Posts Tagged ‘Marin Stinson’

Monday March 5, 2012, 30 km (19 miles) – Total so far: 66 km (41 miles)
Elevation gained : 1575 m or so. It was all a blur after 3000m asl. Ave speed : 6.0 kmp/h
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 0657 hrs : Cherry blossoms at ‘Vienna Pleasance Cottage’

http://www.vienna.com.tw/en/profile/index.php

The road right out from our lodge was an indication of what was to come today. A 180 degree switchback that climbed in to the shade of pine trees, momentarily hiding it’s gradient. We had walked along it last night to a small mall that had the 4th and 5th 7-11s and a Starbucks outlet next to it. Two 7-11s within 5 minutes walk of each other. Imagine that.

Starbucks wasn’t worth it as their coffees are priced 3 times what the better tasting, gourmet coffee chain City Cafe had at 7-11. And I keep hearing that it’s just an evil corporation on some journals.

Welcome to the wilds of the Taiwanese alps. Regular visitors have long bemoaned the excesses of development here, in Chingjing, followed by the tourist hordes in their motorcades and big buses. And now they have to deal with peletons of cyclists, an estimated 6000 on the last annual ‘Climb to Wuling’

I’ve never understood ‘mass’ cycling events. To me, mess would be more appropriate. Bicycles, cars, support crew, sponsors, vendors, gawkers clogging up an already narrow mountain road ? Maybe it’s just me, I like to suffer alone and not having to dodge others on a crowded road.

To rub salt on to the wound, I’ve seen videos of many a ‘Wuling Challenge’ where the 60 km downhill, yes 60, back to Puli cannot be ridden in parts because of congestion, people, cyclists, bikes and cars moving in both directions. Walking my bike downhill ? That’s against some religions !

Back to mass tourism. I don’t think that the local populace are complaining one bit. The receipts from tourism have led to a lot of prosperity for the people here, cashing in on what was once the original blueprint for this area, a retirement village for war veterans. You see signs for Veteran’s ‘farm, ‘hotel or restaurants’ everywhere.

Today being Monday, we lucked out as we we’re the only cyclists going up and traffic was very minimal. Of course we had to have our one crazy trucker hurtling down a narrow mountain road at us, experience.

Coleen elected not to ride up the steeper first half for today, so did some other wives. It was her strategic move as it’s better to attain cycling glory at the peak, rather than pass out before the peak from overdoing it all day.

Besides in Chingjing or Cingjing, there are sheep, lots of them. Sheep in this part of the world are the luckiest. Those that we passed by seem to be perpetually grazing and smiling for the cameras of the tourists. There’s even a replica castle for them to take shelter in and perform the oldest trick in sheepdom. Letting themselves being shaved silly in front of a crowd like their cousins in New Zealand. It’s safe to assume that their not being bred for food accounts for their longevity here.

I, on the other hand will be testing my longevity in trying to pace myself up 1525 m in 28 kms. It’s quite a scary thought, as unlike yesterday, there will be only one 7-11 to delay us. That’s in 5 kms up when breakfast, as predicted will disappear as fast as it was consumed.

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0900 hrs : I think the weather will be perfect today

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0930 hrs : Progress is slow as there are many Taiwan virgins, and views to behold.
So are the wide shoulders on the lower slopes

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sheepThe other thing to do when not cycling

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1032 hrs : True to form we stop at a 7-11, clogging up space, coveting shade and forcing a yellow cab to park in the sun. Even the smokers couldn’t stand us and leftP1270448

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* 1042 hrs : Apparently this is the final convenience store for the next desolate 20 kms and everyone has their hands full

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I make it to the island’s highest 7-11 in good time, if an hour to cover 5 kms is good. I take comfort in the fact that I might have stopped to take a few dozen photos along that 5 kms. That and most of the crowd were behind me taking more dozens of photos.

This morning’s briefing had just one important condition. We have the whole day to make the 28 kms. About 8 hours till the light fails or bad weather sets in, so pacing one self is critical. 6 kmp/h is just about right. It was the stopping times that were going to get some of us in trouble. Tick tock tick tock.

And in my case, going light and thus incurring impurity points from the purity police, my lone pannier rode in the bus, with the all important, all weather wind and water resistant Marmot jacket. It would be missed after 3000 m. No matter, my body fats did their part valiantly, until the brain decided to get all doomsday like and tell other body parts, that it was 5 deg C.

The haul from this 7-11 was good and done in two stages. First, the fear of running out food. 2 bottles of Pocari Sweat, 1 pack of energy ‘gel’, 3 packs of local beef and pork jerky and a rice roll again pork laced. Now where do I put all these on the bike?

