Monday, December 17, 2012
First, I would like to welcome myself back to blogging after a few weeks off. I had some other contracted writing to get done and most of the other recent cycling news is deeper than a few minutes of fluff.
I can think of no better way to roll back onto the blog, than with this post from a gorgeous Sunday of cycling through one of the most secretly awe inspiring landscapes in Taiwan.
With rotten weather and other obligations, I was looking to get back on the bike, but I was in a bit of a dilemma. I wanted to ride something outside the regular loops to Sun Moon Lake or Miaoli, but my lack of conditioning meant that a little more adventure would remain out of reach until my legs and fitness return.
Somewhere in the discussion, Dom, who is getting used to his role as the action model for this blog, mentioned riding out to Wujie. The village of Wujie is nestled deep in a valley behind Puli Township, and boasts some of the most spectacular images of verdant farms tucked against looming shadows of ancient cliffs.
Soon the discussion turned to the Nantou Route 83, a route which traverses the Wanda Reservoir below Wushe.
The idea was too interesting to pass on and we quickly made arrangements to drive out to Puli and make the most of a sunny December morning with a short 60km ride through the mountains.
Highway 14 to Wushe
We parked in a hospital parking lot and fueled up on some coffee and snacks before launching into the flow of traffic heading toward Wuling Pass.
The roads are nice enough, but there were ten too many Nissan Cefiros on the road to make the climb up to Wushe a very relaxing one. If we weren't getting barnstormed by a battle damaged Cefiro, it seemed we we being bulldozed out of the way by a fleet of VW Transporter vans sent by one hotel or another to haul guests around the window framed scene-scape in the cushioned comfort of a foam seat.
The climbing starts after about 15km from Puli, and it is never really as bad as it looks. There are about four hairpin turns to grunt through, but the worst is over so quickly it is actually a very accessible climb for a variety of riders.
We met a few other people on the road and chatted to a couple of guys who were eager to get up to Wuling and... I dunno... experience cold.
Dom charged the hill and we were soon sitting in Wushe ready to embark on a little adventure.
View from Wushe
As we turned onto the Nantou Route 83, I knew it was going to be a great day of riding. The sun was beaming through the branches. There were blue skies above and the sparkle of light glittering off the waters below.
Nantou Route 83
I often forget how pretty Taiwan's forests become in the winter. I hope my readers will forgive me for the numerous images in this post, but when it came time to edit, I just couldn't bring myself to cut.
The scenery made it as if we were biking through a living Bob Ross painting. The hills were dobs of Van Dyke Browns, Yellow Ochres, Burnt Siennas, with wisps of Titanium White laying blanket-like over the hump of a mountain.
The layers of color punching through the green added a sense of depth and texture that is often missing from the hillsides in other months.
The water below was a glassy reflecting pool that gave the mountains the illusion of staring into a hole through which you could peer through the earth. There were skies above and below us.
On the opposite end of the reservoir, we could look out at Chingjing Farm and the tourist villas above.
Past the reservoir the road cuts along shallow, swift moving rivers that supply small villages with work on the reservoir, as well as a some heartbreak during the floods of a typhoon. We passed more than one memorial along the route to people who had died in flooding.
There was still plenty of traffic as the roads were in excellent shape. Most of the cars were pointed toward the Awanda Leisure Forest; a lovers escape to look at maple leaves and for girls to be impressed by the massive camera lenses swinging amid falling leaves. Be sure to avoid the Awanda route as it is a dead end. Stay right.
My little point and shoot Canon was obviously not enough to impress Dom, so we made slow progress toward Wujie while we tripped over our own amazement in looking at the scenery.
Be sure to fill up on water. The entire road along the river is so stunning, it will leave your mouth agape for lone periods at a time and hastening dehydration.
The riverside cliffs are so overwhelming and the lack of much in the way of tourist infrastructure is even more rewarding. You simply feel like you are an invisible observer as an entirely different world unfolds around you.
Song Lin Village
We stopped in the village of Song Lin for a water and to take a look around. The entire village was arranged in a manner very similar to how it may have looked seventy years ago. It was a grid of narrow streets and houses that were about three times as long as they were wide. In many ways they were timber and concrete versions of the traditional houses once used by the area's Bunun and Atayal speakers.
As we regrouped, a little boy rode up on his bike and demanded that I speak with him in English. I scowled by best Han Solo half-faced scowl, and told him that I wasn't going to ask him to dance or sing for me. He then changed the subject to my relationship with Kobe Bryant.
The remaining 10k of road is a series of short, punchy climbs and easy glides through narrow corners amid tall grass and terraced farms.
There is also a prehistoric site along the road where there is evidence of a settlement dating back over 2000 years. This would place this river valley as a key location in the dispersal of Austronesian languages and cultures.
With such a great road it was easy to enjoy picking up a little bit of speed between camera stops. One corner had me coming in too hot and I just about slid into the gutter.
At one point we encountered a group of mountain bikers coming in from Wujie. From the looks of them we were not too far off. The area boasts some excellent mountain bike trails.
As we burst through a tunnel that looked like something out of a Disney theme park, we were suddenly met with one of the most beautiful images this rider has ever encountered in Taiwan.
We also stopped to take a look at one of the many waterfalls dotting the area.
A quick lunch of fried pork in Wujie provided enough fuel to push us over the Nantou Route 71 toward home.
The climb out of Wujie is far more preferable to the ride leading into Wujie from Puli.
I turned back a couple more times to catch a glimpse of the entire valley and reflect on the images I will try to hold in my mind for as long as possible. It was truly on of the best rides I have had the chance to complete.
For all those riders in central Taiwan.... The next time you think about going out to Sun MoonLake again.... give this route a try. The rewards far outweigh the investment. I will surely be doing this ride again. Hopefully as a part of a longer campaign.
Now get out there and ride this before the Tourism Bureau finds out and ruins it with tour busses and sausage stalls.