I’d like to thank @ranlee for his help and tips for my first cycling adventure in Taiwan.
I’ve been wanting to do this climb for a few years now. As I had planned to attend Cycle Taipei this year, I tacked on a few days, packed a bike and backpack and hit it.
Arriving late last Wednesday evening from Bali left me with just a few hours of sleep before I was up to assemble and re-bag my bike and stuff my riding clothes into a pack before running (literally) to catch my train to Xincheng.
Frankly, I was shitting my pants that I would either be denied entry to the MRT with my bagged bike OR be late. The former wasn’t any issue. The MRT guy just waved me through the handicapped gate and I was on my way. The latter concern almost became a problem as I only had 2 minutes to the good at the top of the escalator. I just made it to the platform as the train pulled in! I jumped in, chucked my bike down at the front of the carriage and plunked myself down for the ride.
I booked my ticket online 2 weeks previously, payed by credit card and picked it up at the 7-11 iBon terminal with the help of the 7-11 guy. No problem and no need to pay extra as I had bagged my bike. I bought the bag on ebay from, of all places, a Giant dealer in TW.
It stuffs into its own pouch which I secured under my saddle with a velcro strap. Easy.
Alighting at Xincheng, I grabbed a taxi to Taroko Susi Space, went out for a meal then put my bike together and hit the sack.
I know you lifers are bored of pork rice by now, but to me it is still awesome. Allow me my vices.
Morning, again, was a bitch. I left later than planned, not passing the park gate until 0730.
I have lived the past 10 years in Bali and while there isn’t a flat road on the island, there certainly isn’t a “hill” quite like Hehuanshan. My usual training route maxes out just under 1600m. Sometimes I will ride 190km to do the climb twice from different approaches. I’m trying to say that I’m no slouch when it comes to climbing, but I was worried about the 3275m terminus.
With this in mind I heeded @ranlee s advice and kept my shit in the pot for the first 65km. This was the hardest aspect of the ride. There is always a little voice in my head that says, “go” at a certain gradient. It feels totally unnatural to sit and spin as I would normally climb steeper grades in a 39x28.
Riding with a pack, and remembering ranlee’s words, I kept my ass pasted to the saddle and sawed away in 36x25, using 36x30 on the steeper bits. The easy gearing, along with the civilized engineering, with generous switchbacks allowed me to relax and actually enjoy the breathtaking beauty enveloping me.
I stopped every now and then to put on clothes or snap a pic. At one point there were a series of road works where workers, tied off on the sheer hill side were gunniting a slide area. The road was covered in these places with an oozing slurry of concrete and mud and was a bit of a hazard. At a place called Ci’an, one crew had shut down and were trudging in to have their lunch. The supervisor (maybe, dunno) yelled in english, “LUNCH?”. Sure! Sounds good to me! I filed in after them, got handed a bowl of rice and dug in. I told everyone, “thank you” “this is delicious” and “i love you, beautiful” then drew my hand across my neck to indicate that my Mandarin had been exhausted.
After this point, the temperatures dropped and the clouds closed in. One of the longer tunnels had ice on the road.
I climbed up and up, reaching a small downhill before Dayuling. Here, the fog/clouds were below me and the light was dazzling. I became aware that the air was very dry and things felt a “little funny”. I attributed this to the altitude. In Dayuling I filled my bottles and started chipping away at the steeper grades here. My 36x30 alternating with the 34t cog. I passed a guy from Kuwait on a loaded Surly. We stopped to chat for a minute. He asked what I did, when I said I built wheels to put rice on the table, he said he had a problem with his rear wheel. I apologized for not having had the foresight to pack my tools up for this trip, maybe next time. We had a chuckle and it was time to go.
At 2800m my head was pounding and.my ears ringing. The legs felt fine so I kept going, but as I neared the summit I felt that I just couldn’t breathe properly. When I did make it to the top it was clear that this altitude was not the place for me. I was hyperventilating and my hands were shaking. I grabbed a full bidon, but the nipple was frozen. Because my brain was in slow mo, I just stared at the friggin thing panting away like a sick dog. Weird.
I dumped my bike next to an information panel and pulled a down jacket on over my windshell…over my gilet, over my gabba jersey, over my jersey and arm warmers, over my base layer. FUQ, I was still freezing.
I took off, back down to Dayuling to continue on to Lishan, my arms shaking so that it was difficult to control the bike. Once I neared Dayuling I stopped for a few minutes and after warming up a bit, felt decidedly more human.
At this moment I could not fathom how people are able to function at Everest base camp. Perhaps living at 600m has done this to me. If I spent more time acclimatizing perhaps the effects would be less.
Anyways, I pointed my bike through the tunnel and started ripping down to Lishan. A few small rises had me warmed back up and I was feeling better. A few kilometers passed and the curtains drew closed on the day. The road was completely empty and pitch black. My lamp illuminated things nicely and I could cruise along just fine, although the road surface limited the speed a bit. I was feeling rather cocky, imagining a hot shower and some warm soup at my destination, Lishan.
It seems to be a law that whenever you feel like you’ve got your shit in hand, the Universe comes along and whacks it all over your face…and so it was that my lamp informed me that its stomach was empty and that, in short order, it would go to sleep and I would be, for want of a better word, fucked.
So, now descending a steep, twisty, slippery mountain road in the pitch black with a dim lamp just picking out the cateyes on the roadside barricades. WHAT FUN! Oh, well. I guess that IS my name on the ticket receipt.
I had to pucker up the starfish when things suddenly went squishy beneath me and the road turned to a quagmire. I could make out large shadows at the side of the road indicating heavy machinery and trucks, then a campfire with a bunch of guys huddled around it. Roadworks.
I continued on this way getting closer to the lights that I hoped were Lishan. Street lamps began infrequently, but reassured me at each passing.
Finally. Flamme Rouge. LISHAN passed above me.
I pulled over and called the boss to let her know I was still alive. Just into the niceties and my phone died.
No google translate.
Absolutely no idea where to find my Air BnB.
I rolled into Lishan to take stock of my options. Police station, closed. No. Church, open. No thanks.
Bakery…hmm. Coffee? Red Bean bun? I went in and pantomimed my situation, ordered a coffee and plugged in my phone. Once I had a way to communicate everything started clicking along and in no time I was plucked out of my predicament by my lovely hosts…
Ok, enough of my long-windedness. I will assault you with part 2 to Lishan later.
Again thanks very much to everyone who has given material to this forum. It is a great resource for those of us looking in from the outside.