Monday, July 21, 2014

Northern Cross Sanity Break

Resting in Lower Baling with my good friends Kenji and Jeff.

Saturday and Sunday I ignored my currently enormous workload and rode one of favorite routes, the Northern Cross Island Highway from Yongning Metro to Yilan Train Station with my redoubtable friends Kenji and Jeff. Click on Read More to see more....

ROUTE NOTES: This is an easy two day ride. From Yongning Metro, the last stop on the blue line, head southwest on the 3 until you reach the 108. You can head all the way to the alternate 7 but then you have to fight the traffic on the alternate 7?

: Follow the 108 (Zhengyi Rd) until you reach the first bridge, then turn right and follow that past the 7-11 (Tianfu Rd). Almost immediately the urban nightmare disappears. You'll find yourself on a pleasant road along the river parallel to the 7. Eventually you'll come to a large modern bridge. Cross the river to the alternate 7 there.

From there you soon start a long climb of 7-8 kms to about 400 meters, then a swift descent into Sanmin, whose Hi-life and 7-11 are a favorite of cyclists. Another climb takes you to Fuxing, past one of the 27 homes of the dictator Chiang Kai-shek, whose cult celebrates his austere lifestyle. Fuxing is the last convenience store (now a Hi-Life) until Yilan. From there just follow the 7 until you reach Lower Baling (purple squares). Total of 62 kms on the day with three long climbs, the last peaking just before Lower Baling. There are three-four places to stay in Baling, you can get their numbers off streetview. On a weekend BE SURE to reserve, especially in the summer. Day two (red squares) takes you about 80 kms to Yilan train station. Be sure to get breakfast in Lower Baling and buy water and snacks because there is nothing but forest until you reach Mingchih Forest Station Resort 25 kms away (there's a pricey buffet breakfast if you can make it before 8:30). A 10 km climb opens the ride, with a steady, easy grade of 6.5%. The peak is a nameless curve marked by a stand of cedars. Leave as early as possible since you can catch wildlife on the road before the inevitable obnoxious blast of motorcycles after 8. After the peak you'll descend, one of the loveliest descents on the island, before reaching the bottom at the ~63 km mark, after which you climb 3 kms to Mingchih. Climb again, ride along the ridges, descend 10 kms to the river, and then it's 40 kms of rolling downhill to Yilan and the train station. If you leave before 7 am you should make the train station before 1 pm. Definitely one of Taiwan's most enjoyable rides. Can be done in a day, but really demands two days to do it justice.

Great weather portended as we turned onto the 108.

The view from the bridge as you cross over to the 7.

Just a reminder: be careful.

The opening climb is not difficult, but some days it seems unending.

As you climb out of Sanmin there are many fruit stands selling overpriced seasonal fruits.

Except for the first climb to Sanmin, the views are lovely.

Going into Fuxing the traffic gave us a taste of what was to come.

Little Wulai. The clouds were spectacular.

Ordinarily the cars peter out at Little Wulai but today they just kept coming. Here Kenji battles the Little Wulai lemmings.

Fortunately the mountains are so beautiful you forget the traffic.

Jeff sets up for a shot.

Everyone stops for a pic on the pink bridge.

Kenji shares a laugh wih Jeff.

Parallel to the pink tourist bridge there's a regular road bridge.

Above the bridges there is a small community where we always stop at this place for lunch.

Just past there you enter the mountains.

Falling rocks are common in Taiwan's mountains, among the steepest in the world.

The views are excellent. However, I noticed that many places where we used to stop for shots the vegetation has grown back and blocks the views.

Saturday traffic was murder.

Dark clouds appeared, but quickly disappeared.

Hard not to be in a great mood on the northern cross.

The dam below Ronghua.

Kenji and Jeff make a shot.

With the road clambering along the ridges, the views are excellent.

Sometimes there'd be long stretches of silence without vehicles.

Next to this sign is a prefab steel panel building where an old couple serves up some of the best mango slushies on the island.

We always stop there for slushies and a break.

The road narrows at Ronghua and the traffic becomes clumped and short-tempered. Usually they have policemen here, but today there were none.

The river gorge here is spectacular.

Jeff fights the traffic.

Ronghua is 14 kms from Baling. You soon peak, and roll the last 4-5 kms down to Lower Baling.

