On Saturday I took some time to share some cycling moments with my buddy Chris, and in doing so, I was inspired to go out Sunday morning with the odd notion that I would go out and inflict a heavy amount of pain upon myself, then return home all the better for it. That was the plan.
I took off with a rough idea of what I wanted to do. It involved mixing a couple previous routes through southern Miaoli County into one route for climbing and distance.
I was deep in the drops before ever leaving the front door. Everything felt great. I was humming along feeling great. My speed was encouraging and at times I felt motorized.
The question I had in the back of my mind, was how long I could sustain this pace.
I left the door prepared for an entirely different ride.
I left prepared for a winter ride with breakfast, a few stops and a tailwind on the return trip.
As I cut through Fengyuan, I noticed they had changed my regular viaduct to the Highway 3 and had neglected to post any signage at the location.
I thought I'd have a go of it, and chose the middle lane for scooters.
The next thing I knew, I was on the Highway 13 in Houli.
Today was to be Backwards Day.
As the visionary landscape artist, Bob Ross, used to always say, "There are no mistakes... only happy little accidents."
I decided to work this error into my plan for the day and approach the route backwards. This meant hammering up to Sanyi on the Highway 13 and then traversing over to the Miaoli Route 130 via the Route 49.
This is a beautifully forested route, which pitches and dives through the foothills of Miaoli.
I incidentally cut through the Sheng Shing Tourist Station and dodged the meandering tourists as I tried to escape as quickly as possible.
There were several recreational cycling clubs out enjoying the weather.
I was also pleased to see the Route 130 included as an official part of the Miaoli Bikeway.
The morning haze had burned off by mod-morning. All of a sudden it dawned on me that I hadn't brought my sunscreen.
In Taiwan, it seems we have the first "hot ride" of the year at about this point. This is when the weather transitions from winter chills to blazing heat.
The transition is hard on the body.
After a good ride is oppressive heat, the summer riding becomes much easier... but oh the getting used to it....
Here I was, stuck at the bottom of a stiff climb, the sun beating down... wearing a jacket. I hadn't eaten enough and I wasn't carrying as much water, having gotten used to sipping my supplies in the cooler weather I was expecting.
I mounted my attack on the back of the Route 130 up Guan-dao Shan. It was nice to take my time to enjoy the views going up. I usually reserve this stretch of pavement for the screaming descent it offers, but this time I was learning all about what this mountain is made of.
While the front side of Guan-dao Shan is a hot, quick spin to the top, the back side is a slow burning grind. It is much less fun than the opposite way.
I was passed by numerous riders who already knew what I was thinking and took the descent from the front rather than heaving up the side I was on.
There were a couple riders joining me from the Sanyi side.
I came upon one old guy in coaching pants, who had managed to eat the whole climb out of the saddle on his mountain bike.
He wasn't carrying any water, but instead he had a soaked rag stuffed into a jury rigged container made from a plastic bottle.
I was soon slicing down the opposite side of the hill, pivoting on axis as the inertia made steering as easy as a little shift in weight.
By the time I got to the Highway 3, I knew I was pretty tired. So, I turned left onto the Highway 3 and went out to Dahu to continue my ride up the Route 55 on Pinglin Road.
Pinglin Rd. is another of those roads I have only ridden from Jhuolan and it seems far more forgiving coming from the southern end.
By this time my jacket was caked with the chalky white dust from the salt that had been distilled from my body, baked out by the unrelenting sun.
The part of Pinglin Rd. near Dahu has three or for good climbs that were just killing me.
I felt a cramp in my quad and eased off the bike for a stretch.
Just at that moment a yokel in a blue truck comes by and shouts out the window that I should be riding up the hill and not resting.
It was like the guy wanted to be punched in the face.
First of all, this is the first real climbing I have done since November.
Second: I had just hauled my ass up several nasty little climbs and one major hill.
Third: After losing so much to overuse injuries, the last thing I want to do is to mess my leg up again, and therefore, I take every sensation in my leg seriously.
And therein lies the big question.... How does one come back from an injury of this nature without re-injuring oneself while increasing stress on the muscles? You only know when too much is too much after the fact.
I suffered through the remaining hills with the assurance that with a steady wind from the north, it would be gravy all the way to Jhuolan. I imagined sliding out of the hills and into downtown Jhuolan with a steady wind at my back to mask my lack of conditioning.
I was sorely mistaken.
From other corroborating reports I have heard, Taiwan experienced the most inexplicable steady wind from the south... just for a couple hours yesterday about mid-day.
It made the whole route a pugilistic fight for ground and headway. What a pisser!
I arrived for a rest stop in Jhuolan and then headed toward Taichung. Before long, a breeze was pushing me from behind. I was charging forward in a deep tuck at 45kph toward home.
I am sure I am a better person for all of this... but it was admittedly a pretty hard day in the saddle.