Sunday, December 12, 2010

Alishan Riding

I took this weekend off and Drew and I rode down to the Alishan region for some monster climbing and photo ops in one of Taiwan's most beautiful areas. Very hard work, topped off with a long ride down 159甲 that was pure heaven. Drew's wonderful report on the ride is here.

On our ride down to Gukeng a few weeks ago Drew and I realized that we could easily make the Caoling tourist area from Taichung in a day. So to open this ride we reprised that one, starting in Taichung and running down 3 to 149. 149 is a pleasant ride up an easy grade. On the way we stopped at McDees in Mingjian for some coffee and fast food fuel.

For more pics of this wonderful area, see the photos from our previous visit.

Drew consults a map.

We stopped for an early lunch in the little village where we had turned off for 158甲 on our previous ride.

The main street, 149. We soon turned off onto 149乙 and immediately started climbing up a long series of switchbacks.

The views were lovely, of course.

149乙 winds around a bluff.

The views back towards the north were stunning.

Across the gorge we could see the road we had ridden several months ago out of Meishan, 149甲.

149乙 eventually came round and above a stupendous gorge. We rode across the exposed face at the end of the gorge as the road climbed steadily upward.

Excellent views at the top.

Drew turns on his light. We had pushed hard over what I thought were 6-8% grades. Drew laughed when I told him that -- his Garman indicated there was quite a bit of 11% grade. I was pretty worn out and was glad to reach the tunnel at the top and go over to Caoling.

We crossed over into the lovely peaks around Caoling about 1:30, which in retrospect was too early. Should have rested more on this day's climb.

Then it was downhill and to the Caoling Spa for the evening. $1200 a night. I don't recommend this for cyclists. You're better off finding a place closer to town where there is a better selection of food. Also, the tour buses come in and the tourists KTV until about ten, singing songs at the top of their lungs neither gently nor on key.

Moon over Caoling.

Day 2 opened gloriously with lovely skies and never wavered. We had great conditions throughout the ride. We had breakfast at the Caoling Spa's restaurant, which is in the courtyard of what must be the owner's home.

Had a few shots with some really funky sun effects.

In case anyone wanted to sleep in, some dorks were hard at work setting off fireworks at 6:30 am on a Sunday. These reverberated through the mountain gorges, because everyone knows that Taiwan peaks are stable and never have landslides.

The nearby town area was dead on a Sunday morning, but a few shops were open. There is no breakfast place in that town or in the area, and once you sail down the hill and beginning climbing 169, there are no restaurants until you reach Fencihu, 1500 meters up and ~25 kms away.

As always, the mountain views were outstanding.

Caoling overlooking what had been a reservoir.

Setting up for the required Bike With Sign And Rider shot.

The slopes are overrun with betel nut trees.

Rock formations.

Gravel operations went on unabated. At the lower altitudes trucks were a constant annoyance.

We climbed up 148甲 to 169. Unfortunately I was still pretty tired from the day before, had pushed too hard, and hadn't slept well. The grades were much worse 10-13%, and after we reached 169, I conked out. I walked a large section of the route, about 6-7 kms to 1400 meters, where the road leveled off and I could ride again.

Stirring views, but also terrifying ones.

Slopes of betel and tea agriculture.

A lovely hint of the tremendous views to come.

A land contoured in tea.

Trucks and road construction: a hazard.

The higher we rose, the better the views of the awesome massif that faces Alishan. I believe it is called Siang Shan.

Tea against the mountains.

A clear day. We had dressed for cold, but ended up stripping down as the sun was warm.

Slopes full of tea.

Clouds rolling in from the southeast, but they couldn't catch us.

A frustrating collection of buildings, where nothing was sold but tea and betel nut.

At 1750 meters we summited and crossed the border into Jhuci township. We rolled downhill to the tourist madhouse of Fencihu, where there is a train station to Alishan.

We stopped for coffee, which was superb, and totally recharged us for the kilometers still in front of us.

It was actually reassuring to me to be back among the tourist hordes.

As we sipped the coffee, the aroma of fatty pork tortured me.

From Fenchihu we rolled down to the intersection of 169 and 18 at Shijhuo.

Fencihu against the peaks. The area on this side of the ridgeline was much hazier.

In Shijhuo, another tourist madhouse, we picked up 159甲 and took that directly back to Chiayi city to avoid the life-threatening traffic madness on 18.

It is hard to adequately describe 159甲. It is not a beautiful road. No, it is more like a meditation on beauty in the form of a road. It plunges downward through the intimate rippling light of cedar groves and bamboo forest, clambers upward through betel nut farms, then rushes down along stunning gorges filled with farms surrounded by towering peaks. A completely amazing ride.

It was hazy, and we didn't stop much because the ride was so beautiful. Just wanted to enjoy it.

The towering peaks of the Alishan region make a stirring backdrop for a gorgeous ride.

There was only one climb, just before Dahu, of roughly 150 meters. In my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful rides Taiwan has to offer. Riding up it will be lovely, but there's no place to get food. I suggest you pick it up in Shijhuo and go downhill from there.

Then it was back to Chiayi, covered with late afternoon haze....

...and the train back to Taichung. Drew will have a few sharp words to say about the idiocy of designating the rush hour local train as the sole bike train of the evening on a Sunday. I will simply say that it was great to be home after awesome mountain riding in the glorious Alishan area. Map of the route.
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.


Robert Scott Kelly said...

So jealous. But great that you guys have blazed this route out and provided some excellent feedback on accom and eating. I'm a little amazed it's only a two day ride. It just seems like it would be so much longer.

Geoff said...

Michael, a hackneyed phrase perhaps .... "That was awesome". Looking at the photos I could almost feel the warmth and smell that distinctive Taiwanness. Hope to be somewhere there in May. Well done both of you.

Anonymous said...


Funny... I was doing the calculus yesterday to do it on one day.

Michael Turton said...

RSK, it's definitely easily doable in two days even for me and for a fit biker like Drew, in one. The total distance to Chiayi is around 100 mi/160 kms. If you left Taichung at 5:30 you'd be in Caoling by 11-12 (85-90 kms) and Fenchihu by 3-3:30. It's 2.5 hours downhill to Chiayi from there. All this assumes not much stopping for photos, and no trouble like flat tires. The latter is the problem, especially on 159A -- there's a long and very desolate section between Guanghua and Dahu that I wouldn't want to have a problem on. You'd need to do it in May or June when the days are longer to make sure you wouldn't be going down 159A in the dark.


Michael Turton said...

Geoff, I'll be looking forward to our meeting!

Anonymous said...

Why did you folks skipped Tataka?


Anonymous said...

Well Richa... because it is not really close to our route. If we were going up near Shuili...maybe.

Michael said...

Great riding Michael & Drew. I'm very much missing riding with you guys over the lovely hills and lush valleys. I'll toss you some photos of Sicily walks next week. The last of my India photos come out this week.

By the way, you're looking good.

Steven Crook said...

"It is hard to adequately describe 159甲. It is not a beautiful road. No, it is more like a meditation on beauty in the form of a road."

I'm absolutely on the same page as you when it comes to this road. I've scootered it and driven it but never biked it.

P. S. said...

Awesome. Jealous. And the Chinese character which represents a sense of longing for something I imagine I have already done.