The Big Lie: Sun Moon Lake Cycling and Other Links

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If you repeat a lie…

Taiwan Today had a recent article detailing the Merida cycling event at Sun Moon Lake. I made the observation that this event seemed suspiciously linked to a CNN-GO article and the Taiwan Tourism Bureau’s desire to promote it. The Taiwan Today article actually and suspiciously mirrors and even quotes the CNN article’s most erroneous statements, which I devoured in an earlier post HERE.

Sun Moon Lake, a natural alpine lake located in central Taiwan’s Nantou County, is surrounded by high forest mountains with stunning landscapes. The lake—named because its eastern part is round like the sun and its western part is narrow and long like a crescent moon—has been voted year after year by local and foreign visitors, including those from mainland China, as one of Taiwan’s must-see tourist spots.

Statistics from the Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area Administration show that the number of visitors skyrocketed from 2.6 million in 2009 to 6.3 million in 2010, after the launch of a cable car service Dec. 28, 2009. The service became an instant hit as it offers a bird’s-eye view of the lake’s beauty in a relaxing 1.87-kilometer ride between the lake and the nearby Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village.

In 2011, the number of visitors declined slightly to 5.3 million. But the administrative office is confident that its efforts over the past few years in building a round-the-lake bikeway will soon spark another tourism boom, as hundreds and thousands of bicycle enthusiasts from around the world come flocking to the lake to indulge their passion for bicycling and soak in the beautiful local scenery.

The TT Article begins to look more like an attempt by Tourism Bureau underlings to toady up to their superiors.

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Also:

Bike Radar has an interesting piece that briefly mentions Taiwan. Sadly, the writer buys into the tired old Cold War tropes perpetuated by competing groups of Chinese nationalists in the CCP and the Kuomintang (KMT).

On a clear day you can see Taiwan from the coast. China and Taiwan are inextricably linked and their differences not so old as to be forgotten. Xiamen has a huge sign facing across the water that says ‘Two countries, one system’, essentially a declaration of friendship. Taiwan also has a sign, visible from Xiamen with binoculars, which says ‘Two countries, two systems’. Direct flights between the two places only began in the last two years, and there are many big military bases in the hills around Xiamen. Despite that, China and Taiwan are trade partners on a massive scale.

This is notion is purely the invention of the writer’s own China fantasy. From Xiamen you might be able to see the island of Jinmen (Kinmen), which is under the administration of the Republic of China; the official name of the state governing Taiwan. Still, it is NOT Taiwan. This is a oft repeated misconception employed to create the illusion of closer geographic proximity and, in the hopes of Chinese nationalists, possibly closer political proximity. This same strategy was used by Japan’s colonial government on Taiwan, which published maps of Taiwan to include Mt. Fuji and the Home Islands resting just on the northern horizon.

Moreover, the idea that Taiwan and China are “inexorably linked” is a simple construct that stands as firm as the claim that Taiwan is inexorably linked to Japan, The United States, The Netherlands, the Balkans, the Azores or any other location. It all depends on subjectivities and how you wish to politicize them.  

The repetition of these flimsy ideas are maddening. I wish it would stop.

And:

  • Mark Caltonhill has written a wonderfully detailed piece on cycling the Rift Valley. If you are considering biking Taiwan’s lovely East Coast, give this a read.
  • Paul Sharpe has just started putting his pictures and write-up on his trip around Taiwan a couple months back. Wonderful photos. Day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6… with more to come. If you are considering biking around Taiwan, check this out. 

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Taking It Slow Around Sun Moon Lake: The View From Taiwan Rides The Ring

I don’t have a lot to offer this week, but Michael Turton has a wonderful piece on a leisurely ride around Sun Moon Lake.

If you pay attention to the boardwalk bike path and lack of shoulder space in many of Michael’s pictures, you can see why I recently savaged CNN-GO for ranking the area among the world’s bets bicycle routes.

Moreover, this ride was done early on a Saturday morning under less than touristy conditions resulting in a much lower volume of traffic. On a sunny weekend the lake is spilling over with tour busses and all sorts of motorized traffic.

