Sunday, March 07, 2010

Riding the Tea farms in Nantou

Another awesome weekend of riding in the mountains of Nantou with the usual suspects, this time in the tea fields in the Xitou (Hsitou) area.

On Friday night Drew and I biked down to Jiji from Taichung. Jiji is a kitsched out tourist site overwhelmed by tourist hordes on the weekends, but on Friday night it was as dead as any small town in Taiwan. Saturday morning we headed out to nearby Shuili on a lovely ride on the ridges overlooking the river.

The road leaves Jiji as Mingsheng Rd and enters Shuili as Minquan Rd, changing names several times. There are several overlooks with excellent views along the way, this one looking west back to Jiji.

Although I generally object to hill climbing before breakfast, I was willing to make an exception for vistas like this one.

At Shuili we did all the cool things the town has to offer, like hanging at 7-11 and playing computer games at the internet cafe, while we waited for the others to appear.

The morning market was packed....

...and at the bus station some local Filipino workers waited for a bus.

We took 131 out of Shuili through the land where the gravel trucks trash rivers non-stop.

We then went up a side road and started climbing.

At the lower altitudes Nantou is the Land of Betel Nut palms.

The five of us, Drew, Eli, Michael F, and Chris, take a break. The climbing was steady for the rest of the day.

But the mountains were lovely, as always.

Slowly we climbed out of the betel nut wasteland and into the tea farms on the ridges near Xitou.

The higher we went, the lovelier the scenery.

Up into the world of tea.

The road through the land of tea.

Eli takes down an important number, just in case.

At lunch we stopped by a restaurant next to a small lake, where we enjoyed baked trout and the 921 Memorial Bathroom.

Then it was downhill to 151. 151 is the main tourist route up to Xitou, so we decided to avoid all the cars (see photos from previous ride in the area). From there we crossed the gorge and went up the less crowded but much steeper road on the other side.

With great views, of course.

As evening fell, we arrived here to overnight at about 1000 meters after a hard day of climbing. Dinner here was pretty good eating after a hard day of riding, and the conversation was well worth coming all the way to Nantou for.

As you can see, after 921 it was one of the few buildings left standing in the area. UPDATE: Nope, this pic is from Typhoon Toraji in 2001.

The morning found us eating a traditional Taiwanese breakfast, you know, the one where they serve the coffee in shot glasses.

Our goal for the day: The 12 turns on the twisty road at the bottom left there. A wonderful climb up to over 1600 meters...

First, however, we decided to go into Xitou for another breakfast. Rice porridge is ok, but doesn't cut it as a riding food. Here the signs warned to watch out for bicyclists...and elves.

The town was already starting to get crowded as we rode up to the Ultimate Family Mart in Xitou town for coffee and snacks. Thus, for the second day in a row, I found myself climbing before breakfast was finished.

Then the climbing began.

Michael F stands next to a sign naming the curve. Each curve is named after an astrological sign.

Rounding a curve. The road was long but the grade was easy.

Shot this caterpillar grabbing a snack.

The road fogs over quickly and by 11 it was pretty well socked in.

Drew and Chris leave the traffic in the dust.

Four kilometers short of Shanlinxi, we turned onto this incredible road, Nantou 49, which falls 26 kms to Jhushan.

We took a short break here.

The road dropped steeply through the tea fields, with the fog revealing tantalizing vistas from time to time.

It was lined with closed buildings.

Drew captures a tea farm.

Steep, curvy, and fogged in, this descent was one long clenched sphincter. The concrete surface was uneven and occasionally unpaved. A sheen of dust and gravel frequently covered the road, and my fingers ached from braking. And if you misjudge, there is the precipice on your left. I do not recommend this descent unless you have fat tires and excellent life insurance. The shot at the top of this post is also from that descent.

After nine kms of brutal descent, we came to paved road.

Even at lower altitudes the views were astounding, and the descent became a blast, rocketing down steep slopes with sharp curves and mountain walls all about us.

Finally, we arrived in Jhusan, where we parted ways, Drew and I biking on to Taichung. Special congratulations to Eli, who finished his first long ride in the mountains, a difficult one for a new rider. Very impressive!

An amazing ride. Hope to see you on the next one!
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Unknown said...

Whoah, those are amazing photographs. I particularly like the one with the bike parked among the really tall old-growth trees amidst fog. Magical. Should go in Life Magazine or on the cover of a famous book or something. Classic and original, and totally makes an impression!

Michael Turton said...

Drew always takes pictures of his bike where ever he goes; the pic of the bike in the cedar trees is his idea, though I used a different angle. Lovely shot it turned out to be too.

You should start training. We could always use a Canadian on a ride to curb our American excesses :)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, great pictures. For some reason I really like the one labeled "Drew captures a tea farm".

Unknown said...

I would love to come, Michael! Training is not the problem; I train at World Gym almost everyday, so I am totally fit. The current problem is no bike, no money, and therefore, no mobility. I am looking for extra work (currently I work only 5-7 hours a week) Once I get that sorted out, I am totally going, frequently and for as long a duration as possible). I'm really itching to go. I also wish I had a new camera, too. Mine doen't take pictures that look as crisp as most other bloggers (including Jim) these days. Cameras are a lot cheaper now, so again it's a money thing, although, until I get a semi-professional one, I could probably borrow Sharon's new one, which takes really nice pictures.

Unknown said...

Oh, and I should ask, did you guys encounter any elves? :)
That sign is hilarious. Seems like it was kind of a deliberate wink at tourists, both local and foreign. But I could be wrong. Maybe it was a case of L.I.T.

Anonymous said...

Fabulous photos, looks like a great trip. I envy all of that beautiful mountain scenery!

Do you ever have trouble with vehicles? Where I live, marshlands and swamps for the most part, there are few roads and we all have to share them. Unforunately the vehicles have little intention of sharing the roads with cyclists, and their patience leaves a lot to be desired.

Todd said...

Wow, looks like I missed a great ride! Wish I could have joined you guys!

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Taiwan (age 3-18) and absolutely love your photos, as they remind me of "home". I've thoroughly enjoyed your blog as well.

Anonymous said...

Awesome photos. How do they guarantee the mail order wife won't run away? Offer you one of equal or greater value if she does?

cfimages said...

What a great looking ride. Looks like a lot of fun.

Kaminoge said...

We drove down Nantou 49 during New Year's (not the Lunar one), under the same climatic conditions. Not for the faint-hearted!

Michael Turton said...

gaoshancha, we sometimes get flats, but so far nothing serious. Car accidents are an occupational hazard, fortunately rare.

LOL to the equal or greater value mail order wife.

P. S. said...

Michael, these pics may convince Amy to pedal with me (when we move back) as she loves mountains and fog. Our first date was on top of a tea mountain in Nantou.

Great job capturing the spirit of that area.

Anonymous said...

That's quite a coincidence! I was hiking around Shanlinxi this weekend. A very beautiful place.

Looks like a great ride. I love the pictures of the teafields. Makes me think my next trip will have to be by bicycle....

Jacob Gerber said...

Hey Michael,

Small world, I used to live MingJian - I guess you went through there on the way to Jiji. I spent plenty of time there, but Shuili is my favorite little town in Taiwan. It has a lot of cool little things to offer like the snake kiln, the office for Yushan park, and up the road is CheCheng - a tourist town I really like. And that picture you thought was a bus stop is, at night, actually my favorite restaurant in all of Taiwan. It's been a while since I've been back, but I think the dish I always got was a kind of mien-xian ... greatest noodle soup I've ever had.