Monday, November 14, 2011

"We are never gonna get to Donghe": East Coast Rift Riding

This weekend I took 193 out of Hualien and then turned east to ride over 23 to Donghe and back to Taitung. Come below the fold for a look at another glorious ride (WARNING: dozens of photos, may take some time to load up!!!!!)

Our rides out of Hualien always start the same way: caffiene injection at 7, followed by.....

....steamed buns at this popular place on Chungshan Road. During the opening moments I discovered that the humidity had knocked out my camera settings. P-A-S-M-C all gave Av -- aperture priority, while AUTO became video and all the other settings gave the Landscape setting in SCENE. So basically I had two camera settings, Aperture priority and Landscape. This gave me trouble with shutter speeds the whole trip, especially while biking.

Dom leaving Hualien. The weather was crappy until after Rueisuei in the rift. Fog with intermittent mist. Fortunately it only rained for a brief time just outside Rueisuei.

Plenty of tourists out despite the dismal weather.

Entering 193.

Hualien in the distance.

Dom poses.

Donghua University under the clouds.

193 is an extremely enjoyable road that runs on a shelf above the east coast rift valley through farms and villages. Rolling, between Rueisuei and Hualien it is about 75 kms with 6-700 meters of climbing. There are usually only a few cars to harry the many local cyclists on this popular route.

Dom stops to wonder at the strangeness of the scenery -- all along the length of 193 fruit had been left to rot on the trees and fall onto the ground. Must have been millions of dollars worth. We didn't understand that at all.

We passed only one other group of riders this day. They were part of a group, and had posted people on scooters at the top of each hill to warn about the "downhill". No, not kidding.

The clouds completely obscured the mountain walls on the other side of the valley.

It's Caturday, after all.

Even in the rain and fog it was still beautiful.

Views like this are reminders that one of Taiwan's most important crops is the useless betel nut.

Some of the minders for the other group of cyclists.

Dom spotted these caterpillars at a rest stop.

At the base of a climb.

Into a small town.

Dom gets all expressive as we stop for a snack of bagels we bought in Hualien.

Most of the time it was dry, no rain gear necessary.

The fog and mist and utter lack of other human beings lent a feeling of desolation to the area.

We turned, following 193, and slowly climbed up to the prison. After this point it was completely fogged in, rendering photos pointless, until we got to Rueisuei. Just outside of town it began to rain.

Lunch in Rueisuei.

It is Caturday, after all.

Heading out of Rueisuei, the rain ceased and the roads became drier and drier.

Stopping on the bridge by the rafting center....

...we saw rafters getting ready for a ride.

The section of 193 between Hualien city and Rueisuei is really nice, but the section south of Rueisuei is truly lovely.

Rift valley farms.

Temple and tombs.

The terraces up to the mountains were totally photogenic.

This section of 193 is also much flatter.

Dom takes a break for apples and water.

At last we reached the end of 193, where there's a 7-11 for coffee, and turned onto Hwy 9. We were only a few kilometers from our goal of Jutian in Fuli township.

We wound up staying in this place since we couldn't find the owner of the first one we stopped at. The double was $1600, but for that you got those useless paper towels instead of cloth. It was in beautiful location, though. The area is studded with B&Bs.

We found a little Vietnamese place by the side of the road on 9 and had the whole experience: Taiwan beer, delicious pho, and local Vietnamese wives singing karaoke for us. Wonderful end to a very enjoyable day.

Dawn, Sunday. I rolled out of bed at first light and walked around with growing delight: it was going to be a glorious day.

Dawn, Sunday. Clear.

Heading out early in the morning for 23.

Mountains. Clouds. Early morning light and shadows. Beautiful.

Dom stops for a picture.

We round a corner to find this angle. Standing here, suddenly I start hooting with joy.....

...for along came a train, making it perfect.

The train rolls north toward Hualien.

In Fuli town we stopped for breakfast and coffee across from the junior high. Our goal today was 23, one of the highways that connect the Rift Valley to the East Coast.

The road begins more or less right in town.

It is pretty to begin with.... then it becomes ever more beautiful. With the air just cleansed by the rain and the sunlight and lingering fog, it was an unforgettable experience of pure Taiwan beauty.

Photo ops everywhere.

Stopping to capture yet another stunningly gorgeous scene, Dom breathed in awe at the beauty spread out before him: "We are never gonna get to Donghe."

The road winds around the lip of the basin that forms this farming area and then eventually passes through a short tunnel in the cleft between the peaks there.

Green, clean beauty.

The distance is only to the Donghe township line. Its actually over 40 kilometers from Fuli to the Hwy 11 on the coast.

The grade to the top of the ridge is very easy, mostly 5-6%.

The opening section as the road climbs 100 meters and swings around the basin is unbelievable.

Right behind the Church is a rest area with views back to the west.

Views like this one.

The road punches through a short tunnel and suddenly you're in a river gorge. The farms end, the road is empty (from here to Fuli we saw only two cars and a few roadworkers), and you feel, as my friend Nathan once put it, that you've dropped off the earth.

Dom sets up a shot.

Taking a water break.

Small landslides, triggered by the previous day's rain, lined the route.

The steep slopes were sluiced by innumerable waterfalls.

Up we rose.

Unfortunately I just couldn't capture the bright green beauty of this stunning bird.

At the peak. From the rift valley side the climb is very easy. Highly recommended.

Then came the fantastic descent.....

Dom shoots ahead.

Slowly you fall back into the world of men.

The world of farms and roads and cars.

Dom stops to contemplate the scenery.

The road follows the river out to the sea, at the red bridge near the famous Donghe steamed bun place.

One last look at ridges and rivers before we return to the world of tourists, buses, cars, noise and hurry.

We stopped at Donghe for steamed buns, running into a group of women from Malaysia and Singapore riding bikes around Taiwan. Then it was on to Taitung city, the train around the southern link, and the HSR back to Taichung. A wonderful two days. Wish all of you who had backed out had been with me on this ride!
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums! Delenda est, baby.


Anonymous said...

WOW! Totally WOW!

Anonymous said...

Amazing photos

Anonymous said...

Great pics! Makes me homesick...

Robert Scott Kelly said...

So jealous as I'm not going to be able to do my own such ride this weekend.

vin said...

A non-anonymous WOW!

Anonymous said...

Michael, you are a shell of your former self. Looking good!

Anonymous said...

Thank you your posts were helpful for me in deciding what ride to do. I rode from Hualien, tried to stay on 193 but got lost and ended up on some offshoot of 11, ended up on hwy 9. Rode it to Guangfu, then over the pass on 30 (I think), down to 11, and back to Hualien. A few notes for anyone riding in this area:
- The guy at the Giant shop in Hualien (I rented) was great in terms of directions and mechanical ability; and he told me there is no Giant shop in Ruisui anymore
- I inquired and it seems the wind on the coast is generally from S to N, so riding back to Hualien on 11 is the way to go. I could not have made it back to Hualien in a 15mph headwind. But the wind in the rift valley was not noticeable.
- I rode in early June and it was HOT, I am from Washington state in the US and was not ready for the sun and humidity (though I knew about it); just factor that in if you are not used to riding in that weather.
- I found plenty of places to either buy water/tea or fill my two water bottles; make sure you drink a lot!
- Kind of near the top of a big pass on 11 near Boci is a great viewing site where the tour buses stop; I got a passion fruit jelly and white gourd with lemon drink; just what the doctor ordered at that point in the ride when I was running out of gas/glycogen.
- I waved to everyone I saw but the only people that waved back to me were other bikers, maybe there is a cultural piece I missed...

Thanks again for the great info!