body{background-attachment: fixed ! important; }

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Wrinkle in Climbs: Nantou Route 68 and Route 64


After a week to recover from last week's physical implosion on Hohuan Mountain, I decided to limp back onto the pubic roadways and have a little adventure on some roads I had never ridden. Sometimes you just need to add a few wrinkles into a more direct route to make the ride worthwhile. That is what I set out to do.


Both of these routes offer new and more interesting pathways in and out of the Sun Moon Lake area, and may be a welcome change from the traffic clogged arteries of the Highways 21 and 14.


I lazily biked into Caotun and then lowered my shoulder as I pushed into a choppy crosswind along the Highway 14. I wasn't feeling too great and had no idea what my day would look like. As I eased my way onto the Route 147 that cuts a deep channel between Jiufen Er Shan and the foothills of the Sun Moon Lake area I decided that I would commit to a little adventure.


I stopped to double check my GPS and dribble sweat on a stainless steel table propped under the awning of an earth god temple. This was the beginning of the Nantou Route 68.


A couple of signs near the start of the road were advertising some sort of 玉門關谷. I had no idea what this Jade Gate Valley was, but the locals seemed to think it was something worth advertising. I was under the assumption that it was another "spectacular" tunnel of trees or some type of tourist temple site.


I lurched up into the mountains having left my climbing legs back on Wuling Pass. Within a few minutes I was high above the Route 147.

IMG_1584 IMG_1592

The road was a slithering slab of seamless asphalt. Being an election year, no road is too smooth for a repaving job, and this area had not been overlooked.


After a couple of bends along a jungled cliffside, I finally discovered what the Jade Gate was all about. It was an enticing set of cliffs and waterfalls that rivalled the Fairy Falls in Taichung's Taiping area. I was close to calling off the ride for a leap into the bubbling water under the falls, but I carried on.


The Nantou Route 68 was not even close to as difficult as I had imagined as it mostly slung around the swampy tributaries of the former series of ponds that once made up the Sun Moon lake area before the Japanese hydroelectric project transformed the basin into the lake we see today,


After a few more dips and humps I was closing in on the Highway 21. This would be a great route for someone looking to add a little panache to a Sun Moon Lake trip without incurring too much of a climbing penalty. The lack of traffic was well worth the few climbs I did have to contend with.

IMG_1614 IMG_1615

I almost hopped on the Highway 21 and went back home...almost.


Curiosity and improving legs got the better of me and I hooked an immediate right onto the Nantou Route 64. The Route 64 is a different animal all together. Within a kilometre the road rises high above the Puli Basin.

IMG_1617 IMG_1618

I could look down across layers of hills and the betel covered mounds below. I had looked across this area many times before on the ascent into Sun Moon Lake and I always wondered what could possibly be out in the seeming vastness of the wilderness unfolded before me. I was about to find out.

IMG_1621 IMG_1623

After a couple of 12% grades, the signs get more encouraging.


I followed along as the road became nothing but a strip-- a well paved strip, mind you-- but a strip nonetheless.

The coolness of the shady track was a dream in the summer heat as I zipped under the boughs of tall cedars. A troop of monkeys burst out of the bushed just in front of me and I was startled off my bike.


At one point the road was so lovely, I hiked for a hundred meters or so, just to take in the serenity of the mountain. Not a single car in sight.

IMG_1634 IMG_1646

I passed the Taiwan Forestry Research Station amid the trees and tried to take it all in. This road was such a pleasant surprise. I couldn't live in the moment long enough.

IMG_1647 IMG_1658

Finally, it was time to descend along the Route 64 to the Route 131, with is a long, wide downhill and enough speed over the distance to convince yourself that you are a much faster rider than you really are.


I passed through Shui-li and then beat a heavy rhythm back to Taichung, where I was stung by the smoke of a thousand prayer fires along the Highway 3 to close out Ghost Month.

It was a great day on the bike. I have missed these days.


Route 2,770,023 - powered by

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Never Say Never: Never Stop Wuling Hill Climb 2014


It was two thirty in the morning and I was wide awake stuffing my face with a peanut butter-honey-raisin-banana sandwich. How's that for the beginning of a blog post? 

Once again, I was signed up to do the Never Stop Wuling Hill Climb; a quad-snapping ascent to 3275m. over the highest mountain pass in East Asia. I have done this ride before, but never as disastrously epic as this one.  


I joined with Team Mosaic and met at the T-Mosaic store on Taichung's Liming Rd. It had been a while since I last rode with Mosaic and I was missing several of the familiar faces I had grown accustomed to racing with. 

By half-past three we were on a mini-bus headed down the freeway toward Puli, where the race was set to begin.


The last time I rode this race, I finished in pretty good time despite not taking things too seriously and taking lots of pictures along the way. That race was also going to be my last Wuling race as the organisers had flooded the course with over 6000 riders and another thousand unregistered riders who had come to join the circus. 

That day ended with dangerous traffic jams near the finish and awful delays on the return trip. This time was much better. The race was pared down to only about 1200 riders with delayed starts by age group. This was also my first race in the 40-45 age bracket. 

The riders all milled around trying to be all Cool Hand Luke while preening with the latest, lightest and newest gear. 

I was especially impressed with Team Poo. I can only imagine how their day went (Insert string of obvious puns here). 