Michael provides a great look at how the most casual riders can enjoy a saddle top view of Taiwan’s largest body of fresh water.

Please stop by The View from Taiwan and enjoy Michael’s blog and his pictures.

Tourism Bureau Manufactures Cycling Buzz?


In less than a month after CNNGo included Sun Moon Lake in its erroneous and potentially misguided list of Top 10 cycling routes, a report comes across the wire like this:

Taipei, April 6 (CNA) Tourism officials said Friday that the number of cyclists in the Sun Moon Lake area of central Taiwan has surged during the past few weeks, driven by a CNN report that said the scenic area is one of the world’s top 10 cycle routes.

In a March 15 article titled “Cycling Routes That’ll Take Your Breath Away” on CNNGo.com, the area around Sun Moon Lake was ranked No. 5 behind the Great Ocean Road in Australia, the Udaipur City tour in India, the Karakoram Highway between China and Pakistan, and the Route of the Hiawatha in the United States.

The unexpected media exposure has triggered an overwhelming response from both local and foreign cyclists, according to the Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area Administration.

“We have seen the number of cyclists doubled on holidays, with 30 percent more on regular days,” said Chang Jenn-chyan, director of the administration, who added that there has been an increasing presence of foreign cyclists.

This report seems fishy to me.

My questions are:

  • How can the Tourism Bureau possibly have amassed enough definitive data to draw the conclusion that there had been an increase in cycling traffic due to the CNN article… especially in a few short weeks?
  • Which methods are they using to collect data?
  • How is the Tourism Bureau defining “foreigner”? I would assume they mean caucasians, but they may be including other foreign visitors.

My feeling on the matter is that the Tourism Bureau is paying for press and they are determined to show results of their marketing efforts.

I have emailed CNNGo for clarification and I have yet to receive a reply. I have also emailed the Taiwan Tourism Bureau for clarification.

I have seen a number of instances where the Tourism Bureau has supplied visitors with talking points, in exchange for a free trip.

The Tourism Bureau is too quick to draw its conclusions, especially since central Taiwan has been experiencing nicer weather in recent weeks and more people will be out cycling anyways. To attribute an increase in cycling to a minor CNN article seems presumptuous and wanting.

I also doubt large numbers foreigners saw the CNNGo article and immediately booked a trip to Taiwan to ride Sun Moon Lake.

I recently rode Sun Moon Lake, and at no time did I see any government official collecting survey data on riders.

I think we may be seeing a move by the government to promote a Merida event that will be held at Sun Moon Lake at the end of the month. They are trying to hype their own efforts at taxpayer expense.

In the long run, this type of manufactured hype may not be in the best interest of Taiwanese cycling, as many of these hyped locations do not deliver the goods when we actually ride them. Nothing makes a worse impression than being underwhelmed.

This is just a farce in analogical reasoning.

It really raises the question as to how many other articles have been fudged by the government.

Taiwan Tourism Bureau = FAIL!

Journalistic License?: CNN Ranks Sun Moon Lake Among Top 10 Cycle Routes


CNN-GO has just ranked Sun Moon Lake one of the world’s top 10 cycle paths. With a liberal flourish of fantasy Taiwan’s largest body of fresh water makes headlines for its cycling scenery and amenities.


According to CNN-GO:

Located in the heart of Taiwan, the Sun Moon Lake has long been charming curious foreigners and local visitors alike. Its calm, turquoise water has also inspired many ancient Chinese poets and painters.

The route around the largest lake in Taiwan is a three-hour ride, where visitors can enjoy lake scenery, experience Thao aboriginal culture and learn about the local ecology in the Nantou County.

If you arrive in early spring, you can even catch the cherry blossoms near this mirror-like lake.

One of my biggest peeves is when Taiwan is not written about for what it is, but rather for how the writer imagines it should be.

I occasionally ride Sun Moon Lake, but I find the traffic too thick, with too many lumbering tourist coaches, to actually make me want to do an entire loop.

