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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Points North: A Rare Adventure In Taipei


I spent my weekend in Taipei visiting Taipei Cycle, and it would have been a shame to spend a day ogling hardware without actually going for a ride.

I met Dom at the show and we casually sketched out some ride ideas for Sunday morning. Weather be damned, we were going to be on bikes somewhere in Taipei.


Amid a light drizzle over breakfast, we decided on a route following the Route 106 out of Muzha to the northern coast and the old coal town of Ruifang. The decision was made based on how easily it would be to exit the city without losing too much speed checking our directions.


The drizzle started to let up as we entered the hills.


The grades were pretty easy and I foolishly decided to give myself a workout by staying in the big ring as a kind of "game" with myself.


The climbing was quite doable with few real tough gradients to fight through. Just as in Taichung, the scooter and big-bike groups were out tearing up the roadways.


We made it to Pinghsi in good time and hoped the hills would eddy out to the coast.

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It was all a mirage. The climbing continued just as I continued to play my stupid game. The ramps would appear from behind the curves and I could only guess at where they stopped. Again and again we were pushed upward over the landscape.


Finally we had arrived at a descent that would continue in a favorable direction. I wiped the imaginary sweat from my figurative brow as any real sweat had been parched away in the gleams of sunlight that were filtering through the notoriously somber Taipei skies.

I assumed it would be a simple roll along the coast back to Taipei. I assumed the climbing was behind me and I had survived my day in the big ring with my legs intact. I had forgotten so much about the northern coast. 


As we sped toward Keelung Harbor, we made a detour out to Heping Island (Peace Island) to get a ride through history.

Heping Island was the center of Spain's colonial operation on Taiwan (1626-1662).

In 1626, King Philippe IV of Spain ordered the Spanish colony in Manila to construct a fort in northern Taiwan for use as a base of operations to better monitor and check their rivals in the Dutch East India Trading Company (VOC).

Heping Island hosted a large, walled fortress known as Fort San Salvidor, as well as a smaller supporting structure (La Retirtanda), a fortified lookout on the high point of the island (La Mira) and a small gun emplacement (El Cubo) at the narrow channel between Heping Island and the Taiwanese mainland.

The base was supported by a number of slaves from the Philippines and there was some trade and interaction between the Spanish and the local Basay and Senar groups of indigenes. Though, the Spanish attempts to convert the locals to Catholicism was a regarded as a general failure punctuated with extreme acts of violence committed against the Spanish priests, small Spanish controlled settlements sprung up around the fort and the harbor.


On August 24, 1642, a combined force of Dutch and indigenes landed and quickly overran the meager Spanish defenses on the island's eastern flank before taking the high ground at La Mira. After five days of lobbing cannon balls into the Spanish positions, the undermanned and undersupplied garrison surrendered. The chief administrator for the Spanish presence in Taiwan, Governor Gonzalo Portillo, was glad to be taken into Dutch custody where he was quick to provide the Dutch with lavish detail on the Spanish enterprise in East Asia. Had he been returned to Spanish custody he would have been executed for... failing to fight to the death.

The Dutch maintained a small presence at the fort until 1662, when  the Ming loyalist, Cheng Cheng-gong, ousted the Dutch.

A small Dutch force established another foothold at the site between 1664 and 1668, when it was determined that the Qing Empire did not have the ability to assist and support the Dutch in their bid to retake Taiwan.

There are still the remains of a cave once used by the Dutch soldiers to worship the Virgin Mary away from the disapproving eyes of the Dutch Reformed Church. 

Sadly, the cave is about the only accessible artifact from the days of Dutch colonialism on Heping Island.


We made our way back onto the Highway 2 toward Danshui. Somewhere along the way the breezy flats of the coast were replaced with undulating dips and climbs. I continued playing games in the big ring, but a pit in my stomach had gone unheeded too long and with the extra effort of the climbs turned into a complete lack of energy as soon as we banked into a typhoon with 45km left before Taipei, and that would have been simply the municipal welcome mat and not the actual city. 

As we rolled into Jinshan I was already in trouble. I tried to load up on some emergency calories at the Family Mart, but I had pushed a ring too far. 


Dom and I sat there at the Family Mart eating carbs and thinking the same thing. It was 42km to Taipei along an undulating coast into a headwind... or 9km to the Taipei city limit over Yangmingshan. 

Ah the Devil's Bargain! 


Knowing full well that I was spent, I opted for the climb as I enjoy climbs far more than windy flats. We edged up into the heights of the mountain and Dom slowly slid out of sight ahead. I stopped to take a few pictures and rest the legs. 

I lost a few great shots as I dodged Taipei's awful city folk out for a holiday on Taipei's favorite mountain. 


A few sprinkles fell and I wondered what I had gotten myself into. The winds became far more fierce as I climbed up from the jungle and into the tall grasses. 

As soon as I had hopped the final rise, I enjoyed a momentary plummet toward Taipei, until a parade of cars made the descent far trickier than I was in the mood to entertain with a smile. 

By the time we had landed at the MRT station, I had logged 140km of hills, mostly in the 53 tooth ring. I was hungry and filthy from road spray. 

It was another amazing ride in Taiwan. 

Some days that's just how it goes.