Last weekend was a dreary one, with chills and fog blanketing much of central Taiwan. Therefore, I was happy to have another chance to cover some pavement in Miaoli County under slightly different circumstances.
One of the greatest things about cycling in central Taiwan, is the proximity to the foothills and the dozens of fantastic roads that snake through the fruit farms and along jungle streams in an innumerable combination of routes that offer exactly what the doctor ordered.
I had passed by an area that obviously had several small roads feeding into the North/South Highway 3. For some reason or another I had never tried to venture onto this blank spot on my cycling map.
This was an excellent opportunity for a look.
I joined up with Michael Turton, who supplies a nice commentary of the ride (here), and we rolled the familiar strips of asphalt to Jhuolan Township, where this ride was to officially begin.
Sometimes it is not the distances or the places visited in a ride that make it special, but rather the style points of how you choose to traverse the terrain that really elevates a ride to one that is among the best.
This is one of those routes.
We pushed off along the familiar and majestic Pinglin Rd. out of Jhuolan and loped along through tranquil citrus farms. The Pinglin Rd. is an excellent choice and I was a little reticent to tamper with a proven formula, but that is where the draw of the adventure comes from.
Google was not very helpful as it had the road mislabeled and we initially took the wrong turn into an area that provided nothing but pleasant views and a pack of semi-domesticated dogs that wished for nothing more than to rip the flesh from my bones. Unfortunately, over the past few months of inactivity,I have become a far more tempting morsel.
After escaping Cerberus and his minions, we consumed every significant climb on the Pinglin Rd. At the top of the final climb, there is the junction with the Miaoli Rte. 54. This is not marked clearly on Google, so be aware.
With just a few punchy climbs, the Route 54 delivers the rider into a well paved slithering track along the dips and ridges of the Miaoli foothills. Without any real traffic to speak of, the area was the picture of tranquility in central Taiwan.
The scenery gave the false sense of topographic vastness that made the route such a great little gem.
The Miaoli Rte 54 drops off the hill and back onto the Highway 3. From there we headed south to the 140km post and embarked on the Miaoli Route 52-3.
The Route 52-3 is in excellent shape for most of the way as it hugs the northern contours of the Liyu Reservoir. The views have been better, but there was virtually no traffic to contend with making it a great continuation of the Route 54.
As the smooth pavement runs out, the road makes an abrupt leap into the heavens at about a 30% grade. I can’t believe there was a time I would eat this road in one sitting. It isn’t simply the incline, but also the length of each ramp.
Looking down at the road and the reservoir can be mesmerizing.
After cresting the hill, it is a zippy descent through bamboo tunnels along hidden marshes and tributaries far below. The roads can be dirty and slick after a rain, so ride with care.
We popped out below the reservoir and made it back via the Highway 13 through Houli.
I highly recommend this route for anyone looking for something new, beautiful and challenging that is less that 100km round trip.
A Different Day on the Miaoli 130
Taichung as Taiwan’s Recreational Cycling Base: Michael Turton picks up this blogger’s slack and provides an informative and detailed accounting of Taichung’s best local cycling routes. Michael’s observations are pure gold as his insights reflect the needs of the recreational cyclist who is not in training for competition, only for fitness and experience. Still, the only thing that really separates these routes from the hard and boring training loops, is the speed in which they are accomplished. Please bookmark this page if your are new to cycling in Taichung.
Tour de Tai-yawn is upon us: With all due respect to the athletes, I do not feel this event does cycling in Taiwan justice with its annual selection of boredom and blight. They have pared the TdT down to a mere five stages of touring Taiwan’s worst cycling environments. Even today’s Changhua County stage misses the best roads available. I doubt I will comment much more about this race until I have a reason to get excited.
Taipei Cycle: In the hopes of shoring up a a soft market for bicycle exports, Taipei Cycle kicked off with optimism. I missed the show this year to be on a bike instead. It is okay, I think they survived without me. The one thing we can be sure of is that despite a soft market, this year’s bikes will be more laterally stiff and less vertically compliant than last year’s. Colnago used the event to unveil their flagship C60, which meets the stiffness and compliance requirements of a bike that wishes the stay current.