I find I am either caught behind a slow moving caravan of gawking Chinese tourists who are clawing at the windows for a chance to get out and smoke, or I am forced onto the white line as these busses push me aside to make the next buffett. Since there is no discernible shoulder, there is no place for me to retreat. I was there yesterday and it was the same.

My favorite part is this blurb:

Its calm, turquoise water has also inspired many ancient Chinese poets and painters.

The history of Sun Moon Lake makes this fantasy a virtual impossibility left only to the Orientalist mind.

The Sun Moon Lake area had once been the home to groups of Thao speaking peoples, as well as some Bunun, Babuza, and Hoanya speakers. The area around Shuili was a major convergence zone for cultural trade.

Although the lake was greatly expanded under the Japanese colonial administration, records of the lake go back as far as Dutch colonial rule (1624-1662).

During the entire period of Cheng (1662-1683) and Qing (1683-1895) rule, the Sun Moon Lake area was considered to be in “savage territory” and “outside the realm”. The area remained a center for tribal village life with occasional encroachment by the rough Han traders who dared venture across the “savage border” to cut timber or set up camphor mills. The area was used by the anti-Manchu rebel, Lin Shuang-wen, as a hideout following his rebellion in 1788.

To the West, the lake was known as Lake Candidius, after the Dutch missionary.

It was not until the Japanese colonial administration (1895-1945) that the lake and the surrounding areas were brought under outside governance. Still, even under Japanese rule, the lake was relatively remote.

I would welcome the author to please provide some “ancient Chinese” literature and/or artwork regarding the lake and its surrounding scenery. Qing literati were quite clear in casting the mountain areas as mysterious, savage, degraded places that were filled with evil, ugly, degraded people and things.

I would suggest the author leave poetics at the door and stick with the facts.

Does Cycling Leisure Suit Taiwan’s Urban Centers?


The China Post has a couple of timely articles in regard to cycling and Taiwan’s bicycle culture.


The first is an editorial, I presume, timed to coincide with this weekend’s Taipei Cycle expo. With the paper’s pro-KMT leanings, I would also presume the paper seeks to help validate government transportation and recreation policies involving the bicycle.

Weaving through traffic with cycling tights on and headphones blaring, the newest generation of bicycle riders is a unique breed of athletes who are starting to be taken seriously by the government.

After renovating old train tracks and abandoned roads into bike routes, local authorities have been doing everything they can to accommodate the adventure-seeking residents, as is the case with Taipei, which now operates “supply stations” in the city’s riverside parks.

The Taipei City Government also announced last year the expansion of its public commuter bicycle rental system, YouBike (微笑單車), to infrequent riders who want to wander into the busy Xinyi District.

The growing interest for the Tour de Taiwan (國際自由車環台公路大賽), which will span from March 10 to 16 from Taipei to Kaohsiung, further illustrates how government authorities have been successfully promoting Taiwan as a “kingdom of bicycles.

In many ways, the attention Taiwan has given to bicycle infrastructure is laudable in light of other, industrialized nations which will remain anonymous, that continue to fund an automotive lifestyle.

There are a few things I would like to take issue with. I hope my highlights above may be of some assistance.

The bulk of this article deals with the great investment Taiwan’s central and local governments have made in recreational cycling. As a recreational cyclist I benefit from some of these investments. I will admit that.

But that opening sentence really strikes a nerve. “Weaving through traffic…”. This is where Taiwan’s investment has been a bust.

With so much invested in recreational cycling, there is precious little remaining for cycling as utility and urban transportation. The current state of affairs has commuters locked in a daily battle against Taiwan’s notoriously chaotic traffic. There is little space being made to incorporate bicycles into the city. I shout this again and again.

The bicycle is a revolutionary machine (pardon the pun). It is a symbol of proletarian mobility all around the world. The bicycle has given people a means to leave the farms, villages and countrysides to find work further afield. Moreover, the bicycle has been a tool for women’s liberation all over the world.

The idea of the bike is a very proletarian concept–self propelled transport with minimal investment.

