Friends, Fun and Filth: The Songboling Tea Gardens


As I mashed my way up Bagua Shan, I kept thinking about an article I had read about how Cadel Evans, the 2011Tour de France winner, had been feeling a bit slow coming into form before mounting a defense of his title. It is a funny thing, the feeling of measuring yourself against a better year, but we do it. It is the mysterious internal force that sells countless sports cars, gold chains, boob jobs, and divorce settlements.

I am doing my best to come back to the form I was in at this time last year, but I feel I still have much further to go. It is frustrating that it can’t all fall back in place after a couple weeks like it used to and that the fat seems to know exactly where to go after only a brief introduction to the waist for just a few short weeks.

I spent Saturday assessing my personal metrics as to how far I have come and how far I need to go to be satisfied with my riding and to make a good showing at the races.
The plan was to ride Bagua Shan to Songboling and then drop down into Douliu, before charging back on the flats with a healthy tailwind.

At least that was the plan.

A makeshift Gentlemen’s Club under the freeway. See the lanterns hanging down. Classy.

I left my house a little late, but the cloud cover was perfect for a day of riding. I figured I would just take Huanzhong Rd. to the HSR station and then cross the river before coasting along the Highway 14 to Fenyuan. I felt much better on the bike, but not quite “there”.
Boys of the Bike Industry

I felt excellent on the climb out of Fenyuan to the Route 139 along the top of Bagua Shan. Just as I was clearing my legs of the heat from the climb, I ran into a few familiar faces parked at the side of the road with a mechanical to contend with.

It looked like a bicycle industry convention. Attie, the Asia product representative from Dorel (Cannondale et al.) was working on another flat. Nico from Birzman seemed eager to take out his tools and maybe give Attie a hand. Josh Colp (left) was also hanging with the Peanut Gallery. Josh has just introduced his own bicycle brand with a complete line of road bikes. Keep an eye out for Culprit Bicycles at this year’s trade shows. When I first met Josh a few years ago, he was working as a test rider for Trigon, one of the world’s top OEM/ODMs for composite frames and components. At that time he was already deep into his research for launching his own bicycle brand. It is great to see his hard work paying off in the shape of actual equipment.

On Saturday he was enjoying his Arrow-One road bike, which is supposed to be quite stiff. Right now he is in the middle of a soft rollout before he has his big coming out to the industry at Interbike 2012 this September.

Colp’s Culprit Arrow-One. We will forgive the tower of spacers this time.

I left the group in good cheer and plodded my way over the rolling hills toward the Fengshan Temple where I could refill my water bottle.


Very Fresh Pineapple

Puppet Theater

Fengshan Temple is a regular rest stop for weekend cyclists as there are supplies and refreshments readily available to ward off a mid-ride bonk.

Andy Jiang of the formidable Nantou Cycling Club

Just as I was about to leave I noticed some riders coming in from the Nantou Cycling Club. I have a lot of respect for the Nantou guys as they seem to have a well trained and well disciplined team. That is how the races are won. I have a lot of respect for these guys. 
I was especially happy to run into 江衍迪 (Andy Jiang), a Facebook friend whom I had never met in person. He introduced me to the gang as they took a few minutes from training for the Tour of Changhua next month. 

It is always great running into friendly faces on the road to share a few laughs or exchange war stories. This is the importance of a healthy cycling community. 

The Players

After a few pictures I claimed the high ground at the end of the ridge before descending down the 139乙 to Songboling. 

It had started to sprinkle and the road was still in a state of post typhoon clutter, so I took the descent a little slower.

Messy Roads

I finally reached the Nantou Route 38 and hammered away at that with the hope of dropping onto the Route 152 toward Douliu.

Nantou Route 38

Crossroad Blues

At the 5 point crossroads I slid over to the Route 3, which is a gorgeous country road that charges straight through fields of tea, pineapple and other crops. 

Tea Gardens of Songboling

I finally landed on the Route 152 near Mingjian and headed toward Ershui. 

Nantou Route 152

At first the road seemed fine with just a few patches of dirt cluttering an otherwise pristine surface. Then more and more sections of red clay passed under my wheels. I was fine with a little dirt and kept on going.  


One reason I had chosen this route for Saturday was the fact that a typhoon had just passed and I assumed the mountain roads might still be cluttered with debris. Little did I realize that any road that hugs the base of a hill will also hold the runoff and storm slurry that takes about a week to wash out of the loose clay.  

The End of the Road

The road got muddier, but it was ok. I can handle a little mud. Just pick a line and avoid hard turns and you can stay on the bike. Easy. 

I dismounted cyclocross style and prepared to walk across the last stretch of submerged roadway. Then as a few cars passed, I noticed the water was much deeper than I had anticipated. With nowhere else to go, I turned tail and retraced my steps back to a 7-11 to reassess my return trip. 

My bike was caked with clay about the same consistency as pancake batter. It covered everything. I was thankful that I could still get a reliable shift every time. It was crunchy and loud, but shifting.

I neared Mingjian and saw another rider heading toward the Sippi Hole on a nice looking Look 585 road bike. I noticed too late and when I tried to ward him away from a similar fate with a head shake and a wave indicative of a “whoa/no”, he responded with a friendly wave and kept spinning madly for a date with a Muuuuuuud Pit. 

I couldn’t help a little dirty bike photo spread. There is something appealing about dirt and titanium tubing. 

For my return I plotted a slightly different rout through the tea gardens on Songboling, Taiwan’s center for low altitude oolong tea. The lower altitude teas pare often cheaper to purchase, but they are pretty robust and harder to ruin when brewing. They make a great daily tea. 

Ripe Betel Nut

I lurched along through the tea and betel nut groves sounding like an old WWII tank as the gears on my bike crunched and chewed the fine particles of sand. Not a great thing for the smaller components of expensive equipment. 

A Taiwan Icon

I finally stopped at a gas station in Songboling to use the water at the restroom sink to do a basic rinse of the more delicate parts of the bike so I could cut some of the noise. With a hill climb dead ahead, I figured cleaner derailleurs couldn’t hurt. 
Tea Picking

The Return

I put the legs back to work after getting a little lazy in the saddle and made much quicker work of the climb than I had imagined. I was turning a good 24kph up to the top before returning along the same route I had taken earlier. 

120km on the day. I could have been faster, but I need to learn to be more patient with my training. 

The area around Songboling is excellent for any type of biking. The roads and scenery are always interesting and the traffic is always light. Aside from the blocked road, I highly recommend these roads as part of a longer ride. 

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