I have been in a bad way for far too long and it was high time I put myself back on the road. My body has been feeling adequate. My bike still works. I have a couple of coins in my pocket. I decided I had spent far too long on the sidelines and deserved to get out and enjoy cycling in Taiwan on my own terms. With a long weekend and an invite from the redoubtable Michael Turton and Jeff Miller. I threw my hat in for a ride down Taiwan’s Rift Valley.
After a last minute attempt to get the logistics nailed down to circumvent Taiwan and be back for work on Monday morning, I made a mad dash across Taichung to hop the Ju Guang Train (a.k.a. the slower than shitting molasses train) to Hualien. The weather was already wet when I arrived and it didn’t get any better when we pushed off the next morning into a steady drizzle.
There is something about riding a bike and taking an excellent road that makes the puddle sloshing between your heel and your toe a less than unpleasant experience. I was in luck as we would be taking the Route 193 southward.
The Route 193 is the cyclist’s friend when biking the Rift Valley, as it is scenic, with little traffic, few difficult bumps, and plenty of places to find provisions.
As we sloshed along the base of the hillside kicking up spray and grit from the roadway, I kept looking out at the opposite bank imagining the mountains that lay obscured by clouds and mist. It was just that kind of day.
There were a few other cyclists out, but not many. Michael was having trouble with a spoke piercing through the rim tape and was slowed by punctures during the first day.
We plodded along past one Amis village after another to the occasional greeting shouted from the shadows of some roadside shelter or another. If Taiwan is regarded as a friendly country, the ester portion has to be the friendliest.
Jeff engaged in conversation with a local over one of the old wells in the area. We were informed that the quality of the wells has deteriorated since tourists started arriving and throwing cigarettes and betel nut into the wells. As we were leaving I noticed the town was busy preparing to accommodate more tourists.
With the weather growing colder and nastier with every turn of the crank, and Michael suffering from mechanical difficulties, we decided to end our day at the farming town on Yuli. I tested my legs for the final 30km, mainly just to keep myself warm, and was quickly waiting for Michael and Jeff on the outskirts of Yuli where we arrived at a hostel that offered showers with the most instantaneously scalding hot showers I have been fortunate enough to witness first hand. I was relieved to be out of the wet and settling in for the night.
It was most fortuitous that we never made it any further than Yuli as the next morning was simply glorious. The rain had cleared, so we decided to head out toward the coast on the Route 23.
As we headed onto the roads the sun was already pushing through holes in the clouds. The valley was simply glowing between light reflecting off the rice fields or passing through filters of various greens. I beg you will forgive my gratuitous selection of pictured from that day that me seem redundant or doing little to advance this narrative, but I am choosing to revel in the sights of that morning as they were being words.
Alas, it was time to say farewell to the Yuli valley and embark on the Route 23, which is one road my friend and fellow cyclist, Nathan Miller, refers to as a road that, “drops right off the edge of the earth.”
Nathan isn’t too far off the mark. The Route 23 dips down through some tiny farms and then as if passing through some strangle portal in space and time, you are transported directly into the central mountain range.
The area beyond the hole in the rock echoes of a vast wilderness. It feels like you are caught in the gravity of a much larger area.
Before long the road launches skyward. A periodic road sign advertises an imminent village outpost 15, 7, 3, 1 kilometer ahead. Behind every false top you expect to find the elusive village of Donghe.
I took the climb as if I still had the legs to do it. I scrapped and heaved myself upward on my first significant climb since September and my legs knew all about it.
I reached the true peak and let myself fall over the ridge toward Central Donghe, a sight that had just passed overhead.
As I plummeted downward, the kilometers started adding up without anything remotely passing as a “Central Donghe”. I wondered if I had been mistaken.
A few buildings here and there. A farm or two beneath an ancient cliff face. No Donghe.
We arrived at a bridge where roaming packs of idiots have been tamed by the local monkeys to deliver food to them.