Taiwan’s emphasis on the bike for recreation and leisure with far flung bike ways, which are often removed from the urban centers where people live and work, seems to subvert this idea into reserving the bicycle for use as an elitist toy. Without creating space in the cities for bikes as traffic, Taiwan’s government limits its use as a tool of mobility for everyone.

Of all the bike accidents I have seen in Taiwan, I would estimate that 90% have been old women on steel bikes making a grocery run.

It might be time to rein in the development of the leisurely rural trails until the urban centers can start to catch up.

Though, as Taiwan markets itself as a virtual “kingdom” of bicycles, I don’t imagine that power structure is really interested in the proletarian possibilities the bicycle can offer.
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The second article deals with a Sun Moon Lake biking event scheduled for April 29.

Registration is now open for the 2012 Merida Sun Moon Lake Biking event on the Merida website (http://www.merida.com.tw). Three routes are open to a total of 4,000 participants — the family leisure course, the around-the-lake course, and the self-challenge course. In addition to receiving unique souvenirs from the Merida, participants will be granted various accommodation and dining discounts in the Sun Moon Lake area.

The self-challenge course, which measures to a total of 60 kilometers, is organized along the most picturesque Sun Moon Lake sites, where bikers can enjoy the quietness of rural sceneries while pushing for one’s limits.

This is a very good look at how the bicycle industry is working with the tourism industry to drive sales. This is who really stands to benefit from the government’s push for leisure cycling infrastructure projects.

With 4000 participants converged on Sun Moon Lake, combined with the weekend supply of busses hauling Chinese tourists around the perimeter, I can truly imagine enjoying the “quietness of rural sceneries” while pushing my limits. Pass.

Sun Moon Lake Tour

Here is a fine report from a couple of teachers who set out from Taichung to explore Puli and Sun Moon Lake by bike. The full report and several other picture and travel posts can be found HERE at the Taiwhat blog.

In other, slightly less nerdy, news… I have just returned from a WONDERFUL weekend bike trip to Sun Moon Lake! Another teacher, Amanda, and I hit the road Saturday morning around 10. We would have departed earlier, but a week of rain in Taichung had made us a bit worried that maybe this weekend wouldn’t be the best for a bike trip; so, instead of renting Amanda’s bike Friday night we waited until Saturday morning to judge the weather and when we deemed it acceptable (in fact, pretty ideal) riding weather we had to wait for the Giant store to open at 10 so we could get her a bike and be on our way.

200k of Central Taiwan: Our Best Cycling Routes in a Day

This past Sunday was another tour through some familiar riding territory. It is not that I have never ridden or blogged these routes before, I have. And I have even set up some of the same shots before, with the same angles and frames…but this day belonged to itself. It was different. Actually, they’re all different. Each ride is a sketch of the same scenes with often widely different interpretations. Each trip feels unique.

For my Sunday ride I hoped to hit some of my favorite “local” roads, all in a single day. In one massive 200km loop I hoped to connect one vista to the next in a rolling essay devoted to some of what makes central Taiwan such an awesome spectacle for road cycling.

Although 200km may be out of reach for many riders, most of these places can be accessed in a day ride or strung together in a weekend. It makes some of the best, and most accessible cycling adventure in Taiwan.


I started my day with a climb up out of the city on Taichung Route 129 to Hsin She. The 129 can be daunting for a beginner, but after a few miles in the legs it becomes an appetizer to some great sights not far beyond.

This leg of the trip from the Route 129 to the Route 93 has become so routine I forgot to take pictures. I just took in the scenery and enjoyed the feel of the road.


I hooked on to the gorgeously underused Highway 21 over Baimao Shan to Guoxing. This is such a secluded road that seems to see most of its weekend traffic in the form of cycling clubs and large motorcycles. As I started my climb I could hear the buzz saw rumble of the big bikes in the background and I could see a pack of hard climbing cyclists were making good time just down the hill.

I put a little oomph into it to make some distance between myself and the trouble brewing below. I hoped to enjoy a little more solitude before vaulting over the peak for the swooping plunge into Guoxing.



