It is a good feeling going into the hills
With the recent unstable afternoon weather and the biblical amount of rain that fell on Saturday, my plans for a Sunday Century were put on hold. I just didn't want to get out to Miaoli and have the skies open up for three hours.
Instead, I decided with all that rain there had to be some mud out there somewhere.
Furthermore, in many places around the world, this weekend is the beginning of cyclocross season. Cyclocross is a discipline in bicycle racing that has riders race drop-bar bikes around a course of mud, grass, sand and clay. The courses usually have sections of barriers the riders must dismount and jump over. Other sections require the riders to dismount and shoulder the bike up steep inclines. Basically, it's a lot of fun.
So, I took off my slicks and slapped on a pair of Mavic Locust CX knobby tires for a ride up into the trails around Taichung County.
When I first arrived in Taiwan over a decade ago, this route was one of my earliest trips after buying a second-hand motorcycle registered to some other foreigner who no longer lived in Taiwan. That is just how we did things back then. Anyhow, I got lost and found this glorious river valley with deep pools and nature abound. There had once been a back way in, but it has since been blocked by a landslide following an earthquake. Now, only part of the river is really accessible. There are plenty of waterfalls to soak in, and one you can dive into, though several people have drown in it. It had once been a little secret, but has since become popular with local expats as a place to BBQ and drink cheap beer.
With so little access, the valley has become more overgrown and the dirt road that follows the river has become less knowable.
I planned to head back by noon to avoid any trouble with the weather, so I got out early and maybe a little too fast.
When I left, I filled my tires up to their maximum 75psi for better riding on the road. The knobbies take a lot of roll out of a set of tires and I am not sure how or why so many people ride mountain bikes with knobs on the road.
I also forgot my multi-tool and my mini-pump. I only had one CO2 cartridge in my bag, and so I would have to leave my tires inflated to 75psi to avoid pinch flats. Suddenly I was on a "one flat and out" rule for the day. I didn't want to get stranded out there.
I arrived at the trailhead to find it was in much worse condition that I had remembered. The path had deep ruts carved into the clay from the heavy rains and large stones had been scattered all over the place from landslides. There were short sections of slick pavement divided by longer sections of slick clay, dirt and debris.
One thing I noticed was that my bike handling skills have greatly improved. I was able to spin out, un-clip, and hop off when the traction failed me. The best tactic was to aim for the center line where there a 2ft crop of crass had grown up. The grass offered better traction, but the centerline hid some major stones. Many sections had become so overgrown that I felt like I was riding through the undergrowth with no trail at all.
A major part of the cyclocross experience is the portaging and running with a bike. I had several of these moments when the hills became too steep or too rough to ride over. Some of it became a game of shifting weight to apply traction or to improve control. I blasted through little streams that divided the sections of track.
This route is probably at about the limit of my skills and equipment. It is one gnarly path. Despite the difficulty, the area is filled with wildlife. Aside from the large butterflies and egrets, I managed to see a pheasant. I also heard a troop of macaques off somewhere in the distance. Furthermore, I was alone. There would be nobody coming up or going down that hill.
I continued to fight my way up over some dicey "single track" and through some nasty elephant grass, but the hill was just getting nastier and nastier. Every movement was a negotiation with terra firma.
I finally entered a clearing where someone had a small cluster of banana trees, about two dozen Loquat trees and a shack. I was at about 2000ft and wanted to keep going, but I noticed a half dozen puppies hiding under a tree and did not want to meet a protective mama dog. My ascent was over. I could see a thick bank of clouds rolling in from the ocean and figured the rain was on its way.
It was time for the dangerous descent.
Descending is much harder as gravity becomes your enemy. You need to just stand and hang your ass over the rear wheel to stop from going over the handlebars. The entire descent was completely a technical adventure. I was pulled into deep ruts and toward melon-sized stones. Control becomes a very loose definition of downward progress.
I managed to ONLY take two spills with minor damage, just a few cuts and some burns from the sharp grass.
Lower down I picked up some speed and managed to negotiate the deep mud puddles and other surprises with ease. I am very glad to have 32 spokes on each wheel. I know I meted out some pounding on them coming down.
I finally made my final run back to the falls where I surprised a father and his children who were going to play in the water or catch insects.
The bike looked beautiful. Mud and filth caked all over the frame and components.
The discs performed flawlessly, save for a squeak in the rear brake.
Caution: This route and this kind of riding can be dangerous and expensive. It is easy to take a fall or lose traction. The bike takes a lot of the abuse, so the rider doesn't have to, and that means it is very easy to have a catastrophic failure out in the middle of nowhere. Do not do this unless you are prepared to replace parts or buy a new bike.
Here is a little video of my adventure to give you all a look at how we do Jungle Cross in Taiwan.
Link to the YouTube Posting: here