Sun Moon Lake Taiwan | Day 3

DAY 3 | Mt Yushan | Jade Mountain
165km | 3,070m elevation
https://www.strava.com/activities/585177017
By Scott Leadbetter

The weekend so far had been much tougher than expected and absolutely stunning all the same. Day one (Wuling) was a crippler and then day two (err… rest day) was highly brutal at times so going into day three we really had no rest day at all.

The evening before we all enjoyed a carbo loading Italian feast which proved critical and felt like a scene from the last supper. The pros who had done the trip previously were basically hitting us with the low down i.e. it’s as tough as Wuling, it’s a longer day in the saddle and has a total climb of 3,200m. Brilliant.

Before the trip it was always going to be like yeh – come at me!!! I can eat any of this up, however, after 2 days in Taiwan the negatives soon get in to your head and you start thinking, core blimey! Early night it is then post beers, of course, with Ben, Alex, Phil, Laura, Andrew, Liam etc..

Rise and shine it’s butt whipping time. Following breakfast and washing my bike I arrived at the roll off point and was greeted by Ben and Alex…wait… where are the others??!? “You’re late Scott, what’s going on?” Ahh yeh, my bad, sorry. So that was it the two fastest lads were not happy, awkward!

Anyway off we went in our professional three piece rotating ‘chase group’, sun was blazing jersey unzipped, I felt like Geraint Thomas whizzing through the south of France! The weather was fantastic, sun beating down, clear blue sky with the odd fluffy cloud – this is awesome, surely the weather has no chance of changing and this will be with us all day, right? Right?

The route for day three takes the final section of day two out and back again. This segment is a killer, the elevation alone is about 700m of climbing and just seems to never end, absolute torture at the end of a long day in the saddle. At the end of this segment are a pair of tunnels which unofficially marks ‘home’. So off we are chasing the peloton and whizzing through the tunnels to then be greeted with the most enjoyable descent I’ve ever ridden. We soon caught up to a couple of stragglers and then the main group. The descent was bliss, jersey was still undone, long hairpin after hairpin dicing with death and testing each corner to get that extra km/h, such a buzz.

Alex and I soon went for it and met everybody else back at the bottom of the climb, as we were coming towards the end a random dog is just chilled out not a care in the world lying in the middle of the road, close call. There were many obstacles to be aware of on this trip, numerous grids, grates, pot holes, dogs(!) snakes etc all justifiable obstacles that could cause your life to pass before you. Worth it though.

The next section was a long rolling 30km section on one road which formed a pack of us ‘mountain muncher’ Phill Morris, Liam, Alex, Pete and myself. Although this wasn’t a dramatic 3000m ascent or descent the scenery was stunning, up and over we went through a raised road hugging the side of the mountains. Not many words were being exchanged as the pace picked up again.

Benjamin caught up after his suspected cautious descent 😉 and the pace clearly picked up again with him leading the charge. Ben and I broke away slightly with me holding on for dear life. Alas! 7 Eleven appeared, thank you sweet Jesus.

The support vehicle was supposed to meet us here for supplies, EPO, top ups etc, I forgot my salt tablets and could feel cramp rearing its ugly head so the support vehicle couldn’t have arrived sooner. Especially after making it to the top of Wuling only to find it not being there – I was praying that wouldn’t happen again.

“The support car has taken Collin back to the hotel, issue with his rear D so he’s now meeting us at 65km” said an exhausted fellow cyclist. Brilliant. Liam Winston just cycled straight past us deciding not to stop, not the first time this weekend he did this, does this guy eat? Does he drink?

We topped up at 7-Eleven and on we went to commence the main descent up Yushan. Benjamin, Alex and I pedaled away at a nice steady pace, gradually grinding the gears. No words were being exchanged at this point, just sweat, head down and grimace. We could see Liam in the distance as we crossed over a well-engineered swooping bridge. Head down hanging onto both Ben and Alex, I grab a drink, look up and Ben’s just absolutely dropped us.

Alex and I just gave each other that look as in to say, we’re not even bothering to catch him. As I’m sucking Alex’s wheel head over the bars sweating my gonads off, Alex quickly points and shouts – “SNAKE!!” What? Yep, a nice green poisonous snake located right in our line – that certainly woke me up!!

We continued along the ascent and at these points your start asking yourself questions and thinking how high you’re actually going to be climbing. All that was going through my head was salt tablets and water / coke at 65km rendez-vous with the support vehicle.

The climb was stunning and again felt like a grand tour stage so you clearly get into superman mode and believe you’re Alberto Contador taking a stage win. I think this is caused from exhaustion, altitude and a load of sugar. Basically you’re tripping balls and thinking about anything other than your legs, lungs or heart.

We got to the 65km mark and luckily the support vehicle was there, Dennis or Danny or Dave? I can’t remember but he was a big Philippino fella who always put a smile on my face. He always had gifts (when he actually turned up!). Ben was already there waiting, probably had a picnic by the time Alex and I arrived.

Then off Alex shot off to get an early dart, Ben wasn’t having that, equally he followed. Me? I just stayed there and chilled out with big Dennis eating Snickers, chatting dreams. From this point you could look up the mountainside and see the winding roads and Taiwan tunnels still to come, man they were high.

Then Phil, Pete and Liam arrived, we laughed, eat, took selfies then off I went. This was the best section of the weekend for me. I don’t mind cycling on my own and this was just perfect, the gradient wasn’t too challenging and from the 2 previous days I found my legs just felt stiff, like weak pistons. The sun was still shining the scenery was breathtaking, the road conditions were perfect and the traffic was 0. I was just thinking are their bears here?