Finally, after a few more kilometers of pedaling, we arrived at the ocean, where the little town of Donghe bustled with happy tourists.
We pointed our handlebars northward, and with the gentle push of a tailwind, we made a steady pace to Cheng-gong.
The Bikeway took a brief scenic route along the ocean for a wealth of views and photo ops.
On the the third day we were greeted by wind and drizzle to go with our morning coffee. It looked like it might be another rough day. Fortunately, the wind had shifted during the night and we had another tailwind going the other direction to carry us to Taidong.
I looked out into the ocean and saw a solid sheet of rain a few kilometers off shore and decided to go for broke the rest of the way to Taidong.
As I neared our destination, it became clear the rain would remain off shore and I slowed the pace to better enjoy the scenery.
The monstrosity of the Miramar Hotel, the defunct ecological disaster and eyesore, sat decaying along the beach. It serves as a stark warning for what Taiwan’s eagerness to court tourism can unleash.
We were in Taidong well before 11:00am and had plenty of time to adjust our train tickets for an early return home.
It is amazing country out there. Just stay off the Highway 9 and eastern Taiwan is an absolute gem.
As I creak into shape after a lengthy (and hopefully long lasting) rehab, I am pleased to know Michael Turton over at The View From Taiwan has been busy combing the roads of Taiwan and keeping things up to date.
He has just published this great article (here) for anyone interested in visiting Taiwan for cycling.
Please give it a read and I hope to put up something in the coming week about my trip with Michael down the coast of eastern Taiwan.
My Spine (September, 2013)
That vacation was a lot longer than I had anticipated.
My cycling hiatus started back in July, about a week before my prior post; a post which has served as marvelous a place marker as any while I kept a safe distance from cycling and the insanity it can generate in a non-cycling cyclist.
Over the past couple of years I had been oscillating between cycling activity and inactivity largely due to a recurring bout of medial knee pain. I would treat the pain with R.I.C.E. as well as massage therapy, and then get back to training for some event or another. It has been very frustrating to gain a high level of fitness and then to throw away months of work with a few weeks off the bike due to soreness.
I had gone to great lengths and expense to diagnose and treat the knee issue, and each time I would have promising results… only to see my hopes dashed again by a new twinge in the knee.
With all this focus on the knee and little help from medical personnel, who would prescribe rest and shrug when I would ask for a possible cause, I had not paid too much attention to the “knot” I was feeling in my lower back.
I would chalk it up to lack of fitness after resting the knee and it would go away with increased riding.
Last July, after building back from another knee flare-up in preparation for the ride over the Central Mountain Range, I had been trying to stretch my back out a bit more and see if I could undo the knot. I was assuming I had a muscle that has gotten out of sorts and simply needed to be put back in a more relaxed position through stretching. I was in my office and I raised my arms toward the sky. Zap! A blazing bold of electric pain shot down my back and into my foot. I was totally unable to stand upright or put any weight on my right leg.
I had assumed I could massage the pain away and stretch myself into riding shape… and I did… I thought.
I completed that majestic ride through the mountains and then within a couple days I was on a plane to the United States, where I planned to spend a month off the bike to recover.
The pain persisted, but subsided somewhat with rest on an American box spring bed, and I was hopeful I would be able to return to Taiwan ready for some all-out, methodical, serious training.
By the time I returned in late August, the pain in my back had been reduced to a dull ache that would occasionally flare up if I tested it. I did what any cycling fool would do, and I got on the bike thinking a little strengthening work would pull the last bit of soreness right out.
I did one last ride with my old riding buddy, Dom, and stretched the back out all the way.
The next morning I could hardly get out of bed. I needed to roll onto my elbows and push my feet off the edge of the bed to even stand up. The second day was worse. I tried sleeping at the foot of the bed without the dip where I normally sleep hoping the firmness would help. I could hardly move. At work I could stand for no more than five minutes before grabbing the edge of a desk or cabinet for support. I was bent and hobbling and in agony.
A trip to the doctor revealed some very bad news.
