Saturday, October 19, 2013

Epic Rides: Taiwan Alishan to Kaochung

The first challenge on any Asian epic ride out of HK is of course the getting there. Taiwan is a short flight, but tack on a 3hr drive and a 1am finish becomes a fast reality. That said, leaving my office at 6pm and going to bed at 2000m in a Taiwanese hilltop town on a Friday isn't bad going.Once arrived I was joining up with Aron, James & Guy (Colossi regulars from HK) and Todd (James's mate from NZ), all of whom had been riding for the week from North to South, taking in some of Taiwans biggest peaks. I would join them for the last 3days over the bank holiday, with 2 monster days planned for the Saturday & Sunday.

Saturday - Alishan Loop

Staying at 2000m has the advantage of delivering a nice steady 40km descent from breakfast, give or take a few smaller climbs along the way down to around 400m elevation. The change in air over this altitude change was quite remarkable. Rolling out a little late from our hostel to join the main road I was struck by how dry the air felt in the back of my throat - a far cry from Hong Kong summer, and quite refreshing to be breathing in such clean crisp air. 

However, back down at lower level we were soon back in the tropics sweating our way up and down short sharp leg crunching hills, the notable exception being a completely uncategorised mystery climb of around 1000m elevation to a non existent railway station. For some unknown reason everyone also turned down my suggestion to get lunch in a packed village square complete with dancing girls and fire crackers.

Smile- you're lost!

This wasn't a problem per se, but having also lost our back up van we had to find a suitable meeting point & lunch spot, the day getting later and time running short for our not inconsiderable ride back, or up to base camp, including a 6pm pre-booked dinner at the hostel. Lunch was a bit of a write off- having missed the regular slot, we had to persuade the restaurant to bring out cup noodles and biscuits to sustain us.

Of course, more climbing followed on a day with virtually no flat at all. Crawling back up to 2000m elevation off junk food  trying to beat the imminent darkness was quite a challenge with 3000m of climbing in your legs. We totalled out at 3500m of elevation for the day over just 150km. Taking in the descents, that works out at something like 70km of climbing at 5% by my calculations- no wonder I was stuffed by the end! 

I have to say though, it wasn't like I was the fresh legged fella joining the weary travellers- they all had no shortage of power in their pins. Maybe altitude training does work after all?!Bikes locked up in the KTV outbuilding I slept pretty well for the night, tired, but keen to get out there and do it all again the next day.

Sunday- Alishan to Wu Tai

Today's smorgasbord of Swedish planned delights was more hills (of course) and a punchy 190kms distance to our next hill top destination of Wu Tai- this time a little lower at just 700m. Given our starting height of 2000m, looking at the route profile it would be easy to be fooled into thinking that there were no major hills on this one, but we still managed 2800m of total elevation for the day- punchy...

Still, the first couple of hours were mainly descending, and a real joy. Having woken to a sea of clouds beneath us we proceeded to punch through the mist on our way down the mountain side before the sun burnt away the rest. 

A real highlight for me was a very steep technical descent with unexpected blind ever increasing radius hairpins. Having followed James & Todd on the descent I rounded one right hander to find them both on the wrong side of the road on the grass verge, laughing away. Luckily on these country back roads there's very little traffic and the speeds are quite low so it wasn't a problem.

The bottom of this same descent also had the unexpected bonus of a pedestrian cable stay bridge that was pretty fun to whizz over on a road bike above the ravine. All good stuff to keep us occupied as Guy fixed the only flat tire of the day.

A quite education in the acidic taste of beetle nuts with our van driver 'Just Charles' and the locals was enough to give us a kick over some tough km's. But these slow going, but very scenic, rolling back country roads tracking the river eventually gave way to some slightly flatter main roads that allowed us to really get a move on and cover some km's. I think the hour after lunch saw us cover over 40, with Aron mainly tapping out a great pace up front. This sort of pace before the final climb at 175km felt less like the calm before the storm and more like the storm before the typhoon. The climb couldn't come soon enough in my book as at least I could ride my own pace!

The climb itself was quite spectacular. I was too stuffed to take photos but winding up to our rather remote mountain village was quite something. Finding our homestay was the final challenge.  Regrouped at a roadside stall in the dark we soon learned from 'Just Charles' that we'd overshot it, meaning an extra couple of km's back down the hill in the dark to find our abode. Grand total 195km for the day.

Dinner was a real highlight as we were treated to all manner of local delicacies, including a deer meat stir fry. A few Taiwanese beers later and I'd have slept superbly, if it wasn't for the array of wildlife in the room also.

I'm all up for seeing cool animals out in the hills, but a spider the size & shape of a tarantula in your bathroom before bedtime is not conducive to restful behaviour. Throw in a roach, a rat & mega spiders baby brother and I was cool with just the one night in this mountain village. 

Sunday- Wu Tai to Kaochung

The views both out the window at breakfast and on the way back down the mountain with not a cloud in the sky the next morning more than put paid to any bad memories of last night's wildlife. I was also treated to a golden eagle less than 20m away from me crossing the recently completed spectacular bridge over the mountain floor

It was so spectacular that even had the local copper stop on his moto to take a phone photo rounding his way down the road on another tough day in the office.

Our day was going to be much easier than the past couple. A mere 70km on the flats to get into Kaochung high speed rail station was reasonable enough before seeing Todd off and the train up to Taipei whilst the rest of us headed to the airport in Kaochung for our evening flights back to HK. 

For the guys who'd done the full week there was a much more appreciable sense of completion in having done the full week, and it was a shame no one had equipped Just Charles with a bottle of bubbles and flutes to hand us from the team VW van.

However, as Aron was to prove, you need your wits about you in any Taiwanese town and Kaochung city was no different. A failure to unclip from his left pedal and an unceremonious dump on the Tarmac at the lights was reminder enough that it's probably best not to mix alcohol with Asian city riding...

With the bikes packed and our pay by the hour shower stint complete in the Taiwanese love hotel, I was quite satisfied to have been treated to enough local delicacies. I might only have done the mini tour compared to the other guys, but it certainly felt like I'd got the most out of a 3 day weekend on some of Asia's best easily accessible roads that rarely fail to disappoint.

Strava Day 1 2 3

Full photo album available below:

Alishan 2013

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