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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Back Roads: Hualong Lane


Of all the small roads in central Taiwan, the Hualong Lane (華龍巷) in Nantou is one of the strangest strips of road I may never ride again.


The ride starts off well enough on a forested climb off the Nantou Route 131 from Shuili. The Route 64 is a super little route to traverse the hills near Sun Moon Lake to Shuili. Just near the peak of the climb is a small lane that disappears into the wilds, but shows a connection to the marvelous alternate to the Highway 14 in the Nantou Route 68.


Some workmen we met at the base of the first descent gave us some advice to take the high road on the left rather than the obvious choice on the right. We decided to heed local knowledge and make the climb.


It turned into some serious ramps in the open sunshine  past tree farms of dubious distinction. Things seemed okay, but then the views started.

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The top revealed a dirty section of road, but a full 360 degree vantage point to appreciate the entire Puli basin and its surrounding peaks. We found we were on the ridge that runs parallel high above the Nan tou Route 147. Everything was in sight. It was such a rare vantage point that we stayed to soak it in.


We briefly interrupted the singing of a group of Atayal ginger pickers who seemed delighted to break up the morning by exchanging jokes with us.

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The fun ended at a dusty descent that led us speeding off the mountain and into the high-walled courtyard of a farming compound...with its high gate sealed shut and full of barking dogs.

I really didn't want to hike back up that hill, so I bothered the owner to open the gate and let us out. I still have no idea if there could have been an alternate route outside of private property.
The road emptied us out along the Route 68 near the old tree (You'll know it when you see it) and we decided to call it a day for our little adventure.


Back Roads: Off Snow Mountain



Somewhere around the 14km marker on Xue Shan Rd (雪山路) there is a tiny lane that splits off along side the Changhua Telecom building. I have passed this road numerous times and always wondered about veering off to give it a shot. The usual reasons had always prevented me from doing that route; time...purpose...fuel...water...legs.....

I was out of excuses and figured I would give it a try. Honestly, my greatest fear is that I would be hiking my bike on impossible grades in the heat, without a clear path to civilization. This is a real fear in some parts of Taiwan. Everything may look dandy on a map, but become a totally different can of worms in the field.

I also liked the risk.


I completed the lower sections of lazy mountain switchbacks through the dazzling greens where the fruit orchards meet the forest. I always love the Daxue Shan Rd. for its open views across the Dajia River and alluvial plain. Local spaces that I know as shadowy clumps of concrete shops and townhouses shrink into the landscape. On a clear day Taichung and its surroundings can be seen from the southern side of the mountain. You can even look out into the Taiwan Strait.

The usual route is to keep climbing to the end of the road as the neighborhood practice climb for Wuling Pass or Alishan.

This route has a bit of a different character.


The immediate departure from the main road immediately offers up the goods on a slight descent. The area is shaded by tall trees of the forest that offer sanctuary for wildlife. I almost ran over a pheasant within the first 100m of roadway.


While the roads are not glass smooth, they are not unridable. There is an ultimate sense of quiet. I believe I did not see a car for over an hour of riding.


The road flattens out along cedar lined slopes over Dajia. There are a couple campgrounds along the way and a leisure farm at the end of one spur from the main road, so keep left when you come to an intersection.


This road feels like a portal into another world. One could easily imagine being on a lonely road deep in the forest of some other country. It is hard to believe you are still in Taiwan.


After a couple more kilometers through

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The farm areas open up the northern slope of the mountain and reveal the full spectrum of central Taiwanese landscapes. The entire ride provides a 300 degree sweep of the areas below Daxue Shan from Taichung to Dahu and out into the mountains.

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Most of the ride is perfectly fine for staying on the bike. Even a road bike can handle the terrain just fine.

The only part that poses a problem is the final descent. I found it to be mostly unrideable. the gradients were simply too steep for too long to feel safe. A short hike and I was back in a rideable location that eventually links to the high point of  the Route 47 (東崎街). The rest is a marvelous ride back to Dongshih for a satisfying day of riding without giving up the entire day. It offers a feeling of having stepped out of normal expectations for a brief vacation in an entirely different place before returning--a get away.