With all the mandatory New Year running around over, Saturday made the perfect day to get out on the bike and enjoy life. For me this is becoming something of a rehab assignment as I try to build my legs and my body back up after several weeks of down time and minimal training.
Nothing makes me feel more alive than climbing and descending through the foothills of Taiwan's central mountain range.
I met with Michael Turton and a very talented athlete from the UK, Simon McKenna. Simon is a solid rider with climbing chops and a lot of fun to ride with. He made for great company on this trip.
After some debate over which route to take, we decided on the Highway 21, over the mountain to Guoxing and back. This is a route that seems to roll so many feelings into one ride-- elation, amazement, awe, joy, giddiness, determination, freedom... and even a little fear.
It is never the type of fear I experience when a dog bursts out of the bushes to take a bite out of my thigh, but rather a life confirming fear in my own ability to handle the situation at hand. Will I take this corner too fast? Will that car sweep into my lane as I hit the corner? Will I apply a fraction too much pressure on my brakes? Will I get greedy with the speed and take a little too much? Will my leg cramp up before I get over this peak? Will I have the energy I need to feel ok to the end?
The route seems like it was designed directly from the imagination of a regular cyclist.
We started with a climb out of the Taichung basin up the Taichung #129 to Hsin She. The climb is one of Taichung's classic weekend climbs with several switchbacks and panoramic views. This was my first time climbing it in standard 39-24 or 25 tooth gearing. I have also been riding at a more aggressive angle, so I can feel the muscles in my legs working in different places. I made the climb in good time to my relief.
The weather soon made its intentions apparent and we all had to strip off our layers of warmth and apply sunscreen. It was such a relief to be warm again. I left my windbreaker on for protection against the sun.
After our adjustments for the weather we were soon zipping down the Taichung 93, a smooth and drunkenly curving road that descends out to the Highway 21.
The greatest thing about approaching the Highway 21 from the Hsin She side is that it is deceivingly easy. The roads are wide and the grade is relatively shallow for such a climb. The road evens out for a while in a series of cuts and corners above the river valley below before a crucial corner where the final push to the top begins.
The final push to the summit follows a road that shimmies and curves up a 7 or 8 percent grade that is as smooth as glass and peaks at a small cafe. There is a urinal at the top too (although as a male and a cyclist... everything is a urinal). We stopped for a while to hydrate and take in the views.
Finally it was time for the descent. With a climb as easy as the western route, a payoff like this should be illegal. The long descent down the mountain is a series of high speed corners and switchbacks that more resembles a downhill ski course rather than a road. With a tighter bike and lower center of gravity I was more able to bite into every arc and use the inertia to sling myself around every bend. Whenever the road let up, I was out of the saddle to pump up the speed for the next corner.
Simon (bottom left) Makes His Descent
I stopped to watch Simon make his descent and was it was just as thrilling to watch as he took each contour at speed. I was reminded of going out to the water park and watching kids go down the Big Dipper. Whoosh!
Like the end of any roller coaster ride, we began easing into a straight-away in the village of Guoxing where we stopped for lunch and an awkward free English lesson or two for the benefit of some over eager parents and their embarrassingly mortified children.
The thrill ride was over as we casually rolled along the Nantou #133 to the Highway 14. The Highway 14 was thick with hundreds of bored families trying to force love back in their relationships by taking a car trip to tourist spots where the children can read comic books or bury their noses in a PSP. The Highway 14 is a necessary evil to return to Taichung and actually made the idea of another climb over the 136 more entertaining by the minute.
We stuck it out on the Highway 14 until the rural alternate route, which appears to be a politician's gift to the little communities that were left behind by the Highway 14.
The alternate route follows narrow farm roads through the rice fields past several depressed villages that would probably never see a tourist if the alternate had not been designated through their town. It is not a direct or even a well marked road, but it is not part of the Highway 14, which is a bonus.
We finally turned onto the Highway 3 back to Taichung and fought our way through the madness of Wufeng on the weekend.
This is one of my favorite routes and I plan to use it as my test route when my new bike arrives. It offers a variety of disciplines for any cyclist to test a bike or a body against and moreover... it is a hell of a lot of fun.