From the guardrail at the top of Baimao Shan, the Central Mountain Range ripples like waves out in an ocean of morning fog. The treat is yours if you can get up there before 10:00am.


The big bikes had caught up to barnstorm past me as I stood by the roadside. One after the other flew by like a train of Tomahawk missiles. I really hate those guys. It is best to just pull over and let them pass.


I started to see a few riders making the ascent up the other side of the mountain. First a trickle of riders followed by larger groups. The Highway 21 is perfect for hill training or a slow weekend outing.

The Highway 21 makes an abrupt left at Guoxing and empties out into a tight river valley. Stunning!


Unfortunately, the only way out is to claw up to a high plateau over Puli. It seems as if they are always growing something new whenever I pass. On this day it was passion fruit. They had bags of passion fruit lining the roadway. I could see the high mountains rising above the red clay fields on the horizon.


It was just enough of a respite to let the legs recover for the second act of the ride.


I broke (70kph) 43mph on the ride into the Puli basin. The sugarcane and onion fields were in full glory, but the sun beat down hard.


I really don’t remember much of Puli. I was in and out of the area so quickly, it seemed I was almost immediately climbing to Sun Moon Lake.


For riders contemplating a ride to Sun Moon Lake, I would recommend entering on the 131 out of Shuili and exiting on the Nantou Route 63 to the Highway 16. The Highway 21 is a hot, nasty, filthy plank of traffic and road hazards. There is no real shoulder and no place to go as cards race F-1 style to be the first to get caught in line behind a traffic jam of tour busses and gawking tourists.

Cars will seriously jockey for pole position to be first to get stuck in an lakeside tourist merry-go-round. They will skim their mirrors just past your knuckles as you play tightrope-walker on the fog line. Insane!


The pale blue water is attractive and refreshingly cool. It seems to get more attractive the further you get from it.


But first you must navigate the crap stalls and roast wieners to find some solitude.

The Nantou Route 63 is really the nicest way for a cyclist to exit Sun Moon Lake. It is hidden in a corner behind the Ita Thao village; a tourist village lorded over by a couple well connected families from one of the indigenous villages.


If the Sun Moon Lake circus is the ill… the Route 63 is the cure.

I steadily climbed beneath the shady boughs of the tall trees amid the humming white noise of insects and wind through the leaves. As far as hill climbs go, this is one of the least difficult for the maximum payoff.


No sooner than you bank through the shadowy corners do yo find you are facing a drop to the feet of some seriously high mountains. I didn’t even begin to take pictures until halfway down as I enjoyed the inertia filled baking and yawing through betel forests and villages.

The descent can be pretty technical, but just as the road appears to smash headlong into one megalith looming above the grey river, it makes an abrupt right turn up onto the Highway 16, which remains flat until a rolling climb and drop to Shuili.



No sooner had I landed in Xinyi Township, that the weather took an abrupt change. Boom, the sunny skies were clouded over. Boom, the wind started slugging me in the face. I could feel grains of dust cut past my cheeks. Bad news for being so deep into a long ride with so much distance left to go. My only consolation was the gradual false flat out of the mountains.

I got into a tuck and went for broke. I was spinning at 37kph (23mph) into a frontal crosswind that wouldn’t let up. I still had some energy in reserve and I had managed to hit every green traffic light between Shuili and Mingjian. Then a pilgrimage complete with bloodied dang-gi or spirit mediums brought all traffic to a halt. This was the end of my amazing end run as I entered the world of traffic lights, fits and stops.

I finally dragged myself home in seven and a half hours, but I was feeling each kilometer. My legs felt fresh, but I had burned my remaining energy and swallowed enough dust for a sandcastle.

This is one of those rides that brought a smile to my face around every corner… between each grimace of pain.

If you ever have the chance to bike central Taiwan… be sure you bike these roads. This is what makes Taiwan a cycling paradise. These are some of the special roads that leave you inspired to do it again and see more.