A muscle imbalance had led to minor scoliosis and a herniated disk. The goo squirting from the disk had aggravated the sciatic nerve and thus I was in incredible, unrelenting pain, and would be for a number of weeks.
After six months of complete abstinence, I am finally cycling again.
I am not entirely sure and I can only guess. My theories are:
A: I had been stretching less while building strength in my muscles and my fit changed. I did not notice or adjust for the change and, as a result, I developed a muscle imbalance that was aggravating my sciatic nerve and thus triggering knee pain. I would treat the knee (symptom) and not the cause. I also allowed my core strength to deteriorate as I had less time to devote to training… forgetting the rule that much of cycling performance comes from training, diet, rest and preparation off the bike. Whoops! The prime suspect would be the Illiopsoas muscle group (hip flexors) in my right hip. I developed a slight dip in my stroke to compensate and, with the repetition over my notoriously long rides, my spine was pulled and disk deteriorated. That is one theory.
B: An over training injury in my left knee led to my favoring the right over the left. I am already prone to favoring the right side (I was a goofy foot skater back in the day), so it is a possibility. The over strengthening led to a wobble that led to a total breakdown of my stroke and disaster.
Chicken or Egg?
Now, as I start back up again I have:
1. A perfectly sized and custom fit bike.
2. A new mattress on the bed.
3. A body that has rested for six months so I will have no real base to speak of and must start from scratch.
4. I healthy fear of lapsing from good habits and some healthy added perspective.
5. Fat that needs to go.
6. A stretched spine and strengthened core.
Nothing is more debilitating that a serious back injury. It makes almost all types of exercise impossible.
Now, as I head back onto the roads… I think I may need to see where I can pick up some aero carbon fiber training wheels.
Cycle safe. Cycle smart.
Beware! Take care!
Take time for all the little things or it can lead to lots of time away from something you love.
My good friend and riding buddy, Dom, is signing off on his life in Taiwan and moving back to New York. The reasons are his own, but it certainly isn’t about the lack of any exciting cycling.
He was not going to be allowed out of the country without one last adventure through some of Taiwan’s most impressive landscapes, and thus we decided to take a couple of days and ride from Hualien on Taiwan’s east coast, to Iilan on Taiwan’s northeastern corner.
On a map this looks like nothing for a couple days of riding, until you consider the route would take us from sea level to 2374 meters on the first day… and then leave us spending the second day skimming the 2000 meter mark before dropping us off in Iilan. We covered over 4000 meters of climbing in two days.
We picked the perfect two days for the trip as the wet weather has been sucked out of the area by a looming typhoon. Things couldn’t have been better.
The trip had been on and off the calendar for a couple of months. I was the biggest threat to the trip as I had to come back from a sore knee that prevented any serious climbing… and as soon as that was clear, I lost a week to a pulled muscle in my back from stretching. There were several times I thought I would have to cancel.
My back seemed manageable, so I kept with the plan. I had recently only done a few local climbs and nothing over 100k.
My next obstacle was the Taiwan Rail Administration. I originally bought a ticket on the Zi Chiang Train with a bike car. When my wife went to double check to see if I needed to purchase an extra ticket for the bike, they misunderstood and sold my seat. Then, they had to try to get me a new seat on the train, which put my bike in car 12, and I was seated in car 2.
I was fine with this arrangement, but when I went to put my bike on the train, I asked If I could load it in with the rest of the boxes they were loading into the car 12. I was told I would have to enter through the passenger door of the car.
This was a brilliant idea as it was packed and I would be forced to stand with my bike in the hallway until Ruifang.
I finally had a seat and I could roll down to Xin Cheng outside Hualien with a group of girls from make-up camp, which is far less exciting than it sounds.
At Xin Cheng Station there were several groups of cyclists headed out for various projects. There were baseball teams, Taiwanese expat groups, single speed enthusiasts and more. Lots of people using the bike to make a statement.
Our trip was actually two and a half days. I met Dom at the station, and we decided to take it slow and easy up Taroko Gorge. This would ensure we didn’t feel rushed for pictures and scenic stops. The plan was to land at Tian Xiang and launch our attack on the mountain from there.