As I climbed higher it got cooler but still totally fine. Then all of a sudden I see a tunnel pop up out of nowhere, with a pitch black entrance. Surely it’s not pitch black all the way through? I was telling myself, if it was dangerous Ben and Alex would be waiting on the other side or shouting something. Would they though? Really? Probably not.

I had no lights or reflective gear so this made me have a little wobble but bugger it, you go through. This was like a black hole and if there were any bears in this land I was certainly about to find out. The tunnel cornered round and lasted roughly 300m , it was the loneliest most vulnerable 3 minutes of my life. You couldn’t go fast as the floor was mossy and slippery, clearly the last thing you wanted to do was end up bear bait. Anyway I made it.

The climb continued and continued and continued, the climb got colder and colder and colder. I’ve never experienced cycling so high you’re above the clouds and looking down into the atmosphere, incredible. Then eventually at about 70km the heavens started to open. Holy crap, I had no wet weather gear and I knew what was in store on the descent – freezing my gonads off.

Not long after Ben and Alex flew past me on their descent “HOW MUCH FURTHER??” I shouted in a pleading manner. “It’s bloody wet up there mate” was their response. What? But what does that mean? How did they fly past me with 10km still to go?? Clearly they skipped a few km and turned around early 😉

I powered through and eventually got to these 2 trees named brothers and sisters, or mums and dads, one or the other. I was certain this was the peak as we discussed the evening before what to expect. I carried on a bit further and then turned round, it turned out I was short 1 or 2km, wasn’t happy!

Anyway, imagine the feeling when you get to the top of Faber, well I’m not even going to compare the feeling to anything remotely as insulting. This felt like euphoria.

Ohhh shit, I’m feeling cold, very cold – start descending Scott.

As I’m going the rain became harder and harder, you start to worry when you realise you have no spare puncture kit. The descent was a mix of emotions, I was in pain, I was cold, I was seizing up but then as I passed my fellow cyclists climbing up(!) in worse rain conditions – this really put a smile on my face, respecting how strong everyone truly is and how determined we all are. Fantastic and brilliant for comradery.

I was praying Dennis was at the meet point (and hadn’t buggered off), at this point I’d expected to no longer have a phone as it was sure to be saturated from the rain so if he wasn’t there I was going to die. Oh shit here’s that tunnel again, bears and snakes, wet surface – yep I’m going to die.

I got through the tunnel and like a ray of light my main man Dennis is there in his van – legend! After jumping in warming and eating up, he tells me Laura, Ben and Alex are eating 5km away. Where? How can it be? There’s nowhere to eat? It’s just one long painful lonely road? Is he fooling me to stop eating his Snickers? Here we go again altitude making me question life.

Right well if that’s the case Dennis, I trust you brother. Rain jacket on and off I go praying someone is there at 5km time. He wasn’t lying. There was a roadside Chinese style café which was awesome and just what the doctor ordered. I walked in there like a frozen solider and the three of them were there with the smiles I needed. Great to see you!

Following the fried rice and green tea and watching Ben walk through the middle of the owner’s home for a toilet break, we got back on the saddle and continued the descent back to 7-Eleven. Laura and Alex got a head start whilst me and Ben just took our time chatting rubbish, as we caught up we could see Laura at the side of the road looking suspect. As we approached there’s a dog chained up, ahh that explains it. I then just continued my descent and let the animal lover carry on her business.

The four of us regrouped at 7-Eleven had a nice warm coffee and painfully got back on the saddle for a gloomy ride back to the base of the descent we came down earlier this morning. Knowing that was still in store for us was a tough pill to swallow. As it always seemed to be during this trip, no one really waits. By the time I got on my bike Ben, Alex and Laura were long gone, nice one guys. To be fair they’d argue it was a slow pace so luckily I caught them up and we rode back together until…

The heavens did actually crack open BIG time as we approached the long ascent back, it was absolutely lashing it down. I couldn’t actually see without blinking 100mph. and the rain was took form of painful golf balls, brutal it was. Anyway this was my opportunity, Benjamin pulled away and I followed, I knew he wasn’t keen on the descents (especially in the rain) but I also knew he would drop the living daylights out of me on the climb.

I found the moment and off I went, the competitive pair we are it only seemed right. So I genuinely risked my life flying down a few descents and sharp corners in these horrific conditions to finally find myself at the base of the ascent back to Sun Moon Lake. At this point I really am feeling like Wiggins pulling in the final climb and kms to take it home. Off the saddle I got and grit my teeth for 15 minutes or whatever it was, the rain wasn’t stopping it was just getting harder, the water was flooding down the road so it felt like cycling against white water rapids (slight exaggeration).

Every corner I kept looking back thinking where is he, any minute now he’s going to pop up. Luckily I managed to turn the final swoop and there were the glorious tunnels. Welcome back Scott, welcome back. I made it and dropped Ben! Only to find out he had stopped at the bottom of the climb for 10 minutes to wait with Claire – such a gent.

It’s only on the descent where you realise how high you actually pedaled. Looking back I think it’s much easier to conquer these challenges not knowing what lies ahead, next time, if there is a next time knowing the actually route and what I have in store might actually brake me early on! This could probably reflect in other lessons in life. In essence, go for it, even if you don’t know what the outcome will be, take the risk and I’m sure it will be worth it.

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