Score:

Distance: 200km
Climbing: 7402ft
Calories Burned: 6292cal
Time: 7:33:03

Biking Around Sun Moon Lake and Beyond

Shuili


What a ride! Sunday’s ride was really something special for me. It marked my first significant ride without knee pain in almost four months. Things had been looking up for the better part of two weeks and I had been itching to get out of Taichung. Before, I would simply hop on the bike and ride 200km or more to put some distance between myself and my city. Lately, I have simply been stuck, sitting at home, while everyone else was out sketching Taiwan’s rugged topography by bike.

After last weekend’s success I concocted a plan to go further afield, while building back into shape. The last thing I want is another three weeks off the bike.

The plan was to loop from Shuili Township in Nantou County, up the Nantou Route 131 to Sun Moon Lake, and then exit the lake at Dehua Village on the southeastern shore along the adjective defying Route 63, and then back to Shuili on the Highway 16. The entire route was only around 50k, similar to last weekend’s distance, but with the addition of a climb up to 800m.

Michael Turton was game for the adventure as he had never biked some of those roads, and we were joined by Andrew B. from Feng Yuan. (You can check out Michael’s write-up HERE)

I was feeling pretty anxious about things as a day of climbing could potentially lead to another flare-up with the knee. I imagined the possibility of getting to the furthest point and having to bail or continue forward in pain, each turn of the crank helping to degrade the knee even more. Since early March I have ridden with the fear that any real effort might contribute to making things worse. Still, I have ridden on these roads before as part of much longer rides, and I couldn’t wait to finally take my new bike further afield.

The ride was simply inspiring.

Shuili Bus Depot


Michael had the courtesy to drive us all down to Shuili in his van, otherwise I would have had to cancel, and we all unloaded our gear for a day of riding.

A Local Bus


Shuili is a pretty little town near the source of the Choushui River that was once a logging and agricultural hub, but it is now cashing in more from felling tourists than timber.

Michael and Andrew Embark Up The Route 131


We quickly headed up the Route 131, a route I have only taken downhill, and made pretty good time over the low rollers toward the lake. Andrew B. spun his way along on his mountain bike as we tested the terrain. I felt pretty good pushing a 39-27 gearing combination, but I was not about to over do it. The grades were between 2%-4%, so totally fine.

A Straggler


Several groups of cyclists came careening out of Sun Moon Lake as they had obviously had a much earlier start than our little “coffee and cake” ride.

Village Below Reservoir


The balmy heat was tempered by intermittent cloud cover and it made for some good cyclign weather… at least good for Taiwan in June. The temps were in the 30s (90s) and the humidity was otherworldly, but not bad at all.

Sun Moon Lake


The roads soon plopped us down on the welcoming banks of Sun Moon Lake, where we joined caravans of tourists jockeying for their own unique glimpse of the cloudy blue waters lapping upon placid shores.

Andrew Arrives


Views


Views II


Posing


Blessings


It was easy to keep pace with the traffic as we inhaled petrol fumes from tour busses that threatened to push us into the guardrails at every turn. Visitors in passing cars cheered us onward past the cable cars to Dehua Village.

Tourism

Locals?


We stopped for lunch amid tourist-lined streets and pushy vendors scrapping for their restaurant traffic.

Michael Climbs


As the grey skies closed in we decided to make the hill climb out of the lake before the rain could make the descent on the other side any trickier.

Over The Lake


I was really happy with my climb. I felt comfortable and steady with a good pedal stroke and it was here that I really realized that my knee would be ok.

Drizzle


As I waited at the top of the hill for Michael and Andrew, a light blanket of drizzle began to cover the entire basin below. Within minutes it was covering me as well. The descent would be far more technical than I had anticipated.

Careful!


Over The Valley


We turned the corner just over the peak of Route 63 to reveal the rippling ramparts of Taiwan’s Central Mountain Range. My pictures just don’t do justice to this scene. The interplay between the light, clouds, shadows and scenery, punctuated by a weaving plunge through hillside farms and betel nut groves was a treat for the senses.

Great Roads Below


Cloudy Skies


The rain tapered off as I reached the bottom of the descent, just in time for a high speed assault on a ribbon of smooth pavement leading to the base of the valley.