The road through Taroko is metered to a ten minute window every two hours due to the most massive avalanche I have ever seen. We lucked out and the road was closed for lunch and we just ambled through at out own leisure without the storm of vehicles waiting to burst through.
Taoroko Gorge is an awesome spectacle of towering rock. The Central Cross Island Highway chisels its way through tunnels and along cliff sides to bridge the terrain. Taiwan’s mountains have an immediacy about them. They are high, like mountains in other countries, but unlike other places, these mountains are compressed very tightly against one another making for some very severe walls and roads to navigate those walls.
We arrived in Tian Xiang with plenty of time to spare, so we thought a few beers might help us load up on carbs for the real climbing.
The second day started after breakfast at the China Youth Hostel in Tian Xiang. These mountain trips are always made fare more difficult by the lack of a good breakfast anywhere. I put three tea eggs on my plate and tried to put as much peanut butter on my toast as I possibly could. It would have to fuel me to Guan Yuan and over 2000 meters.
The second day was as fine as the first. We hit the road beneath another scar from an old avalanche and hit the opening climbs.
The road out of Tian Xiang starts out with an impressive grade for first thing in the morning, but it warms the legs up pretty quick.
We were soon high up above the valley, but still burning in the heat. A cool waterfall can be a great fountain of rejuvenating goodness.
For much of the way, the road is quite manageable. It is still climbing and takes its toll, but ever so slowly.
The next major obstacle is “The Wall”; a massive hump of a ridge with switchbacks stacked one on top of the other. There is a little store right at the base for refreshments and snacks before the climb.
From the top of “The Wall”, the climb really starts to impress. The air is a bit cooler and clouds begin to catch on the peaks above.
We stopped for lunch at the restaurant near the God Tree, and then continued on our way. A little mist sprinkled down on us and the pedaling started to get much harder with the altitude beginning to come into play.
We finally rounded a corner to the gas station and our lodging at the China Youth Corps Hostel.
We woke up the next day and got to the breakfast buffet ahead of the annoying camp/club that had been staging some kind of mix between a fascist parade and a hoot nanny. Seeing the breakfast spread, it was decided it would be okay to eat a quarter of the scrambled eggs, in exchange for leaving the pork floss to the other guests. Seemed fair enough.
The worst thing was the lack of drinkable water (or anything to drink) that wasn’t scalding hot. Try filling water bottles with plastic melting water….
A third sunny day was ahead as we pushed out into the chilly morning air. I was happy to have worn all the clothes I had packed.
We punched through the mountain at the tunnel and started an amazing descent toward Lishan. Before we could even whorl up our descending smiles, we were forced to stop for some construction. We passed the time letting the road worker ogle our bikes.
Finally, we were in free fall toward Lishan. It was nice to be on the other side of the ridge. I am so used to the Wuling route, I was happy for the change in scenery, which looks a lot like northern California… but more grand.
We hit Lishan; a high mountain agricultural town famous for pears, apples, and tea. It was nice to have phone reception again. It was also nice to sit down for a cup of coffee and take in the morning. We couldn’t stay long as we still had well over 100km to cover on our way to Iilan.
The descending comes to an abrupt end. Suddenly it becomes another day of climbing. Each hill dissapoints in its promise to offer a badly needed descent. The altitude needle bumps 2000 meters a few times, but the descent never comes.
A headwind made things feel all the more desperate. I started to have my doubts. I started to regret the picture taking and coffee breaks.
Then it came. The most wonderous descent imaginable. As far as covering ground goes, I can’t thing of a better sight. It was a slalom course to Iilan. It was a natural thrill machine. It screamed 45kph.
We blew down the mountain and through the green cabbage farms. The legs were buzzing. Dom was in excellent shape and would lose me when my power failed to materialize midway through a bump in the road. I would then race to catch up on the low sections.
We finally lunched with some locals who were happy to admonish their buddy for touching my bike. After a good laugh we were on our way again…
Iilan was in sight and it was as pretty as ever. We made it into the city by 4:00pm and had our bikes loaded up within the hour.