The starting pistol sounded over some awful roadside hip hop and I was underway. The first time in a long time. 

I spun easily all along the flatter introduction to Taiwan's Central Mountain Range. y legs felt fine, despite being insane enough to make another attempt on this mountain with a 53/39 crank. worked before....

One of the highlights came when a group of about twenty ancient baddasses in the "Over 45" bracket came roaring by in a blazing train of fury and spite. It was obvious that being pushed to the back to make way for the young guns had rubbed a few in this group the wrong way and they were going to put the hurt on some young hotshot further up the mountain. Don't mess with experience. 


I made ground on the first real ascent up to Wushe, but lost it just as fast when I couldn't shake the cramp in my left calf. I surrendered and pulled into the Wushe 7-11 to stock up on liquids. You see, I had been sipping on water that had been sitting in my bottles for almost a week. I had erroneously assumed we would be stopping at a 7-11 before the race...just like before. Nope! We simply went to the middle of nowhere and waited. 

With water bottles filled with something better than brackish water and a good stretch, I was back on the road. With a 39-tooth crank, I couldn't help but make time, despite being overmatched for my level of fitness and training. I did briefly consider ditching the race at Wushe and heading off for a lovely ride down the Route 88 to Wujie, but pride kept me in the saddle on a course set for the top. 


It was all pretty ho-hum up the lower ramps, which is where suddenly, in the middle of the pack, the ride turns into a grunting crawl. The action is so slow that a heavy cloud of B.O. lingers over the roadway making for an unpleasant climb if you are anywhere within 10 meters of another rider. All that stank just hangs there and you are unable to move away fast enough. 

I skipped over the lower water and feed stations feeling pretty good on my morning while making time calculations based on elevation and memory. 


Left and right riders were stopping to stretch, rest, pee or smoke. The 7-11 proved to be a popular hang out for many riders who were lacking the energy to continue. 


I felt some fatigue, but I was still climbing at a pretty good pace-- good enough for a respectable time. The views were staggering. I had been preparing for a day of clouds and sprinkles, but the sky was crystal clear. 


The open view of the ridge line is a heart breaker. 


The torture was enough to elicit an unfriendly gesture (in the UK) from some participants as I snapped photos on my way up. 


I had passed 2000 meters and it was almost as if someone had instantly pulled out my batteries. 


I needed to stop and stretch my back...then my hamstrings...then my calves.


I was grinding up the hill on old muscles; muscles that had been built up years before, but nothing new. I had no endurance and kept wondering how much longer it was going to take. 


I thought about calling it a day and letting the team know I would be waiting for them in Ching-jing or Puli or Taichung. Still I kept grinding upward. "It is the altitude fucking with you", I kept telling myself over and over again. Hell, it probably was. 


I knew the team bus was waiting in Kun-yang. If I could only get to Kun-yang I could accept my defeat and declare a DNF. 


I knew my time was well beyond disappointing for a competitor like myself. I watched larger and then smaller waves of riders slip on past up the mountain and I was a touch jealous at the ease in which they were able to climb. 

IMG_8536 IMG_8538

Te first riders started dropping from Wuling with their time certificates in hand, while I was still well below the death ramps of Kun-yang.


The roadside carnage was mounting as the shoulder began to fill with hobbling and disabled riders. 


I stopped to rest and snap a few pictures. I figured a few more minutes wouldn't make that much of a difference at that point, so I might as well record it. 


Just under Kun-yang the road lifts up like the rungs of a ladder-- one lane stacked upon the next. 


On the last ramp to the Kun-yang parking lot, I was forced to hike. Yes, I was walking my bike up the penultimate ramp on the mountain. 

For my teammates this was the ultimate vision of absurdity. After I had finished at the front of just about every other clime we had done together, I was suddenly the picture of futility and defeat... almost. 

They delighted, this one time, in my moment of painful despair and I played along with it because I knew better. It is a sight I hope they can chew on and enjoy for a little while. 

I almost put my bike down and for the day... but that is not what I am about. I could see the finish line within a kilometer up ahead, so clenched my jaw and slung my leg back over the seat with the deep tightness in my muscles pulling my body apart. 


It was a slow grind up the final ramps before the road levelled off at the finish line. 


The clouds that had been threatening the ride all morning had finally pulled a foggy hood over the pass and the temperatures dropped. 


Riders were milling around, taking pictures with the famous sign, smoking, and some were even tang in some extra oxygen. My final score was a lowly 5hr and 50min.


I was lucky. I had made it. There was one fatality on the day as one 33yo. rider succumbed to cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead later in the afternoon.


While my team and other riders who know me or have followed my riding when I have been healthy, might make light of my less than impressive time, I sorely rode away with the victory I had been looking for. 

Almost one year ago I was unable to climb out of bed. I could barely walk let alone stand for any more than five minutes. I was in a state of excruciating pain for over three solid weeks and constant pain for the better part of a year. I was forced to give p all forms of exercise for eight months and even wondered if I would ever be able to ride a bike again with or without pain. 

I have been slowly training my body back into shape. This all happened at the worst possible time in my life to get back into shape, but now that I have put this mountain beneath me, I don't see any reason why I can't continue to train and bring myself back to where I was at my peak. 

My team is already on notice: Next Year!