Rolling Along


With mountains on all sides, we rolled smoothly along the valley floor. My legs were getting a little tired after so much time off, but with the entire scene spread out before me and the thrill of that descent, I was stoked on enough adrenaline to keep moving rapidly with a smile on my face.


The Flood


Suddenly, without warning, the skies opened up into a torrent of pounding rain. The air was filled with the deafening sound of thick raindrops pummeling the valley.

Brave Soul


We took shelter under an aluminum garage/betel nut stand and waited for the rain to abate. Within minutes we were back on the road.

UFO Cult?


River Wild


We were soon exiting the valley and headed back into Shuili. My legs were in great shape, albeit tired. We had had a great ride through great country. With good spirits all around we drove back under the sun drenched skies of Taichung.

With this ride I was able to regain the confidence I had lost after so many disappointing false starts on my road to recovery. Now I feel I can start to really enjoy riding again.

What a great ride!

Heading Home

Hill Tour of Nantou County:183km and 2268m of climbing

Taichung From On High


After an uncharacteristic week of cold and rain, the weather looked promising for a long weekend ride. I really felt like I needed get a punishing single day ride under my belt if I was truly going to climb back into form… and climb I did.

The plan was for a solo-ride over five or six good hills between Taichung and Nantou counties. I really preferred to solo this ride as there was a high possibility of failure and I didn’t want to drag someone down with me. Only I could answer the age old question: When a cyclist fails in the forest, does he make a sound?

Friendly Riders


I started by climbing out of Taichung City up the notorious 129 from Dakeng. The death-spiral takes you up to a plateau overlooking Taichung and Fengyuan cities. The weather was cold, but relatively clear and sunny. I had a bit of a sore throat and post nasal drip that just made the first hour a pain. I decided to carry the Camelbak on this trip to reduce water stops and to have a little extra space to stuff food and clothing.

My plan had been all about pacing and thinking about the ride in parts rather than as a whole.

I easily spun up the 129 and practiced carving into deep corners on my way out to the Highway 21 between Taichung and Nantou counties. I have always been a bit of a puss with corners, but a little practice had gone a long way in giving me the confidence to attack them with a little more grit.

View From the Top of Highway 21


By the time I hit the Highway 21, I knew I had been taking things relatively easy and had done it much better in the past. I tried to convince myself it was a controlled speed, but I also feared it was all I had. I felt better as I passed a small group of riders who were climbing the 21 with fury. I hung back and chatted them up and then finished my ascent. I ticked another peak of the day’s menu and was still feeling good. The mountains looked like a multi-layered, translucent stage backdrop, with each set of mountains floating behind the rest to give the illusion of depth.

View Toward Mountains


The descent down the Highway 21 is always a thrill. I didn’t push too hard and continued my work on corners. I tried to pick a line and stick to it.

As I was coming out of the village of Guoxing, I was just cresting a steep, little hill before the junction with the Highway 14, and I noticed a couple uniformed men with reflective stripes on their jackets and a few people milling around on the side of the road.

I immediately assumed a temple procession would be coming by as there were placards of faux garlands posted up around the adjacent school. I stayed alert for the train of tour busses packed with pilgrims or for the palanquin parade to weave down the street.

It is truly amazing how life can pass so quickly and we can hardly remember most of it. At the same time there are some images that may pass in just a second and we can recall every stirring detail.

As I approached the uniformed men, they looked listless and ill. There was frantic commotion in the betel nut field below the road as a half-dozen people were bent over the flames of a blue-smokey fire as they frantically flipped spirit money into the heap of burning paper..

I passed at 30kph, but I could clearly see the shape of a body lying under a pristine white sheet about 5 meters away, amid a hundred thin trunks of betel nut trees.

The sheet covered most of the body except for the a pair of booted feet and two ashen yellow hands, palms upturned with fingers half-curled. The image reminded me of the old Frankenstine movies with the monster under the sheet waiting for the reanimating jolt of electricity.

He may have been hit by a car or had a heart attack in his field. Maybe he fell into the fields in a drunken stupor and the cold night air got too him. I will probably never know.

