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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Taiwan, Hong Kong (3)

Taroko National Park (太魯閣國家公園)

Sister W may have some photos, I was so in awe that I forgot about taking pictures. Once we entered the Central East West Highway (中橫公路)near Hua Lien (花蓮), there's the Taroko National Park vistor center that didn't look a lot differnt from its counterpart in the US. The information counter was staffed with very enthusiastic senior citizen volunteers, they said there would be a international bicycle race the next day. The following is the promotional blurb from the race organizer:

The Taiwan KOM Challenge saw more than 400 riders from 23 different nations around the world gather to take on the very serious challenge of riding from sea level up to 3,275 meters over 95km, from Hualien up to the peak of Hehuan Shan, also known as the Wuling climb.
3,275 meters is the height of the mountain but with elevation gain taken
into account, the cyclists actually climb some 3,800 meters! ...

3,275 meters is about 11,000 feet in elevation, there's nothing on the east coast of North America remotely compares to that, let alone rising from sea level so rapidly. It was already afternoon, we jumped back to car to drive to Tianxiang (天祥) hoping to do a quick loop from Tienxiang which is about 20 Km from the gate. 

Check out the terrain
From the gate to Tienxiang is not so bad. Toward the finish, the gradient is just incredible. I rode only the relatively easy part with a vertical drop of less than 400 meters from Tianxiang to the start line on the coast.

Tianxiang (天祥, I gleamed from other names that it's named after a historical figure 文天祥)

Tianxiang is a major stopping point alone the highway, people would recommend it as a must see place to visit. The road to Tianxiang was just stunning, I was busy I eating and drinking as much as I could to prepare for the ride,  even wolfed down a sweet potato we abandoned 2 days ago.

At Tianxiang, we saw touristy stuff we had little interest in: pagoda, temple, and some rock statues. We never  did bother with these attractions but there's where most of the tourists were. 
It was almost 2PM and I make haste getting ready (in a Porta Potti), putting on biking shorts, jersey, and helmet for the first time on this trip. 

This picture still makes me grin

This picture I borrowed from Wiki. I can only describe the ride down from Tianxiang using the adjective orgasmic, it's 30 minutes of sensory overload and the scenery was as dramatic as this photo. 
I didn't touch the brakes but didn't go all out either.  The distance was about 20 Km and it took 30 minutes to cover it, so the average speed was roughly 40 Km/hour going downhill. 

On the steeper part, seat-of-the-pants estimate was probably 60 Km/hr and easily gaining on cars. How I wish I had my regular bike instead of the Bike Friday Crusoe.
(BTW, Chinese phrase for sexual pleasure is "fast feeling", so I am hardly originally in my word choice.) 

Yianziko (燕子口 - Swallow Grotto)

I took this picture on our way up. You can see how the road became single lane, there's a foot wide drainage gutter on the mountain side. There were quite a few tunnels like this, riding with my sunglasses on, I couldn't see the ditch nor much of the road in the unlit tunnel (was in too much a hurry to bring a headlamp), and I knew oncoming cars probably won't see me (I had a blinker clipped on my jersey pocket, I was visible from behind).  Heck, I was so deliriously happy and honestly didn't care.

Hand made in Taiwan

The highway was hand carved in the 60s. You'd see tour buses swing wide to avoid the overhang sometimes, there were random places where the buses couldn't pass through if they stay in lane. 

Shot past the gate and kept on going for a while not wanting to stop, had my water bottle refilled by a food vendor.  
The return leg took me 3 times as long and I made it in an hour and a half of almost constant climbing.  (I didn't notice the front shifter cable was rubbing the tire coming down, when I down shifted to a smaller chainring to start the climb, the cable housing buckled and I was stuck between the big and the middle chainring, clicking and clacking the entire way up.) 

Catholic church

Meanwhile W had had lunch and checked out possible accommodations for the night. The choices were either a 250 USD resort hotel or the Catholic church for one tenth the cost.  The resorted hotel was occupied mostly by Mainland visitors (陸客) and the church cabins by Europeans (I didn't see anyone obviously American), we opted for the tres chic Church. 

The cabin

High up on the hill, our cabin had a million dollar view, shared swat toilets and showers, wandering collarless dogs.  In another word, perfect.
I slept as well as any other place until I was awaken by W scolding two German girls not to talk so loudly outside our cabin.

Xiao Feng Ko (小風口 - little wind pass)

Race day, we were ready to watch the race at Tianxiang but by the time we got out at 9AM they racers were gone. We drove and caught many amateurs stragglers, this pictures was taken  near the peak of Wu Ling (武嶺). The professionals were long gone. Temperature was only a few degree above freezing.
We stopped for breakfast at eithe Wuse (霧社) or Xiao Feng Ko (小風口 ). We found ourselves amongst backpakers in artic mountaineering gears.  The well equiped hikers were climbing He Huan Shan (合歡山, it's literally "happy couplation mountain" in Chinese, turns out it's Japanese for "happy join forces").  

At 10,000 feet

We were both feeling the altitude just walking around. Soon started the long drive toward Sun Moon Lake (日月潭).

Descending fast

We passed a bunch ponytailed female cyclists and was later overtaken by them bombing down the mountain, those girls were adorable!  

Blue Mountains like a watercolor painting

Going toward Sun Moon Lake, the mountains are behind us.

Some sort of Lake

Woe is the landscape photgrapher, I couldn't capture the grandeur of the view with my camea. Regardless, we thought it was money well spent when we paid for the overpiced cofees for the privilege of this view.

Next stop, Sun Moon Lake.

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