Road Tripping Taiwan

Liam Winston

Many people travel to France or Italy for classic cols and opportunity to test themselves against 2,000m+ of elevation. Yet tougher challenges do not require a 13 hour flight and are readily accessible a short distance from Singapore.

‘Gordon’s Getaways’ aka ANZA member Laura Gordon; banded together an intrepid group of 17 riders that were planning to put that to the test over the Vesak long weekend.

Following a smooth transfer from Taipei down to Sun Moon Lake our base for the three days, there was already much talk over the first evenings dinner on upcoming climbing conquests.

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Day 1 Wuling
Wuling and the mountain that it sits on Hehuanshan, provide fame for a number of reasons. It’s the highest motorable pass in Taiwan at 3275m, an elevation that puts European cols to shame. Of note to most cyclists around the region, it’s also the finishing point for the notorious Taiwan KOM, a one day classic that tests the mettle of any serious climber.

Although not tackling Wuling from the eastern town of Hualien, along the KOM route, the climb up from Sun Moon Lake and through Puli would be a formidable one nonethesame. ‘The side that is much tougher’ 🙂

The weather forecast didn’t bode well when enjoying the welcoming descent out of Puli, with it really being a question of when the skies would open.

On reaching Puli, the climbing begins, with best part of 55km and some 2,800m of climbing to get through.

Initially the climbing is quite steady, but after Renai it progressively picks up as riders witness countless mock English mansions, whilst the elevation passes 2,000m, the temperature falls and the cloud cover increases. Unfortunately it’s the banks of 10% that are the standout feature in the last 500m of ascent and it becomes a battle of mind over matter to enter Taroko Gorge National Park and finally hit the pass at Wuling.

Sadly the weather started to turn on reaching the pass, which meant it was not possible to really enjoy what is a great descent in the dry.

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The post ride regroup point was the very welcome Starbucks in Renai. A steady steam of cyclists gradually congregated back there, knowing that they had added one of the toughest climbs in the region to their palmares,

After warming up, there was fortunately more descending to enjoy, prior to taking on the sting in the tail of the final 10km climb back up to Sun Moon Lake.

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Day 2 Ri Yue Tan
The second day was slated as a recovery ride, sandwiched between the two serious days of climbing; composing of a loop around the lake itself, followed by an extended circum-navigation.

However, with the rain forecast looking bleaker than the day before, the initial ‘warm up’ lake loop was rescheduled to the end of the ride, so that the more interesting terrain could be tackled initially, whilst it was still hopefully dry.

The lake was soon left behind with a nasty little 11% climb up and over Route 63, but what a great descent ensued; hairpins, farmland and stunning scenery and oh so much better in the dry.

The next section of out and back along Route 16, via the township of Dili, was definitely the highlight of the day. It had been scoped from a previous trip, but never actually ridden. After hitting a significant wall of a climb when entering Dili, the road would hug the river for 10km, before reaching a halt where the previous bridge had been washed away.

Unfortunately and much to the dismay of the group, the route would prove far from flat. However the fantastic views took some of the bite out of the climbs.

On the way back the heavens finally opened, so the short cut back up to the lake was taken and the lake loop skipped. With tomorrow being the queen stage of the trip, there was no real need for unnecessary km’s in the rain, with 70km already in the bag.

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Day 3 Yushan
Unfortunately the harshness of the first day’s climb had put a few of the rider’s off tackling Yushan in it’s entirety. Although a longer day, the grades would not be as aggressive and with the alleged lure of chocolate coated M&S swiss rolls, for anyone that made it to the top, there was sufficient incentive.

The final day would prove to be the best for weather for what turned out to be quite a warm ride. As with Wuling, no climb would be complete without a big initial descent just to add more vertical meters to the challenge.

So after 25km, the climbing began in earnest at Sinyi. Much of the lowlands of Yushan and Alishan are devoted to vineyards, offering further incentive for what would be some welcome post ride refreshment.

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The hot springs at Tongfu were skipped, bar for a quick 7 Eleven stop. The climbing continued unabated, but with better weather and the terrain less influenced by low cloud cover the views were most rewarding after each pass into a new valley, invariably through a tunnel.

The famed husband and wife trees were passed after 80km, meaning it was just another couple of km’s to top of the pass. This was shortly hit and chocolate swiss rolls were devoured by the lucky bunch to make it to the top.

A magnificent descent followed that actually surpasses that of Fraser’s Hill. It just kept on going and going. Perfect for tired legs, unlike the 10km climb back up to the lake!

The final evening saw a break from tradition of fine Taiwanese cuisine and a welcome embrace of all things Italian. Deserved beers were consumed, a promise made to return in 2016 and a big thank you to Laura for organising the trip, as well as the ANZA committee for supporting it. So much nearer than Europe.

A quick loop around the lake on the final morning, for a few diehards, to make sure nothing was missed made for a 400km long weekend with almost 8,000 metres of climbing ticked off.

Foot note: High drama on the return; as our bikes almost never made it to the airport!

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