Just as that man’s life had so quickly passed… as did I.

Valley


Despite the unexpected dead body at the side of the road, I continued along my route on the Highway 21. There is a short climb that offers the most magnificent views of a tight river valley that seems to sit at the bottom of a punchbowl. I always enjoy riding through this valley, but I can do without the climb out to another plateau above Puli. I was feeling a little tight in the legs by this point and the road that bombs into Puli is worth any climb. I made it to tick the third peak off my itinerary.

Sprouts


The plateau overlooking Puli is a bounty of agricultural beauty. The red soil and symmetry of the crops is a sight to behold. After a good climb the flats were just what the legs asked for.

Plateau Above Puli

All too soon I came screaming down the mountain to Puli, where I restocked and had a quick coffee.

Sun Moon Lake


From Puli the Highway 21 starts a long, steady ascent toward Sun Moon Lake. That stretch of road sucks. Cyclists are pushed off to the sides of the road, which are littered with rocks, sand and glass.

Just as I was getting to the point where the great 131 splits off to Shuili, I felt my back end getting soft.

Argh! A flat. A piece of Taiwan Beer bottle was lodged in my tire. Luckily I was right in front of a 7-11 and quickly set out to change tubes. In a matter of seconds I was another tourist attraction. About 6 or 7 people had gathered to watch me change an inner tube, each offering their own commentary. Come one, come all… watch the white man fix a flat. it is Sun Moon Lake after all. It and everything was put on this Earth for YOU!

That 7-11 didn’t have a pump, so I had to use my CO2, which I don’t trust very much. I had one misfire and the other worked. I think this incident turned the tide a little as it threw off my rhythm and cost me some valuable time.

Posing


Sun Moon Lake is a Tourism Mecca in Taiwan. This is not in doubt as the caravans of tour busses make an endless loop around this Japanese era reservoir, that was once a much smaller lake.

Chiang Tower


In the distance I could see the tower that popular mythology claims was constructed by Chiang kai-sheck in honor of his mother. In reality, it had less to do with the love for a mother than a rabid hatred Chiang harbored for the Japanese. The tower occupies the space that once housed Sun Moon Lake’s shinto shrine.

Just What We Need… More Cable Cars


I took the East side of the lake, as it has fewer attractions and trinket shops. There was more climbing around the lake than I had anticipated. It seemed it would be a loop of gentle rollers, which were beginning to feel like mountains on my legs.

Just Pave It


Above The Lake


Finally, after battling traffic and rubberneckers for half the lake, I made my way to the Tsao/Ngan village, which actually resembles the flavor of a Native American casino. Years ago I had lunch with the “head family” of the village which was a position the KMT government invented to gain some greater influence over the area. The “chief” and “princess” talked to me for some time about their influence over the tribe. The “princess” still recalled her glory days of dancing for Chiang Kai-sheck. Not all the Tsao think so fondly of the former dictator or their local patrons.

Nantou 63


From the Tsao village the 投63 climbs up above the lake and the quiet, treelined road is a welcome respite from Disneyland below. Now, between the 131 and the 63, there is absolutely no reason to take the Highway 14 to Sun Moon lake.

Xinyi Township


Coming down the 63 is a simple thrill. There is nobody there. It is just you and some hulking mountain peaks.

An Odd House


I followed the 63 all the way down to the Highway 16 in Xinyi Township. There were a few minor climbs. I made my way out to Shuili and not much further beyond that my energy started to wane. It seemed I was pedaling squares all the way back home.

Choushui River


The cramping hit at Mingjian and it was all I could do to push forward. My original plan had called for me finishing over the 136 if I had had the time, but I was glad I didn’t attempt it. It would have been a disaster. I need a few more of these long, punishing rides before I can do all six peaks on a loop through Taichung and Nantou counties. I have ridden better and plan to get back to that point.

Chasing Skirt

Final Score:
Distance: 114mi/183km
Elevation: 7438 ft. 2268m
Time: 8hr 22min.
Calories Burned: 6443