Stage 2 was while waiting for some others who didn’t miss a blink plonking down on rice and beef stews and oden (slow food on a not so slow day)

I joined in the feasting with a pepperoni and cheese pizza and 2 cappuccinos. The views of the mountains from where I sat were stunning. If I never have to cycle again, I will always remember this view, and not so much the scent of microwaved cheese.

At this point I see our timekeeper George, gesturing me to get a move on, which led to my tongue getting slightly scorched by the molten lava like cheese. What’s the rush bro ? You know I’m going to pick up everyone on the road, like I’m picking out the scant scraps of pepperoni in this pizza.

The total damage came up to just NT$250 or US$7.50. That seemed very right, price and ingestion wise. Now back to the grind, slowly meeting up (much nicer than saying overtaking the gluttons) with those who had overestimated themselves and/or over indulged at 7-11.

wulingPuke*I simulate vomiting the 7-11 pizza I had 30 minutes ago.

P12704651108 hrs : My packing of supplies is a bit off the mark today, but look at that view

P12704771159 hrs : Photography is a good excuse for catching your breath at 2309 m

P12704991231 hrs : We go around a 180 degree bend and there are more mountains

Take note of these yellow rails as I did. They sort of signify the start of the ‘highway to heaven’ From here on it’s just wind swept desolation. It was like entering another world of scrawny stunted trees and alpine meadows, that is if the steep slopes allowed any growth and were not ravaged by the last rainy season or typhoons or frequent landslides.

We had just left the relaltive comfort of a very shady hillock, overlooking a hamlet that I cannot remember. Some food stalls and a police station that kindly let us use their toilets, refill our water and had like 7-11 a puncture repair kit and floor pump. Two gates that could cover the width of the road remained opened and will probably close in the event of bad weather or a landslide.

Even the police on patrol in their 4WDs slowed to a stop just to say hello and encourage us on. This ride was getting better by the minute, until we got some wrong info to go back down that Coleen and Celia had started cycling. Down we went for about 1 km to the utter horror of those still climbing. What on earth …….

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1238 hrs : I think there 10 kms left but it might as well be 100. I’m kidding as I’m loving my progress until GL ahead in blue tells me to turn back and accompany Coleen up. I lose 90 minutes while he got to the summit first. Cunning !

P12705161255 hrs : The Joker from Batman is laughing at us

Something did not feel right when the blue mothership bus passed us by uphill without stopping till it could find a wider spot. The road to heaven isn’t always the same width, one half lane, one lane, or two lanes are dictated by the terrain that does not always give what man wants. Yet it’s still a treacherous 2 way road that accomodates all manner of vehicles that have to jostle for space and rights when they can get it.

Turns out they were still on board and Alvin and I, crawled back uphill to meet it. The girls were fresh as daisies, ready to ride while we tried our level best not to choke on whatever thin air that we inhaled. Time check was exactly 1300 hrs. The 4 of us plodded on at 6 kmp/h for the next 2 hours or so. If I had not brought 2 cameras, that may well increase to a massive 9 kmp/h.

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1347 hrs : A couple of curves to break the monotony on the highway to heaven
P12705361358 hrs : Burst water pipes make for a convenient but icy shower
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Unknown to us still on the road between 4 and 5 pm, a sudden change in the weather below us had our leaders panicking and ordering everyone that the bus could pick up, to get on board. No protests, (there were some I heard) as a storm at this altitude was going to be too much a risk to take. The dark clouds and howling wind did eventually catch up with us, and I took the chance to video some of it.

Then as quickly as it came, it died down, the skies cleared up, the sun came out again to lead us up the final km or so. Brilliant !

My ‘business’ with Wuling pass was over and finished.

Some of those in the bus are actually planning a return trip, after the phrase ‘unfinished business’ was coined, and widely used in the next few days, rubbing salt into the wound, referring to the final 2 kms that was not cycled.

Ah well, Coleen and I don’t have that malady. We were even having too much of a good time to let altitude sickness descend upon us. Thankfully those amongst us who had breathlessness and headaches suffered very mild symptoms only.

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1647 hrs : The mothership bus in blue passes us, 500 m from the summit

3275m*Happiness and relief written all over on reaching the island’s highest road marker

The ride wasn’t really over yet. We really had to hustle with the celebrations and photo taking, another change in the weather again from sunny to downright cold at 5 deg C plus wind chill. Ying Chang who had powered his way up had a whole hour of sunshine and freezing winds, waiting for the bus to appear.

There’s a hiking trail up to 3416 m to the very summit of the mountain and a road another 1 km down hill to the forestry department’s lodge at 3150 m, where we were staying. Our choice was obvious, the coldest 1000 metres of freewheeling ever !

There were ‘No Bicycles’ signs on the double glazed glass doors of the plush lobby. Right.