It was as perfect a trip as you can find. I was honored to do one last big ride with a great friend.
This also makes for a great post before I take the show on the road to ride a little in the United States.
Vacation starts here!
I just had my fit reworked two weeks ago, and I have been cautiously testing my legs against the stresses of cycling. Each ride has been incrementally longer than the last, but each has also ended with my knee feeling a bit sore or on the verge of flaring up. Last Sunday I logged 90km of light climbing, but my knee started to become sensitive at the halfway point. Things are improving, but I need time and patience to let my knee realign.
Therefore, I was a bit surprised with myself for accepting an invitation from Natan Miller, one of Taiwan’s most prolific and dedicated cyclists.
Nathan, an instructor at Asia Pacific University in Wufeng, has spent the semester riding and mapping out the bramble of farm roads in the hills above Wufeng. Taiwan’s farm trails are often hastily laid tracks of asphalt with a minimal commitment of road engineering. They simply follow the landscape as the capillaries of a greater network to draw small crops of produce from the hills of family farms. The foothills of central Taiwan are a labyrinth of false starts dead ends that can lead a rider far from water, phone coverage or rescue if something goes horribly wrong. I was aware of this route, but I never felt I was in a position to take the risk.
With Nathan’s lead, I was curious enough to go. From the beginning I had planned to head home from the Hi Life on the Route 136. My other policy was to stop the ride as soon as my knee hurt. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to make it over the first climb before heading for home.
The group was a collection of some of the most prolific riders of the greater Taichung area; a mob whose members have all gained some form of recognition or infamy on the bike.
Nathan knew the way and he was ready to test out his disc equipped Culprit Croz Blade. Nathan is the most wonderful person to ride with. He is a hell of a nice guy.
Crazy Lenny decided to show up on a Chris Boardman TT bike; the most unusual choice for a day of climbing and uneven pavement.
Local hard man and Stravaneer, Rob King was on hand.
Dom made an appearance rocking his steel Seven.
Cameron Miller brought his Croz Blade out as well. Simon made a showing to teach the group how to climb a hill. Rounding out the group was Iron Mike (Brass Balled Mike); a man with grit, resolve and determination. Mike is just getting into cycling, but he always shows up for the Main Event ready to take his lumps, learn something and get that much better. The man is a fighter.
Then there was myself, the weakest link in the group wracked by fitness robbing injuries and rehab assignments. A couple years ago I may have led the whole parade, but this time I was happy just to be within shouting distance of the lead.
We pulled away from Nathan’s 7-11 at late past eight. I was scared. I really didn’t know what to expect from my body. I worried I would pull up lame in the middle of the jungle and have to hike out or delay everyone as they waited for me to gimp along to the top of the next hill. Nathan made it sound easy, so I believed him.
We made cycling small talk and razzed each other through some early dips and rises. Moisture was being pulled from the forest and sticky to my skin like a suffocating layer of cellophane.
We swung into the first serious climb. I felt comparatively good for the amount of training I have had over the past couple of months. With a blog post in mind, I convinced myself to take a few pictures as the rest of the gang disappeared around the bend. Bagua Shan mad a brief appearance in the distance across the Wu River and I was cautiously tickled that I had made it to the top.
I was in awe of Lenny’s bike prowess as he threw that TT bike skyward.
Nathan promised a brak at the top, and I was more than ready to indulge.
Like mana from the sky, we were more than happy to allow a few Lychee to fall from the trees and into our hands. A little boost of sugar to kick the body into gear.
Before recovery could wash over the legs Nathan ushered us over the hill on a ripping descent on some serious grades. For me this was the point of no return. This is where I had foolishly committed to climbing out the other side on the Route 136. It was impossible for me to back track. It was impossible to even direct a rescue by car. The only way out was by bike.
We hit a few washed out sections of road and I did my best cyclocross (psycho-cross) imitation to scramble out of the mud.
The road clung to a rolling valley hemmed in on all sides by towering walls of chalky cliff sides, draped in the greenest color of plant life imaginable.
