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Sunday, September 3, 2017

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


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.


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).


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.


Friday, September 1, 2017

Coffee and Tea Ride Through Namaxia


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Another post with a map can be found HERE.