What a day it’s been.

IMG_00541752 hrs : We’re going down this, right to the Pacific Ocean, tomorrow

IMG_0064Our dinner and lodgings were quite decadent !

IMG_00701948 hrs : Post dinner walk was all of 10 minutes in these temps

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*Thanks but no thanks !

Today’s ride from a more challenging perspective.

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Saturday March 3, 2012

Taiwan had been off my travel radar for decades. It would take a lot of nudging even to even consider landing there, say when crossing the Pacific, which was an even rarer occurence. But my how times and things have changed. In a pinch, how does one resist a meticulously planned 5 day ride up and across the island’s highest road topping out at 3275 m? Followed by an almost 90 kms of downhilling right to sea level, the next day? Resistance was futile. Even my better half succumbed.A proposal one night by a cycling friend who frequents the island many times each year, sealed the deal. Before we knew it, and it was just in a matter of days, a handful of those who expressed interest in the trip soon snowballed into a group of 20 adults and 2 toddlers and 17 bikes of all shapes, sizes and persuasion. Air tickets were snapped up on JetStar, 20 kgs into Taiwan and 30 kgs and more on the return leg.

Sounds like fun ? It was. Waiting for the D date, that was excruciating, so much so that, even I had to be ‘sedated’ of sorts and orgainsed a short trip intoThailand as a precursor to this trip.

This much delayed write up can also be blamed on time, or a lack of it, being spent elsewhere, like rediscovering my road bike, and researching our next trip to Formosa in the coming months, but it’s going to be worth it.

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From the little I know, a none too hilly 1000 km circumnavigation of the island can be done in 10 – 14 days. Inter city buses and trains are quite bike friendly, if time is a constraint. If you like the mountains there are quite a few challenging ones in the very mountainous interior, and us Taiwan virgins are going up across it’s highest road, for starters.

As our group numbers swelled, we were also thinking ‘less panniers and trailers’ but more ‘tour bus, sightseeing and cosy Bavarian style lodges’ This invariably led to more devils in the details and totally at cross purposes compared to our usually fuss free, just stuff the panniers and hit the road style of touring.

A big hats off goes to our fearless leaders, on and off the road, constantly keeping an eye out for the ever hungry, oxygen depleted straggling sheep in lycra. Behind the scenes, were endless hours spent in communicado with hotel reservations, restaurant managers, bus drivers, etc.

3 wives and 2 toddlers would not be cycling, commandeering the bus, to chocolate factories and petting zoos and such. Hopefully the rest of the entourage would not be led like lambs to the slaughter on a cold, desolate wind swept mountain road with nary a 7-11 in sight.

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We land in Taipei nice and early at 11.30 hrs. I got some more segmented sleep on the 4 hr flight and I’m sure some more on the 3 hr drive to the town of Puli, not yet quite in the highlands but about 400 m asl.

My initial view of Taipei or rather Taoyuan airport is best described as foggy. Remnants of trapped air and a cold front from big brother China white-ed out everything. It was just as well that we could land as a couple of friends on the same flight 2 days prior had to divert to Hong Kong. More like dumped there by a certain budget airline, to await the generosity of other airlines to pick up the slack. In his very words, my friend said, a riot is about to start, 2 check in staff up against 100 disgruntled passengers. We and they, were lucky. You don’t want to mess with 17 sleep deprived bike tourists, delaying their bike trip or worse, being disconnected with their precious cargo.

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I even have time to read trolley handles and visit the gents twice as the queue for sim cards was loooong. These days people rush to get a local number even before getting their luggage. 60 whole minutes eaten into today, as the sole high school girl working there, dissects your phone, installs your card, gets you registered, checks your passport, collects payment, reads out instructions x 100.

I don’t have that dilemma as I don’t have a phone and the person I talk to the most is on this bike trip. What could be better ?

Maybe it’s the need to tell the world, on Facebook, what you’re having for breakfast, and with whom, with blurry photos, surpasses the need for actually appreciating your present surroundings, that you woke up at 3 am for and flew 4.5 hours with the fear of being dropped off in Hong Kong. I dunno.

At this point 90 minutes after landing even our genial looking bus driver and a travel agency contact, were wondering about the delay. I should have known better and got out of the terminal on my own time, to get my first fill of a late winter’s chilled air.

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The next few hours were just a blur of buildings, some in dire need of paint, massive power lines, interspersed with very wet rice fields as the bus hurtled south along a highway. Layer upon layer of mostly elevated roads and railway, the highest and fanciest being the one on which the HSR (High Speed Railway) Bullet trains run. Heavy eyelids did not help, not until we got off the north south and onto a more scenic Route 14 the main road that cuts across the island via Puli town and the Taroko Gorge further east. It’s about 35 kms from sea level at Taichung, where the big bicycle factories are located, to Puli.