The trees gave us some welcome cover from the unbearable burn of the summer sun throbbing down on us with every heartbeat.
I was too slow to get what must have been a spectacular picture of our group blasting through the guts of a long narrow trench coated in green.
We stopped for one final rest before the finale. Nathan mapped out our final climb, describing some sections as 40% grades. When we finally launched up the ramp, I decided to play it safe and I dismounted as soon as my rear tire lost its grip on the thin layer of moss, which coated large sections of roadway. A few times during the ride I felt fortunate enough to have made it that far without pain, I wasn’t about to tempt fate. I was powering up hills far beyond by limits three days prior and I was ready to simply take my winnings to the bank.
The initial straight climb finally gave us a switchback to chew on and I was able to put my weight back and make the climb. As I rounded the bend, Lenny was on the side of the road with a nasty puncture. Dom and Rob were with him, so after offering one more set of hands, I continued to the top.
From the high point in the road, the seismic violence that created the Ninety-nine peaks shows itself through the jagged corners and angles poking through the carpet of jungle.
I had never really thought there was a road through the area, but it was evident that I was resting right in the northern shoulder of this geologic monument.
Nathan gave us our orders for the descent:
“Go slow… single file… so you don’t take anyone out with you if you fall. It’s really slick and rough in there. I mean it.”
He wasn’t kidding. The forest primeval had us all spooked, like the cycling equivalent of a herd of antelope fearful of a lurking collarbone snap or femur break. This was for experienced riders only. You need to know how to balance, how to unclip, and how to fall.
In a break in the trees I could look out over the tucked and folded earthscape at a few drifting clouds tinged with a hint of grey. Taiwan’s summertime weather is as unpredictable as it is unstable. A rain squall can quickly vault the mountains and turn a difficult ride into a disaster.
I rode down the remainder of the road and passed Lenny who was again hobbled by another flat.
When we all met at the bottom of the hill, a far off rumble of thunder sent us all scanning the sky for rain. We hung out with the local dogs as Lenny fixed his damaged tire with a gel wrapper to help seal the wide-mouth rip in his sidewall.
One by one we hopped the lip to the Route 136 and dug for speed toward the Hi Life, where badly needed refreshments were waiting.
The original plan had been to continue on to Sun Moon Lake via the Nantou Route 147. I had always planned to head home, but I was quickly joined by a few more volunteers. Only Nathan, Cameron and Simon pointed their wheels further up the road. The rest of us beat it back toward Taichung.
I was already happy with my results on the day, and therefore, I was not so keen on clinging to Lenny’s wheel. Later on I wished I had stuck with the group as a wall of wind and water was looming in the immediate distance. I hoped to outrun it to Taichung, but the alternate route I was on veered back toward the rain.
The system seemed to build up out of nowhere. A swirling black thunderhead brought its full weight down upon the area. The temple flags that had been steadily blowing one direction were blasted the opposite. Just as the first drops started to fall, I made it to the safety of a 7-11.
In a sudden blast of swirling atmospheric violence, the storm moved through the area. And then it was gone.
Over the course of a cup of coffee, the storm had blown out and I was on my way at a faster clip home. I didn’t want to be drenched in another wave.
For me, it was a magnificent day on the bike for the fact that I was again able to feel moments of myself shining through. It made me hungrier for more.
I really have to thank Nathan for the invite and the persistence in prodding me to go. It was a truly memorable day with a fun group of guys.
A few TiC readers may be aware that I took a bit of a sudden and unannounced hiatus from blogging after the first week of April. I have only just started blogging again. It isn’t that there wasn’t anything to blog about. A few great stories came and went during that time.
Regretfully, I was unable to write much during that time and I missed some good stuff. Oh well, that’s just life– the life of so many cyclists working to balance employment, family, health, weather and the sport we love.
Things were looking really promising as I gained strength and stamina during February and March. My speed and recovery times improved dramatically in the weeks of climbing leading up to the Sanlinxi race, where I put in a respectable time for a guy still climbing back from an idle Winter of knee recovery.
