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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Central Century: Hell on Hills

Well... he IS from San Francisco!

This Sunday we had a monster ride planned that had been on the To-Do list for some time. This would be my second time hitting this route and I invited a few friends along to see how they liked it. Any century ride is hard work, and this was going to be even harder with four extended climbs to add to the distance. The estimated total was a combined 7200ft of vertical elevation gain over 160km. The weather looked promising with some cloud cover and the breeze had died down.

The Lay of the Land

This time we had a good group of guys joining in the festivities. We had Michael T. and Darren R, from Tanzi and Feng Yuan respectively. Patrick M. was back from San Francisco for the week. At a bike shop, Patrick found a strong rider in Philippe F., a native of Montreal, who is in Taichung working as an aerospace engineer. And finally, Michael C. was back in town from Linkou to have a go at his first true century-- and he picked a hell of a route to hammer it out on.

Hsin She

We met at the "big tree" at the traffic circle in Da Keng on the outskirts of Taichung city, where the 129 starts. The ride started with a wake-up climb of about 1000 vertical feet to Hsin She and then we trapsed along Xie Zhong road to the Fengbu Industrial Rd. Just follow the signs to the "Lavender Cottage" and you can't miss it. The road takes you down a great introductory descent and glides along the Dajia River to the Highway 21.

Introducing Philippe

We started our second climb up the Highway 21 to Guo Xing. This is a great, great climb. There are fruit farms on all sides and it is not too steep. Maybe 6% with a few flat areas to pick up speed and rest the legs.

Michael T. Leads the Lower Climb

The Highway 21 is a favorite route for cyclists and Big Bike motorcycle clubs. Sometimes it can get a bit dicy with motorcycles and cars overshooting corners.

Sunday Cycling Club

F-1 Dreamin'

The final section of the climb dispenses with the switchbacks and just sort of weaves to the peak to make sure you put some more leg into the climb.

Hoping Township

For most of the morning low clouds hung over the hills and gave us some cover, but they were threatening to burn away, so hydration started to become a major concern.

Coffee Talk

We waited at a little cafe at the top that offers spectacular views of the foothills leading up to the Central Mountain Range. As we sipped coffee and munched on complimentary chocolates, the owner, who spoke decent English, was happy to discuss her experiences traveling in the United States. It was at this point that Michael T. and Darren decided to cut it short for the day and the remainder of the group carried on as a quartet. We pressed our speed down the other side, carving into switchbacks and avoiding dogs sleeping in the road on the way down.

Taiwanese Cyclists

We stayed on the Highway 21 down to Guo Xing and then took the left to remain on the 21 all the way to Puli. There is a brief climb before dropping into a little green river valley. This section of the Highway 21 is a designated cycling route and there are all sorts of cafes and tourist stops along the way.
The Incredible Edible Bridge?

One of the more interesting features is the bridge that is completely held together with rice gluten, sugar and hemp. In 1940, with construction materials difficult of find do to war rationing, the local people used some more readily available substances for the mortar. The bridge held up until a few years ago when flooding destroyed part of the original structure. It has since been rebuilt using the original methods of construction.

Climbing To Puli

We continued through the river valley until we saw our turn-off toward Puli. There is a little sign hidden on the side of the road that indicated the alternate route. This is a much better route than I had originally planned and it avoids the heavier tourist bus traffic on the main road. Still, we were required to assail the ramparts of the wall-like ridge in our third major climb. By this time it was about noon and the sun was shining directly on us. I was beginning to feel the beginnings of a cramp coming on and was running short on liquids.

A Needed Respite in the Flat Lands

The top of the ridge opens up into a wide plateau of vegetable farms that seem to sprout up in neat box-shaped fields out of the deep red clay. It is a truly amazing sight.

Racing Toward Lunch

The road is wide, straight and fast. We were able to gain a lot of speed on the descent off the hill, which seems to go on forever, but lands smack in the middle of Puli. By this time we were are starving and crazy from the heat, so I led the group to a little place that sells everything and it was even air conditioned. It was a great time to pop open a bottle of ice-cold coke.

The Tunnel To Sun Moon Lake

Upon making our way out of Puli, we hit out fourth climb on the Highway 21 toward Sun Moon Lake. The climb is not steep, but it is long and steady, like the opening hill on a roller coaster. We just kept an even pace up, up, up. Now, in my opinion, Sun Moon Lake is vastly over rated. Maybe because I grew up in Seattle where large bodies of fresh water are all over the place, but I think it may be more because of the way unchecked greed and overdevelopment have run riot over the lake. Therefore I had no trouble steering clear of the lake and took the group on the Nantou Local Road #131 out toward Shuili.

The odd colored water makes the picture look like a postcard from the 60's

We had been investing in altitude all day long and it was about time for a withdrawl. The #131 is miles of curving descents toward Shuili. It is a good opportunity to take pressure off the legs while making up the distance. The best part is that it carves its way through some serious scenery. I wish I had taken more pictures, but the riding was too much fun to stop. I just love this section of road.

Ogling Melons

We finally arrived in Shuili and decided to stop for a snack. Michael C. disappeared and somehow came back with half a watermelon cut into pieces and we cooled off on someone's stoop dribbling fresh watermelon all over ourselves. Refreshing!

Shui li

All too soon it was time to warm the legs back up at make hay for Taichung. For most of the way along the Highway 16 and all the way to Nantou, we formed a pace line to help share the work. This really helped keep the speed up over that distance.

Keeping A Steady Pace

We finally pulled into Taichung and called it good at around 6:00pm. It was just a marvelous day of riding with some very great people. The people and conversation really make the ride. I would further like to congratulate Michael C. on the completion of his first standard century. There is just something special about the triple digits. He should really feel pride in his accomplishment and I was happy to be there when he crossed that bridge.

Thanks guys!

A Break at the 921 Memorial Earthquake Pylon

Here Is Out Route: I highly recommend doing any or all of it (Bike Maps seems to skimp on altitude).

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