display I've seen in all my years of travel. At one point the mist shot up like a geyser from below, obscuring everything. And then two minutes later, it cleared and the mountains around us burned orange-red again. 
Perfect timing. Absolutely, stunningly memorably perfect. 

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We left Mary's place and contacted Andrew, who had already made some adjustments to our route knowing that we would be visiting another dog rescuer in the city of Toufen.  
This became a pattern that made for a wonderful (and physically challenging) trip. Andrew loves the mountains and the small, lonely roads, but dog rescue organizations are mostly in the cities. So rather than take the direct, flatter, faster route between cities and our dog connection, Drew would route us via his favorite mountain climbs.
This gave us a unique "best of" tour of Taiwan. 
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Taiwan is progressive. It has a woman president. It has single-payer health care. It leads Asia in LGBT rights. At last count 38 precent of its legislators are women.
Taiwan is small. This island has the feel of a continent in a vice. The elevation and ecological diversity makes for a constantly changing countryside. On any given day you can begin your ride in a jam-packed city, pedal through rice fields, and then climb several thousand feet through orchards and small villages up into the cloud forest. 
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You can read the full account of Kat and Willie's trip to Taiwan in the August Issue of Adventure Cyclist, and you can also read a few blog entries Here, Here

You can find out more about Dog Rescue in Taiwan at Mary's Doggies.

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Willie was not the only Weir to bring some adventure cycling to Taiwan. Canadian cyclist and blogger Tara Weir from The Adventures of Margo Polo also followed a similar route through the secluded hills of western Taiwan.

Here is an excerpt from Tara's account of her trip: The full post can be found HERE

The rain came down with such force that it stung my eyes. Daylight was quickly disappearing. I was only able to open them for seconds at a time to reveal of blur of a steep, narrow road carving its way through lush green landscape.
I struggled to stay focused so that I could keep my tires from being swept out from underneath me, which had happened only minutes before. My hands now ached from squeezing the brakes, which now seemed to be in contact with more water than rim. My thoughts drifted to a few hours earlier sitting in an air conditioned  Seven Eleven, eating a tasty $3 microwaved lunch and wasting time on the internet.  Now, on this empty,jungly backroad with no vehicles or a town in sight I felt like I had been transported to another world. 
I was in Taiwan, a modern country with many of the Western style comforts I had grown up with. But there, caught in a torrential downpour, life went back to basics. It was getting dark, I was shivering in drenched clothing and there was no shelter in sight. My only priority now was to get down this increasing deep descent and find a dry place for the night. When I was seriously beginning to worry, I spotted some houses in the distance –  the sleepy village of Yongle. Many of the homes were dark with the odd faint light and the movement of shadows. Cold and feeling desperate  I came close to knocking on one of the doors to ask for a dry place to sleep. I decided to push on a bit further and I came across a temple aglow with red light.
There was a housing unit beside and I looked around to find someone to ask permission to stay in the temple. The rain was still falling heavily and I soon gave up looking. I pulled my bike inside. 
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For a country with the 6th highest population population density in the world, Taiwan has a surprising number of empty backroads. With most of the population concentrated along the West Coast, the mountainous interior and East coast offer many opportunities for excellent, traffic free riding. As I seem to have a thing for tight contour lines, most of the days on the bike were a sweaty, lush rollercoaster ride. At times the humidity became very uncomfortable, but that was easily remedied by an air conditioned 7/11 or a small afternoon monsoon.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Back Roads: The CPC Industry Rd.

The Gas Road Strikes Again:

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I said I would never ride the "Gas Road" again. It had been an adventure and that was enough for me. I had successfully navigated the length of Taiwan's western ridge line from Xinchu to Taichung. Done. Curiosity had been sated.

Then I decided I had to show it off to a few people so they too could tick this little oddity off their maps of curiosity.

This time I was leading a small group of cyclists into one of those Bermuda Triangle spots on the mapping software where space aliens muck with the earth's electromagnetic filed and the GPS goes haywire. Fun!

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The first sight of a an effigy of a man hanging by his pretty white neck outside of Wenshui Village where the Highway 6 breaks from the Highway 3 to Gongguan looked to be a bad omen before we disappeared into the lost highway of Miaoli.

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The CPC Industry Road starts behind the CPC petroleum works near the site of Taiwan's earliest oil wells dating back to the late 19th century. The Japanese colonial government exploited Taiwan's limited oil reserves and built extensive extraction and processing facilities nearby. The site is still in use today with 28,000 barrels of crude pumped from a longitudinal vein along Taiwan's western coast.

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The climb is steady and steep in parts. There are few dwellings, though someone had build a large gated estate tucked behind the canopy of tall trees. It is eerily quiet as you ride past oil pumps high over Tongluo. The farming roads that cross the area are many and the hills are dotted with fruit farms.

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It is more than easy to take a wrong turn, and many of the surfaces are covered in dirt and debris.

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We emerged from the forest and into the misted farms above Dahu. The views are fantastic... when the clouds allow it.

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We eventually cruised down to meet the top of the Miaoli Route 60 that crosses the hill to join the Route 119 for home.

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