Every time I think I have it figured out…. it flares up again. I build my fitness up, and just as I start to push myself a little bit harder… it brings me back down to zero. This case of missing time is not related to space aliens, magnetic fields or crop circles. This is entirely about the knee. The goddamnedfucking knee!
On April 7 I embarked on my annual Taichung to Kaohsiung ride in honor of the Paris-Roubaix race. I was joined by Ryan, a fellow expat and a bicycle industry guy.
I felt I could make it as it was a flat route that would simply take a bit of endurance. I’ve suffered through worse and with all the hill training I had done, I figured I could just spin the crank at an even 32-34kph. In December I had done a pretty strong ride to Tainan, and then another to Kenting the next day. We rode hard both days, so I figured Kaohsiung would be that, plus a few more kilometers.
Ryan and I made pretty good time. We both favor titanium bikes and he is a very strong rider. Small talk chewed away at the hours and we felt pretty confident we could make it as long as we kept consuming caffeine and calories.
At one point I lost energy for about 20min. as there was a gap in my fuel intake…. whoops! I still felt pretty good. A little itchy in my calf as a lingering effect from the Sanlinxi race.
Just after Tainan my knee started to feel a little “fuzzy” and then achy. I was less than 50km from our destination and fought on despite the soreness.
We circled around the Zuoying HSR Station, like the velodrome in Roubaix. We were tired, but in pretty good spirits. We had made it in about 9 hours, which is a pretty typical time for experienced riders. Not bad. Done. In the bag.
I then had commitments from work that filled the next sunny day. I was really swamped with work anyway, so no blogging. It seemed all the days when the weather was nice enough to ride, I had commitments. On the days I had reserved for riding… torrential rain. This continued for eight weeks.
By the time I finally got onto the bike, my knee started to hurt after 50km. I limped home. I rested and stretched, and hoped for an improvement.
I joined Michael and Dom for a short ride a week or two later, and I had a flare up.
I limped home and tried more ice and rest.
I knew I had a ride up Wuling planned, so I rested and then delicately tried out the knee with a lower saddle height.
I went out to search Bagua Shan for some hidden roads and found an amazing little climb. Some of the back roads were too slick and I was forced into the dirt to avoid a crash.
I tried to rest and do my Wednesday night climb.
Then hoped for the best on Hohuan Shan. Hope doesn’t heal knees. To make matters worse, my camera broke and I am stuck using my iPhone, which isn’t exactly the machine best suited for blog inspiring shots.
This is when I decided to do a refitting and possibly get to the root of my problem and stop treating the symptoms. I am tired of missing time doing the things I love.
I am not certain, but I think I want to sell my Salsa La Cruz Mixed Surface Bike.
Frame: 51cm True Temper OX Platinum steel for durability and comfort.
Fork: True Temper OX Platinum
Bars: Deda Newton
Stem: Deda Zero100 (90mm/110mm)
Drivetrain: Shimano 105 10spd. Group w/ Truvativ Crankarm and Octolink BB. Platform Pedals.
Brakes: Avid BB7 Disc (I also have Shimano BR505R Disc brakes)
Seat: WTB Wolf
Headset: Cane Creek
Wheel set 1: Salsa Delgado 29er Race w/ many different knobby tires.
Wheel set 2: DT Swiss RR 1.1/1.2 w/Chris King hubs. Continental 4000GP Tires
I have had this bike for a while, but I have hardly ridden it. It is just a little long for me to ride comfortably. I have ridden it about six or seven times. I did a one-off ride in 2011 and little commuting with it about five times last summer and the best was an off road ride this past New Year vacation. It was a marvelously fun bike to ride off road and rivaled many of the mountain bikes out there without the extra weight.
It makes a great commuter, light tourer, road and off road bike. Hard to find in Taiwan where the choice is usually between CF race bikes or heavy mountain bikes.
This is bike is also practically new.
I am not completely resigned to selling it, but if there is an offer I can live with, then I’d be happy to put this into someone’s hands who’d give it the riding it deserves.