Monday, September 16, 2013

Alishan Take Three

James checks his pics. Not a great day for pics; by the time we got up high, the rain and fog was rolling in. Moral of the story: you can never start too early in the mountains. Yet it was still a surpassingly lovely ride.

Another weekend, another ride. This time I avoided the growing horror of President Ma Ying-jeou's mind-numblingly stupid assault on Wang Jin-pyng by hiding in the mountains for a lovely two day ride over two of my favorite roads, the 169 up Alishan, and the 159A into Chiayi city, which is really the prettiest road on the island. Click on READ MORE to read more....

We headed out down the 3 for about 50 kilometers of eating exhaust before hitting the lovely 149.

Still, it looked like it was going to be a beautiful day. As many times as I have ridden the 149B, I have never ridden it on a gorgeous day. So I was kinda excited.

We took the hideous 3 all the way down to Jhushan, then rode through town and got on the 149. A pretty road, it travels south along a river gorge filled with tea farms and tea processing joints.

Processing tea on the 149.

The mountains, beautiful in the distance.

In small mountain villages, itinerant clothes vendors make the rounds.

Feeling good...

Then we turned onto the 149B. This brutal road rises in a series of switchbacks. The grades are brutal, all above 10%. Absolutely brutal.

Great views in places.

Dom, on the left, and James, on the right, my partners in climb.

Eventually you reach a flat portion where you enter the end of the Ten Thousand Year Gorge. Lovely spot. There's a short, much needed downhill, and then up you go again.

Rolling down to where the 149A climbs up to meet the 149B. The views are stirring, but I was too beat to pay attention.

Beautiful things to see everywhere.

The nice pavement comes to an end, and then the crappy concrete moonscape pavement begins. This rises another 100 meters or so to the tunnel into Caoling. As you can see in this pic, a stupendous landslide took out the whole top of the mountain and the road as well.

Dom and James, both powerful riders, enjoy the climb.

James images the slide.

We went through the tunnel and had lunch in Caoling, a ghost town, surprisingly, on a Saturday. I was whipped and welcomed the rest.

Coming into the gorge below Caoling.

Below Caoling there is a series of switchbacks until you hit the river, more of a vast gravel pit than a stretch of water.

Reaching the river.

Not in any position to argue, James and Dom politely let a truck driver go first.

It's a wildnerness...

Sorry boys and girls, he's married.

Soon our destination, the aboriginal village of Laiji, came into view. 110 kms on the day, 1300 meters of climbing. I hadn't been riding as much as I wanted during the summer, and it really showed in my overall conditioning.

We stayed in Laiji at the Lanhou B and B. Very nice. The room for four was $2200 and dinner was $300. Breakfast was included. The dinner was fantastic, a spread that was more than we could eat, not at all like the skimpy, low quality set meals you often get at B and Bs. Breakfast is at a real Taiwan-style breakfast place, not crappy rice porridge with condiments that haven't been updated since the late Qing era. It's really bargain, pleasant surroundings, great people. Highly recommended. Only drawback is that you have to bring a towel, since they use those inexcusably awful paper ones.

One of the workers at the B and B remembered me. He was making handicrafts with a group of tourists from Kaohsiung. They all took turns using the lathe. Insurance is just not an issue here, folks.

Breakfast. The locals were out in force, preparing for a hard day of work with betel but, cigarettes, and whisbee.

Inside James and Dom enjoy breakfast burgers.

Morning: ready to ride.

We took the 149A out of Laiji. James grabs some pics of the staggering views.

The views are gorgeous even at the bottom.

Tea pickers were out early.

The 149A rolls for about 6 kms through this lovely terrain until it reaches the 169.

Already, though, clouds were starting to gather at higher altitudes.

The 169 hits you hard: the first grade is 17% but not long, thankfully. The next one is 15%. It settles down to a mere 8-9% a little higher up.

We rode upward into the fog.

Wealth really does grow on trees.

Heading into the mist and fog.

Dom before Taihe town.

The first overlook was clear enough for decent views, but further up we were fogged in.

Finally we arrived at Shijhuo where I rejuvenated with snacks and drinks. Once we got into the fog I didn't take any pictures for the rest of the ride on Alishan. I was totally whipped at Fenchihu. I haven't been that devastated by a ride in a long time. In fact I was so delirious with exhaustion I even considered skipping the 159A to avoid the long climb on that latter road (which ironically, turned out to be no problem) and taking the godawful 18 back to Chiayi. Fortunately Dom murmured a benediction and the moment passed.

We headed out the 159A. Here is that magical moment when James realizes he is on one of the most amazing roads on the island.

Dom enjoys the views. There's no way to present or describe this road. You just have to ride it yourself, preferably downhill from Shijhuo.

I'm lovin' it!

In Chiayi there's an express bike train that comes through at 3:52, arriving in Taichung at 5:10. We got into Chiayi city at 3:00 after adventures with a rain squall and a punctured tire and hopped that train. Here was what greeted me when I rolled into Taichung at 5:10.

A pity you weren't with me. Even with the rain, it was a gorgeous ride, well worth all the work of getting there. Hope to see you on the next one!
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Anonymous said...

Just want to say thanks for sharing!

I especially like the tea sorting/picking pics.

Mike Fagan said...

The best I can hope for is a 100 km ride to someplace local. If I could afford the time, I would train up to ride the 20 up through the north end of Kaohsiung county over into Taitung, back down to Kenting and up again to Tainan to complete the circuit.