The driver kept dropping his gears as most vehicles seemed to be struggling up the winding road into the hills. ‘General George’ assured us that cycling would be much easier the next day. Somehow not everyone believed him.

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As a Taiwan virgin, or first time visitor, let’s get that cleared up, I can safely say that the island’s biggest lake is like Lake Tahoe, only with much more buildings like cramped hotels and pagodas along it’s shores and hillsides. Having surveyed Tahoe in 2001 with a Dodge Ram, in a rush to Yosemite, I much prefer Sun Moon Lake (hereafter SML) as my memory of it is much clearer.

By the time we reached SML in the late afternoon, the skies were grey and dreary, with a short cursory look at a fascinating Giant (as in Giant Bicycles) Concept Store with it’s own bicycle friendly Giant hotel above it. Bike paths abound along the shores of SML and if you don’t have your custom machine with you, there are many rentals to take along the 45 kms of manicured paths here. A repeat visit to SML in the brighter summer months will not hurt.

Reassembling 2 mountain bikes late into the night with segmented sleep hours before, will.

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Doing it by the road side, in semi darkness, outside a bank and ATMs was a novelty, as such activity, just attracts the local crowds. Even more so when Facebook (hereafter FB) is involved. FB-ing just slows down the whole process, as you really need two hands to build a bike.

Our General’s orders were to set up the bikes, and return our boxes to our boxed truck, which will store them, in Taipei, for our return trip home. Friends with Samsonites and non carton boxes had more to worry about, compared to my free, thrice flown cardboard boxes.

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Being a non virgin in bike assembly, I disgorged our bikes in the faded 70’s luxury of our hotel room/cubicle, as I love air conditioning when confronted with sweaty work. This also works up an appetite for dinner, but since we had a huge dinner and dessert already, bike assembly thereafter helps to digest everything.

If you like close quarters, jerky elevators and locked fire escapes, here it is. http://jinshan.okgo.tw/

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Did we sleep really well. We must have. Out like a light. Seven blissful hours. As this is my virgin trip to Taiwan, I would like to be 110% fully charged for the mountains.

Photos marked with * are not from my camera, they are from about a dozen other cameras/phones that were near me. Oh my, FB has it’s uses.

Washed and waxed, sliced and diced, cut and dried our bikes are set for 2 weeks in and around Perth. Just about an hour spent on elbow grease for each bike. Waffling and thinking about the trip? More than 12 months.

Sanitized to keep Australian customs happy. Half baked mudguards to accommodate 1.95 tyres

Zero grime on the chainrings

Mirror like White Industries Tracker hub circa 1992

Bar end shifters forever

Miss Marin still at a very svelte 10 kgs even

Don't ask !

I reminded Coleen that she will be asked by other cyclists about her strange looking fork. esp from those not into mountain biking in the early 1990’s. Her answers, as in 2005, was to point to me and  say ‘Ask him’ or Google AMP Research.

Nov Update : True to form, her fork stopped a jogger in his tracks as he did a double take, turned around and stared and started touching the fork. We saw all this from inside a Vietnamese restaurant while having lunch. The other jogger presumably a wife or GF stood arms akimbo, jogging on the spot. WTF ? What tantalising forks ?

Prophetic headset cap

My wax of choice is Eagle One’s Billet Aluminium Polish. The stuff that prepares cars and chrome wheels for shows and exhibitions. Sold. It’s been replaced by it’s ‘Nevr Dull’ metal polish series. http://www.eagleone.com/pages/products/product.asp?itemid=1006&cat=5006

For painted surfaces good ol Johnson wax or Armor All does the job perfectly.

It has been a long time coming . About 3.5 years. Come late October, we’re flying south to the remotest capital city on earth, Perth. Western Australia. Unlike Coleen who has one mountain bke, I can’t decide which bike to use, yet. I sort of know, but it’s always ‘fun’ to think of, what if I used another. If I could bring a fast one and a slower one that’ll be just right, but it’s silly wasting time and effort tinkering with bikes when the great outdoors, open spaces and fresh produce (wife’s input) are waiting. About 700 kms worth of cycle friendly bike paths and more.

I shall do the tinkering back home but as usual, pack a mini workshop of tools and a slew of parts, mostly tyres and tubes, saddles and clothing to suit the rides. Our home base for 14 days will be at a good friend’s who already has a Brompton and a Dahon Speed Pro, ever ready to bolt out through the front door. Then there’s the  um ‘harem’ More  later after we come back in November, or not 😉

Hope to see some real ones this time

Space and respect for bikes

No parking woes at the market

Paddling not pedaling

Another dawn to dusk ride