At Gaopo the casualties from lunch were heavy.

Kenji makes a turn.

The gorge topography is amazing.

As I said.

Go down at this point to Lower Baling.

The road runs past the remains of an old dam.

Lower Baling used to be a sleepy little town, but now on the weekends there's a constant flow of tourists.

We relaxed in the proper Taiwan manner.

Dinner. River shrimp.

Hong Shao Tofu.

In the evening some of the locals came to test Jeff's English knowledge.

On day 2 we got up early and headed out after breakfast at the only breakfast place, which opens at 5 AM and only sells sandwiches and mantou. Here I am trying to decide whether it is better to climb before breakfast or after.

The morning light is glorious.

Off to Yilan!

Jeff stops to take a photo. He's an artist with a wonderful sense of light, and takes beautiful photos.

Kenji rocks another beautiful northern cross morning.

Kenji and Jeff marvel at a massive slide that crews were cementing over.

Early in the day the light is lovely and the roads are empty.

Kenji has a magnificent backdrop.

Kenji grabs a shot of Jeff.

The grade is steady and easy.

Old concrete, probably from the slide being fixed, was dumped at many places along the road.

The leaves reflect me. The road was lined with insects, cicadas, squirrels, monkeys, and many birds....

....until the motorcycles come out. Sad.


Finally, the descent.

After descending, you climb 3 kms (I hate that climb) to the "eco-resort" of Mingchih forest station. Our bikes rest by the telephones. Water and toilets and coffee all available.

Kenji and Jeff on the climb just past Mingchih.

Only a few more kilometers of mountain left.

It fogged over.

But the fog stayed above the ridges and the views remained good.

Then the long and dangerously curvy and slick descent to the river.

The Lanyang River is prime watermelon growing land.

Picnic and BBQ.

The road rolls gently down to Yi-lan.... the train, and home.

PS: Take the designated Dz Chiang express bike train to meet people. On the train we always sit with our bikes in car 12, whose AC is frigid beyond belief. In that car everyone sits and chats with each other. Here we met two young women from Hong Kong and a fellow cyclist from Miaoli.
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!


Zak said...

Really nice pics, well done!

Mike Fagan said...

"The road was lined with insects, cicadas, squirrels, monkeys, and many birds....

....until the motorcycles come out. Sad."

I know, right? I mean how dare other people spend their leisure time in other ways. They should all be put in the gulag for noise pollution or something.

Jerome Besson said...

Reminds me of great drives from Omei through Okutama (Greater Tokyo) to Enzan (Yamanashi). Terrains and roads so alike, amazing.

Great pics. I prefer those you shot under that resplendent sky. They look slightly under-exposed and all the crisper for it.

Michael Turton said...

I know, right? I mean how dare other people spend their leisure time in other ways. They should all be put in the gulag for noise pollution or something.

Yes, it is rather odd of me to expect that people adhering to your philosophy should actually give a shit about others and the world they live in.

PaddyB said...

The North Cross really is getting unrideable on the weekends. You have to leave Sanxia before 6 if you want to avoid the traffic. I rode to Baling and back a few weekends ago and it was great on the way there but on the way back (after 8:30) it was murderous. Continual traffic jams caused by tour busses that can't take corners with oncoming traffic and big-bike motorcyclists passing around blind corners (I narrowly avoided two separate head-on collisions). While there isn't much that can be done about weekend traffic to popular mountain areas like Xiangbaling/Lalashan, the police need to do something about motorcycle racing and tour busses should not be allowed on roads if they don't fit past oncoming traffic. But that would require the government to have a mentality other than "development at any and all costs".

Michael Turton said...

PaddyB, I have to agree. Frankly I think the big bikes should be banned from the major mountain roads. I have seen many accidents caused by their speeding and total disregard for others -- like you I had one near miss this weekend, when a$$hole lost control of his big bike momentarily when he saw me after going too wide round a blind curve. Last time I was in Taroko some big bike nailed a car and snarled traffic for kilometers behind since no one could go around the wreck. But hey, freedom means transferring the costs of your behavior to others, right?

Usually there are police up there but there were none this weekend. Baling is now a madhouse and the tour groups are out there singing and drinking until late. I finally drowned them out by cranking up the aircon.

I'll probably end up doing it again on a weekend. But I'll hate it.